Evolving Strategies for Collecting Institutional Data

Jun 4, 2020 by Abigail Van Slyck
The SAH Data Project Process Blog welcomes the chair of the project's Advisory Committee, Abigail Van Slyck, as the first guest author. 

If you read nothing more of this blog post, be sure to read this one line: We are asking faculty, who may be more motivated than their department chairs, to complete what we are now calling the Institutional Survey (formerly the Chair/Administrator Survey).

When I was offered the chance to contribute to the SAH Data Project process blog, I jumped at the opportunity to make visible some of the work that has been taking place behind the scenes. As chair of the project’s Advisory Committee, I have been closely associated with the project from the start and have derived great pleasure from my involvement in this deeply collaborative undertaking. Followers of this blog have a sense of just how many people are devoting their time and attention to making the project a success.  So, I begin with a big thank you to everyone who has touched the SAH Data Project in some way.

Of course, the work continues, albeit complicated somewhat by the COVID-19 pandemic. The April 15 process blog post outlined the steps that we took to encourage you—whether you are a student, a faculty member, or both—to complete the surveys we launched in the weeks before the pandemic hit. Indeed, the faculty and student surveys will be open until June 30, so if you have not done so yet, there is still time to complete one or both, depending on your situation.

Topmost in my mind right now, however, is the third survey, the one aimed at gathering the institutional data that is so important to understanding the state of architectural history in institutions of higher education in the United States. I will talk more about the goals of this survey below, but I will say up front that you—especially the faculty among you—have a role to play here. Initially, we had imagined department chairs or other administrators responding to this survey and several had done so before the pandemic pulled them away to more pressing matters. It is now clear that department chairs and other administrators are unlikely to have the capacity to respond to our survey; if they are not themselves architectural historians, their motivation to make time for what is admittedly a data-heavy survey will be low. So, we will be reaching out to those of you teaching architectural history (broadly defined, of course, to include landscapes and cities) to ask you to provide the data for your institution via what we are now calling the Institutional Survey. You may need to ask your department chair or others for help, but you are in the best position to make that ask, explaining why gathering this data about our discipline is important to you. In short, we will be asking you to take the lead at your institution.

Rest assured that we are not sitting back to wait for data to pour in. Quite the contrary. We are working proactively to meet our ambitious goals for this part of the project. Ideally, we would gather data from 100 colleges and universities. Given that there is no such thing as a 100% response rate, this means we need to solicit input from many more schools than that.  At the same time, this is more than a numbers game. That is, the value of the information we are gathering is also directly dependent upon the range of institutions and programs represented in the data set, as well as on their regional variation. We want data from national and regional universities—both public and private; HBCUs; national and regional colleges; and community colleges.

Morgan State University
We will be soliciting institutional data from Morgan State University and other HBCUs that offer architecture or design-related programs. Their Center for the Built Environment and Infrastructure Studies was designed by Hord Coplan Macht in association with The Freelon Group. Photo: Mark Herboth

The range of program types is even more varied, as architectural history (again, broadly defined) might be offered in departments of architectural history and art history; in schools of architecture, landscape architecture, and planning; in historic preservation programs; and in some instances in related departments, including archaeology, history, public history, and cultural studies.  And, of course, we need to ensure that we have data from schools throughout the country.

To guide our outreach efforts, the project team has developed a spreadsheet that is prompting us to identify 200 programs that—collectively—will cover all these types of institutions and programs. We are putting the finishing touches on populating it and adding contact names. In the coming weeks, we will share it with members of the Advisory Committee, so that they can volunteer to encourage colleagues to become the point person for the SAH Data Project that their institutions.

The spreadsheet is not an exclusive list. We want data from any program offering instruction in architectural history. If you are willing to act at the point person for your institution, please contact the project researcher or me. We will be happy to get your started!

Thanks for your continued interest in this project and for everything you have done—and will do in the future—to make it a success.

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