Description Across the Disciplines

Thursday, April 23, 2015 - Friday, April 24, 2015  9:00am Wood Auditorium, Avery Hall (April 23) and Davis Auditorium, Schapiro Center (April 24)


Free and open to the public

No registration required

Photo ID required for entry


Heyman Center for the Humanities

Department of English and Comparative Literature

Department of Music

Department of Anthropology

Department of French and Romance Philology;

Department of History

Institute for Comparative Literature and Society

Participants in "Description Across the Disciplines" will consider the relation between description and other modes of engaging with objects of analysis, such as interpretation, evaluation, argument, and critique.

For the full list of speaker paper titles and abstracts click here.

While description has proven to be contentious in literary studies and critical theory, it constitutes a central and prized aspect of scholarly practice in fields such as anthropology, musicology, and art history and has remained so despite critiques of objectivity and the “view from nowhere.”

How have practices of description—from ethnography to ekphrasis—shifted in light of changing views of the role of the observer, scholarly ethics, and epistemology? What protocols are involved in describing people, texts, images, musical scores, and material artifacts?

Questions of description have been taken up recently within several disciplines; we hope to expand these conversations by offering a comparative perspective.

The conference brings together presenters from history, anthropology, psychology, art history, and literary studies alongside curators and artists working in different genres, such as observational documentary and graphic memoir, for whom description represents a crucial aspect of their practice.


Heather Love, R. Jean Brownlee Term Associate Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania
Sharon Marcus, Orlando Harriman Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Columbia University
Stephen Best, Associate Professor, Department of English, University of California, Berkeley


  • Alison Bechdel

    Author, Cartoonist

  • Maggie Cao

    David F. Grey Assistant Professor, Art Department

    University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill

  • Lorraine Daston


    Max Planck Institute for the History of Science

  • Michael Fried

    J.R. Herbert Boone Professor of Humanities and Art History

    Johns Hopkins University

  • Brian Goldstone

    Post-doctoral Fellow

    Columbia University

  • Liza Johnson

    Professor of Art

    Williams College

  • Georgina Kleege

    Novelist, Essayist, and Translator

  • Jill Morawski

    Professor of Psychology

    Wesleyan University

  • Ann Reynolds

    Associate Professor, Art History

    University of Texas at Austin

  • David Russell

    Fellow and Tutor, Associate Professor of English

    Corpus Christi College Oxford

  • Cannon Schmitt

    Professor of English

    University of Toronto

  • Mary Ann Smart

    Professor of Music Scholarship

    University of California, Berkeley

  • Joanna Stalnaker

    Associate Professor of French

    Columbia University

  • Kathleen Stewart

    Professor of Anthropology

    University of Texas at Austin

  • Grant Wythoff


    Society of Fellows in the Humanities


By Semester