SAH Blog

  • Distance (and) Learning: Thoughts on Online Tools in the Teaching of Architectural History

    By
    Amanda Reeser Lawrence and Lucy M. Maulsby
     |
    Oct 31, 2014

    With the ever-rising tide of online education now seeping into the sacred precincts of the American university campus—if not having broken the levees altogether—many academics find themselves struggling to adjust to the newly fluid landscape of higher education. Indeed the parallel to the effects of global warming is intentional and instructive. Academics, with responses ranging from Chicken Little sky-is-falling hysteria to willful disbelief, now confront the certainty of change along with uncertainty about the degree to which online tools will affect the structure and aims of college and university systems. Coverage in the academic press as well as the mainstream media reinforce the notion that education has become a battle ground and that the continuing investment in online courses has prompted a crisis, even as it has created opportunities.

    As two assistant professors in the School of Architecture at Northeastern University in Boston, MA, we find ourselves in the midst of this transformation and have sought to address the changing expectations of our students and take advantage of new technologies as they become available. Already online content is expanding within our classrooms; in our large history survey courses we quiz students regularly through the Blackboard site, as a way to take attendance and measure comprehension; in large and small classes alike we ask students to post responses on class blogs and listservs; and we use an ever-expanding archive of images and videos available online—truly one of the most radical changes in the teaching of architectural history over the past generation. We have been asked to help consider which courses in our department might lend themselves to an online platform, and have attended seminars and workshops about the development of online courses. We have learned a new vocabulary—instructor neutral, MOOC, SPOCs, modules, and the “flipped” classroom—and shared this information with colleagues.

    But throughout this process we have had little time or opportunity to consider more global questions that move past a narrowly reactive set of responses to a more proactive position. How can these new online tools further and potentially even help clarify and enrich our goals as educators? Since many online course models favor content that is oriented toward learning a skill or mastering information, what are the online opportunities for areas of study traditionally based on a process of inquiry and critique in which human interactions (between students and between students and teachers) are at the center of the learning process? What does online teaching mean for disciplines, like architecture, that encourage students to appreciate and understand the world around them with the goal of responding innovatively to current challenges? How can we best participate in the growing number of conversations about how (as well as what) to teach in the context of a rapidly transforming educational landscape?

    stereopticon
    Slide Lecture on St. Peter's Basilica, 1897. From T. H. McAllister Company, Manufacturing Opticians, New York, catalogue, 1897. 

    In April 2014, we convened a group of architectural historians from area institutions to address some of these questions. The workshop, “The Practice of Teaching,” brought together faculty—some of whom have little to no experience with online education—and doctoral candidates, nearly all of whom are intimately involved in the construction of online courses. Each presenter was asked to respond to a distinct but related set of questions, which were given in advance. Our aim was to bring different perspectives to bear on some of the challenges as well as opportunities made possible by the online teaching of architectural history, as well as establish a basis for conversation among the larger group assembled. While the focus was on the concerns particular to our discipline, our hope was that the conversation would open up perspectives on online teaching more broadly.

    What emerged from the presentations and in the discussion that followed came as a surprise. Not because of any radical new findings about online teaching, but rather because the questions and issues raised are consistent with those that have always been at the center of our efforts to be more effective teachers. If anything, the conversation reinforced a shared commitment to teaching and a desire to employ any number of tools (online or otherwise) to foster an environment in which understanding is gained through an active and critical engagement with the material presented. In this context, an expanding array of visual material, which might include a flythrough of a digitally reconstructed Roman forum, a photograph of an original drawing held in an archival collection in Paris, or a live webcam from an archaeological dig underway in rural China, allows us to present a richer, more complex, and more immediate picture of the material remains of the past. Online discussion forums provide all students with a means to express their opinions, ask questions, and craft their responses, not just those that are the first to raise their hand. These tools, with their remarkable diversity, flexibility, and interactivity, evidence ways in which online approaches can overcome some of the limits of the traditional classroom

    Indeed, as Associate Professor Marc Neveu made clear in his presentation, changes in the kinds of tools available have historically altered the contours of the discipline. German art historian Heinrich Wölfflin’s now iconic pairings of projected images played a critical role in the development of formal analysis as a cornerstone of art and architectural history in the first decades of the twentieth century. In more recent history, the transition from lantern slides to 35mm slide projectors to digital presentations has enabled instructors to include multiple images as well as text and videos on a single ‘slide.’ The abundance of information reflects the quantity of material now available to instructors as well as the expectations of an information-rich (perhaps overloaded) generation. Although we tend to think of these changes as largely progressive, there are mishaps and miscalculations and certain things are lost. One of the most frequent laments of those who teach online classes is their relative lack of flexibility and the speed with which they become, in whole or in part, obsolete, despite the extraordinary effort dedicated to their making. In addition, while we have for the most part eagerly incorporated new visual material into our courses, there has been little reflection about how this material has shaped students’ engagement or comprehension. Does a multimedia slide bewilder students new to the material, or encourage memorization rather than critical thinking? Is there such a thing as too many images? How do we teach our students (or ourselves for that matter) to investigate where an image comes from, and how that affects our understanding of it? 

