As is a semi-tradition, when UT AMS returns to campus for the fall, we ask our faculty and graduate students to report on their summer activities. First up is Dr. Steve Hoelscher who, along with several members of the AMS faculty and graduate student bodies, took a trip to Konstanz, Germany and participated in a transnational research workshop:
In late July 2017, the departments of American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and Literaturwissenschaft (Anglistik/Amerikanistik) at University of Konstanz, Germany, cosponsored a transnational research workshop. The event was made possible by generous support from the University of Konstanz’s International Office , which provided funds to expand international cooperation (Internationalisierungsmittel), and from the Department of Literary and Media Studies. Hosted in Konstanz, a small university city known for its historic medieval core and its scenic location on Lake Constance (Bodensee) and the Rhine River, the workshop brought together graduate students and faculty to explore the relationship between visual culture and inequality.
For three days, the participants reflected on the role of different visual media—photographs, film, sculpture, architecture, painting, and more—to enable, resist, and document a vast range of inequalities that define the historic and contemporary worlds. The specific topics reflected both the interests of the participants, as well as the high degree to which inequality reverberates through the visual: Hollywood blockbuster movies that speak to an age’s social divisions; surveillance drones that assist opponents to environmental change and a never-ending war effort; the seemingly innocuous symbols that harden social divisions and make “natural” the products of cultural work; writers who deploy photographic imagery in both the written word and the illustrated book—these are just a few of the topics that received investigative attention and that spawned vigorous discussions. Jeffrey Geiger, Professor and Director of the Centre for Film and Screen Media at the University of Essex, UK, provided the keynote lecture entitled “Intimate Media: Engaging Inequality, the Body, and Gesture in Queer Documentary.” A full list of participants and sessions may be found at the conference website: https://conferences.la.utexas.edu/ut-konstanz-2017/
I have always found the spirited intellectual exchange and warm collegiality of thematically focused workshops to be the most rewarding conference experience, and our three days in Konstanz was no exception. A distinct culture is created, even in a short time, when diverse perspectives are brought to bear on a shared interest, when everybody attends all the events, and when conversations continue well after their initial presentation, often in interesting and surprising ways. Participants frequently bring partners and family members to such conferences, and their presence invariably adds another dimension to the conversations. Even colleagues who share a hallway at the same university find themselves exchanging research ideas that otherwise go unspoken.
Such events, at their best, extend beyond the conference venue and into the city. Especially enjoyable were three field excursions that connected to the themes of the workshop: a walk through the historic city core, with a focus on the Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) that serve as moving commemorations to victims of Nazi war crimes; a tour of the university campus, with its 1960s-era architecture and high-profile public art projects; and a visit to Fotomuseum and Fotostiftung Schweiz in Winterthur, Switzerland, where participants received a behind-the-scenes tour of a major photo archive and a curator’s tour of the current exhibit featuring Civil Rights photographer Danny Lyon, and current war photographer Dominic Nahr.
In Konstanz, we were fortunate to have two principal hosts who attended to all the details, with both good humor and organizational excellence, to make the event so successful, Prof. Dr. Silvia Mergenthal and Melanie Stengele, a Ph.D. candidate in the Fachbereich Literaturwissenschaft/Anglistik. We would also like to extend sincere thanks to chairs of the different sessions: Prof. Dr. Sven Reichardt, Prof. Dr. Karin Leonhard, Dr. Leila Whitley, Dr. Mirco Goepfert, and Dr. Emily Petermann. We are also grateful for the assistance of Stephanie Kaufman, in Austin, and of Juliane Richter, Lena Grecht, and Susanne Mueller in Konstanz.
The connections between the Universities of Konstanz and Texas extend back into the 1970s, when Prof. Mergenthal, as an undergraduate, came to Austin and studied with Bob Crunden and Américo Paredes in the Department of American Studies. We certainly hope to build on the success of the Visual Culture and Inequality workshop to extend that transnational connection.