How does material culture shape our sense of war?

This is just one of many questions that we invite you to explore with us here, on this blog, and in Baltimore during the annual meeting of the American Studies Association (ASA) this October. 

We called our blog and ASA panel “War and the Visceral Imagination” because we are interested in how embodied experiences of the material shape wartime notions of citizenship, obligation, and the national imaginary. (The session abstract is here.)

Our broader aim is to inspire conversation about the multisensory nature of human encounters with the material world. For example:

  • How do sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste serve as means to transmit cultural values?
  • What questions become possible when traditional Western classifications of the senses are challenged?
  • Which scholars have influenced your work with material culture?
  • What challenges do scholars of the past face in their study of embodied material experience? What approaches can help overcome these obstacles?
  • How does your own work relate to the issues raised here?  

Through this blog, we hope to expand the conversation to include material culture scholars—particularly representatives of museums and archives—who are not able to attend the conference. All are welcome to pose questions, share ideas, and contribute to the discussion.

In mid-September, we’ll post the three papers that will be presented at the conference. (Click title for abstract.):

Panoramas of the Future: War, Industry, and American Moving Panoramas, 1840-1865
Jamie Jones interprets nineteenth-century moving panoramas of whaling voyages and argues that the experience of viewing the distant whale fishery incited audiences to imagine the future:  the decline of whaling and the onset of Civil War.

Spectacles of Sweetness: Internalizing Empire after the Spanish American War
April Merleaux argues that by displaying and tasting sugar and candy, people in the United States understood the victories during the Spanish American War in part through the visual and visceral experiences of sweetness.

The Material Rhetoric of Sensory Persuasion in MoMA’s “Wartime Housing” (1942)
Clarissa Ceglio, focusing on World War II, examines the Museum of Modern Art’s “Wartime Housing” exhibition and argues that its attempt to fuse viewers’ impulses for social reform with patriotic duty revealed the conflicting aims of its government, industry, and museum stakeholders.

The panel’s chair, David Brody, and commentator, Kariann Yokota, will be joining in as well to help stimulate thought and dialogue.

So, please, join in the conversation and sign up for the RSS feed. And, if you are on Twitter, follow @cjceglio and look for the #warvi hashtag.

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