    One of the most consistent threads in the conversation had to do with shifting our focus from how we teach to how our students learn. How can we best use new technologies to reinforce “learning objectives”? A multimedia classroom experience may provide new opportunities, but those opportunities are only as valuable as the instructor’s ability to direct them toward meaningful goals. How might faculty engage with the growing literature about students’ retention and comprehension? How can we better measure students’ understanding of course material? What role should new technologies play in this process? The pairing of new technologies with educational platforms intended for large numbers of students challenges educators to think about increasingly heterogeneous student populations with a diverse range of skills, backgrounds, and ambitions. What role might these technologies play in smaller classes? In seminars and colloquia? Or even design studios?

    The concept of distance, which was introduced by Assistant Professor Paolo Scrivano, provided a powerful lens through which to consider many of the challenges facing instructors. The traditional lecture hall establishes and reinforces the physical and intellectual distance between the teacher and students. The instructor transmits information (sometimes equated with knowledge) to students, typically rendered anonymous by their sheer number, with varying degrees of success. Among the challenges of this model is overcoming the distance not only between the students and the teacher but also between the students and the course material. Smaller lecture classes or seminars present a different but related set of challenges. What is the value of learning about the settlement patterns that structured life in ancient Mesopotamia for first year students who have only just decided on their major? What is the connection between vernacular building traditions employed in some countries and the glass residential towers that define urban life in other regions of the world?

    In some respects, online teaching has the potential to decrease this distance. Although massive online open courses (or MOOCs), with their thousands of students, represent the loss of the human dynamic brought into play when students and teachers occupy the same physical space, they also, paradoxically, have the potential to bring the instructor and the material ‘closer’ in a number of ways. MIT Professor Mark Jarzombek’s Global History of Architecture—the first architectural history MOOC—provides novel means for students from around the world to share, through photos, videos, and text, with instructors as well as fellow students their response to the material being taught. As Ana Maria Leon Crespo and Jordan Kauffman, both doctoral candidates at MIT and active participants in the making and operating of the course, explained, the ability of students to share local knowledge through photographs and first hand accounts, often from remote locations not covered in scholarly literature, dramatically expanded the scope of the course. Distance was decreased between student and professor as well as between student and the material under study.

    The design and implementation of online courses demands the commitment of significant financial and human resources and the talents of a range of experts. These experts might include not only education specialists and professors but also instructional designers and technologists, project managers, and producers. As Marikka Trotter made clear in her presentation about the tremendous effort that went into the creation of “The Architectural Imaginary,” a small private online class (SPOC) for incoming students at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, developed with HarvardX, the process, while rewarding, is costly and time consuming. As a result, rather than put the full course online, the Harvard team instead opted for a hybrid model in which a portion of the course material is presented online before students gather in the classroom.

    The hybrid model perhaps offers the most powerful opportunity to bring together the ‘closeness’ of traditional teaching models with online tools that engage students in novel ways. Indeed, the inherent variety, flexibility, and adaptability of the hybrid model makes it uniquely resilient in an educational and technological landscape defined by rapid change. Within this context the focus of inquiry should be less on whether or not to teach courses online (most of us already incorporate online tools and will do so increasingly) but rather on more clearly articulating our goals as educators. How can online tools help us to develop courses that respond to the many different ways in which students learn? How can we better draw on the particulars of our disciples to direct the learning process not only toward specific areas of knowledge but also toward the development of essential skills? In short, how can we best equip our students to address the challenges they will face in the coming decades? In this context, developing resilience in the face of the dramatic changes facing higher education requires intelligently deploying all of the tools at our disposal—online or otherwise—as a means to bring our students closer. 

    Amanda Reeser Lawrence
    Lucy M. Maulsby
    Northeastern University

    Amanda Reeser Lawrence holds a Ph.D. in architectural history and theory from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. She is an assistant professor at the School of Architecture at Northeastern University. Her book, James Stirling: Revisionary Modernist (Yale University Press, 2013), was funded by the Graham Foundation and the Paul Mellon Center for Studies in British Art. A licensed architect, Lawrence is founding co-editor of the award-winning journal, Praxis, which was selected as Deputy Commissioner of the 2013 Architectural Biennale in Venice.

    Lucy M. Maulsby was trained as an architectural historian at Columbia University.  She is an assistant professor at Northeastern University where she teaches courses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century architectural history. Her book, Fascism, Architecture and the Claiming of Modern Milan, 1922–43, was published by University of Toronto University Press 2014.

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  • Guatemalan Western Highlands and Lake Atitlán

    By
    Brooks Fellow Amber N. Wiley
     |
    Oct 9, 2014

    Landscape of loss. German Guatemalans. Sensational cemetery. Underwater wonderland.

    When I laid my head down in my Quetzaltenango hostel I had to laugh. I was lying down in a location I did not know existed just a month prior. This city was not on my itinerary, not even on my radar. I ended up in Quetzaltenango, called “Xela,” by residents, thanks to Lonely Planet and some tourist shuttle agency fliers. My original plan was to visit the Petén Department —Flores and Tikal—during my second month in Guatemala. I opted for a location closer to Antigua after learning how long the bus ride would take. Riding the buses through the mountainous terrain of Guatemala was by far my least favorite part of my time there. This major struggle, full of twists and turns which made me nauseated, re-directed my path to discover places I had never heard of previously.

