The DVK CFP (April 2014)

    Debating Visual Knowledge: a symposium organized by graduate students in Information Science and History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh

    Call for Participants

    Visual knowledge and visual literacy have become pressing concerns across a variety of academic disciplines and areas of creative production. These concerns are shaped by the fluid definitions of “visual knowledge” and the multiple ways in which it manifests. Many forms of visual knowledge have capabilities that are not shared by language. This knowledge is produced, mediated, and distributed by a number of different objects, tools, media, and technologies. This symposium seeks to broaden understandings of intellectual and creative work by interrogating the theorization, production, use, and historicization of visual knowledge. We envision the event as an exploratory lab, comprising scholarly and creative projects that engage with these questions.

    Presentations might relate to (but are not limited to) topics such as:

    • Digital humanities
    • Cognition, intellectual history, interpretation
    • Photography, printmaking, engraving
    • “The spatial turn,” GIS, maps, mapping
    • The body, performance
    • Data visualizations, modeling, categories and groups
    • Law and policy
    • Media theory, historiography, ecology
    • Exhibition design, curating
    • Network analysis, grids, graphs, timelines
    • Interfaces, constructed/built environments, design
    • Astronomy, physics, mathematics, botany, medicine

    The symposium will include traditional academic papers, posters, and keynote sessions, as well as presentations of creative works, roundtables, praxis sessions, screenings, and performances. Participants may be invited to take part in curated roundtables, seminars or workshops. We also welcome submissions of projects that could be workshopped or collaborated on in the context of the symposium.

    Submission Guidelines:

    • For a paper, please submit a 300-word abstract for a 20-minute talk, and a CV.
    • For a poster, please submit a 300-word abstract and a CV. A sketch of your poster is optional. If selected, posters must be printed and provided by the participants, and can be up to 30” x 40”.
    • For a creative work, please submit up to 10 images and/or a 2-minute video or sound clip, a 300-word project description, and a CV.
    • For a pre-constituted panel of up to four papers, please submit a 300-word abstract describing the panel topic, and a 150-word abstract and author’s CV for each proposed paper.
    • To propose to lead a roundtable, seminar, or praxis session, please submit a 300-word description of the topic and CVs for all proposed participants. You may also propose a topic without having chosen participants.
    • Debating Visual Knowledge

    Tour of "Configuring Disciplines: Fragments of an Encyclopedia" with Faculty Curator Dr. Drew Armstrong

    In Spring and Summer of 2014, Dr. Drew Armstrong worked with a group of graduate and undergraduate students in History of Art and Architecture at the University of Pittsburgh to organize an exhibition that explored relationships between images and knowledge. As part of the Debating Visual Knowledge weekend, Dr. Armstrong gave a tour.

    More on the exhibition can be found here.

    • Debating Visual Knowledge

    "Equivocating Diagrams: The Many Epistemic Virtues of C.H. Waddington's Images and Arguments" by Matthew Allen

    “Equivocating Diagrams: the many epistemic virtues in C H Waddington’s images and arguments”
    Matthew Allen

    The argument has been that images are particularly revealing windows onto scientific production – choices of visualization put “epistemic virtues” on display for all to see. In Objectivity, Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison persuasively describe hard-working scientists toiling away with photographic equipment in pursuit of mechanical objectivity and experts creating interpretive drawings to convey their trained judgment. In each case, a singular scientific persona, a distinct set of visualization techniques, and a particular type of image are linked neatly together.

    But what about those cases in which images equivocate and values refuse to be categorized? Sometimes in the course of knowledge generation images are deployed which suggest very different things and may even be odds with each other. In this paper I will analyze a series of diagrams created between 1940 and 1966 by developmental biologist Conrad Hal Waddington, all meant to explain the same pair of concepts (the chreod and the epigenetic landscape). Each diagram in isolation is relatively straightforward, explaining a different aspect of his theoretical concepts and suggesting different possibilities for intervention in developing embryos. But seen in the context of Waddington’s ambitious program for what he called “theoretical biology,” these images work against the deliberate typecasting done by his intellectual rivals – particularly Ernst Mayr, successful proponent of the so-called Modern Synthesis. Waddington’s diagrams act as mediating devices, helping the viewer/reader understand the subtleties of his theories. They militate against what Waddington saw as overly-simplistic attempts to bracket one area of biological knowledge from another. As a set, these contradictory images point towards a complex, nuanced theoretical model for which no simple analogy, no singular persona, and no discrete set of epistemic values would suffice. 

    To open up to a larger discussion of the connections between epistemic virtues and visualization, I will end with an analysis of the most famous of Waddington’s diagrams. Placing it in the context in which it was published, and keeping a close eye on the disciplinary arguments at work, I will show that, even in this single instance, Waddington toggles between very different personas and virtues in a way that would seem schizophrenic in Daston’s and Galison’s account. This suggests that even straightforward images typically support many different ways of seeing and contrasting values, and that a larger discursive apparatus is required to either limit or expand their interpretation.

