Robert Willis’s writing in the nineteenth century was foundational to the development of the discipline of architectural history. Closely related to other Cambridge scientists, including William Farish and William Whewell, Willis deployed similar methods and forms of conceptualization in his writings about medieval architecture. He focused on five areas in particular: the isometric projection, the building as kit-of-parts, detailed technical forms of description using illustrations and specialized vocabularies, the machine tool, and new tools for measuring cogwheels and architectural profiles. Using an interdisciplinary approach and drawing upon contemporary ideas of political economy by Karl Marx and Charles Babbage, this article resituates Willis’s writing in the context of the separation of manual from intellectual labor under industrial capitalism, arguing that the architectural historian was complicit both with the forms of abstraction required of professionalization and with the alienation of labor.

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