University of Rochester

EVENT: Conference Examines the History and Future of Visual Culture Studies

September 24, 2009

Event Celebrates 20th Anniversary of Visual and Cultural Studies program at Rochester

Images have the ability to shape a person's perceptions and values, but how is it they have become so powerful? Created from the desire to understand what we look at and how we see, visual cultural studies has become a way to explore the social and political components of visual objects, as they relate to historical, aesthetic, social, and technological changes. As the first program of its kind anywhere in the world, the Program in Visual and Cultural Studies (VCS) at the University of Rochester will celebrate its 20th anniversary with VCS: The Next 20 Years, a two-day event that will look at the evolution of visual culture as a field of study. The event will take place in the Hawkins Carlson Room of Rush Rhees Library Oct. 1 and 2.

Rochester's interdisciplinary program has produced many scholars who have gone on to become pioneers in multiple academic fields, according to Joan Saab, Director of Visual and Cultural Studies, who refers to VCS at Rochester as the preeminent program. "The conference will explore past, present, and future developments in visual and cultural studies while paying tribute to the program's founders," says Saab. Additional panel discussions will draw on experts from around the world to explore the future of visual culture and new media. Currently, over two dozen universities around the world have created and continue to develop graduate programs that focus on the field.

"Over the past 20 years, visual culture and visual studies have impacted the humanities by changing the way people do research and many of the traditional approaches to teaching," says Thomas DiPiero, Senior Associate Dean of Humanities at the University. Rather than relying solely on texts, scholars across the humanities have developed new methodologies for analyzing the vast array of material objects that constitute both high and popular culture with an eye toward gaining fuller understanding both of what it means to see and how the visual informs our lives.

But, explains DiPiero, as digital technologies like the Internet continue to improve and expand, so do the number of objects of study. "The sheer volume is much greater than we first realized, making visual culture such a part of our daily lives," he says. Focuses in the field have ranged from analyzing images in advertising, to feminist theory, and even globalism.

"This anniversary is very important, because it recognizes all that has been done in the past 20 years and, with that in mind, allows us to think about all the astonishing possibilities in store for VCS in the next 20 years," says DiPiero, referring to new digital technologies and their impact on both traditional cultural forms and on popular culture as well.

VCS: The Next 20 Years is sponsored by the visual arts and culture humanities corridor, made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and The Humanities Project at the University of Rochester. It is free and open to the public. To learn more about VCS and to register for the conference, visit (