Color Codes: Standards, Selfhood, and the Rise of Seeing by Numbers with Dr. Lida Zeitlin-Wu

The modern color models (which include the Munsell, Ostwald, and Pantone systems) are part and parcel of everyday life under digital capitalism, yet too often they are viewed as a set of neutral design tools rather than social or political technologies in and of themselves. In this presentation, she uncovers a radical transformation in the mediation of color over the course of the 20th century, one in which corporations and institutions attempted to reconfigure the chaos of human sensory experience into a set of measurable and commodifiable data points – what she calls seeing by numbers. Moving from the commercialized color chart’s ties to eugenics and the techno-utopianism of Pantone’s Color of the Year, she shows how the color standards that calibrate today’s digital interfaces remain entwined with Western-centric, often racialized progress narratives that date back to the turn of the century. She asks: How can understanding the critical history of modern color standards help us rethink how we engage with the colorful interfaces that surround us?

This event is co-organized and co-sponsored by the MSU Film Studies Program, Moving Image Workshop, and the Digital Humanities Program.


Apr 5, 2024


2:00 pm - 4:00 pm




Wells Hall C640
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