    Figure 1
    Google Maps snapshot of Guatemalan sites visited in August and September.

    I spent approximately two weeks in Xela, and two weeks in San Pedro La Laguna at Lake Atitlán. The Quetzaltenango and Sololá municipal departments, in which Xela and San Pedro are located, make up part of the Western Highlands region of Guatemala. While numerous and diverse Maya people live in this region, the three ethnic groups I came into contact with the most were the K’iche’, Tz’utujil, and Ladino populations. This ethnic information is important historically and geographically, as the culture and built environment of the Western Highlands is inscribed on the landscape, and very much related to the various ethnic communities that reside in the region.

    The stories the landscape tells – they are powerful and disconcerting. As geographers Michael K. Steinberg and Matthew J. Taylor note:

    Guatemala conjures up both exotic and disturbing images: past and present Maya cultures, Maya ruins, volcanoes and lakes, military dictatorships, and grave human rights violations. Researchers and travelers alike are drawn to Guatemala's beauty and diversity. Yet Guatemala confounds and often repels those who seek to delve deeper into what the landscape means and what it is telling us [emphasis added].[1]

    Steinberg and Taylor identified and recorded landmarks and memorials referencing the Guatemalan Civil War in the Western Highlands. They discovered that three main bodies sought to commemorate the war in the “postconfict landscape” – the Catholic Church, the military, and the government. The siting, location, and subject matter of the memorials illustrated that the wounds of the war were still very the fresh and open. Additionally, these memorials were often ephemeral and understated, easily overlooked. The majority of the massacres during the civil war took place in the ethnically diverse Mayan Western Highlands. As cultural anthropologist Benjamin Michael Willett noted in his dissertation “Ethnic Tourism and Indigenous Activism: Power and Social Change in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala,”

    The period of la violencia was tragic and the effects that it has had on the Indian communities are devastating – ranging from the total destruction of some four hundred villages and municipal centers to periodic sweeps, repression, and violent killings of tens of thousands of Mayas.[2]

    Evidence of these atrocities in the landscape, however, is not readily apparent. Steinberg led a collaborative GIS mapping effort to bring light to this invisible landscape, and the visuals are astounding.

    Figure 2
    Maps comparing the location of indigenous Maya populations with massacre sites during the Guatemalan Civil War. Source: M. K. Steinberg et al., “Mapping Massacres: GIS and State Terror in Guatemala,” Geoforum 37 (2006): 62-68.

    Quetzalteco Exceptionalism

    Lonely Planet’s description of Quetzaltenango is not the most flattering piece of prose I have ever read (especially in comparison to the overview of Antigua), but it was this sentence that captured my imagination and left me intrigued:

    The Guatemalan “layering” effect is at work in the city center – once the Spanish moved out, the Germans moved in and their architecture gives the zone a somber, even Gothic, feel.[3]

    Somber, Gothic, German architecture in Guatemala? I spent a month in extravagant Spanish Baroque Antigua, and I needed to see how this side of architectural expression came to life in the Xela.

    Quetzaltenango is the Nahuatl (Aztec) name for the town, meaning “place of the Quetzal bird.” The conquistador Pedro de Alvarado called the city Quetzaltenango after conquering the city for Spain. The Nahuatl were some of his allies in conquest. The town was previously known by indigenous Maya Mam and K’iche’ populations as Xelajú Noj, or “Under the Ten Mountains.” Today the city residents and most Guatemaltecos call it Xela – an act of resistance. The indigenous presence and political power in Xela is stronger than in Guatemala City or Antigua because there is a sizable and influential urban K’iche’ Maya population. As historian Greg Grandin notes:

    K’iche’ elites helped to bring the railroad to Quetzaltenango, built public buildings and monuments, established patriotic beauty contests, and gave nationalists speeches. By hitching national fulfillment to cultural renewal, K’iche’s justified their position of community authority to the local and national ladino state. Conversely, by linking ethnic improvement to the advancement of the nation, they legitimized to other Mayans their continued political power. [4]

    On my first Sunday in Xela I walked to the Parque Centro América and stumbled across public speeches given by young ladies running for Pequeña Flor de Xela. They averaged around 10 years old, and they were captivating! The content of their speeches and their stage presence was impeccable. They covered topics like the importance of Mayan history and the need to keep the indigenous culture alive. Historian Betsy Ogburn Konefal states in her article “Defending the Pueblo: Indigenous Identity and Struggles for Social Justice in Guatemala, 1970 to 1980” that this tradition of “consciousness-raising” started in the 1970s with young reina contestants, and that they used their time on stage with a public audience to “urge spectators to embrace indigenous identity and take pride in la raza.” [5]

    Figure 3
    La Municipalidad in Parque Centro América.

    The Xela and Guatemala flags were strewn all over the park before the week was out in anticipation of Guatemalan independence activities on September 15. Flags on the Municipalidad, on the Corinthian columns in the park, and on the Casa de la Cultura. The architectural eclecticism of the Xela Parque Centro is noteworthy. It felt nothing like the other cities I had visited in Latin America.

    Figure 4
    Catedral Metropolitana de Los Altos (Catedral del Espiritu Santo) in Xela. Original sixteenth century façade sits in front of newer, more muted and stark late nineteenth/early twentieth century edifice.

    Figure 5
    Catedral Metropolitana de Los Altos.

