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The Historian and the X

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The Historian and the X
An Aggregate/Mellon Mini-Symposium on Historiography

Princeton University School of Architecture
February 10, 2017
4:30 pm Betts Auditorium

This event brings together architectural and urban historians to discuss the historiographic operations that have made “the city” a hyper-legible object of architectural analysis in American academia since the 1960s, and to draw lessons for making interventions in urban and architectural history-writing today.

We borrow our title from The Historian and the City, a 1964 volume published by the MIT-Harvard Joint Center for Urban Studies after an eponymous 1961 event, where historians, social scientists and planners jointly declared the “city” the spatial substrate for the study of culture itself. In volumes such as these, the city became a crucial operand that helped situate architectural scholarship within the humanities, provoking intellectual coalescences and disciplinary inventions for the study of urban and architectural form that continued for the next half-century. Yet reading this material today, it is clear that the city cohered negatively, in reaction to a wave of urbanization and the rise of techno-scientific claims to urban analysis and planning. And in retrospect, the urgent calls sounded throughout the 1960s to study the city historically did little to prevent the subsequent specialization of urban analysis into separate academic fields. This disciplinary and geographic segmentation (which we inhabit today) helped reproduce the blindnesses that came from leveraging the “urban” as an object of calculation, policy, financialization, and governance in the first place.

More broadly, then, the topic of discussion will be “The Historian and the X,” with X standing in for any object we wish to interrogate that is historiographically constituted — shaped by scholars in reaction to ongoing pressures from historical events, institutional formations, spatial practices, economic conditions and political erasures—whether this object becomes over-determined, coalesces into sudden visibility, or whether, on the contrary, it has remained illegible, never being named as such. How can historians today benefit from the position that “the city” helped secure for architectural and urban scholarship in academia, while moving past its constitutive blinders? What historiographic operations are available to us today?

4:30 pm  Introduction Lucia Allais (Princeton)
4:40 pm  Becoming Urban Studies, 1960-1964 Alison Isenberg (Princeton)
5:00 pm  Mud – HUD: Vincent Scully, between Polis and Pueblo Albert Narath (UCSC)
5:20 pm  Urbanization and its Nuisances Timothy Hyde (MIT)
5:40 pm  Response Reinhold Martin (Columbia)
6:00 pm  Collective Discussion
Reception to follow

This event is convened by Lucia Allais, with the Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative.
It is supported by the Princeton-Mellon Program in the Urban Humanities, and the Princeton University School of Architecture.