By Tania Messell

With 2016 having been set in motion, it is worth recollecting the activities undertaken by the Internationalising Design History research cluster, which since 2014 have led to fruitful exchanges and paved the way for future initiatives amongst scholars and students like myself, whose research touches upon narratives of entanglements and mobility accross national, regional and local spheres.

To begin with, the cluster’s introduced a series of lunchtime research sessions during which academic staff and postgraduate students could meet to present work-in-progress updates. From a presentation on Estonian and Baltic design in the 1980s in the context of perestroika by Dr Jyri Kermik to the investigation of international remakings of Picasso’s Guernica by Dr Nicola Ashmore, these informal meetings have since March 2015 attracted a large group of contributors, such as Dr Paul Jobling, Dr Louise Purbrick, Dr Claire Wintle, Dr Lara Perry, and Dr Sarah Posey, to name a few.

Activities towards PhD and MPhil students, included a one-day workshop held by the cluster in May 2015, ‘New Thinking in Design History’, which offered a space for participants to reflect upon the expanding scope of design history and discuss methodological approaches. The event started of with an introduction from Jeremy Aynsley on the significance of the field’s internationalisation, followed by a paper by Zeina Maasri to the theoretical framework of her doctoral research, ‘Graphic design history in the Middle East: Notes towards a critical transnational perspective’. Dr Bridget Millmore in turn discussed the cross-border character of theoretical concepts and design practices, and Dr Sue Breakell (Archivist and Research Fellow in the Design Archives) and Dr Lesley Whitworth (Deputy Curator and Senior Research Fellow in the Design Archives) presented their findings on the transnational lives and careers of émigré designers, in light of the international scope of the Design Archives, located at the University of Brighton.

The cluster furthermore supported the symposium ‘From “Soft” to “Hard” Power? Changing Visions of Diplomacy by Design From 1945 Onwards’ which took place at the University of Brighton, on the 27th November 2015. Organised by Dr Harriet Atkinson and Dr Verity Clarkson, this first major event for IDH attracted an international group of presenters, whose papers explored the manners in which designers and designed objects shape diplomatic relations and are inversely affected by these (for an account of the event, please follow this link).

Invitations were also extended to scholars to undertake research and contribute to the cluster’s activities. Professor Clive Dilnot from the School of Art and Design History and Theory at Parsons the New School (New York) contributed two lectures and a workshop during his visit in October. The first lecture discussed the extent to which design historians could, alongside designers, contribute to a more humane and sustainable world, in the emerging epoch of the artificial. In a second lecture, ‘But what is a design configuration? And what does it do? The “fifty shades” of the London Underground Diagram (1931-2015)’, Dilnot examined the manifold dynamics that affected the evolving designs of the Henry Beck’s famous London Underground Diagram, and by revealing the gap that prevails between design history and design thinking, shed light on the limitations of historical explanations of designed artefacts.

Dr Yasuko Suga-Ida, Associate Professor in Design History at Tsuda College (Tokyo), was also invited by the cluster to share and develop her research at the University of Brighton. During her visit, Suga-Ida presented her paper ‘The Last Stand for Japanese Crafts? Design History Behind Bars’, which investigated the production of Mikoshi (wood shrines) in Japanese prisons, where this new craft culture offers an outlet for self-development to detainees and has led to the growing popularity of these affordable and high quality craft artefacts, as such circumventing traditional commodification. Suga-Ida later presented her research on the cross-fertilisation of Western and Japanese influences in interior decoration, which challenged the dualist relation of Modernism and Japonisme by revealing their two-way influences, followed by a workshop during which through a collective analysis of travel diaries and literary works by Western artists and designers who travelled to Japan in the late 19th century, allowed for a debate on the production of ‘Japanese-ness’. Future collaboration between IDH and Yasuko will take the form of exhibitions in Japan drawing on the holdings of the Design Archives.

Finally, two doctoral studentships were awarded to the Internationalising Design History research cluster, which since October 2014 have led to the investigation of the Internationalising Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) and of the International Council of Graphic Design Associations (ICOGRADA), by Tania Messell and Dora Souza Dias respectively.