Recap of the SAH 72nd Annual International Conference in Providence, RI

Jun 14, 2019 by SAH

The Society of Architectural Historians held its 72nd Annual International Conference in Providence, Rhode Island, April 24–28, 2019. Conference stats and a recap of the week’s activities follow.

Attendees: 675
Countries Represented: 27
U.S. States Represented: 40
Sessions: 40
Tours: 23
Tour Participants: 530
Roundtables: 7
Exhibitors: 16
Speakers: 182
Volunteers: 42
Papers Presented: 176
Fellowships awarded: 41
Total fellowship support awarded: $35,000 
Conference Chair: Victoria Young, University of St. Thomas
Local Co-Chairs: Dietrich Neumann, Brown University, and Itohan Osayimwese, Brown University 


Paper Sessions

The paper session portion of the SAH 2019 Annual International Conference included 33 thematic sessions, the Graduate Student Lightning Talks, and four Open Sessions designed to provide space in the schedule for papers on topics not covered in the themed sessions. SAH members delivered papers on Thursday, April 25, and Friday, April 26, in sessions organized into three tracks each day.

"I was able to see and chat with many colleagues whom I hadn't seen in a year, and to hear many interesting papers. SAH remains invaluable for professional networking and for advancing high level scholarship in architectural history." – survey feedback

SAH introduced new programs at this year’s conference to provide additional opportunities for members to present their research. For instance, this year saw the return of the poster session. Participants made posters on their current research projects, which were displayed in the common area of the convention center on Thursday and Friday. On Friday afternoon, participants gave presentations on their posters and answered questions about their projects. The new SAH Colloquium, held on Friday, aimed to help SAH members identify and discuss new approaches to their work. Scholars at all levels gave short presentations within a flexible framework designed to facilitate debate and discussion.

Additionally, in response to the fires that occurred a week earlier at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a “pop-up” session was added to the schedule to provide a forum for discussing the role that architectural historians play in the restoration and rebuilding of historic monuments. “After the Smoke Clears: Rebuilding, Restoring, and Reinterpreting Historical Houses of Worship in the Wake of the Notre-Dame Fire” addressed questions such as: Are we educators or activists on behalf of our objects of study? How do we acknowledge and celebrate the long and complex history of these monuments without creating false narratives? The session garnered much interest from conference goers and was well attended.

Graduate Student Programs

The Society presented several new programs for graduate students this year, which were designed to provide additional professional development opportunities and to nurture next-generation leadership. One hundred and twenty-five student members attended the conference—many for the first time—and turnout for the new programs was strong. SAH is grateful to the Gill Family Foundation for its generous sponsorship of the graduate student programs.

The Graduate Student Book Group was designed to bring students together with SAH Publication Award winners to discuss the subject of their book and the process of writing it. On Wednesday, Kathryn O’Rourke sat down with students to discuss her book, Modern Architecture in Mexico City: History, Representation, and the Shaping of a Capitol, which won the Society’s 2018 Alice Davis Hitchcock Book Award.       

Everyone knows how important a professional head shot is to personal branding, but the cost can often be prohibitive, especially for graduate students. With that in mind, SAH hired a photographer to take complimentary head shots for student attendees in the exhibit area on Thursday and Friday. Many students took advantage of the opportunity.

The new Mentoring Café, open on Thursday and Friday, provided students with a dedicated space to meet one-on-one with established scholars for coffee.

On Thursday afternoon, students sat down with distinguished architectural historian and SAH Fellow Joan Ockman for coffee and conversation about her unique career trajectory in the field. 

This year’s Graduate Student Roundtable brought several of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship recipients together along with JSAH Editor Keith Eggener, SAH Graduate Student Representative Jennifer Tate, and SAH President Sandy Isenstadt to share their advice and experience on writing, publishing, and navigating the challenges faced by emerging scholars.

Students, SAH Board members, and established scholars alike were in attendance for the Graduate Student Lightning Talks, which gave participants the chance to share their research in short presentations, respond to questions, and gain feedback from a supportive audience.

After sessions ended on Friday evening, graduate students gathered for a free networking reception where they enjoyed drinks and hors d’oeuvres, connected with peers, and met members of the SAH Board in a relaxed and intimate setting.

“The Graduate Student Reception was wonderful in that it afforded PhD students the time to attend sessions and "network" with others elsewhere throughout the conference with the knowledge that we would see fellow graduate students later at the reception.” –survey feedback

“It was a nice way to wrap up three intense days and having more conversations with students that I met through the students’ events.” –survey feedback


Roundtables, Workshops and Seminar

Roundtable discussions took place on Thursday and Friday. Topics included preserving digital architectural records, preserving postmodern architecture (presented by the SAH Heritage Conservation Committee and Docomomo US), publishing and trends in the history of interiors, the increasing hybridity of architectural scholarship and design practice, and globalizing architectural history education (organized by GAHTC).

