SAH Blog

SAH Data Project Update: The pandemic’s impact so far and how our plans have changed

Sarah M. Dreller, PhD
| Apr 15, 2020

The SAH Data Project team launched our three big surveys in late February. Developed through a very collaborative and iterative process that took nearly a year, these surveys ask department chairs/program administrators, faculty, and students in the U.S. a pretty comprehensive range of questions about their architectural history-focused lives. While not the only research methodology we’re using, these surveys are certainly the most extensive and most public facet of our work to date.

And we were excited. Excited as we opened the surveys because so many different kinds of people who teach and/or study the history of the built environment were going to have a chance to make their voices heard. Excited for the opportunity, in a few months’ time, to begin using the data we’d gathered to learn what our project’s constituents had to say about their courses, careers, and senses of community. Excited for the moment, at the end of this project, when we’d publicly share new insights into the status of the field that could eventually lead to meaningful change.

You probably already know where this part of the story is going; the surveys were just starting to really gather steam when, on about March 13th, the rate of response to all three dropped to essentially nil. You, our project’s constituents, suddenly had other things on your minds—and rightly so.

The SAH Data Project team is working together remotely to determine how the pandemic is impacting the project and to keep gathering information now that will be helpful to the architectural history community later. This Zoom meeting on April 13th included Helena Dean, SAH Director of Communications (upper left), Sarah M. Dreller, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Humanities (upper right), Victoria Young, SAH First Vice President (bottom left), and Pauline Saliga, SAH Executive Director (bottom right)


It has now been about a month since the pandemic’s reality started to become clear. Each week we’ve seen a slightly higher response rate than the week before for all three surveys but the distance between where we actually are and where we wanted to be to achieve the project’s ambitious goals is increasing much faster. And even when response rates become more robust again, the way many of you answer some of our questions now will inevitably be different from what you would have said during a typical spring. You still have other things on your minds and likely will for a while longer. It’s understandable, certainly not a surprise.

In short, the SAH Data Project’s major pandemic challenge is to find approaches to data collection that are the least likely to burden your pandemic-extended lives now while also being the most likely to address urgent problems in the future. We are facing this challenge by thinking creatively, working collaboratively, and trying to always stay true to our data humanism commitment. Here’s the plan:

  • The SAH Data Project has started circulating a very short “snapshot” questionnaire that invites anyone who works, studies, or volunteers in the field of architectural history to share how the pandemic is impacting them right now. We hope asking you directly how you are doing and what you need will be a welcome break from the care-work that so many of us are engaged in at the moment across our personal and professional lives. Read the project team’s open letter about the questionnaire for more details.
  • The project team has decided to leave the three existing surveys for U.S. higher ed chairs/administrations, faculty, and students open and encourage you to just answer the questions as best you can within the context of your own current situation. The surveys already included plenty of short-answer comment boxes and we urge you to use those to reflect on how your answers might have been different during a typical spring. We expect this information will be especially valuable in helping illuminate areas of the field that are thriving and areas where more targeted support might be warranted.
  • We’re extending the survey open period an additional six weeks; they now close June 30th. That’s about 50% longer than originally planned and we hope this will enable you to focus on your spring semester/quarter responsibilities if they are part of why you have not been able to respond so far.
  • We’re expanding the scope of our FAQ to include information about how the pandemic is impacting the project
  • We’re developing a series of short webinar-style presentations to answer your questions and solicit ideas about the best uses of this data for the post-pandemic reality.
  • And we’re exploring how to extend the end of the project into 2021 a bit to provide adequate time to conduct our other non-survey-based research and develop relevant, substantive analyses.

This is an evolving plan so we encourage you to subscribe to the project’s email newsletter and reach out if you have thoughts to share. I’m working from home but available via email, as always.

On behalf of the SAH Data Project team, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this update and for continuing to support the project. We wish you and your loved ones well during this extraordinarily difficult time.

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SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
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