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International Society for Cultural History

I served as convener and program chair of the International Society for Cultural History conference held in New York City 13-16 September 2018. In response to the performative turn in the humanities, the ongoing interest in bio- and body-politics, and the growing attention to leisure, dance, and sport studies, the conference included papers and panels on the theme of "Performance, Politics, and Play." Scholars working on any historical period or location were encouraged to explore this theme. Topics included:


  • performative/bodily practices of politics and play

  • political performances

  • the relationship of performance studies to cultural history

  • leisure practices (reading, cooking, hiking, feasts, travel, holidays, café culture, theater, opera, cinemas, and restaurants)

  • the interconnection of labor and leisure (how the labor of some provides the possibility of leisure for others)

  • performances of leisure (sports, dance, parades, colonial encounters mediated by theatrical/musical/danced “exchanges”)

  • historical reenactment

  • histories of sports

  • histories of gaming

  • sports and spectatorship (players and audiences, the sport star)

  • global and local cultures of sport


Between making room assignments, deciding on catering menus, trying to organize paper proposals into coherent (or indeed semi-coherent) panels, and having to reorganize the program each time there was a withdrawal or special circumstance that necessitated a presenter appearing on one day but not another, there is a lot of labor that goes into conference organization and little recompense for the person doing it. But the one tangible reward was being able to nominate a person whose work one finds compelling, and is of broad enough appeal to speak to cultural historians across the disciplines, to serve as honorary president of the society for the year. I immediately thought of Valerie Steele, the director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Valerie has organized more than 25 exhibitions since 1997, including The Corset; London Fashion; Gothic: Dark Glamour; Dance and Fashion; and Proust’s Muse. Her authored or edited books include Women of Fashion; Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power; The Berg Companion to Fashion; Fashion Designers A-Z: The Collection of The Museum at FIT; and The Corset (which will be familiar to many Victorianists).

Valerie's lecture,“Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color,” was held in the amphitheater of The Fashion Institute of Technology. The remaining conference events were held at Faculty House, Columbia University.

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