• Method Acts: Graduate Students and Emerging Professionals Discuss Approaches to Scholarship

    Jia Yi Gu, Jonah Rowen, and Jessica Varner
    Mar 9, 2021

    screen shot of Method Acts workshop

    Screen shot of the Method Acts workshop on “Ethnographic and Material Methods”


    The COVID pandemic rendered public archives, collections, and libraries inaccessible. Widespread protests for racial justice during the summer of 2020 called for a greater understanding of  bias and exclusion, and prompted academics to interrogate their positions and privileges. This combination of circumstances spurred the SAH Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GSAC) team—Jia Yi Gu, Jonah Rowen, and Jessica Varner—to ask: How are early-career scholars of architectural history acknowledging their own place in the histories they are writing? How do these acknowledgements take place, and where? And will this moment mark a shift in scholarship?

    Our premise started from understanding historical methods as inherently political practices. The question of who gets to write history is inextricable from the politics of how they write it. These factors of scholarly orientation include: the scope, subject, and mode of address, as well as the evidence that is available at any given moment, and which conditions our encounters with historical events and objects of study.

    Additionally, as increasingly varied forms of evidence beyond visual analysis provide the basis for the history that we write, the team asked how our encounters with sources are different in the current moment. In situations in which archives are unavailable, non-existent, or inaccessible, how are scholars continuing to engage with the sources that are available to them without sacrificing depth and details? Barred from travel, how would our field nonetheless retain ambitions toward more global architectural history? As scholars realign research towards engaged, activist, and decolonial methods, we asked how people were using the present moment as an opportunity to shape a more inclusive and interdisciplinary field.

    The SAH GSAC members arranged the “Method Acts” conversations along two broad themes, featuring a total of five presenters. For the first, on “Narrative and Documentary Methods,” Charlette Caldwell and Pollyanna Rhee presented their work using Black-owned newspapers, immigrant census surveys, and other popular media to enfold lived experience into architectural history. Shajjad Hossain presented his scholarship using GIS data, which brought up questions of objectivity, subjectivity, location, and the mapping of myths on Indigenous land. For the second event, on “Ethnographic and Material Methods,” Macarena de la Vega presented her interviews with architectural historians in Australia and New Zealand, which foregrounded questions of gender and relations between center and periphery. Alberto Sanchez-Sanchez outlined his project preserving a single centuries-old building in Spain and its transformations over time, as COVID forced him home. The presenters selected short excerpts of other authors’ written materials that encapsulated their approach. These materials were pre-circulated among an audience of graduate students, emerging professionals, and other colleagues. Rather than a typical seminar-style format (with a leader and assigned reading), the workshop format encouraged a horizontally-structured conversation discussing works in progress. Participants described a breadth of approaches and their own projects in relation to those of the presenters.

    This series of conversations confronted questions of methodology directly. The group asked how new methods may prompt reconsiderations of content and practice, both familiar and not. The conversation considered how architectural history utilizes and learns from methods and practices common in anthropology, science and technology studies, media archeology, environmental history, translation studies, critical race theory, and feminist, gender, and queer studies, among other fields.

    Scholarly practices have been upended over the past year in unexpected, challenging ways. Yet those circumstances led to opportunities as well: a recognition that now is an ideal time to reconsider our approaches at every level. The Method Acts conversations provided a forum for engaging with other scholars who are doing the formative work of remaking the discipline of architectural history during a period of isolation.

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  • SAH Graduate Student Lightning Talks Introduces Virtual Workshops

