1990-91: Mass Culture

In America today the most prominent and widely disseminated cultural products fall beyond the scope of humanistic disciplines as traditionally conceived: films, videos, television programs of all sorts, rock music, popular dance, sport, new architectural design, advertising, journalism. We wish to evaluate the ways that humanistic disciplines have been and should be responding to this situation. How has the scope of traditional inquiry been enlarged to include new forms? What potential new modes of academic and performance-centered study might address the changing cultural needs of the society? In particular, in our image-saturated environment, how should symbolic visual forms be studied? What are the relations between historical, sociological, semiotic, and aesthetic approaches to images and other cultural phenomena? How have recent forms of avant-garde or postmodern art challenged traditional notions concerning the separation between high and mass-mediated culture? What is the political impact of changing cultural norms upon the institutions of a democratic society?

We wish to bring together at the Society for the Humanities scholars from the fields of languages and literature, history, philosophy, art history, music, and film studies whose work in the humanities has implications for these questions, either because they are working on popular materials of the past or present and are developing methods and theories that suggest an approach to mass culture or because they are themselves trying to shape their disciplines to deal with this contemporary cultural situation.