The annual conference of the Design History Society was held in New York this year, hosted by Parsons School of Design and the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. This was the first time it had been held in the city, thus offering an opportunity to see and hear a broad spectrum of current research in the field on our doorstep. It was certainly a packed program, with thirty-seven separate sessions on themes as diverse as “Objects and Meaning,” “Industry and Heritage,” and “Meet me in St Louis: Nationalism, Nostalgia and Fashion.”

The overarching theme, “Design and Displacement,” was topical, given the vast movement of peoples in various parts of the world due to conflict, famine, deprivation, and natural disasters. This was addressed specifically in sessions concerned with the design of temporary shelters, emergency clothing, and crisis management. But the theme was treated loosely with many sessions devoted to topics with only a vague connection to displacement. Perhaps the most pervasive topic was the role of émigré designers and the ways in which displacement, emigration, and integration (or the lack of it) have been recurring features of the design cultures in the United States and Britain, especially during the twentieth century.

Another feature of the conference that stood out was the number of participants associated with Bard Graduate Center. Three current faculty were speaking or chairing sessions (Michele Majer, Freyja Hartzell, and I), and two former faculty were also on that list (Pat Kirkham and Amy Ogata). In addition, a number of current and former students were also contributing: of the current PhD candidates, Elizabeth St George, Colin Fanning, Rebecca Tuite, Michelle Jackson-Beckett, and Anne Hilker each gave papers on an aspect of their work. Former students, Sonya Abrego, Alison Kowalski, Serena Newmark, Alexa Griffith Winton, and Katherine Vann (RCA Exchange) all gave talks, as did Richard Taws a former fellow at BGC. Finally, it should be noted that the two conference organizers, Sarah Lichtman and Marilyn Cohen, are BGC alumna—Sarah completed her PhD here in 2014 while Marilyn received her master’s degree in 2005.

The Design History Society was set up in the United Kingdom in 1977 and it remains the leading forum for research and debate in the history of design. Like all academic societies, the annual conference is an occasion when isolated scholars, curators, and teachers can come together to share ideas, compare notes, and resume friendships. The location has tended to move around the UK to emphasize the interest in local as well as national concerns. In recent years, however, the society has been looking outwards by holding their conferences abroad to reflect the increasingly international constituency of the discipline. Two years ago, the conference was held in Oslo, and previous conferences were in Amsterdam and San Francisco. The DHS conference has always had a strong social aspect, which the society has been happy to encourage; receptions in the early years were often marked by embarrassing dancing, karaoke, and what a former director of the V&A Museum described on one occasion as “farmyard behavior.” The tradition was maintained this year on an evening dinner cruise out to the Statue of Liberty. Next year’s conference will be held in Newcastle in the northeast of England, a post-industrial city with a distinctive pattern of local history and traditions. It will be another opportunity for BGC faculty and students to link up with the larger community of design historians.

—Paul Stirton, Associate Professor