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Workshops and Guest Lectures with

Professor Dr. Sandy Isenstadt (University of Delaware – Center for Material Culture Studies)


Please find a short description of the series of events and reference to access reading material prior to the sessions here.



“Groping in the Dark” (Lecture and Discussion)

May 30, 2016; 6 pm (18 Uhr c.t.)
Dekanatssaal, Georg Forster-Gebäude 04-101
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

Following decades of electrification and ever-brighter streets and interiors, wartime blackouts came as a big surprise in American cities.  Even before bombs began to fall in Europe, Americans anticipated air raids and began to stage blackout drills, precipitating a crisis in the visual field. Countless individuals and groups began to consider life in “scotopic space,” that is, the sense of space that develops under conditions of little or low lighting. Widespread ambivalence regarding whether or not blackouts were actually needed in the United States prompted numerous explicit justifications from a wide range of advocates. Just about everyone—from government experts to medical researchers, civil defense specialists, soldiers and pilots, judges and attorneys, investment advisors, poets and so on, not to mention ordinary citizens—offered advice on ways to adjust to dimmer surroundings, to infer spatial information from non-visual senses, to become familiar with nightscapes based on specular rather than geometric properties of surfaces and generally how to inhabit and navigate a darkened world. Although the blackouts lasted only a few years in the United States, and no city was ever bombed, they reveal the profile, albeit in negative terms, of how the nation’s visual environment was imagined around 1940.


“Manufacturing Vision” (Workshop)

May 31, 2016; 9 am (9 Uhr c.t.)
Fakultätssaal, Philosophicum, FB 05
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

The illumination of spaces dedicated to labor have long been a concern since the quality, speed and duration of productive activity are all affected by the way in which they are lit. But the degree of control possible with electricity heralded a new level of precision in lighting. A host of experts arose, including illuminating engineers, physiologists, cost accountants, efficiency experts, and industrial managers, to devise new scales not only to measure lighting levels but also to quantify its contribution to overall output. For many, lighting objects was less of an issue than enhancing workers’ eyesight as a means of accelerating productivity. At a moment when ideas of scientific management flourished, such experts extended labor relations into the field of perception, effectively trying to Taylorize vision. Seeing, in essence, was being commodified.  A promising topic for discussion would be how best to frame a historical narrative of factory lighting to go beyond the expected theoretical landmark of Foucault writings on surveillance (although surveillance was understood by factory managers as an explicit benefit of enhanced lighting).


“Driving Through the American Night” (Lecture)

June 1, 2016; 10 am (10 Uhr c.t.)
S1, Hörsaalgebäude im Sportinstitut
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

Early in the twentieth century, the roving cone of an automobile headlight appeared as a new type of space that was unprecedented in its ubiquitous mobility. Suddenly in conflict with other spaces and with other perceptual habits, the headlight became distinctly social: it was designed, regulated, adjudicated and gendered; it mattered greatly whether you found yourself inside it or outside, whether following it from behind or seeing its leading edge rapidly approaching. Drivers and passengers sat at the vertex of a luminous cavity, pursuing but never entering it, all the while moving through a mantle of dark; at the periphery, other drivers and pedestrians were insulted by the visual violence of sudden glare and the peril of collision. With its beam of projected light coincident with a viewer’s eye, headlights are comparable to cinema, but the visual field generated in night driving is the product of the body’s mechanically-driven motion through space, rather than the virtual recreation of motion through film. However acclimatized our routine encounters with the headlight have since become, the story of the headlight’s rapid diffusion—shaped, navigated, avoided, adjudicated, accommodated—is an extraordinary episode in the formation of a new space by electric light.