    Images are depictions of Conrad Hal Waddington's concept of the epigenetic landscape. The ball represents a cell, and the branching system of valleys represents the division and specialization of cells during the development or an organism. Each valley in the landscape is formed by tension on guy ropes that are attached pegs stuck in the ground, which represent genes. From Waddington, C. H. The Strategy of the Genes (Geo Allen & Unwin, London, 1957).

    Allen's talk is now an article published in Volume 4 of Contemporaneity:

    • Debating Visual Knowledge
    • Underwood and Underwood, Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope
    • Six Degrees of Francis Bacon
    Underwood and Underwood, Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope

    Underwood and Underwood, The Pool of Siloam, --outside of Jerusalem, Palestine, 1900, 2 photographs mounted on card; (8.5x17cm). From a collection of stereo views of Israel/Palestine c.1900. Collection of Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto. 


    A Reflection on Debating Visual Knowledge

    Earlier this month, students in History of Art and Architecture and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh hosted Debating Visual Knowledge, an interdisciplinary graduate symposium. It was an honor to have Patrick Jagoda and Simone Osthoff participate as keynote speakers, as well as many other inspiring and diverse thinkers and makers. Highlights included a panel on curating with Terry Smith, Cynthia Morton, Alison Langmead, and Dan Byers, opportunities to experience the work of filmmakers Ross Nugent and Mike Maraden, Ella Mason and Joanna Reed of Yes Brain Dance Theater, and a Finnbogi Petursson exhibition curated by Murray Horne at Wood Street Galleries. We heard 14 presentations on a huge variety of topics from grad students who had travelled nationally and internationally to be here, and were able to workshop papers by two participants. We also toured Configuring Disciplines: Fragments of an Encyclopedia at the University Art Gallery.

    I hope that we can continue the many specific and fascinating conversations raised that weekend as we post videos and further thoughts to the Constellations website, collaborate with our graduate journal Contemporaneity, and produce digital projects that present the results of this event. I think we have an opportunity here to become a network of researchers who are a resource for each other because of some common interests. We take images seriously as sources of new knowledge, not just reflections of other knowledge. We share a concern about focusing on “the visual” as something specific, as something that matters as a historical concept, but not always, not necessarily, as separate from other domains. Most of all, we think that the study of visual material and sensory experience does not belong to a single discipline. We all have to reckon with traditional disciplinary boundaries in our work and can benefit from the support of a community in doing so.

    When we started developing the symposium, we were intentionally vague about what we wanted to happen, and the conversations throughout our process were both exciting and confusing. We took a risk and refused to decide what exactly we meant by ‘visual knowledge’, what kinds of material would count, or which scholars would fit. Really the only thing the CFP asserted (besides that visual knowledge is in many places and means many things to many people) is that visual knowledge is different from language, a choice that continues to bring up important questions. By working as a multi-disciplinary group, we were able to invite work across a broad variety of areas and in formats other than papers--like posters, artworks, and workshops. At the same time, we learned how difficult interdisciplinarity can be to achieve, and I think our CFP still spoke most readily to humanities scholars. There is so much ground that must be covered in order to make non-superficial bridges between the cultures, communication networks, and languages of different disciplines.

    We took some baby steps though, and the biggest payoff for me was that our CFP, and the idea of visual knowledge being put forward jointly by art historians and information scientists, attracted people who all shared a feeling that their work requires interdisciplinarity. I believe that this sensibility alone is a powerful idea, that young scholars who have this feeling should get connected early on to affirm that their work can develop in this way. We also were successful in experimenting with traditional conference structure and in thinking about what it is we really want to get out of a graduate symposium. It is clear to me now that while opportunities to present in front of auditorium audiences are important for us as developing scholars, working groups and roundtables are where we really have the productive conversations of which we are in search when we travel to conferences.

    I am really excited about how collaboration between people in different disciplines permits work that could never be done by one person. Humanities scholars don’t publish multiple-author papers very often, but to me this seems necessary. Twentieth-century photographer Berenice Abbott commented, when talking about how she tried to collaborate with scientists to make photographs to teach physics in the late 1950s, that one of her main arguments with them was that photography is a lifetime profession too, and that if true expertise in photography could be combined with other scholars’ expertise in physics, the whole would be greater than the sum of the parts. Many other examples of this kind of situation came up in talks during the symposium. We need also to talk about the difficulties in collaboration—how it can be slow and inefficient, how it can be socially and emotionally demanding.

    Debating Visual Knowledge is aiming to extend outward the constellations model that the History of Art and Architecture department at Pitt has been working with for the last few years. In our department, the identification of important themes and terms facilitate a specific kind of scholarly collaboration between experts in different fields. This environment has resulted in co-authored digital projects, co-taught courses, and this symposium, which seeks to apply these approaches beyond our department and make contact with others who are working in convergent ways.

    This reflection is cross-posted on Nexus, a blog hosted by University of Maryland’s Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture.


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