Method Acts

Method Acts is a series of virtual workshops focused on exploring scholarly techniques for graduate students and emerging scholars in architectural history and adjacent fields. This series of three events, organized by the SAH Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GSAC), is a forum for discussing new, alternative, and reconsidered methodological approaches to our work to be held on February 3 and February 24 with a follow-up panel discussion on March 3. 



Friday, February 3, 2023

3:00–4:30 PM CST
Space is limited to 30
Open to current members who are graduate students or emerging scholars


Development and National Identity: Tropical Modernist Architecture of Nigeria’s First Universities

Following Nigeria's independence in 1960, universities became a part of nation-building projects. This research examines the tropical modernist architecture of these universities in the 1960s and 1970s and its connection to development and national identity. Geographical Information System (GIS) and Network Analysis techniques were used on literature and archival data collected so far. Georeferencing was used to map campus sites, buildings, and placenames for insights into university expansion and socio-political determinants. Geoparsing of historical text will be explored in the future. Network analysis of actors in university creation highlighted the building professionals’ roles in university projects. The outcome of these methods will narrow the scope of research and highlight areas for further investigation. Independently, these methods do not provide comprehensive research analysis and will be used in conjunction with qualitative methods of fieldwork and interviews. Both, however, have the potential to effectively communicate research findings.

Shifting Dwellings: Bangladeshi Immigrant Women in New York

This presentation focuses on the place-making of first-generation immigrant Bangladeshi women living in New York, mainly by examining their dwellings and a network of locations within their residential environments. The Bangladeshi communities in New York expanded significantly during the last thirty years, and their built environment histories have been largely undocumented, especially for women. I investigate their occupied built spaces through the lens of displacement and use ethnographic research methods to highlight their spatial agencies to make their occupied built spaces more culturally rooted and livable.

New And Reconsidered Methods Engaging Built Space in a Humanistic, Participatory Fashion

This presentation draws on my PhD dissertation research, which examines areas of apartheid-era forced relocation in South Africa and how they have been repurposed by residents and urban planners.  I will present on a novel method I employ in my doctoral research: roving focus groups and in-situ transect walks at specific built sites, coupled with extemporaneous and impromptu (anonymous) conversations in public space. These methodological approaches have the potential to complement other humanistic urban-studies methods like archival research, oral histories, in-depth interviews, and social-scientific quantitative or qualitative analysis; however, I also discuss issues of research ethics and IRB compliance, drawbacks to the approach, and methodological limitations.

Impromptu Heritage in Huế, Vietnam

Analyzing the mnemonic fabric of Huế, Vietnam, this dissertation explores how the postcolonial city’s syncretic landscape manifests displaced communities’ cohabitation tactics and (de)colonization efforts which enable place-making and preserving in negotiation with nationalism and heritagization. It seeks to divert from conventional approach to historical research on the built environment by proposing a site-based method that draws its initial ideas and develops the understanding directly from the site. This situated knowledge is then read against archival materials to construct a heterogenous atlas that combines the visible (field observation photos, architectural analytical drawings, and archival images) with the speakable (poems, song lyrics, hymns from oral, written sources and built structures) in a non-hierarchical manner.

Friday, February 24, 2023

1:00–2:30 PM CST
Space is limited to 30
Open to current members who are graduate students or emerging scholars



State in Formation: Counting at the Office of the Supervising Architect

An architectural history committed to moving beyond the charismatic and the canonical might well benefit from a certain amount of counting. In this presentation, I will describe and demonstrate software tools that I am writing in the Java programming language in order to explore the archive of the Office of the Supervising Architect at the U.S. Treasury Department during the second half of the 19th century. As with all archives and all historical methods, there are limits and biases implied by this combination of material and method that are important to consider. I will focus in particular on the relationship between the two: in what ways do the design practices and bureaucratic procedures of these architects render the Office especially amenable to study through a quantitative lens? More speculatively: to what extent do such compatibilities suggest one possible approach to a bureaucratic prehistory of computing?