One of the goals of the “Pluralizing Histories of the Built Environment” roundtable was to introduce new attendees and interested members to advanced methodologies in architectural history and to provide a forum to discuss the critical influence of race on architectural discourses. Architectural historians who have documented histories of social minorities and people of color shared techniques and strategies they’ve employed to pluralized histories of the built environment.

The “Architectural History and Place-Based Storytelling” workshop took place at Brown University on Wednesday afternoon and was open to the public. The sold-out workshop was sponsored by the Hope Foundation and included speakers representing Brown University, the RISD Museum, the Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence Preservation Society, and the Rhode Island Council for Humanities. The panelists presented their public history projects and shared their advice on how to create dynamic tour experiences.

On Saturday morning, conference attendees and members of the local community met at South Street Landing in the Jewelry District for the SAH Providence Seminar, “Urban Renewal, Highway Repairs, and Preservation.” Speakers representing local preservation organizations, activist groups, the Jewelry District Association, and universities gave short presentations and discussed issues and challenges of urban renewal, development, and historic preservation within Providence and the U.S. more broadly. SAH is grateful to the 1772 Foundation for its support of the Seminar.

"The round tables were very useful, the global history workshop on Saturday was beyond my expectations." – survey feedback

On Saturday the GAHTC presented the teacher-to-teacher workshop, “Teaching the Global,” which was geared towards graduate students and recent graduates in architectural and urban history with an interest in teaching more globally. This hands-on, day-long workshop, coordinated by Ana María León, Assistant Professor, University of Michigan, was organized into three sessions that delved into the teaching components of the syllabus, the lecture, class assignments, and participation. In each session, a panel of speakers shared their experience teaching global histories of architecture, followed by break-out groups that facilitated in-depth discussion on issues to consider when teaching about capital, empire, migration, race, gender, and representation. The workshop made a strong impact on participants, who left with valuable tools and advice they were able to incorporate into their teaching practice.


Local Co-Chairs Dietrich Neumann and Itohan Osayimwese, together with Tour Coordinator Barbara Barnes, organized an impressive collection of 23 guided tours of architecture and landscapes throughout Providence and nearby cities including Newport, Bristol, Cape Cod, and North Easton. Conference attendees and the local public had the opportunity to explore vernacular and industrial architecture, local histories of LGBTQ and African-American communities, College Hill and the Brown University campus, the work of H. H. Richardson, Ira Rakatansky, the legacy of women designers in Rhode Island, and much more.

Adaptive Reuse on College Hill tour for the Society of Architectural Historians Conference was a success. Included this bonus and unplanned look at one of the original rooms in the Pembroke Center of Brown! While the rest of the building was completely gutted in renovation, this room was left intact as a testament to the original structure. . . . #architecture #archilovers #archi_daily #architectureporn #latergram #blessed #archi_ologie #love #instagood #archdaily #architektur #architecturephotography #vintage #archdaily #architektur #architecturephotography #fbf #tbt #ri #ig_providence #ig_rhodeisland #ipulledoverforthis #brownuniversity #campusarchitecture #ma #harvarduniversity #boston #memorial #campusarchitecture #brickarchitecture #ri #ig_providence #ig_rhodeisland #ipulledoverforthis #adaptivereuse #brownuniversity #campusarchitecture #sah2019

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It’s been wonderful returning to my old graduate student haunts as part of #sah2019 in Providence. But there were plenty of places that I never made it as a student while I was mostly holed up in Rockefeller Library writing my dissertation. I was glad to remedy that a bit yesterday on the “Architecture of Industry” tour with the charismatic and informative Gerald Carbone. We visited the Slater Mills, the Hope Artiste Village, and the Foundry/Promenade (formerly Brown & Sharpe Co.; seen in all the pictures here) — together a compelling cross-section of Providence’s industrial past. I’m actually glad that this tour fell towards the end of my Brooks travel year, as it was immensely helpful to be able to put the architecture and industrial technology that we saw on the tour into a broader, global context (which I suppose is the whole point of the fellowship). For instance, the machinery for processing, spinning, and weaving cotton at the Slater Mills did not look that fundamentally different in its mechanical configuration from the much more modern machines that I saw at the Industry Museum (MIAT) in Ghent, Belgium a few months ago. It was a good reminder that while many industrial machines have been updated, rendered more efficient, and constructed from more durable materials, their core principles have largely remained the same over time. At the former Brown & Sharpe foundry, where factory spaces have been adaptively reused as residential and office space, heritage has been transformed into an asset for new development, creating a corporate identity that hinges heavily on honoring that industrial heritage and emphasizing it in the architectural conversion and interior design of the redone buildings. I’m feeling re-energized and ready to explore the UK 🇬🇧 on the upcoming final leg of my Brooks journey! Thanks to @sah1365 for another great conference! #sahbrooks #industrialheritage #providence #pawtucket #rhodeisland #oldhomeweek #brownuniversity #nostalgia

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Meetings, Keynote Talks, and Receptions

On Wednesday, attendees gathered in the exhibit area for the Opening Night Social Hour. It was a chance for attendees for friends and colleagues to reconnect while enjoying drinks and hors d’oeuvres, chatting with publishers, and perusing architectural history and design books.

