Look Out! Visual Culture and the Future of the Humanities

What place does visual culture have in the ongoing debates about the future of higher education that have generated fatalistic proclamations about the impending demise of the humanities? This symposium brings together early career visual culture scholars from across humanities disciplines and beyond academia to imagine an alternative, brighter future for the humanities with visual culture at its core.

Few would dispute that the questions asked by scholars of visual culture – about how we see and know the world; about the structure of visual signs and systems; about the uses and ethics of visible evidence; and about the importance of visual and media literacy – rest at the heart of twenty-first-century society. One has only to think of the importance of film and photography in recent debates about the use of chemical weapons in Syria or the images of polar ice caps used to raise public awareness about climate change to recognize the critical role that visual materials and visual analysis perform in contemporary public life. Yet such uses extend back in time and have evolved over millennia. Contextualizing such visual practices is fundamental to analyzing our world and acting in the present.

In a world in which visual media structures so much of our daily experience, who will teach the next generation of students to make sense of the images that inform, instruct, and entertain us at every turn? Who will train the next generation of scholars to analyze, synthesize, and share the newly visualized data that have become so important to all academic disciplines and in the communication of knowledge more generally? By foregrounding the contribution of visual studies to the humanities, we will make the case that there is a bright future ahead for both.