• 16 October 2019
  • 6:00 – 8:00 pm
  • All are welcome! However, places are limited, so please do book a free ticket.
  • Paul Mellon Centre

How could color have a history? Color just is. It is a salient fact of the physical world, which always has been and always will be. But that literally isn’t true. In one sense, color isn’t a property of the world at all; it is an event. It is something that happens, as electromagnetic waves are translated by visual systems to produce an experience of color. We make color. And then we use what we have made. We give colors names (though different languages divide the spectrum up differently). We think in (or maybe better, with) color. Color marks our emotional and social existence. Our psychological states have color: we are tickled pink and green with envy. Gender is often signaled, maybe even shaped, with color with our use of pink and blue (though at one point in history we did it in the other way round). Class has color: you can be a blue blood or a red-neck. The political world is demarcated by color: In America there are polarized red states and blue states, which only became fixed party designators in 2000 (and which reverse the ideological valence of the British use of red and blue for the Conservative and Labour parties). There are now Green parties everywhere. We color code race with four colors that no one of any race actually is. Everything about color has a history, even how many colors there are in the rainbow. Color seems so very obvious, but it is a glorious set of complexities and contradictions. If this talk has an argument, it is that we make color and color makes us—and all of that making takes place in and has defined the various histories of what it means to be human.

About the speaker

  • Headshot of David Kastan

    David Scott Kastan is currently the George M. Bodman Professor of English at Yale University, having previously taught at Columbia University, UCL, and at Dartmouth College. He has been a distinguished visiting professor at the University of Copenhagen, at American University in Cairo, and at Nanjing University. He is one of the most influential Shakespeare scholars in the world, having written many books and articles and serving as one of the general editors of the Arden Shakespeare. His work has been translated into French, Italian, Russian, Hungarian, Danish, and Mandarin. His most recent book is On Color, written with the English painter, Stephen Farthing. He is presently working on book about Shakespeare, Rembrandt, and Bach.