    The cultural layers of Xela are fascinating, but fly below the radar for most tourists seeking to learn about Guatemala’s architectural heritage. This might change if ground is gained with the “Route of the Agroindustry and the Architecture Victoriana” that is on the tentative UNESCO World Heritage List for Guatemala. The route, submitted to UNESCO by the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture and Sports, is “constituted by a series of rail stations, buildings of offices, hotels and built residences between the last three decades of the XIX century and the first half of the XX century, to support the development of the export agroindustry that was implemented during that time in Guatemala.”[6] Xela, in addition to its Maya and Spanish roots, had a strong late nineteenth and twentieth century German presence. The Germans came in the late nineteenth century to participate in the coffee industry and contributed significantly to the architectural heritage of Xela. If the idea of what represents “authentic” Guatemalan culture expands, then Xela would place higher on the tourist map. Xela has an urban K’iche’ population, Spanish and German eclecticism, agroindustry and trade, and even more, one of the most strikingly beautiful cemeteries I have ever seen.

    Cementerio General

    The general cemetery in Xela took my breath away. I lived in New Orleans for three years, and visited and documented some of our most spectacular cemeteries there. Xela had something that the New Orleans cemeteries did not have – vivacity in color. This fact alone brought liveliness to the city of the dead. I went to the cementerio general on a Sunday, and the necropolis was full of life. It was how I imagined Mount Auburn in Boston at the height of the Victorian era – complete with people who passed time in the cemetery for both recreational and commemorative purposes. Xela’s general cemetery was not only a place of quiet respite, but also a place of action. Families are the primary caretakers of the plots. Young and old, men and women wielded axes and machetes to chop the undergrowth, procured water from the countless fountains to wash the memorials, and planted fresh flowers in and around the plots.

    Figure 6
    A German plot in the general cemetery.

    There is not much written about the cementerio general in Xela, which is a shame because it is a wondrous place. It is also a testament to the deep social stratification of the city, from grand shrines of city elites to a mass grave, as well as the ethnic diversity – I came across two different German plots. There is every kind of revival shrine in the cemetery – Greek, Egyptian, Gothic – and some fiercely modern designs that speak to changing tastes over the past century.

    Figure 7
    View in the general cemetery.

    Troubled Water: Lake Atitlán

    My time at Lake Atitlán was focused on appreciating and attempting to understand the natural landscape. Lake Atitlán is a caldera lake that was formed 84 thousand years ago. I spent most of my time at the lake in the town of San Pedro La Laguna. There was not much public information regarding the history of the lake. I visited the tiny Museo Tzu’nun Ya’ which had rare historic images of San Pedro La Laguna before the invasion of concrete block structures. The museum also had beautiful interior murals, and a whole room dedicated to the geophysical properties of the lake. Since the majority of the display was in Spanish and the Tz’utujil language, it was difficult to grasp the history of geology displayed in the museum.

    Figure 8
    “Callejon de ranchos (Path with thatched houses),” Pedro Rafael Gonzalez Chavajay, 1999. This oil painting by Tz’utujil Maya artist depicts the traditional thatched houses with steeply pitched roof of the San Pedro La Laguna.

    Figure 9
    View of contemporary San Pedro La Laguna from main cathedral.

    One of the most recent and fascinating finds at Lake Atitlán is the submerged Mayan city Samabaj, the “Mayan Atlantis.” Samabaj was a sacred pilgrimage site located on an island in the lake, and was lost when the lake waters rose for reasons still unknown to archaeologists. This site, discovered in 1996 by local diver Roberto Samayoa, was submerged around 250 AD. Lead site archaeologist Sonia Medrano reported that her team found six ceremonial monuments and four altars as well as houses for about 150 people in the ruins of the underwater city.[7]

    “La Atlántida Maya,” National Geographic Channel

    This discovery is related to another phenomenon that is currently affecting the lake and the communities around it. The city of Samabaj is a reminder that Lake Atitlán is not a static entity – it grows and wanes, has cycles, and changes as the climate and the earth’s crust changes. The lake has risen dramatically in the last decade, submerging lakeside buildings constructed to take advantage of the beautiful views. Author Joyce Maynard writes about this problem in her New York Times article “Paradise Lost.” Maynard mentions the wisdom of a shaman candle seller, who imparted ancient knowledge to explain the changes in the lake: “To the Mayan people, everything is about cycles.” Maynard continues this thought by proclaiming, “Rain comes down. Plants grow up. The lake rises. The lake falls. The lake rises again.”[8] Lake Atitlán is also on the World Heritage Tentative list for UNESCO, and was submitted Ministry of Culture and Sports in 2002, the same year as the “Agroindustry Route.”[9]

    Figure 10
    Submerged structure in Lake Atitlán.

    I spent time at Lake Atitlán developing a collage series utilizing magazines collected in Guatemala. The series had a number of different themes, from self-reflection, to active visualization of goals, to organizing random thoughts on architecture and design, to highlighting the mystical powers of women. My final collage for Guatemala is central to my thoughts about the trip. In that collage I reconsidered the “dangerous and poor” Guatemalan narrative projected by various tourist and travel agencies, and contrasted that with the images of Guatemala that left a strong impression on me. The messages that the world circulates about the country do not do it justice. Es un país pequeño con un corazón grande, hermoso.

