16 December 2019
Grateful for this opportunity to serve, I hope to contribute to the Society’s nurturing of the interdisciplinarity and accessibility of design history across Europe and globally, doing my utmost to encourage collaborative synergies and diversity within our community. The enriching experience of speaking and attending annual Design History Society conferences, specific events and engaging with the scholarship of the Journal of Design History has opened up new perspectives in my study, teaching and research over the years. Such encounters inspired me to found two part-time postgraduate degree programmes which have energetically promoted design history in university contexts where the discipline had not previously featured: an MA in Decoration at the University of Bristol and then the MSt in the History of Design at the University of Oxford. Having served as Research Grant Officer for the DHS (2004-8) and convenor of its 2014 conference exploring Design for War and Peace, I hope to facilitate the ongoing vitality of this welcoming and respected forum.
Design history holds a distinctive intellectual and societal position, a cross roads where education, practice, creative industry, heritage and research interconnect and enrich each other. Amidst a climate of uncertainty in global diplomacy and civil society, organizations such as the DHS have a vital role to play in championing the place of creativity and history in promoting and sustaining mutual understanding and respectful dialogue. Our student and early-career membership are entering our field enthused, but anxious about their futures; our established members are making important contributions to design history amidst the pressures of unprecedented precarity and workloads. Supporting the widest spectrum of design historians through a portfolio of practical funding and affirming experiences is a vital mission of the DHS. A core aspiration for me is to facilitate ever-greater variety of engagement with these opportunities, encouraging collaborative projects across constituencies and institutions. I propose diversifying the formats which we support, reaching new audiences and membership with pod/vodcasts for the DHS website for example. A live-streamed annual postgraduate/early career symposium organised by members from these constituencies could provide a chance to participate in peer-review and networking across multiple institutions across the globe. The event could also include a conversation between speakers from a variety of design-history professions and our DHS Ambassadors/Executive Committee members reflecting on career paths. A periodic live-streamed webinar could bring established and emerging design historians from around the world to speak together about new perspectives in their research. Recording these round tables could provide a free pedagogic resource as well as identifying shared interests which might generate international and interdisciplinary collaborative projects, bridging the mounting challenges of securing seed-funding and avoiding the environmental impact of long-haul flights. Hopefully, these opportunities would involve a diversity of hosts and participants creating chances for further transnational, intra-generational and multi-institutional dialogue.
The Design History Society is a vibrant and supportive community encouraging creative and academic exchange through its events and conferences, awards and grants, career and publication opportunities. Building upon the impressive legacies given to us by Jeremy and previous Chairs, I hope to sustain and to extend the DHS’s transnational and interdisciplinary dialogue about how design, its histories and practices can inform and enrich the everyday life of citizens around the world, aspiring to mutual well-being. I very much look forward to working together, getting to know the membership of the Society, hearing and understanding better all our ‘Hopes and Fears’ for design history.
Thank you; I look forward to the camaraderie and adventure of the next three years!
Claire O’Mahony, PhD, Associate Professor of History of Art and Design
Department for Continuing Education, University of Oxford
*Illustration credit; Detail of ‘Tropical gardens’, a tapestry designed by Lucien Coutaud (1904-77) and woven in L’Atelier Hamot in Aubusson in 1960 for the First-class lounge of the ocean liner 'Le France' (1960-74) © French Lines, Le Havre.