The Turn to Digital Technologies for Architectural Research in a Pandemic Age

My research reinserts women into histories by documenting 33 women who studied and/or practiced architecture in Queensland from 1980 to 2000 and uploading their oral histories as new entries to the Digital Archive of Queensland Architecture ( Data gathering and analysis turned digital due to the global pandemic where online interviews served as new primary source of data (in the absence of the material archive) to capture women’s training, works, and career impacts of the period. Discussions will center on the digital interview process evaluated against traditional oral history methods as a case study for implications of the digital turn in (post)pandemic ages. Also, how the small data method uncovers individual experiences of the profession, strategies and contributions of women architects often overlooked by conventional methods (big surveys, physical archives) in interpreting architectural histories. My methodology expresses digital intangible sources as an alternative where archives are unavailable, particularly for underrepresented (women) architects.

An Alternative Methodological Approach

This presentation discusses the application of an alternative methodological approach to architectural history and urban history when accessing archives or conducting fieldwork were impossible due to transnational political policies and global travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bodies in Water: Fluid Infrastructure Disruptions in Urban Egypt (1870–1935)

Modern infrastructure, including dams, barrages, underground pipes, and taps, has generally been characterized as the exclusive realm of experts. However, the focus of my research is the frequent, sustained, and provocative disruptions performed by the general populace that invariably accompanied and thus constituted water infrastructure projects. My method brings forward the substantial archive of the built environment that has been largely unconsidered in modern water infrastructure studies to reconsider inherited narratives about the classification of free water as dirty water, water infrastructure modernization as a positivist process, and infrastructure itself as the realm of metal and concrete. This presentation will focus on one aspect of this project, a complex set of fluid and spatial relationships suggested in an 1883 drowning inquest file. This accidental drowning of a British soldier at Alexandria underscores the complex relationship of public propriety and social water spaces, and the concurrent dramatic foreclosure of open water sources that facilitated the expansion of Alexandria.

Form-Giver, Plague-Surveyor: Building Codes and Plague Knowledge in Colonial Hong Kong

As the Third Plague Pandemic ravaged Hong Kong in 1894, medical experts working on the ground uncovered the bacterial mechanics of plague transmission, thereby nudging scientific consensus toward germ-theory understandings of disease. Swiftly in response, British colonial authorities expanded the city’s initiatives of surveys and inspections, mobilizing governmental building codes and their associated civil servants in the fight against these newly clarified microscopic foes. Rather than consider building codes as lowest common denominators or the least extreme, most minimal requirements for construction, I contend that they charted new—even experimental—interventions during this time of epistemological shift. 

Recent art and architectural histories have taken various kinds of pedantic minutia as their objects of study: card catalogues and secretarial ephemera (Çelik Alexander), fire insurance policies (Hunter), and tax documents (Abramson). My focus on building codes in plague-era Hong Kong brings together the interactions between bacteria, fleas, rats, and their encountered humans—inhabitants governed along racialized and classed lines within a colonial society. In their claims to comprehensiveness, too, building codes can reveal their indirect and often ineffective engagement with the communities they purportedly oversaw.

Friday, March 3, 2023

2:00–3:30 PM CST
Space is limited to 30
Open to current members who are graduate students or emerging scholars


This year, the Society of Architectural Historians Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GSAC)  has organized a third session of the Method Acts workshops. For this final session of the workshop, GSAC will bring together three established scholars to engage in conversation regarding the ongoing and long-term development of their respective methodological approaches. This session, designed to complement the two earlier workshops in the series focused on the development of in-process work by early career scholars, will highlight how a body of work takes shape over the course of the arc of one’s career. By investigating the ways in which methodological inventiveness can animate the development of research ideas, the GSAC hopes to offer graduate students and other early career scholars examples of how the approach and content of scholarly activities can grow and change over time. 




  • Daniel Abramson, Director of Architectural Studies; Professor of American & European Architecture, Boston University, Boston, MA
  • Pollyanna Rhee, Assistant Professor, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • Morgan Ng, Assistant Professor of the History of Art,Yale University, New Haven, CT

SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610