    Figure 11
    “Dear Guatemala, Thank you for everything.”

     

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended Reading:

    Wallace W. Atwood, “Lake Atitlán,” Geological Society of America Bulletin 44 no. 3 (1933): 661-668

    Max Paul Friedman, “Private Memory, Public Records, and Contested Terrain: Weighing Oral Testimony in the Deportation of Germans from Latin America during World War II,” Oral History Review 27 no. 1 (Winter/Spring 2000): 1-15

    Greg Grandin, “Can the Subaltern Be Seen? Photography and the Affects of Nationalism,” Hispanic American Historical Review 84 no. 1 (February 2004): 83-111

    Greg Grandin, “Everyday Forms of State Decomposition: Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, 1954,” Bulletin of Latin American Research 19 no. 3 (July 2000): 303-320

    Leah Alexandra Huff, “Sacred Sustenance: Maize, Storytelling, and a Maya Sense of Place,” Journal of Latin American Geography 5 no. 1 (2006): 79-96

    Marga Jann and Stephen Platt, “Philanthropic Architecture: Nongovernmental Development Projects in Latin America,” Journal of Architectural Education 62 no. 4 (2009): 82-91

    Betsy Ogburn Konefal, “Defending the Pueblo: Indigenous Identity and Struggles for Social Justice in Guatemala, 1970 to 1980,” Social Justice 30 no. 3, The Intersection of Ideologies of Violence (2003): 32-47

    W. George Lovell, “The Archive That Never Was: State Terror and Historical Memory in Guatemala,” Geographical Review 103 no. 2 (April 2013): 199-209

    Sidney D. Markman, “The Plaza Mayor of Guatemala City,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 25 no. 3 (October 1966): 181-196

    Mario Roberto Morales, “Scenes of Lake Atitlán,” Literary Review 41 no.1 (Fall 1997): 5-19

    Sandra L. Orellana, The Tz’utujil Mayas: Continuity and Change 1250-1630 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984)

    Elisabet Dueholm Rasch, “Representing Mayas: Indigenous Authorities and Citizenship Demands in Guatemala,” Social Analysis 55 no. 3 (Winter 2011): 54-73

    Blake D. Ratner and Alberto Rivera Gutierrez, “Reasserting Community: The Social Challenge of Wastewater Management in Panajachel, Guatemala,” Human Organization 63 no. 1 (Spring 2004): 47-56

    Catherine Rendón, “Temples of Tribute and Illusion,” Américas 54 no. 4 (July/August 2002): 16-23

    B. G. Smith and D. Ley, “Sustainable Tourism and Clean Water Project for Two Guatemalan Communities: A Case Study,” Desalination 248 (2009): 225-232

    Jeffrey S. Smith, “The Highlands of Contemporary Guatemala,” Focus On Geography 49 no. 1 (Summer 2006): 16-26

    Michael K. Steinberg, Carrie Height, Rosemary Mosher, and Mathew Bampton, “Mapping Massacres: GIS and State Terror in Guatemala,” Geoforum 37 (2006): 62-68

    Michael K. Steinberg and Matthew J. Taylor, “Public Memory and Political Power in Guatemala's Postconflict Landscape,” Geographical Review 93 no. 4 (October 2003): 449-468

    Matthew Tegelberg, “Framing Maya Culture: Tourism, Representation and the Case of Quetzaltenango,” Tourist Studies 13 no. 1 (2013): 81-98

    James W. Vallance, Lee Siebert, William I. Rose Jr., Jorge Raul Girón,

    and Norman G. Banks, “Edifice Collapse and Related Hazards in Guatemala,”

     Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 66 (1995): 337-355

    Daniel Winterbottom, “Garbage to Garden: Developing a Safe, Nurturing and Therapeutic Environment for the Children of the Garbage Pickers Utilizing an Academic Design/Build Service Learning Model,” Children, Youth and

    Environments 18 no. 1 Children and Disasters (2008): 435-455

    _______________________________

    [1] Michael K. Steinberg and Matthew J. Taylor, “Public Memory and Political Power in Guatemala's Postconflict Landscape,” Geographical Review 93 no. 4 (October 2003): 450.

    [2] Benjamin Michael Willett, “Ethnic Tourism and Indigenous Activism: Power and Social Change in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala,” (PhD diss., University of Iowa, 2007), 13.

    [3] Lonely Planet, “Introducing Quetzaltenango” 

    [4] Greg Grandin, “Can the Subaltern Be Seen? Photography and the Affects of Nationalism,” Hispanic American Historical Review 84 no. 1 (February 2004): 91

    [5] Betsy Ogburn Konefal, “Defending the Pueblo: Indigenous Identity and Struggles for Social Justice in Guatemala, 1970 to 1980,” Social Justice 30 no. 3, The Intersection of Ideologies of Violence (2003): 36

    [6] UNESCO, “Route of the Agroindustry and the Architecture Victoriana”

    [7] Sarah Grainger, “Divers probe Mayan ruins submerged in Guatemala lake,” Reuters October 30, 2009 

    [8] Joyce Maynard, “Paradise Lost,” New York Times May 20, 2012

    [9] UNESCO, “Protected area of Lake Atitlán: multiple use,”

