Visual Studies Research Institute

Funded primarily by Dornsife College and building on the success of the Visual Studies Graduate Certificate, the VSRI focuses on the nature, analysis and evaluation of visual evidence in order to interrogate the relationship of seeing, believing, and proving from Antiquity to the present.

As active and alert citizens and scholars, we have learned to unpack the rhetoric of speeches and of journalism, and to treat written and spoken claims and assertions with appropriate skepticism.   But images of protests or pollution or poverty that are flashed around the world very often seem to offer unmediated truths.   The growing role of the Internet and the World Wide Web over the last fifteen years has been to facilitate the transmission of visual information whilst simultaneously removing many of the traditional structures of knowledge that have claimed authority when it comes to interpreting an image.   This research Institute takes as its starting point that we learn to recognize and debate the implications of what we think that we see.

“Evidence” is something that underpins the basic concepts and methods that shape the terrain of the humanities and the sciences alike.   It invites the exploration of “objectivity,” “reliability,” and “bias.”  To focus on it as a topic is to open up issues to do with problems of hypothesis, modeling, and experimentation – and their representation and sharing.  The degree to which visual examples, diagrams, charts, and animations serve to communicate knowledge and understanding is central to the construction – and potential modification – of the intellectual landscape of today’s university.   Examining the implications of visual evidence leads us to assess the foundations of individual disciplines, the criteria that matter the most in developing their arguments, and the advantages – and problems – of interdisciplinary connections.    How do the social sciences, the humanities, and the natural sciences employ visual evidence to produce plausible explanations about the workings of social, imaginative, and natural worlds, now and in the past? 

The Institute is around an on-going seminar,  associated with invited speakers, a team-taught graduate seminar, undergraduate and graduate research fellowships and a conference and publication project. The seminar topicin AY 2013-14 was  “News Pictures” and in AY 2014-15 will be “Material Evidence.”

VSRI Events

Method, Madness, and Montage: From Aby Warburg to A Beautiful Mind

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W.J.T. Mitchell,
Professor of English and Art History, University of Chicago
August 29
DML 241





Look Out!
Visual Culture and the Future of the Humanities

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August 29-30
University of Southern California
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Petrified Vision, Animate Wood: On the Photography of African Sculpture
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Megan Luke
Assistant Professor of Art History, USC
Tuesday, September 9



VSRI Back to School Graduate Student Lunch
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September 10
University Club



Celebrating New Publications from the VSRI
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Tuesday, September 16
SOS 250



Depicting Spanish American Nature
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Thursday, September 18
SOS 250



VSRI Postdoc Welcome Reception
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Wednesday, October 1
Doheny Memorial Library 240



The Eternal Child: On Expecatations in the History of Photography
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Jan von Brevern 
Postdoctoral Researcher, Art History Department
Freie Universität Berlin
Tuesday, October 7 



VSGC Grant Writing Workshop
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Saturday, October 11
SOS 250



Building Cinematic Worlds: Production Design in 20th-Century American Film
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Monday, October 20
Doheney Memorial Library, Herklotz Room



Of(f) Museums: The Presentation of Anthropological Photographs in the Open Air
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Beatrice von Bismarck, Professor of Art History and Visual Culture, Cultures of the Curatorial Academy of Visual Arts, Leipzig
Friday, November 14
SOS 250



The Gay Essay
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Tuesday, November 18
Discussion from 7-8pm followed by a reception from 8-9pm
Brown Auditorium, LACMA
  • Visual Studies Research Institute
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