UW-Madison Center for the Humanities

Center for the Humanities

Past Faculty Development Seminars

Fall 2008: Visuality


Led by Jill Casid (Art History/Visual Culture) and Theresa Kelley (English)

This seminar investigates visuality’s remarkable presence in contemporary culture and the academy, its sustained involvement in the long arc of modernity, and its emergent futurity. The work of the seminar emphasizes the modes of visuality which have shaped much of what we take today to be new or unprecedented in visual culture: its unsettling of disciplinary boundaries, its role in debates about the categories of the human and the non human and now the posthuman, its presence in global inquiry and histories, its vexed relation to truth claims and the role of other kinds of sensory knowledge. Much of visual thinking in modernity has turned on its relation to actuality, whether visual media produce simulacra of the world as, for example, aids to scientific presentation and investigation, the rise of photography from the so-called nature prints of the early nineteenth century, and so on. The readings for the seminar emphasize a skeptical reading of visuality’s relation to the “real” and a wide ranging investigation of the stakes of the visual in contemporary and emergent cultural life.

One goal of the seminar is to ask how a more complex historicization of these topics and disciplinary engagements can contribute to a more nuanced and powerful account of visual theories and practices. The seminar readings pursue these questions by examining several topics: pre-modern and early modern visuality; interactions among vision, science and spectacle; the role of visual representation in slavery and empire; the ethics of the visual; religion; a visual history of the post human; the visual economies at work in globalization, transnationalism and transculturation; and the tyranny of the vision.