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Final Public Oral Exam of Federica M. Soletta

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Princeton University School of Architecture

Announces the Final Public Oral Exam of


Federica M. Soletta





May 12, 2023, at 11:00 a.m.

Room S-118



Spyros Papapetros, Advisor
Eduardo Cadava, Advisor
Anthony Vidler, Cooper Union and Princeton
Edward Eigen, Harvard University
Petra Brouwer, University of Amsterdam




This dissertation investigates the shifting genres of architectural history and writing that became more popular, particularly in the British context, in the mid-nineteenth century as a result of the introduction of photography, advancements in press technology, and the use of the methodological influence of natural sciences. Early photography, as a scientific endeavor as well as a popular vehicle of knowledge, became a critical tool for developing a “new” genre of architectural history and disseminating architectural theories visually and graphically. While the story of photography’s central role in the construction of modernist architectural histories, such as those of Sigfried Giedion and Bruno Zevi is better known, this dissertation aims to narrate the prehistory of such role a century earlier, when photographs do not yet appear on the pages of architectural history books but are used primarily as a tool for developing a comparative and scientific method. Within the development of architectural history, early photography became a synoptic tool, used both as a form of drawing and as a narrative device.


This dissertation examines the reception and the production of architectural knowledge via “photographic histories” which, although popular, frequently addressed significant national architectural issues of the period while seeking to create a “world architectural history.” The first part of the dissertation investigates how architectural photographs were received through the exhibitions of the Architectural Photographic Association, the architect John Johnson’s collection of photographs, and James Robertson’s album of Grecian Antiquities. The second part focuses on the production of a new, “photographic,” architectural history through the language of science, the press, and the historic-ethnographic interpretations of architectural history promoted by the photographs from archaeological and geographic expeditions.


The research leverages the correspondence between the architectural historian James Fergusson—the main informant of the research—and his publisher John Murray. Their letters reveal Fergusson’s determined intention of writing a “complete” history, scientific rather than antiquarian, as well as Murray’s popular concept of a Handbook. As a result, a renewed lexicon of architectural history emerged: photographic in narrative, global in scope, popular in form, and scientific in aim.


A copy of the dissertation is available, for viewing only, in Room S-110 and the PhD/Green Room.