The Room Where It Happens: On the Agency of Interior Spaces
The Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA, October 13 – 14, 2017
Deadline: April 15, 2017
Louis Nelson, University of Virginia
This symposium, held in conjunction with the Harvard Art Museum’s forthcoming exhibition, The Philosophy Chamber: Art and Science in
Harvard’s Teaching Cabinet, 1766-1820, seeks papers that investigate spaces of artistic, artisanal and intellectual production throughout
global history. From artist’s studios to experimental laboratories, from offices to political chambers, rooms and their contents have long
impacted history and transformed their inhabitants. We invite case studies that address questions like the following: How might an
assemblage of objects within a given space intersect or clash with ideological narratives? How have secret or privileged rooms, or rooms
to which access is limited, served to obfuscate and facilitate the generation and dissemination of ideas? As historians and critics, how
should we interpret and recreate such spaces—many of which no longer exist?
The Philosophy Chamber exhibition, on view at the Harvard Art Museums from May 19 to December 31, 2017, will explore the history and
collections of one of the most unusual rooms in early America. Between 1766 and 1820, the Philosophy Chamber, a grand room adjacent to the
College Library on Harvard’s Campus, was home to more than one thousand artifacts, images and specimens. Named for the discipline of Natural
Philosophy, a cornerstone of the college’s Enlightenment-era curriculum that wove together astronomy, mathematics, physics and other sciences
interrogating natural objects and physical phenomena, the Philosophy Chamber served as a lecture hall, experimental lab, picture gallery and
convening space. Frequented by an array of artists, scientists, travelers and revolutionaries, the room and its collections stood at
the center of artistic and scholarly life at Harvard and the New England region for more than fifty years. The exhibition considers the
wide-ranging conversations, debates, and ideas that animated this grand room and the objects and architectural elements that shaped, supported
or unintentionally undermined these discourses.
Potential case study “rooms” include:
• Teaching cabinets
• Civic spaces
• Domestic spaces
• Toxic rooms
• Secret rooms
• Studies or offices
• Artist studios
• Classrooms or lecture halls
• Chatrooms or other digital “rooms” and platforms
• Museum and gallery installations
• Train Stations
• Ruins, war-torn rooms
Due the interdisciplinary nature of this symposium, we welcome proposals from a variety of fields, including art history,
architectural history, material culture studies, history, English and literature studies, American studies, anthropology, and archaeology, as
well as the fine arts.
To apply, please submit a 300-word abstract and two-page CV to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 15, 2017.
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