     

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  • Antigua: La vida de las ruinas

    By
    Amber N. Wiley
     |
    Sep 2, 2014
    “The most weirdly beautiful ruins in the world are found amid the jungles of Guatemala.”    
    - Edgar Lee Hewett, Head of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Southern California, qtd. in Ransome Sutton, “What’s New in Science: Weirdly Beautiful Ruins,” Los Angeles Times November 26, 1933: G19

     “Do not smile at the degraded vestiges of a past civilization that we meet in Central America.  They are living tombs of a wrecked national intelligence which has succumbed to the rapacity and worse proclivities of relentless and unmerciful conquerors.”
    - Ferd C. Valentine, U.S. Surgeon – Urologist, “People and Places in Guatemala,” Manhattan 1 no. 6 (June 1883): 424

     

    There is life among ruins. Antigua is the perfect place for a case study on preservation – the methods of conservation, local governance, and international partnerships. There is much to be learned from this small Central American city, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

    As the above quotes indicate, there is also an abundance of mystery in the crumbling edifices for those who delight in “ruin porn” à la Detroit post-industrial decline or post-Katrina New Orleans.  Art critics often point to the long history of deriving aesthetic pleasure from gazing upon remnants of a bygone era. There is an irony or depravity, however, in appreciating the vestiges of a colonial past (this is true of the post-industrial and post-disaster pasts as well, for different yet occasionally parallel reasons). The colonial past is marked with oppression, forced assimilation, and denial of indigenous rights, belief systems, and customs. 


    [Figure 1.  View of the church of El Carmen after 1874 earthquake, Antigua 
    1875.  Eadweard Muybridge.  Canadian Centre for Architecture.]


    [Figure 2.  El Carmen Market and Ruins 2014.]

    Antigua has been a destination for wanderlusts and adventurers since the late 19th century. Even photographers Eadweard Muybridge and Arnold Genthe documented the collapsed structures of the former capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala in 1875 and sometime between 1899 and 1926, respectively. The overall tone of the earliest North American accounts of Antigua that I found in the pages of publications such as the Manhattan and Outing, an Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation is one of wonder and intoxication with the ruins, and condescension to the large Mayan population that even today resides in pueblos on the periphery of the city.[1]


    [Figure 3.  Cloister of La Merced monastery,
    between 1899 and 1926.  Arnold Genthe.  Library of Congress.]


    [Figure 4.  Cloister of La Merced before a wedding 2014.]

    Hernán Cortés assigned Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado the task of “conquering and settling” the Kingdom of Guatemala in 1523. This kingdom included parts of modern-day Belize, Chiapas (southern Mexico), Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The first capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala was founded in 1524 at the indigenous Cakchiquel Maya city of Iximché, however, the Cakchiquel resisted Spanish domination, and the Spaniards relocated their capital in 1527 to the vicinity of present-day Ciudad Vieja on the side of Volcán de Agua. The second capital site suffered losses due to a major landslide in 1541, and in 1543 the Spaniards moved further down into the Panchoy Valley and established the third site for the Muy Leal y Muy Noble Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, or the "Very Loyal and Very Noble City of Saint James of the Knights of Guatemala," now known as Antigua. Here the capital remained and flourished through countless earthquakes until 1773, when the Santa Marta earthquake leveled the city. The earthquake of 1773 led to the relocation the capital once again in 1776, this time to its current location 45 km northeast, now known as Guatemala City.  Residents of Antigua were reluctant to abandon their city, and some remained despite efforts by the Spanish colonial government to force them to the new location.

    Antigua Today

    “Mention Antigua, Guatemala, to those who have been there and you'll probably end up mesmerized as they rave about its churches, volcanoes, restaurants, and cobblestone streets. Mention Antigua to those who return to its splendor year after year and you'll no doubt be brought into their world of enchantment as they describe learning a new language, coming to appreciate a different culture, and expanding from one's comfort zone in the perfect place to volunteer.”[2]

    Modern Antigua and its environs survive through a mixed economy of coffee production, tourism attributed to the proliferation of Spanish schools and its ruins, and its popularity as a destination-wedding site. I often heard employees at museums, cultural sites, stores, and even the police respond to my queries and thanks with “Estamos aquí para servirle,” which may be a common response in the country, but was one that I thought might be tied to the tourism/service industry.  There is also a sizable expat population, a topic that then-anthropology doctoral candidate Joshua Levy covered in his dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley. “Expats are walking contradictions,” Levy stated, “stumbling down the cobblestone streets of a hometown that has always been for foreigners.”[3]

    There is a seemingly understood wealth disparity between the urban and rural (mainly indigenous) populations. Many of the indigenous people come to Antigua to sell their wares then travel back home. There are countless non-profits attached to Antiguan business that have created a relationship with the indigenous population in the vicinity – anything from a restaurant to a yoga studio to a Spanish school in Antigua will probably have a volunteer program located in a nearby pueblo.

    While in Antigua I visited Niños de Guatemala, a well-run NGO in Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala. They offer primary education to the poorest segments of children in Ciudad Vieja.  These are children who live in close proximity to livestock – roosters, mules, etc.  They probably don’t have running water or electricity. Most of their homes – constructed of discarded materials – have dirt floors.  I was on the tour entitled “Experience Guatemala.” I met people who were volunteering for weeks at a time to support the mission of the organization. I learned so much – so much in fact, that my heart was broken.


