Keynote Speakers:

Noam Elcott (Art History, Columbia University) and Radcliffe Edmonds III (Classics, Bryn Mawr College)

CFP Deadline: Passed

How has the dark, and in particular night’s darkness, factored into the realities of human experience? Encounters with the dark are integral to human physiology and cultural rhythms. Yet night and darkness were valued and interpreted through and within a myriad of expressive forms. Artists and authors evoke darkness as both stage and actor in the performance of the nocturnal. While night is laden with sinister connotations through darkness’ ability to obscure, disorient, and encourage nefarious behavior, that same shroud of secrecy and shadow is central to sacred nocturnal rites. 

Texts, whether reenactments of mythical and historical events or manifestations of an author’s creativity, often rely on darkness to establish context, set the mood, and drive the story. Physical light and darkness have been juxtaposed and intertwined in art and architecture throughout time, illuminating cultural conceptions and theories of light and vision. Material objects and spaces are regularly implicated in nocturnal activities, or activities that require the absence of light. At a more technical level, the manipulation of light, shadow, and dark pigments are ritualized acts for artists. In practical crafts, the darkest nights are essential for the success of pre-industrial technologies of navigation and in observing celestial omens. 

This interdisciplinary conference invites graduate students in Archaeology, Classics, History of Art, and related fields to present papers that address aspects of night and darkness from antiquity to the contemporary period. Potential themes include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Invocations of night by authors and artists 
  • Performativity and the nocturnal 
  • Darkness in myth, religion, and ritual 
  • Night as the setting for knowledge production and artistic creation
  • Sleep, death, and mortality in the cultural imagination 
  • Cultural conceptions and philosophical implications of darkness 
  • Secrecy and concealment 
  • The materiality of night
  • Astrology, esotericism, and occult imagery
  • Astronomy and navigation
  • Figurative language and allegory
  • The use of light and darkness in photography and film 
  • Shadow
  • Cross-cultural temporalities of night

To be considered, please submit a 300-word abstract (maximum) for a 15-minute presentation as well as a CV attached as a PDF to by June 1, 2019.

The symposium also features an exhibition and artist performance that will complement the conference. All events are organized by graduate students in the Bryn Mawr College Graduate Group in Archaeology, Classics, and History of Art.