Research Paper: Architectural Historiography in the 20th Century
historiography is the writing of history, as well as the process by which historians analyze and interpret historical evidence. Therefore, the writing of history is, by nature, interpretive, and as such it is highly influenced by the author-historian’s agenda, bias, cultural context, research method, knowledge (or ignorance) of source material, selective editing, etc. To this end, for this research project you will choose a subject relevant to twentieth century architecture, and you will compare/contrast various historians’ interpretations of this subject.
First, you will choose one architect, event, movement, period or theory relevant to twentieth century architecture. Some possible topics might include: the Deutscher Werkbund, the Case Study House Program, Japanese Metabolism, the Bauhaus under Hannes Meyer, the New York Five, the 1932 exhibit at the MoMA entitled “The International Style”, Mies van der Rohe’s work at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Rem Koolhaas in the 1970s, etc. If you choose to focus on the work of one architect, you should narrow your research down to an important period in that architect’s life (e.g. Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1930s), or a specific theory developed by that architect (e.g. Louis Sullivan’s brand of Rationalism). Your task is NOT to report on the building, architect or event, but rather to compare/contrast various historiographic interpretations of it.
You will consult a minimum of five historiographic accounts of the topic (see the list of examples of historiographic accounts below), from different author-historians who express different viewpoints. As you read and reflect on these accounts, you should ask yourself
• What evidence does each historian cite, and what evidence does each historian leave out? Why? How does this decision influence this historian’s narrative of the topic?
• How does each author-historian use and interpret the evidence? • What distinct conclusions has each historian drawn about this subject? • How do these conclusions differ? How are they similar?
• How does each historiographic account reveal the historians’ own bias and/or agenda? • How have perceptions of this subject been affected by the various historiographic accounts of it? • How does the author-historian contextualize the topic in the broader narrative of the history of twentieth century architecture?
• In what ways does the author-historian’s account of this subject reveal her/his broader approach to the history of architecture?
• How have historians affected our understanding of this topic?
After choosing a topic, list and analyze each account of the topic. List the similarities and differences that you discover between accounts (i.e. as listed above). Be specific. Then, conduct research on the author of each account to determine how they chose to include some information while excluding other information. Your proposal should also consider/discuss each author’s bias. I recommend that you organize this information in table format.
Finally, write a thesis statement and 1-2 paragraphs that summarize(s) the overall trend, trajectory, etc. of the historiography of the subject. Do the authors fall into various “camps”? Do you notice an evolution over time in the ways this topic has been presented? Are some authors’ biases more evident than others?