What Does It Mean to Study Architectural History?

Oct 8, 2019 by Sarah M. Dreller

Welcome to The SAH Data Project’s process blog, a series of short-form reflections and interviews about the Society’s study of architectural history in higher education. By Sarah M. Dreller, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Humanities. #SAHDataProject

Last week the Society of Architectural Historians welcomed ten students and recent graduates to Chicago. They came here from around the country on October 3rd to participate in an SAH Data Project stakeholder meeting, a full-day conversation about a single topic that is designed to inform a particular aspect of our data-gathering efforts. "Student Perspectives on Architectural History in Higher Education" was the first of four such meetings that will occur during the project, and we were tremendously excited to dedicate it to hearing from higher education’s key constituency. The stakeholders spent much of their meeting on October 4th exploring what it means to study architectural history today, for themselves individually and for society as a whole. But we also asked for more pedestrian details about their student experiences, like what kinds of support their departments offer and how their architectural history studies will contribute in their hoped-for careers. To a person their answers were consistently thorough and compelling regardless of our question types.

I hope the following “behind-the-scenes” photographs will give you a sense of the collegiality and focus that ran through the entire event. And on behalf of the SAH Data Project team, I would like to thank these ten wonderful people for giving so much of themselves to helping us achieve the meeting’s goals. They have added true, long-lasting value to this work.

Back row, left to right:

Sarah Rogers Morris is a PhD student in the Department of Art History at the University of Illinois at Chicago and former Executive Director of the Chicago Women in Architecture Foundation.

Aura Maria Jaramillo is a Colombian-American architect and preservationist and a recent graduate of the master’s program in Historic Preservation at Columbia University.

Alec Stewart is a PhD candidate in Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley and has a background in urban geography and city planning.

Reid Farnsworth is an MLA candidate in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Virginia and has a focus on cultural landscapes.

Leonardo Vilchis-Zarate is a PhD student in Chicano Studies at UCLA and also holds a bachelors in art history with a focus on public housing, urban displacement, gentrification, and Latin American modern urbanism.

Front row, left to right:

Teonna Cooksey recently completed her bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a focus on architecture, Africology, and urban planning.

Gary Huafan He is a PhD candidate at the Yale University School of Architecture and a licensed architect in the state of Massachusetts.

Emily-Paige Taylor is a PhD student in the U.S. and Public History program at Loyola University Chicago and focuses on ways digital humanities and public history methodology can be applied to architectural history.

Annie Vitale has a background in graphic design and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Art History and a certificate in Museum Studies at the University of St. Thomas.

Jessica Varner is an architect, historian, and PhD candidate in the History, Theory & Criticism of art and architecture at MIT with a focus on locating the history of modern corporate chemical building materials apace with their catastrophic effects.

The Society of Architectural Historians welcomed the stakeholders to the Charnley-Persky House for a modest reception the evening they arrived in Chicago. Since no one knew each other at all, the idea was to provide a relaxed setting for the stakeholders to meet and begin developing the rapport they’d need during the complicated and personal conversations on their agenda for the following day.

Pauline Saliga, SAH’s Executive Director, showed the stakeholders around CPH and the Society’s offices during the welcome reception. This photo is taken from the second floor looking down toward the main entrance and hearth area.


The stakeholders and SAH Data Project team members sat together at one long table for the stakeholder meeting itself. The conversation shifted organically from speaker to speaker as it would in a graduate seminar. Jessica Varner (center) is speaking.

Gary Huafan He (left) and Sarah Rogers Morris (right).

Teonna Cooksey.

 Reid Farnsworth (left) and Leonardo Vilchis-Zarate (right).

Aura Maria Jaramillo.

Sandy Isenstadt, SAH’s president and one of the SAH Data Project’s Principal Investigators, (left) served as one of the meeting facilitators. Alec Stewart (right) and me (center). 

Emily-Paige Taylor (left) and Annie Vitale (right).

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