    [Figure 5. Worst section of housing in Ciudad Vieja.  Some Niños de Guatemala students come from this neighborhood.]

    In Antigua it seems that volunteering as a tourist is the norm.  In fact, it is a stark contrast to my time in Mexico where tourism was all about relaxation and pampering the guest (at least in the Yucatán). Another North American visiting Antigua asked me in a rather relaxed conversation, “So are you here to volunteer?” It was an innocent enough question. “No, I’m here to study architecture.” My answer didn’t feel sufficient in this context. It felt like vanity. For the first time this trip I felt that in order to legitimize my presence I should physically contribute to the larger community in some way. All the English language magazines like Qué Pasa and Revue include a significant amount of information about non-profits and NGOs operating in the country. Even what one would consider a more traditional cultural tour, like the outstanding ones offered by Elizabeth Bell at Antigua Tours includes information about how your money helps sustain the culture and heritage of the town in very beneficial ways.  

    Preservation and the Realities of the Everyday

    By the time of the 1773 disaster numerous religious orders such as Franciscans, Dominicans, and Mercedarians had already created their respective convent and church complexes, and a number of educational institutions were established in the city as well. The remnants of those religious institutions are the backbone of the architectural tourism industry in Antigua. If you tire of visiting churches and convents on an architectural tour, then Antigua is probably not the place for you. What is particularly gratifying about this collection of sites, however, is the fact that they represent a very unique version of Spanish baroque known as “earthquake squat.” Additionally, each site is treated in a manner specific to its condition and current use. You might ask, “What use does the site of an architectural ruin have today?” The main cathedral of Antigua, San Jose Cathedral, is still very much a working religious institution, as are the churches of San Francisco and La Merced. Iglesia Beatas de Belen on the southeast edge of the city operates both as a church and as a school. The convent of Santo Domingo has been converted to a boutique hotel, and includes in its expansive grounds two art galleries, several museums, and archaeological sites such as the crypts. These architectural sites juggle being both functioning structures and ruined playgrounds for locals and tourists alike.


    [Figure 6. Nave of Santo Domingo set for a wedding.]

    Alternatively, the church and convent of Santa Clara is no longer a functioning religious institution, but is a much visited tourist destination. Sites like Santa Clara, Las Capuchinas, and San Francisco offer some interpretation for the visitor, while others such as San Jerónimo and La Recolección offer little to none. What the latter locations offer instead is the space for magic and imagination. The allure of the unknown and place to create your own story. These sites act as public parks for locals, places for lovers to cuddle under trees, and for family explorations. 


    [Figure 7. Is it architectural vanity? Selfie with immense La Recolección ruins in the background.]

    For instance, my time at La Recolección was spent dancing my gaze along the jagged edges of the ruins, not necessarily trying to make sense of what I was seeing. My artist heart rejoiced in the chaos. I wanted very much to sit, draw, and paint, but the heat told me to keep moving. I did have the opportunity to sit and indulge in the ruins of Las Capuchinas. I spent most of my time trying to depict the materiality, the mixture, and the mess of the tower for the novices (a fascinating complex). My dreamy watercolor impression seems most accurate to me. I feel that I should have left my depiction one of an impression rather than trying so hard to put in the details with Prismacolors. As an academic, it is difficult to interpret and validate my impressions. As an artist, it felt “right.”


    [Figure 8. Las Capuchinas Pt. 1: Water color.]


    [Figure 9. Las Capuchinas Pt. 2:  Water color plus Prismacolor.]

    So how does one begin to understand the interworking of these preservation decisions that highlight certain structures and leave others to serve only as romantic backdrops to the action of their visitors? I searched to find contemporary research that addressed these issues. I found one master’s thesis on La Recolección written in the last ten years.[4] Elizabeth Bell regularly publishes short yet concise articles about the heritage preservation of Antigua in local publications.[5] Websites that cover contemporary architecture trends lacked any information on Antigua (part of this is due, of course, to strict regulations against new building in the city). The bulk of detailed original architectural research on the city was conducted in the 1950s and 1960s.

    A Few Unanswered Questions

    Why is Antigua an overlooked subject in preservation case studies? There seems to be a great wealth to discuss regarding seismic activity and building for earthquakes and volcanoes/mountains with the threat of edifice collapse?

    The city was inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1979 – at a high point of international attention to the Guatemalan Civil War. Was the inscription of the city somehow related to this humanitarian crisis and the understood danger to the culture and built environment of Guatemala? 

    Who studies Guatemalan culture, both the built environment and intangible heritage? While in Yucatán, Mexico, I found archaeologists took up the charge of studying Mayan life and ruins in the region. Guatemala seems to fall under the purview of geographers and anthropologists – why the dearth of architectural historians/preservationists and related literature?

    Is the lack of study a result of the civil war?

    What happens when we privilege the narrative of the colonial past over the indigenous past and present? Are the Cakchiquel natives benefiting from the preservation of these romantic ruins?

    Finally, do architecture and preservation as professional fields have a social responsibility?

