The American Society of Architectural Historians (ASAH)—as SAH was called until 1947—was formally established at the Harvard Faculty Club on a balmy late-July evening in 1940. Turpin Bannister, then teaching at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, was elected the Society's first president and tasked with editing the first issue of its journal. Appearing in January 1941, that issue was printed in purple ink on a spirit duplicator (or Ditto machine) and bound in orange construction paper. On its cover was a drawing of an ancient Roman brickyard stamp, in reference to the lone and otherwise unillustrated article inside: “The Roman Brick Industry and Its Relationship to Roman Architecture,” by Harvard classicist Herbert Bloch (Figure 1). The newly launched Journal of the ASAH was mailed to the Society's twenty-five founding members and to almost two hundred other scholars who, it was supposed, might want to join them. “Few of those who receive this first number of the Journal will know that ASAH exists,” read the issue's opening lines. “An introduction is in order.”1
Introductions to SAH will no longer be necessary for most people reading this, but a reminder or two seem warranted. This summer marks the Society's eightieth anniversary, while next year will be the journal's. We observe these anniversaries every five or ten years, and while doing so may sometimes seem blandly formulaic, such recognition also imposes an order on time elapsed and encourages us to measure changes wrought. Much as physical landmarks mark meaningful places, authors Scott Stephens and Lisa A. Williams observe, anniversaries are “temporal landmarks demarcat[ing] meaningful junctures in time. They interpose themselves between the past and a hoped-for future … between our actuality and our potentiality.”2 The scope and scale of SAH and JSAH have broadened considerably since those early Ditto-machine days. Recent years have seen substantial and largely successful efforts to internationalize and otherwise diversify our membership and the issues we address, to support and encourage significant research and the participation of emerging and nontraditional scholars, to disseminate and expand our work through technologies both old and new, and to build and secure the resources and mechanisms that make so much of this activity possible.
Because we are students of history, it is our practice and our inclination to look backward. The Society and its journal now have eighty years of their own to look back on, and in the coming months JSAH will be doing just that: calling out, with the assistance of our publisher, the University of California Press, significant examples of past scholarship and introducing them to contemporary readers through online open-access publication (along the lines of our recent “virtual issues” on the Bauhaus and skyscrapers). But as anyone reading this is well aware, history is not simply about looking backward. Among its many uses, both practical and idealistic, historical study helps us to better understand the nature and causes of change, enhancing our knowledge of ourselves and our present circumstances, as well as our efforts to plan and build for what we hope will be a better future.
So, by all means, do look back on those eighty years behind us and take from them what you will. But take a moment, too, to think about the years ahead and the still-unrealized potential that they hold. In just twenty years the Society will mark its centennial. What can we do now to keep on building an organization whose first one hundred years we will then celebrate with pleasure, pride, and the possibility of an even brighter future ahead? I hope to see you then.
“Introducing ASAH,” JASAH 1, no. 1 (Jan. 1941), 1. See also “Readers Comment on Journal Debut,” JASAH 1, no. 2 (Apr. 1941), 39. Along with Bloch's article, the initial issue contained the first in a series titled “Current Bibliographies in Architectural History,” prepared by Harvard librarian Ruth V. Cook, and some short news items and “Next Steps” from Bannister; these last included a report on the Society's beginnings, a proposal for tours to places of architectural interest, and a note of concern about ongoing and potential architectural damage and destruction in wartime Europe. The Society's initial aims, as Marian Card Donnelly later enumerated them, were “to be a forum for historians of architecture, to foster appreciation of historic architecture, to stimulate research and publication, and to promote the preservation of historic buildings.” Marian C. Donnelly, A History: Society of Architectural Historians (Eugene: School of Architecture and Allied Arts, University of Oregon, 1998), 8.
Scott Stephens and Lisa A. Williams, “Why Milestones Matter,” ABC Radio National, 17 May 2017, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-05-18/milestones-how-birthdays-and-anniversaries-shape-our-lives/8533906 (accessed 20 Jan. 2020).
Addendum: JSAH's production calendar being what it is, the paragraphs above were written shortly before the first cases of a new virus were reported in late December 2019, weeks before the disease caused by that virus was named COVID-19 (in early January 2020). By now (mid-March) the virus has spread around the world, taken thousands of lives, and fundamentally altered the shape of things for all of us in ways both large and small, apparent and as-yet unrecognized, short-term and indeterminate. As governments, health care systems, institutions, and economies seek to respond, countless events and activities (including the SAH annual meeting scheduled to be held in Seattle) have been canceled or shifted online, while public spaces and many workplaces have emptied. Our already small and tightly interconnected world appears dramatically smaller now that most of us are staying home, socially distancing (a term that seems to have appeared out of nowhere but is suddenly everywhere). Given how rapidly things are evolving, it is impossible to predict what conditions will be like when you read this in June, but if it gives you any comfort, however minute, preparations for the September and December issues of JSAH are underway and moving forward. As editor through the end of 2020, I redouble the hope expressed above and redirect it toward the coming months. On behalf of all those involved in the production of JSAH, I wish you and yours good health, good work when possible, and safe passage.