    Graduate Student Lightning Talks Co-Chairs
    Feb 19, 2021

    Zoom gallery view of graduate student lightening talks

    "Politics of Historic Preservation" Graduate Student Lightning Talk Workshop


    The Graduate Student Lightning Talks at the SAH Annual International Conference have been welcoming student presenters at all stages of their graduate student careers for a number of years. In the session, each presenter delivers their talk in 5–7 minutes, thus condensing a great volume of research and information into a clear and succinct argument. The session has grown tremendously since its founding, making the conference accessible to an ever-expanding number of graduate students across the United States and overseas. This year, with the benefit of our increased virtual meeting capacity, the Lightning Talks also included a series of four virtual workshops—an opportunity for students to receive feedback from established scholars in the field of architectural history and preservation, as well as from their peers and co-chairs. The first two sessions, "Global Modernisms" and "Politics of Historic Preservation," took place in late January and early February, and the remaining will commence prior to the annual conference. The session and workshop co-chairs are Aslihan Gunhan of Cornell University, Leslie Lodwick of UC Santa Cruz, Chelsea Wait of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Hongyan Yang of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

    The first session, “Global Modernisms,” was co-chaired by Aslihan Gunhan and faculty mentor Dr. Esra Akcan of Cornell University; presenters included Rebecca Lemire, Ernesto Bilbao, Kimberly Gultia, and Ciprian Buzila. The themes ranged from Indigenous cultures and production of modernism in the US to Pan American Conference in Quito, from Filipina Mestiza identity and post war housing to museums and nation building in Romania. Prof. Akcan provided a brief introduction to what the audience may expect from a five-minute talk, and how to balance content, analysis, and arguments. She further offered bibliographical suggestions for the authors, and extensive feedback for each of the projects. Tensions in cross-cultural exchanges, afterlives of buildings, womanhoods, racial and Western hierarchies of historiography, different forms of post-colonial identities, microhistories, were among the topics that Prof. Akcan raised. The workshop went far beyond providing feedback for the conference talks, and instead cultivated rich intellectual discussions on recent scholarship. Participant Rebecca Lemire commented, “I am now seeing how I can really improve my presentation for the talks in April.”

    The second set of graduate student presentations, “Politics of Historic Preservation,” was co-chaired by Leslie Lodwick and the faculty mentor was Dr. Jeffrey Klee, Vice-President and Senior Director of Architecture for the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. Presenters included Pamudu Tennakoon, Enam Rabbi Adnan, James J. Fortuna, and Delnaaz Kharadi. Themes featured the architectures of luxury boutique hotels in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and their relationship to the ruins of colonial bungalows, Panam Nagar as a colonial settlement and the role of its domestic architecture in narratives of colonization, the political goals of the architectural renovations of Ellis and Angel Islands, and the Parsi fire temples in Udvada, India. Each panelist posed urgent questions about the stakes and implications of preservation for their sites and Dr. Klee offered graduate students valuable feedback on their own work, as well as guidance on effective presentation styles. In his feedback, Dr. Klee urged panelists to continue to consider and develop the political implications of these issues of preservation at their sites. Presenter Enam Rabbi Adnan agreed, “Preservation doesn’t get top priority,” and gestured toward the sites being demolished in Panam Nagar, Bangladesh—part of why his own activism and scholarship argues for the preservation of these nuanced places in order to better understand issues of local and national identity and agency.

    The Graduate Student Lightning Talks will host two more virtual workshops. The first, “Methodologies,” will be co-chaired by Chelsea Wait and the faculty mentor will be Dr. Sahar Hosseini of the University of Pittsburgh; presenters will include Sophia Triantafyllopoulos, Xiaohan Chen, Teonna Cooksey, and Gunce Uzgoren. The final session, “Architectural Epistemologies,” will convene just before the annual conference. The session will be co-chaired by Hongyan Yang and the faculty mentor will be Dr. Kateryna Malaia of Mississippi State University. Panel presenters will discuss how ancient theories, modernization, and technologies contributed to the development of different architectural epistemologies, featuring Harriet Richardson Blakeman, Jonathan Duval, Lorena Quintana, and Annie Vitale.

    During the SAH Virtual Conference, attendees will be able to tune into the Graduate Student Lightning Talks to view polished presentations growing out of the workshop series. The session will convene on April 15, 12:30–2:40 PM CDT. More information is available at https://app.oxfordabstracts.com/events/1344/program-app/session/17402.

    Zoom gallery view of a graduate student lightening talk

    "Global Modernisms" Graduate Student Lightning Talk Workshop
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