The Annual Business Meeting followed the social hour. SAH President Sandy Isenstadt led the meeting and gave a presentation on the state of the Society, its current initiatives, and its future. He spoke of the key goals of SAH’s Strategic Plan, developed in 2017: to take a global/local approach to creating and disseminating expert knowledge, to continue technology leadership in the digital humanities, to build organizational strength, and to nurture next generation leadership and increase diversity in all its forms in all programs.

Some of the ways SAH aimed to reach these objectives at this year’s conference included developing new graduate student programs, presenting a roundtable on pluralizing architectural history and a workshop on teaching global histories, and adding a poster session, a colloquium, and a pop-up session to the program to provide new formats for sharing research.

SAH’s publications have been evolving in an effort to lower barriers to access scholarly content. The Buildings of the United States book series is being redesigned to be more user friendly, as is SAH Archipedia, which will re-launch as a completely open access resource this summer. And JSAH recently published two open access, virtual issues—one on Dutch architecture, in celebration of the World Architecture Festival, and one celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus.

SAH is currently undertaking a two-year study on the state of the field of architectural history, supported by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Postdoctoral Humanities Researcher Sarah M. Dreller is charged with leading data collection and analysis that will help SAH and the Mellon Foundation better understand the current status of architectural history in higher education in the United States. At the conference, Dreller met one-on-one with each member of the project’s advisory committee to ask where they believe architectural history is thriving and where the field is faltering. Afterwards, she and the committee convened to share their answers and discuss how to integrate their diverse perspectives into the study design. Dreller also joined meetings of SAH’s Executive Committee, Board of Directors, and Landscape History Chapter to explain the research effort and answer questions.  The total amount of conference time dedicated to organized conversations about this project was equivalent to ten paper sessions.

Following the Business Meeting, Barnaby Evans, founder of WaterFire Providence, delivered the Introductory Address, which served as an excellent introduction to the history of Providence, its architecture, and the local preservation movement.

On Thursday evening, following a reception at the Providence Art Club, SAH held its annual Awards Ceremony at the First Baptist Church and presented the annual Publication Awards, Award for Film and Video, and recognized the 2019 class of SAH Fellows. The church’s handsome interior enhanced the excitement in the air as SAH revealed this year’s award winners. Joan Ockman took the stage after the ceremony to deliver the inaugural Eduard F. Sekler talk, “On the Future History of Modern Architecture.”

Organizations and institutions such as the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA), the Landscape History Chapter of SAH, and UC Berkeley held meetings and reunions during the conference.

SAH celebrated the close of the conference on Saturday evening with a reception in the Grand Gallery of the RISD Museum. Members had access to the museum’s galleries and were able to enjoy the art collection in addition to socializing with friends and colleagues. Towards the end of the reception, Sandy Isenstadt took to the mic to recognize some “local heroes”—Gail Fenske, Richard Chafee, and Ted Sanderson—as well as Local Co-Chairs Dietrich Neumann and Itohan Osayimwese, and Conference Chair and SAH First Vice President Victoria Young.




Thank you to everyone who attended the Society’s 2019 conference in Providence and helped make it a successful meeting. We thank each speaker, session chair, panelist, tour leader, exhibitor, and volunteer for coming together with us to create an engaging and valuable conference experience.

We extend sincere gratitude to the individuals, companies, and organizations that provided financial support for the conference. Thank you to GAHTC and the Gill Family Foundation for supporting our new graduate student initiatives this year. We are also grateful to the local organizations that served as conference partners and provided promotional support.

Thank you to Conference Chair Victoria Young and Local Co-Chairs Dietrich Neumann and Itohan Osayimwese for organizing a truly remarkable conference. Thank you to the members of the SAH staff: Director of Program Christopher Kirbabas, who managed every detail of the conference, including fellowships and awards; Director of Development Carolyn Garrett, who secured sponsorships and conference underwriting; Director of Membership Anne Bird, who managed registration and volunteers; and Comptroller Beth Eifrig, who handled all fiscal matters related to the conference.

SAH President Sandy Isenstadt, First VP Victoria Young, and Executive Director Pauline Saliga join me in thanking you for making this year’s conference such a great success.  We hope you will join us for next year’s conference in Seattle, Washington.

Helena Dean
SAH Director of Communications