23 July 2014 -

With the 2014 DHS conference not too far away, we asked conference convenor Claire I R O'Mahony a few questions about what visitors can expect...

What was your reasoning for choosing War and Peace as the theme for the conference?

The relationships between design, war, peace and protest have a long and volatile history which I felt had been somewhat under-scrutinised from the perspective of design history. War relies fundamentally upon the making of evocatively termed 'materiel' (be it weapons, uniforms, transport) as well as the design of communication through which to inform and to persuade. The physical production and ideological constructs of design have deeply involved and implicated designers, manufacturers, and the 'Home front', as much as combatants, in the execution of modern war. Dissent from military conflict, as well as the task of reconstruction and remembrance in peacetime, also have very important places in design practice and ethics. In this 1914/1944 anniversary year, my hope was to reflect on these involving dilemmas, sounding a note of reflection and a focus upon historical research from a global perspective, distinct from a climate of nationalist or triumphalist commemoration.

What can participants expect from the panels and speakers?

It was wonderfully exciting to receive such a gallimaufry of excellent proposals, over 100, from all around the globe. The selection process was very bittersweet, but necessary as the Victorian charm of Rewley House (even with the postwar addition of a pleasing central courtyard and additional teaching rooms) did limit us to 70 speakers, also to allow for further delegates. My hope is that the four thematic strands (War production; Craft, damage and commemoration; Peace,protest and commemoration and Contextualizing conflicts) will allow for fresh juxtapositions and insights into the indelible connections between war and peace expressed in design production and its histories. Every speaker we accepted had presented an exemplary proposal demonstrating new research and thinking; I think we are in for a very stimulating three days!

Are there any particular panels or keynotes that you're most looking forward to?

How could I choose? The three keynotes each give a different perspective on the relationship of design and conflict. Nick Saunders has pioneered the engagement with world-war battlefields in archaeology and material culture studies. Joanna Bourke, best known for her interdisciplinary examination of masculinity in First World War Britain, will be speaking to us about her forthcoming book on the complex history of the gun in Britain. David Serlin, whose stimulating methodology rooted in embodiment opened up new approaches to the impact of the Second World War, will be flying over from San Diego to present his new researches into the centrality of disability within modern design. As to the panels, I was particularly pleased that we have so many speakers addressing less scrutinised theatres of war (the Pacific Rim, Ireland and Italy in the World Wars; Central Europe and the Cold War; etc.) and that we will all have a chance to reflect on such a variety of media (graphic design; textiles and fashion; industrial and transport design; craft; exhibition design; commemorative collections, built environments and landscape design). I am so delighted that all my MSt in the History of Design students and tutors who are helping out with the running of the conference will have a chance to encounter such an impressive panorama of our dynamic field.

Oxford is an great institution with an incredible history and setting, are there opportunities to explore the colleges and the local cultural attractions?

Indeed, whenever I go to speak at a conference I want to have a chance to see local manifestations of design history. My feeling was to give everyone a chance to look around the morning before we start the conference. There are three arranged visits as well as a chance to see the (free) Bodleian exhibition 'The Great War: Personal Stories from Downing Street to the Trenches' independently. We are very lucky to be so near to Broadway, amidst the idyllic beauty of the Cotswolds, where one also finds the unique collections of the Gordon Russell Museum which demonstrate the work of a design practice which exemplifies the complex intersections between war and peace in twentieth century. Coventry cathedral is a paean to the craft practices which flourished in postwar Britain, as well as a thought-provoking meditation on the challenges of design's expression of an ecumenical internationalism. If this is a very first visit to Oxford though, delegates may well wish to see the unique wonders of its historic colleges' dreaming spires on a walking tour with one of our MSt in the History of Design tutors (n.b. places are limited and must be booked see the conference webpage online booking link available at: www.conted.ox.ac.uk/events/ warpeace.php). I very much look forward to welcoming everyone to the Department for Continuing Education in September.


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