SAH David B. Brownlee Dissertation Award


2022 Award Recipient

Will Davis, "Palm Politics: Warfare, Folklore, Architecture"
The committee is thrilled to announce Will Davis as the winner of the 2022 SAH David B. Brownlee Dissertation Award. “Palm Politics: Warfare, Folklore, Architecture” extends the exploration of materials beyond the traditional scope of architectural history. Rather than steel or concrete, nipa palm is the unexpected matter at the center of this dissertation. He reads the nipa hut and its opposite, the hydroelectric dam, as architectural forms that made visible the destruction of the environment for profit. Focusing on Southeast Asia and the Philippine archipelago, the dissertation examines settler colonial patterns during the Cold War to expose how the growth of agribusiness, mining, and logging displaced Indigenous peoples. To rural Filipinos, the boxy, lightweight, thatched-roof structures, set above the ground on stilts, were everyday homes. Western folklorists interpreted the nipa huts as traditional Indigenous artifacts. To regimes seeking land for extractive capitalism, a hut made of plants was merely an incidental, conveniently portable object. Davis identifies a wide swath of historical agents, from builders and architects to developers and resistance fighters. Moving effortlessly from archival detail to theoretical reflection, he weaves together a history of architecture, rural ecology, and political decision-making. Ultimately, “Palm Politics” expands the field of architectural history through its geographical and material focus, while simultaneously centering the built environment as an expression of human creativity and resistance.

SAH David B. Brownlee Dissertation Award Committee:
Carla Yanni, Chair
Daniel Abramson
Maile Hutterer
Ana María León
Jason Nguyen


The SAH David B. Brownlee Dissertation Award recognizes the most outstanding doctoral dissertation in the field of architectural history completed during the two years prior to the submission date. In recognition of Professor Brownlee’s wide-ranging interests, there will be no geographical or chronological limitation placed on the subject, but the dissertation must be submitted in English; translations into English are not eligible. The Award will recognize thorough primary research, original analysis, and exceptional writing.

The Award

The Award consists of a certificate and citation that will be presented at the Society's Annual International Conference, along with a stipend up to $1,000 designated for the recipient to travel to the conference to receive the Award. Like other SAH awards, the recipient will be announced in the SAH Newsletter. 

Criteria for Application

  • Dissertation must be written in English (translations into English are not eligible)
  • Doctoral dissertation must have been completed during the two years prior to the submission year (July 31, 2020–July 31, 2022).
  • SAH membership is encouraged but not required to apply.

Application Details

All submissions must include the following and be assembled into a single PDF document in this order:

  1. A cover letter with full contact details and identification of author and the main academic advisor(s), along with contact details (1 page max)
  2. The dissertation’s abstract (150 words,1 page max)
  3. A project statement on the significance of the work (1000 words, no more than 10 pages max)
  4. Sample chapter from the dissertation; not the introduction. (5,000 words including footnotes)
  5. CV - Identify peer-reviewed publications (no more than 5 pages max)
  6. Eligibility will require official university documentation, such as the official transcript, affirming that the dissertation was completed and successfully passed in the eligibility period.
Please use the following naming convention for your PDF file of no more than 37 pages + university documentation page(s):

Last name _dissertation title (may be truncated)
ex: Young_SAH_and_the_New.PDF

Applicants must email their application packet to

Dissertations may be submitted twice (two consecutive years), but no more than twice. There will be one award recipient each year.

Application Deadline

Applicants must email their application packet to by July 31, 2022.

Past Recipients

Esther Miriam Choi, "The Organization of Life: Architecture and the Life Sciences in Britain, 1921–1951"


In April 2018 three former students of David Brownlee approached SAH Board President Sandy Isenstadt and SAH Executive Director Pauline Saliga with the desire to establish a new SAH award that would honor the distinguished career of David B. Brownlee. The Award will recognize his impact as a scholar, teacher, and mentor to his many doctoral students at the University of Pennsylvania. The Committee had approached fellow Brownlee advisees who pledged financial support to help establish the SAH David B. Brownlee Dissertation Award. The SAH Board of Directors approved creation of the Brownlee Award in April 2019. 

Brownlee_DavidDavid B. Brownlee, the Frances Shapiro-Weitzenhoffer Professor of Art History at the University of Pennsylvania, is a historian of modern architecture and urbanism whose interests embrace a wide range of subjects in Europe and America, from the late-eighteenth century to the present. A graduate of Harvard, he has taught at Penn since 1980. He is a recipient of the University of Pennsylvania’s Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Professor Brownlee, a Fellow of the Society of Architectural Historians and a member since 1973, has won numerous fellowships and grants, and his work has earned the book, exhibition catalogue, and article Publication Awards of the Society of Architectural Historians. From 2007 to 2012 he served as editor of the JSAH, during which time he and SAH leadership created a unique publishing platform designed to illustrate scholarly articles with zoomable images, 3D models, video, and interactive maps. 

Active in civic affairs, Professor Brownlee served for 15 years on the Philadelphia Historical Commission and chaired its designation committee. During this time the Commission created the Rittenhouse and Society Hill historic districts. He was a founding member of the Design Advocacy Group of Philadelphia, on which he now serves as a vice chair. In January 2017, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Global Philadelphia Association for his contributions to the growth of the city.


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