Using Historical Archives to Explore Cultural Representation in Design & Mass Media

Ryan Hartley Smith
Assistant Professor, Graphic Design
Art Department, Queens College, CUNY

Communication designers today have unprecedented access to visual reference material from around the globe. This is largely thanks to the recent advent of online creative resources and archives. Whether a designer uses this material as formal inspiration, or directly incorporates imagery into a project, their appropriation can raise a multitude of ethical, cultural, and historical questions to consider.

Over the past four semesters, students in my Color and Design courses have explored these questions by using material in our college’s extensive Civil Rights Archives to generate socially minded projects, and to discuss cultural representation, authorship, and re-appropriation.

This presentation describes the outcome of our most recent project, which adapted the Civil Rights-era format of a “Mass Meeting” to examine the legacies of the 1964 Freedom Summer.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 1.2: New York City College of Technology on Friday, October 31, 2014.