    We often find our most endangered sites and cultural landscapes in regions that have suffered from disinvestment, natural disaster, and war. We, as architectural historians, preservationists, architects, conservationists, historians, anthropologists, geographers, professionals in our respective and often overlapping fields, begin to list sites as important and worthy of preservation.  We cite their universal qualities, their authenticity, and their contribution to knowledge about the world at large as evidence of their significance. We often create revenue streams and training/conversation opportunities through such campaigns. But do we build social equity through the stories that are told, the jobs that are created, and the revenue from marketed tourism? What of Antigua as a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Does it mean the same thing for the Ladino and Cakchiquel populations? There is emerging research and literature that takes up some of these concerns, but none I have found address Antigua specifically.[6] There is life in the ruins, but there is a cultural and economic disparity between the former Spanish colonial capital and contemporary Guatemalan context that surrounds it. 


    [Figure 10. This image, taken between 1899 and 1926, could easily be captured in Antigua today. An indigenous woman selling wares in Parque Central.  Arnold Genthe.  Library of Congress.]

    Recommended reading:

    Elizabeth Bell, Antigua Guatemala: The City and Its Heritage (La Antigua Guatemala: Antigua Tours, 1999)

    George F. Guillemin, “The Ancient Cakchiquel of Iximché,” Expedition 9 no. 2 (Winter 1967): 22-35

    José María Magaña Juárez, “La Arquitectura Monumental de La Antigua Guatemala,” Apuntes 24 no. 1 (2011): 92-105

    W. George Lovell, “‘Not a City But a World’: Seville and the Indies,” Geographical Review 90 no. 1/2 (January/April 2001): 239-251

    W. George Lovell, “Surviving Conquest: The Maya of Guatemala in Historical Perspective,” Latin American Research Review 23 no. 2 (January 1, 1988): 25-57

    Sidney D. Markman, “The Architecture of Colonial Antigua, Guatemala, 1543-1773,” Archaeology 4 no. 4 (December 1951): 204-212

    Sidney D. Markman, “Las Capuchinas: An Eighteenth-Century Convent in Antigua, Guatemala,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 20 no. 1 (March 1961): 27-33

    Sidney D. Markman, “Santa Cruz, Antigua, Guatemala, and the Spanish Colonial Architecture of Central America,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 15 no. 1, Spanish Empire Issue (March 1956): 12-19

    Alfred Neumeyer, “The Indian Contribution to Architectural Decoration in Spanish Colonial America,” Art Bulletin 30 no. 2 (June 1, 1948): 104-121

    Ruben E. Reina, Annette B. Weiner, and Edward O’Flaherty, “Ethnohistory and Archaeology in Colonial Antigua, Guatemala,” Expedition 12 no. 2 (Winter 1970): 18-30

    Robert C. Smith, “Colonial Towns of Spanish and Portuguese America,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 14 no. 4, Town Planning Issue (December 1955): 3-12

    Susan Migden Socolow and Lyman L. Johnson, “Urbanization in Colonial Latin

    America,” Journal of Urban History 8 no. 1 (November 1, 1981): 27-59

    John J. Swetnam, “Interaction Between Urban and Rural Residents in a Guatemalan Marketplace,” Urban Anthropology 7 no. 2 (Summer 1978): 137-153

    Stephen Webre, “Water and Society in a Spanish American City: Santiago de Guatemala, 1555-1773,” Hispanic American Historical Review 70 no. 1 (February 1990): 57-84



    [1] See Ferd C. Valentine, “People and Places in Guatemala,” Manhattan 1 no. 6 (June 1883): 424.  The Manhattan was a short-lived illustrated literary magazine; Arthur M. Beaupre, “Antigua, Guatemala, and Its Ruins,” Outing, an Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation 35 no. 1 (October 1899): 50; “Antigua Colonial Ruins Perennial Travel Lure,” Daily Boston Globe April 13, 1952: A18.

    [2] Bonnie Lynn, “Antigua, Guatemala: Break Out of Your Comfort Zone,” World & I 26 no. 9 (September 2011): 5.

    [3] Joshua Wolfe Levy, “The Making of the Gringo World: Expatriates in La Antigua Guatemala,” (PhD diss., University of California Berkeley, 2007), 7.

    [4] Ana Beatriz del Rosario Linares Muñoz,“Ruin Revival in Antigua Guatemala The Interpretation, Integration and Adaptive Reuse of a Fallen Eighteenth Century Masterpiece,” (Master’s thesis, Columbia University 2007).

    [5] See Elizabeth Bell, “Antigua Guatemala celebrates its 34th anniversary UNESCO World Heritage Site” Revue October 1, 2013 http://www.revuemag.com/2013/10/antigua-guatemala-celebrates-its-34th-anniversary-unesco-world-heritage-site/ and “Antigua Over the Years,” Revue March 1, 2014 http://www.revuemag.com/2014/03/antigua-over-the-years/

    [6] See Michelle Fawcett, “The Market for Ethics: Culture and the Neoliberal Turn at UNESCO,” (PhD diss., New York University, 2009); Ian Hodder, “Cultural Heritage Rights: From Ownership and Descent to Justice and Well-being,” Anthropological Quarterly 83 no. 4 (Fall 2010): 861-882; and Jason Ryan and Sari Silvanto “World Heritage Sites: The Purposes and Politics of Destination Branding,” Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing 27 (2010): 533–545.

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