Researcher-Led Initiative Fund

Conference Review: Sights and Frights – Interdisciplinary Conference on Victorian Visual Culture, Horror and the Supernatural

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The Sights and Frights conference took place at the University of Sussex on Thursday 19th June 2014. The conference was sponsored by The Centre for Visual Fields at the University of Sussex & supported by the Doctoral School’s Researcher-Led Initiative (RLI) Fund. Today’s blog post has been written by the organisers of the event.

Sights & Frights

The aim of this one-day conference was to explore and interrogate cultural cross-currents between nineteenth-century visual culture and the literature, science and social practices of the period, particularly where these were concerned with attitudes to and instances of, the supernatural and horrific.

The conference attracted a variety of international delegates, including research students and academics, as well as professionals working in such diverse fields as museum curating, fiction writing, publishing and contemporary art – evidence that the ghostly and ghoulish is a widely popular area of interest.

Professor William Hughes of Bath Spa University commenced proceedings with his keynote lecture Talking Heads: Reconfiguring Post-Mortem Testimony in the Ghost Story. This fascinating talk discussed how the supernatural and evidential converge in the ghost-story trope of the re-animated corpse.

The six panel discussions showcased the inter-disciplinary nature and exciting range of research being conducted in the field. The topics covered included spiritualism, ghost fiction, werewolves, mummies, phantasmagoria, enfreakment, miasma and spirit photographs – to name but a few.

A very special and unique addition to the conference was a magic lantern demonstration (pictured above), delivered with great humour and erudition by Trevor Beattie. Delegates were treated to an hour of genuine nineteenth-century slides, including ‘chromatropes’ or fake fireworks; a ‘smoking monkey’ and a ‘man swallowing rats’(!) – a spectacular and memorable show that was definitely one of the highlights of the day.

The final keynote speech of the day was given by Dr. Tatiana Kontou, a senior lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and Sussex alumnus. In The Haunted Lens: Mourning and Proof in Post-Mortem and Spirit Photography, Dr. Kontou examined how the aesthetics of the post-mortem photograph permeated other kinds of nineteenth-century imagery. A particularly sensitive and touching observation was how the post-mortem photograph – particularly those featuring children – facilitates mourning by reconfiguring bereavement as a new kind of relationship – one with a dead, rather than a living, loved one.

We are very grateful for the support of the Doctoral School’s Researcher-Led Initiative Fund, which enabled this conference to take place. For more information and full abstracts of all papers please see


Musical Materialities in the Digital Age Interdisciplinary Conference: 27th – 28th June

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With support from the Doctoral School’s Researcher-Led Initiative Fund, Music Materialities in the Digital Age is a 2 day interdisciplinary conference taking place at the University of Sussex on 27th and 28th June.

Music, while summoning notions of intangibility, transience and loss, is also associated with material objects that serve to ground the musical, make the transient permanent and defer loss. Unearthing music’s association with materiality reveals a fascinating array of artefacts, including instruments, scores, transcribing devices, sound recordings and much more. Such artefacts provide vital reference points for historical research as well as inviting new creative uses, rediscoveries and (re)mediations. They also add to the ever-growing archives of past objects, whether stored in ‘physical’ or digital forms. Music’s material traces serve as vital ways of mediating memory, whether in private collections or public exhibitions. Furthermore, the use of musical ‘ephemera’ such as record sleeves, programmes, flyers and posters as a primary means for putting the popular musical past on display in museums and galleries has highlighted the ways in which such objects are not so ephemeral after all.

 The persistence of musical artefacts and musical materialities following the period of their initial use value poses interesting questions. What is the fate of musical artefacts once they become obsolescent? What becomes of music and its objects once relegated to archives? What is the role of musical artefacts in helping us to understand the past? What is the relationship between the physical and the digital in terms of music’s objects? To what extent does a focus on music’s objects challenge the idea of music as a social process? Conversely, what role does musical materiality play in the maintenance and development of rituals long associated with music? What rituals reformulate musical materiality? What does the remediation of the musical past via ‘media archaeology’ have to tell us about present desires, anxieties and needs? What is the role of museums, galleries, sound archives and libraries in these processes?

Working from the premise that musical materiality matters, the aim of this two-day interdisciplinary conference (welcoming speakers from media studies, music studies, cultural studies, museum studies, memory studies and other cognate disciplines) will be to reflect upon the materialities of music objects/technologies in the digital age, with an emphasis on:

  • Processes of remediation
  • Residual media of ‘dead media’
  • Cultural waste
  • Media archaeology (and particular manifestations relating to sound and music, e.g. ‘vinyl archaeology’)
  • The recycling of memory and material culture
  • The digital archive
  • The future of music creation and consumption
  • Nostalgia and ‘retromania’
  • Music as ‘thing’ and/or ‘process’
  • Commodification


Scheduled papers cover a variety of topics, including contexts of reception, production and circulation of digital objects; analysis of residual media and formats (playback devices, vinyl records, cassettes, etc.); the meanings and implications of digitisation; archives, museums and sound curating; musical materiality and digitality in education, the implications of streaming for producers and consumers of music; the evocative power and physicality of music objects. The full programme will be published on the conference website later in May.

Keynotes will be provided by Professor Will Straw and Dr Noel Lobley.

Will Straw is Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada and Professor within the Department of Art History and Communications Studies at McGill University in Montreal. Dr. Straw received his BA in Film Studies from Carleton University (Ottawa) and his Masters and PhD degrees from McGill University in Montreal. He is the author of Cyanide and Sin: Visualizing Crime in 50s America, and co-editor of the Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock.  He has published widely on music scenes, the music industry and the relationship of music to media.

Noel Lobley is a sound curator who is currently working as an ethnomusicologist Research Associate at the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, where he is developing the music and sound collections through a series of curated experiential sound events.  His interdisciplinary research in the anthropology of sound and music explores recorded heritage as a key method for understanding the relationships between archival field recordings, culture and environment.

The conference will include a specially convened panel featuring sound curators Andy Linehan and Cheryl Tipp of the British Library. This session, convened by Professor David Hendy (University of Sussex), is in collaboration with the British Library and the Sussex-based Public Culture Hub.

Registration and Fees

Registration for the conference is now open. Please register by completing the booking form and paying the appropriate fee using one of the payment methods listed on the registration page.


The organisers of the conference ‘Musical Materialities in the Digital Age’ are delighted to offer up to 30 Sussex students the opportunity to register for this 2-day conference at the reduced rate of £25. This represents a 50% saving on the current early-bird student rate and a 60% saving on the regular student rate. The reduced rate is open to any student currently registered at the University of Sussex and covers conference registration, delegate fees, lunch and refreshments on both days of the conference.

To request an application form for the reduced rate please e-mail

Completed forms must be received by 13th June 2014 to be eligible for the fee reduction, but bear in mind that applications will be dealt with as received so early submission is advised. Details of how to pay the reduced fee (£25) will be provided with confirmation of successful applications.

For more information please visit the Music Materialities In the Digital Age website.