Chicago, IL, USA
November 8-10, 2018

All events are free and open to the public
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This conference proposes design as a timely lens through which to re-examine the history of Chicago, a city whose past encompasses the major national and international themes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and exemplifies how geography, demographics, and politics intertwined to shape the emergence of modern design in an urban environment.

Taking a broad view of design, we sought papers that shed light on practices of fashion, graphic design, architecture, interiors, decorative arts, advertising, and industrial design in Chicago between the early nineteenth century and the end of the twentieth century and that represent a diverse range of methodological viewpoints. Moreover, in order to reckon more fully with the complex interplay of grand narratives and complex local realities, we encouraged papers from any discipline that take design as a lens through which to explore aspects of the city’s history not typically considered within the frameworks of art and architecture that have largely defined the history of design in Chicago to date.

Fundamentally, this conference aims to consider the prospect of a local design history for a city that has often been outward-looking and will ask: 

  • Is Chicago only a microcosm of broader trends in the nation and world, or are there distinctive aspects of Chicago’s design history?
  • Can the city’s particular histories of design shed light on developments elsewhere?
  • How might greater understanding of Chicago’s design history reveal new insights into the city’s larger social, cultural, and economic character?
  • More broadly, what might exploring the relationship between design and place historically in Chicago suggest for understanding that same dynamic in our current age of globalization?

Chicago Design: Histories and Narratives, Questions and Methods is organized by Jonathan Mekinda (Assistant Professor, School of Design, University of Illinois at Chicago) and Bess Williamson, (Associate Professor, Art History, Theory, and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago). The conference is part of Art Design Chicago, an initiative of the Terra Foundation for American Art, dedicated to helping people in Chicago and around the world experience, understand, and enjoy Chicago’s extraordinary artistic legacy. The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation is the Presenting Partner of Art Design Chicago. Additional support for the conference is provided by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.