SAH Blog


  • Reflection on This Year's Plenary by Cynthia Hammond

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    Jun 1, 2011

     This year's meeting in beautiful and resilient New  Orleans was my first as a SAH member. In addition to  an outstanding range of panels and presentations, Dr  Craig Wilkins' plenary was a special privilege to hear.  Presented in a spacious darkened theatre and  unaccompanied by images, his address was a  powerful reminder that architectural historians must  continue to question the content of our classes, the  decisions we make as researchers, and the scholarly  priorities to which we dedicate our energies. His  opening question was simple. "What if," he asked  quietly, "You didn't matter?"

     Wilkins used wit and critical insight in equal measure  to draw the audience into his primary concern, that  architectural history - the books published year to  year, the grants awarded, conference papers  presented - often reiterates rather than steps beyond  the familiar outlines of the architectural canon. If one  does not belong to the cultural traditions that are  produced or are represented within the canon, the  implication is that one's own cultural traditions and  production do not matter. This is a devastating  message for young architects and scholars who may  not fit cultural - and I would add, gendered - tropes  within these professions.

    At Concordia University in Montreal, where I teach courses in architectural history and art historical methodology, cultural diversity is one of our institution's most frequently touted attributes. And this diversity is indeed something that makes Concordia - and Montreal - wonderful. Yet I need not to reflect for long on the constitution of our classes in Art History to see that the majority of our students are white, English-speaking, middle-class women - like myself. The presence of female faculty in our Department is a testament to increasing gender inclusivity in Canadian institutions, which is something to celebrate. But Dr Wilkins' talk was a timely reminder that this advance is the thin edge of the wedge.

    Wilkins' plenary recalled the observations of cultural critic, Bell Hooks, who has often pointed out that the objects studied in the Humanities rarely reflect the diversity we want to see in our classrooms. So what is taught - still the Western tradition, despite a lot of critical questioning - has a direct relationship to the constituency that registers for our courses. Wilkins reminded me that if I want change, as an educator I have to reflect the great scope of what matters beyond the history of privileged, European and European-descended producers of culture. The 2011 plenary was an elegant and moving call to action, whose key question came at the perfect moment - just as the precious summer months of research, writing and course planning beckon.

    Cynthia Hammond
    Concordia University, Montreal

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  • Annual Meeting Online

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    Apr 9, 2011

    At the annual meeting later this week, many of us will be in New Orleans giving and listening to papers; asking questions and making comments; discussing ideas over coffee, drinks, and food; reflecting on ideas during tours and site visits. This website offers a venue for continuing, consolidating, and expanding those conversations.  

    During and after the conference, please use the new Annual Meeting Discussion Group feature to post brief comments on and responses to the ideas circulating at the conference. If you have longer and more considered thoughts to share during or after the event, this blog is open to you as well. Get in touch!

    -- Jonathan Massey

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  • "Marcel Breuer and Postwar America" by Jonathan Massey

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    Apr 5, 2011
    The Slocum Gallery at Syracuse Architecture recently hosted "Marcel Breuer and Postwar America," an exhibition of drawings and photographs from the archive of this key modernist. The show was curated by students in a seminar I taught last fall with Barry Bergdoll, the Phillip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art and former SAH President. The class was linked to a digital humanities initiative through which Syracuse University is creating a digital edition of part of the Breuer archive. The show has closed, but it is documented in an online gallery at the Design Observer website. 
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