During the summer of 1940, a group of architects, archaeologists, architectural historians, and graduate students (among them G. Holmes Perkins, Kenneth Conant, George M. A. Hanfman and Turpin C. Bannister) gathered regularly at the Harvard Faculty Club for dinners, lectures, and conversation and to plan "inspection trips" to New England architecture. On 31 July that year, twenty-five of them, after a particularly spirited meeting (the minutes note hecklers in the audience urging Professor Herbert Bloch, lecturing on Roman bricks, to demonstrate his "famous tasting method for dating" bricks——which he declined) founded the American Society of Architectural Historians. (The word "American" was dropped in 1947 when the Society was officially incorporated.) Their goal was "to foster the understanding and appreciation of architectural history among both professional scholars and laymen" and the publication of an "unpretentious journal."1 Perhaps they imagined something like the eighteenth-century Society of Dilettanti——young British enthusiasts who shared their knowledge and passion about the art and architecture of antiquity over dinner and wine in each other's company and made occasional excursions.
Little could anyone in this assembly imagine that what was founded in Cambridge on the eve of World War II would grow into a global society with 3,500 members, the publisher of the most respected journal in the field, the organizer of large annual meetings, and today recognized by its peers as a pioneer in digital scholarship and research.
In its seventieth year, the Society of Architectural Historians——rather than dwelling on its past accomplishments——is happily occupied with looking forward and planning ahead. Probably never in its long history has it engaged to a similar degree in new initiatives, explored new methods of scholarly communication, and anticipated future challenges and developments. Thanks to generous funding from the Mellon Foundation over the last three years, the SAH launched its Architecture Resources Archive (SAHARA) on 1 April 2009, an ever-expanding image databank that is contributed by our members, assembled and supervised by a team of scholarly and librarian editors, and hosted by ArtStor.
This current number of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians is the first to appear in a parallel online edition, thanks to its current editor David Brownlee and founding editor of JSAH online, Hilary Ballon. This achievement can hardly be overestimated, as it paves the way for new forms of scholarly publishing, equipped with high-resolution images, film clips, computer animations, and panoramic representations of architecture, and we aspire to release time-sensitive reviews online in advance the regular publication date. Its new publisher, the University of California Press, expects to apply the strategies and solutions developed for the JSAH to many other scholarly online publications in the future.
The Buildings of the United States (BUS) series has entered a new partnership with University of Virginia Press and recently published several new volumes. Its editor-in-chief, Karen Kingsley, and the publisher are exploring additional ways of distributing its contents beyond the print volume to digital media and handheld devices. Our website is being redesigned, material for K––12 education is being assembled for students in Illinois, and next year's meeting in New Orleans will be expanded to present six instead of five simultaneous sessions. Our famous and beloved tours are also being rethought and reevaluated, and their stories are now presented online in the form of blogs and via Facebook and Twitter.
While our society would have plenty of reasons simply to look back at the past seven decades with great satisfaction and pride, we also have a long and vibrant tradition of critically evaluating the field, and our own role in it. Since 1969, roughly every ten years a major retrospective article would appear somewhere (not always in the pages of this journal) that critically examined the society's standing and contributions to the field.2 In 1969, for example, medieval historian John Maass undertook a "wonderfully cranky"3 evaluation of the scope and approach of the research presented in the journal between 1958 and 1968. His statistical analysis pointed at pronounced preferences for Western topics, major monuments, and an approach rather devoid of social or political context. Werner Seligman followed with a similar analysis ten years later, noting little change. Marvin Trachtenberg, in The Art Bulletin in 1988, analyzed the society's scholarly leanings through the journal's book reviews and noticed a healthy trend toward broader methodological and topical variety and inclusiveness. In the same year, the National Gallery of Art hosted a symposium about the Architectural Historian in America, resulting in a rich volume establishing the historical context of our profession, which appeared in time for the society's fiftieth birthday in 1990. Ten years later, Eve Blau edited a special edition of the JSAH dedicated to the state of architectural history at the turn of the millennium.
Today, again ten years later, the society has set the above-mentioned projects in motion in order to respond to the changing landscape of scholarly research and communication, and it has certainly not lost its penchant for critical self-examination. During the summer of 2009 and at the following November board meeting, intense strategic planning focused on the state of the society and the challenges ahead. Among these are the need for healthy growth, increased financial reserves, greater diversity among our membership, and much-expanded outreach to the general public and to our sister organizations in the U.S. and abroad. At the same time, board members expressed great confidence in the society's recent, strategically important initiatives and gratitude for the outstanding leadership, creativity, and resourcefulness of our executive director Pauline Saliga and her excellent team.
The members of today's Society of Architectural Historians have little in common with the small group that founded it in 1940, or with any exclusive Society of Dilettanti——except, perhaps in our sustained delight in buildings and fellowship, expressed in the original reference to the Italian diletto. Our interactions and annual meetings are characterized by a camaraderie and generosity of spirit that are kindled by our shared enthusiasm for architecture and its history.
While the SAH certainly feels younger and more dynamic than ever, like any septuagenarian it needs and deserves love, care, and sustenance, which we hope our members will give with an ever-increasing sense of engagement and achievement.
"Introduction A.S.A.H.," "Next Steps," Journal of the American Society of Architectural Historians 1, no. 1 (?Jan. 1941), 1, 23.
John Maass, "Where Architectural Historians Fear to Tread," JSAH 28, no. 1 (Mar. 1969), 3––8; Claus Seligmann, "Architectural History: Discipline or Routine?" Journal of Architectural Education 34, no. 1 (Autumn 1980),14––19; Marvin Trachtenberg, "Some Observations on Recent Architectural History," Art Bulletin 70, no. 2 (June 1988), 208––41; Elisabeth Blair MacDougall, ed., The Architectural Historian in America: A Symposium in Celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Society of Architectural Historians, Studies in the History of Art (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1990); Eve Blau, "Architectural History 1999/2000: A Special Issue of JSAH," JSAH 58, no. 3 (Sept. 1999), 278––80; see also: C. Greig Crysler, "Silent Itineraries: Making Places in Architectural History," in Writing Spaces, ed. C. Greig Crysler (London: Routledge, 2003), 24––47.
Nicholas Adams, "A New Design." JSAH 53, no. 4 (Dec. 1994), 390––91.