PhD Conference Review

Posted on 8 April 2014

The department held its first annual Graduate Research Student conference last month. PhD student Beki Senior reviews the event.

The Art of Light and Dark / The Visible and Invisible: Doctoral Research Papers in the History of Art

For many PhD students (myself included) the most foreboding aspect of a research degree is finding a voice in the public arena. Whether by way of conference papers, panel discussions or public presentations, addressing an audience is a nerve wracking yet vital part of widening the conversation around art history. The platforms provided for this type of engagement are rarely ‘friendly’ by nature, and often serve to heighten anxiety around the public presentation of work. Art History PhD students at the University of York however have a new forum for presenting and developing their research.

On March 14th, ten PhD students working on varying aspects of art historical enquiry gathered to discuss ‘The Art of Light and Dark’ in the University’s Arts and Humanities auditorium. Managed and chaired by Jane Hawkes, head of the PhD programme in History of Art, the inaugural symposium provided an arena for students to engage in discussion and broaden the scope of their own approaches with their peers. Such a wide reaching theme realised the conference’s potential for cross collaborations between medievalists, students of the early modern period and the modern and contemporary as each speaker responded to the same topic within their current remit of study. All speakers tackled the topic with enthusiastic rigour, with papers topics ranging from Anglo Saxon ivory carving and burial ritual to 1970s all-female exhibitions and invisible Renaissance architecture. The variety of approaches highlighted the richness and diversity of art historical study within the University’s department and made for an enriching day of hearing new voices in art history. The subsequent panel discussions split the speakers into small groups, which made for a more relaxed environment and provided an opportunity for speakers to interact with one another and questions from the audience, which ranged from the development of trans-atlantic feminist ideology to the colouration of dawn in paintings of Waterloo.

By giving panelists such a broad topic on which to present, the format of the symposium allowed for a uniquely broad yet inclusive afternoon of discussion. Hopefully this is the start of an ongoing collaboration between postgraduate students, which encourages connections across periods, genres and styles and the first opportunity to find a voice within the conversation of art history.

By Beki Senior, April 2014