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Skidmore College

Zankel Lecture examines record album covers

November 17, 2018
by James Helicke

The cover of Borgerson and Schroeder's book

The covers of mid-20th century vinyl record albums are cultural “artifacts” that also conveyed American consumerism and modernist values within a broader Cold War context, Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder said in the annual Zankel Lecture at Skidmore College.

Borgerson, an independent scholar, and Schroeder, William A. Kern Professor in the School of Communication at Rochester Institute of Technology, discussed their book “Designed for Hi-Fi Living: The Vinyl LP in Midcentury America” in a lecture Thursday, Nov. 15, at the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College.

Borgerson and Schroeder’s lecture considered a range of album covers — from how-to records on food and travel to jazz and Hawaiian music — as broader reflections of “modernist values as well as Cold War cultural diplomacy, cultural imperialism and propaganda.”

“Album covers from the 1950s and 1960s were an important part of postwar visual culture,” Borgerson and Schroeder said. “When looking closely at midcentury vinyl LPs, there is an overarching sense of how the Cold War trickled down into popular midcentury media artifacts.”

“LP covers … reveal powerful, yet relatively unnoticed, lessons in midcentury U.S. consumer and visual culture.”

Borgerson and Schroeder also described how the U.S. government turned to jazz, modern design and abstract art at the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow in an effort to mobilize American soft power against Soviet criticism “that the United States lacked a distinctive or historically developed culture of its own.”

The annual lecture was sponsored by Skidmore’s Departments of Management and Business, Art History and American Studies, as well as the Tang Teaching Museum.

The Zankel Lecture in Business Administration was established at Skidmore in 2001 in honor of the late Arthur Zankel, a Skidmore parent and former trustee.

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