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Implicit Lessons: The Sociality of Instructional Texts from 1793 to 1993

Implicit Lessons: The Sociality of Instructional Texts from 1793 to 1993

Session will present: In-Person (New York, Feb 15-18, 2023)

Co-chairs: Colleen M. Stockmann, Gustavus Adolphus College ( and Aleisha Elizabeth Barton, University of Minnesota (

Artists and amateurs have long absorbed the lessons of art-making through the distribution of printed instruction, from the first American type foundry to the invention of the portable document format (PDF). This session examines technical manuals as objects of study in their own right, specifically in the context of the United States. With a focus on praxis and pedagogy as sites of social transformation, we seek to center the under-examined arena of creative instruction. As recent studies within American art and material culture suggest, process manuals and design guides can be interrogated as an archive of the social, political, and aesthetic philosophies of making. Scholarship such as Elizabeth Bacon Eager’s work on nineteenth-century technical drawing and Kristina Wilson’s study of racialized midcentury design directives suggest the implicit politics present within instructive texts that often remain undetected in discussions of completed works and compositions. Panelists may consider a wide range of materials, including: pattern book templates, photography manuals, advice columns for interior design, papermaking guides, and drawing manuals. This session seeks papers that, for example: theorize notions of directional versus didactic, dissect the interplay of handwork and vocational training, and/or provide a critical interpretation of instructional messaging. We invite elaborations on the theme that center the imaginative potential of instructive texts via experimentation and improvisation. Papers that tell the stories of unexpected interpretations of manuals and technical lessons are encouraged, especially as they pertain to marginalized makers and mediums underrepresented in the archives.

Submit your 250-word abstract, CV (up to 2 pages), and Completed Proposal Form by Wed, Aug 31 to the co-chairs:,

Thank you!

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