SAH Blog

  • Digital research tools: a response by Dianne Harris

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    Jun 22, 2012

    I would like to thank Morgan Ng for his thoughtful comments about the ways in which developments in the digital humanities intersect with the work and interests of historians of the built environment. I share his enthusiasm for the many new tools that are available to us and that enhance our ability to effectively teach and conduct research on a wide range of topics. As the Editor-in-Chief for SAHARA, I would like to respond to Mr. Ng’s commentary with the hope of clarifying a few key points.

    First, SAHARA now contains close to 25,000 member-contributed images. About half of those have been shared with ARTstor as “Editor’s Choice” contributions to their digital library. Although that remains a relatively small number, SAHARA will grow substantially in the coming year through the bulk uploading of numerous significant collections contributed by our members. We hope to have closer to 100,000 images in SAHARA within the next 12 months. Moreover, SAHARA will become larger if our members contribute to it. I encourage Mr. Ng to help grow this important digital image archive  by adding his own images to the SAHARA collection and by encouraging his colleagues to do the same.

    Second, SAHARA is a complicated project, the product of the hard work and countless volunteered hours of many of our SAH colleagues. It has been an exciting experiment, one that has established a new model of collaborative partnership between librarians and scholars. Perhaps this facet of SAHARA remains invisible to some members, which is unfortunate, since it is one of the project’s greatest accomplishments and one for which it has gained much attention and acclaim across the humanities. It also sought to establish a new form of scholarly publishing since the images that are contributed to SAHARA are peer-reviewed and then “published” to the Editor’s Choice collection in ARTstor. Again, this facet is less visible, but it is an important aspect that distinguishes SAHARA from other digital image collections. It is true, therefore, that SAHARA is growing slowly. But unlike images in other collections, you can be certain that images you find in SAHARA are of a high quality and that they are accompanied by authoritative metadata. This may not matter to some scholars, but it does matter to many of us.

    Third, no one working in the digital image world imagines that scholars will ever perform “one stop shopping” for the images they use for teaching and research. The internet is full of amazing and useful websites that contain a vast array of primary source images from museum collections, archives, and the photographs that are uploaded by members of the public. SAHARA does not aim to fulfill the needs of every scholar. But it does, again, aim to provide high-quality, authoritative images contributed by SAH members who wish to share their images, their research, and their particular visual and scholarly perspectives, on architectural, landscape, and urban history.

    Fourth, SAHARA currently rests on a business model that is determined, in part, by parameters that are set by our technology host and partner and by the foundation that provided the funds for its creation.  We, too, hope to experiment with alternative business models that may allow some or all of SAHARA to become available to a wider audience in the future. At the moment, however, the project is bound by contracts that specify access policies. So the limitation of access is not determined by a desire for restricted access, but instead by complicated contracts that must be honored for the time being.

    Finally, I’m pleased to report that SAHARA is attracting considerable traffic, and seems to be a useful tool for many SAH members. The 2011 report from ARTstor indicates that  there were 119,671 image requests from SAHARA for this past year.  Like any new, innovative tool, it is a work-in-progress; it is imperfect. But with the support of members like Mr. Ng, I hope it will become a resource that serves SAH members for many years to come.

    -- Dianne Harris

    Editor-in-Chief, SAHARA

    President, Society of Architectural Historians 

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  • Photographer David Schalliol Documents Detroit

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    Apr 27, 2012
    During the SAH Annual Conference in Detroit last week, photographer/sociologist David Schalliol documented Detroit.
    Click here to view the photos on his blog

     

    The Guardian Building Interior by David Schalliol.
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  • Banham's America by Gabrielle Esperdy

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    Mar 27, 2012
    Reyner Banham may have died in 1988, but he is active on Facebook, with a fan group, an author page, and, at last count, 1,048 friends. This is far fewer than the average teenager, to say nothing of Lady Gaga, and there are certainly more sober ways to gauge the influence of the British historian and critic of modern architecture and design: two collections of his writings, a hefty intellectual biography, and a volume of essays by distinguished scholars inspired by his work. In addition, a number of his books remain in print decades after their original publication, including Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960) and Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971). Most recently, Ice Cube's video for Pacific Standard Time is as reverent an homage to Banham's style of casual but informed analysis as one might imagine. Clearly, Banham still matters in all the ways that count for a traditional intellectual - but Banham still matters in ways that count for an intellectual in the age of social media, too. And the man whose work happily vacillated between the academic and the popular would have appreciated the giddy enthusiasm that's prompted hundreds of people, from dozens of countries, to like and friend him posthumously.

    Banham had plenty of giddy enthusiasm himself, especially for the United States - its culture and technology, its cars and its buildings. After years of observing America from afar in movies and magazines, Banham visited for the first time in 1961. Taken at the age of 39, this trip was, according to his wife, "the realisation of a longheld dream." [1] He returned to the U.S. regularly thereafter, notably to Los Angeles on a Graham Foundation Travel Grant in 1965, before moving to Buffalo in 1976 to teach at the State University of New York. (This was after having taught at the University College London for over a decade.) Four years later, he settled in Santa Cruz to teach at the University of California. At the time of his death, Banham was about to move across the country again, having accepted a professorship at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts.

    In addition to teaching, Banham produced a dozen scholarly books and a steady stream of criticism in publications ranging from Architectural Review and Design Book Review to the Times Literary Supplement and New Society, as well as a handful of radio and television broadcasts for the BBC (Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, available on YouTube, is the best known). As a critic, Banham is sometimes seen as a more learned (though less glib) practitioner of Tom Wolfe's pop New Journalism; as a scholar, he is viewed as a less staid (though more snarky) heir to Nikolaus Pevsner's partisan history of architecture's recent past. These assessments are on the mark: they usefully characterize Banham's approach to the full spectrum of design in his immediate present. Yet they overlook the relationship of Banham's work to another body of literature that elucidates not only his methodology but also his enduring value and relevance today: travel accounts of Europeans abroad in America.

    Read the rest of the article as it appears on Places - The Design Observer


    Gabrielle Esperdy is associate professor of architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

    Esperdy focuses on the intersection of architecture, consumerism and modernism in the urban and suburban landscape, especially in the U.S. in the 20th and 21st centuries. She is particularly interested in minor or everyday buildings and how social, economic and political issues shape the built environment. Her books include Modernizing Main Street, published in 2008, and the forthcoming Architecture's American Road Trip, which examines how architectural discourse absorbed the ideals and concerns of commercial sphere after World War II.

    Esperdy's work has appeared in the Journal of Architectural Education, the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Perspecta, Architectural Design, and Design Observer, among others. She is an associate editor of multi-volume series The Buildings of the United States, and the editor of the SAH Archipedia, an online resource scheduled to go live in 2012. She is a board member of DesignInquiry and a regular contributor to the DesignInquiry Journal.

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