From its beginnings, the Society of Architectural Historians has been concerned with emerging technologies and their role in research and teaching of architectural history. The inaugural issue of JSAH (then called JASAH) called for the nascent society to “investigate, develop, and apply new techniques and aids. For example, the effective presentation of three-dimensional architectural monuments in color would greatly increase the appreciation of fine architectural design.” To that end, the society’s organizers explored innovative means of presenting architecture: “We hope to present before the summer meeting a demonstration of the new polaroid, three-dimensional, color slide projection which promises to be a most important development in this direction.”1 This new projection technology used “vectographs,” transparencies “composed of two superposed stereoscopic images polarized at right angles to each other, giving a three-dimensional effect when viewed through appropriate polarizing spectacles.”2 Invented by the Polaroid Corporation, vectographs were employed during World War II for aerial reconnaissance photographs that were used in briefing troops on conditions in the field.
They could also be used for instruction as projected slides, as JASAH anticipated architectural historians would employ them. In the 1930s, Clarence Kennedy, professor of the history of Renaissance sculpture at Smith College, worked with Edwin Land, founder of the Polaroid company, to develop vectograph technology for use in both studying and teaching art history.3 Despite Kennedy’s experiments, this technology never found widespread application in the classroom—its use was largely confined to a short-lived fad for 3-D films—but its potential for instruction clearly interested SAH’s early members. Had vectographs become a replacement for conventional transparencies, SAH would have been at the leading edge of the dissemination and adoption of this new technology.
Seventy years later, on 1 March 2010, SAH continued its engagement with new technologies when it launched JSAH Online, the pioneering multimedia edition. Developed under the editorships of Hilary Ballon and David Brownlee, the online journal offers authors the possibility of integrating audio, video, interactive maps, 3-D models, zoomable images, geographic information system (GIS) data, and other features into their work. The online edition publishes native-digital research that can be accessed only through electronic means, and it has both expanded JSAH’s capacities and created the potential for new audiences for architectural history. While JSAH Online’s digital capabilities are underused currently—many articles do not use born-digital elements or images that take full advantage of the available digital features—they remain an important resource for scholars who are employing the new technologies for their research.
This issue marks another phase for JSAH Online, which will leave its original home on JSTOR and will be hosted on a new platform, HighWire Press, created at Stanford University. For members and subscribers, access to the new site will be seamless. The online edition’s portal will have feature articles from the current volume year and from the JSAH archives; previous years of JSAH will continue to be available in the JSTOR archives. Built on HTML5, HighWire will support multimedia features, and it will integrate with SAH’s social media. HighWire’s responsive web design will allow readers to access and view JSAH across a range of devices including mobile phones and tablets. HighWire has the potential to give us a more robust and intuitive portal for JSAH Online.
In her Field Note in this issue, Dianne Harris poses the urgent question: What is the future of architectural history? She addresses this conundrum by examining three aspects of the architectural historian’s practice that raise complementary questions: research (How will we conduct our work?), publishing (How will we communicate about our work?), and audience (Who will read our work?). Digital media, open access, and big data are altering the nature of the archive, the tools with which we conduct research, the means for disseminating knowledge, and our potential readership. Harris analyzes the impact of these fast-changing phenomena on architectural history and issues a call for historians of the built environment to take “advantage of the emerging forms of scholarly communication that permit our work to reach new and expanded audiences.”
As the field of architectural history evolves, JSAH and JSAH Online will continue to further SAH’s long commitment to cultivating new technologies, new forms of knowledge, and new audiences. Given the current pace of change, in another five years, JSAH is likely to be on the cutting edge of yet another transformation in scholarly publishing.
“Next Steps,” JASAH 1, no. 1 ( Jan. 1941), 25.
“The Vectograph,” Graphic Arts Collection, Rare Books and Special Collections, Firestone Library, Princeton University, https://graphicarts.princeton.edu/2014/05/12/the-vectograph (accessed 12 Feb. 2015).