14 Nov 2003 - 15 Nov 2003 All day CRASSH


Main Seminar Room, CRASSH, Cambridge

Conference sponsored by CRASSH (University of Cambridge)

The history of architecture has something of a twilight existence. Although buildings constitute one of the central objects of enquiry for archaeologists, and although, of all cultural artefacts, buildings are the most directly linked not only to social history but also to political history, the study of the history of architecture is rarely taught or researched in university departments of archaeology or history. Rather, the history of architecture is the institutional preserve of departments of architecture or of the history of art. This has serious consequences for the way in which the history of architecture is studied. Putting the history of architecture within the context of a discipline whose primary concern is properly with aesthetics has often encouraged the architectural historian to ignore the wider historical context by focusing on such things as authorial authenticity, the link between the individual maker and the individual work, and the aesthetics of style. Putting the history of architecture within the context of a discipline whose primary concern is with the creation of buildings today has often inevitably given a teleological twist, and an anachronistic agenda, to the study of buildings in the past.

If freed from the expectations that it belongs within the confines of art history, the history of architecture is well placed to have a radical impact upon the terms in which the past is studied. Are the differences between the skills needed for reading documents, on the one hand, and those needed for analysing the material evidence, on the other, a sufficient justification for dividing the proper subject, the past, into two disciplines called history and archaeology? With the archaeologist, the architectural historian must place buildings in their physical and topographical contexts and within their own craft and design tradition. But with the historian, the architectural historian must place buildings both in their wider political and social context, and in the more particular social and economic context which can be reconstructed only from the detailed records of the commercial and other transactions that surrounded the building decisions.

Our concern is, then, with the extent to which the divisions between these subjects make sense. The conference aims to explore the tensions between the methods and approaches of history, archaeology and architectural history, looking for the distinctive character of each field of enquiry as well as points of convergence. The history of academic professionalisation and the history of the practice of architecture are relevant to the current divisions between the subjects. So too the reassessment of the extent to which the standard accepted usage of the subject labels (and the term 'subject' itself) clarifies or obfuscates their relationship has wider implications for the future shape of the academy.

Robin Osborne, Faculty of Classics, Cambridge
Dana Arnold, University of Southampton
Eric Fernie, London



Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk