As a new feature of this site, I’ve added a gallery of over 50 of our alumni (those whose status is known to me). Viewing our alumni as a group in the context of this gallery underscores how diverse are the career paths one can follow within and from architectural history, from academia, public and private sector positions to consulting. It is also exciting to see how many are still engaged in pursuits related in some way to architectural history, or that used our program as a springboard for other exciting pursuits.
Click on the Alumni Gallery tab above to view.
The trend towards an increasing number of full-time positions continues with the latest set of career survey data compiled by Dr. Karl Schuler in our department, with 165 positions counted, up from 153 listed Jul. 2014-Jun. 2015 and up from 129 in 2014. This is the highest number since June 2008. Positions involving historical research and evaluation are the most numerous among the five main kinds of positions and account for slightly more than half of all positions, while the Southeast continues to offer the greatest number of positions of any part of the country.
The data can be viewed in the Career Survey tab above.
In my personal statement as an applicant to SCAD’s M.F.A. program in Architectural History (ARLH), I vividly remember writing that what I really enjoyed and wanted in the future was to simply write about our built environment. Little did I know a couple years later I would be logged into a U.S. federal government computer at the National Park Service’s (NPS) Midwest Regional Office, editing, designing, and writing the cover story for their History and National Register Program’s tenth annual newsletter, named Exceptional Places. The newsletter now appears on the NPS’s website and has been sent out to over 400 National Historic Landmark (NHL) stewards and owners within the Midwest region.
Have a look:
The newsletter was my primary task to be completed as a NCPE (National Council for Preservation Education) intern during summer 2015 at the NPS’s Midwest Regional Office in Omaha, Nebraska—all while getting to experience the everyday workings of the office’s Cultural Resources Division. I utilized skills learned in ARLH 700 Research Methods in Architectural History at SCAD in determining and accumulating the proper information I needed for my cover story on the Henry Gerber House National Historic Landmark in Chicago, Illinois, which included both primary and secondary research. (It also didn’t hurt to be from a program at an art school, as my Adobe InDesign and creative skills were put to the test in carrying out the overall graphic design of the newsletter.)
One method that not only turned out to be an amazing primary research experience, but also an architectural history grad student’s dream trip, was a site visit, as part of an intern business trip, to the Henry Gerber House accompanied by SCAD Architectural History alumna, Alesha Cerny (Historian and NHL Coordinator for Illinois and Minnesota at the NPS). On the way to the site in Chicago, we visited several National Historic Landmarks, as part
of my internship was to learn about the NHL program through visiting properties within the Midwest Region. To name a few: Louis Sullivan’s “jewel box” Merchants’ National Bank, the Amana Colonies, and Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. I never thought I would be on a private tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House and the Charnley-Persky House (also the national headquarters of the Society of Architectural Historians).
But perhaps even more incredible was visiting a newly named NHL: the Henry Gerber House. It is now a private residence in Chicago, which was a boarding house in the 1920s inhabited by Gerber and which served as the meeting place for the Society of Human Rights, the first official organization dedicated to advocating homosexual equal rights in the U.S. and where Gerber published the first homosexual periodical, Friendship and Freedom. Not only did I have the opportunity to interview the current owners and tour the house, but also the chance to see, read, hold, and photograph the newly unveiled NHL plaque that would later be placed outside for the public. It was a fascinating experience writing an article about our nation’s architectural history that was topped off by being in the NPS’s office when the news broke that Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, signed the Henry Gerber House nomination officially giving the subject of my newsletter article National Historic Landmark status.
While the newsletter is definitely something of which I am very proud, the insight I gained into what is possible with a degree in Architectural History and into what specific jobs and skills are necessary for the ongoing stewardship of our nation’s valuable cultural resources was particularly valuable to me as a student deciding on a career path.
I also had the opportunity to help with several aspects of the Travel Itinerary for the City of Omaha for the NPS’s “Discover Our Shared Heritage Itinerary Series” (another NCPE internship undertaking). My architectural history classes at SCAD proved valuable and provided me with confidence when I was consulted about everything from how to describe the architectural style of a building exterior to whether an historic overpass held enough significance to include in a travel itinerary. Much to my delight, I was well prepared due to the wide range of course content I was exposed to in our department’s courses at SCAD. Skills I gained from ARLH 770 Documenting and Interpreting the Built Environment were essential to collaborate with two other NCPE interns, our supervisors at the NPS, and the Nebraska SHPO, where SCAD ARLH alumnus, Ruben Acosta, provided us with valuable resources on Omaha’s history. Again, it didn’t hurt to be a student at SCAD. Our team needed Photoshop skills to edit pictures from our site visits around Omaha. I was surprised and pleased to see that both my intellectual and creative skills were needed and appreciated.
Aside from my main tasks I had the valuable learning, and just plain fascinating, opportunities, such as sitting in during staff meetings, NHL conference calls involving every region across the country, and Section 106 commenting meetings involving National Parks across the Midwest Region.
Midwestern memories of racing hundreds of miles through the cattle-dotted prairies of South Dakota to the rugged terrain of Badlands National Park and riding through the wind turbine- and corn-filled rolling fields and small towns of Iowa and Illinois separating the metropolises of Omaha and Chicago on either horizon, will always run like an old silent film through my mind as an artifact to what natural and cultural resources served to influence our nation’s architectural history.
Editor’s note: Kimberly Herman is an M.F.A. student completing her degree program in architectural history at SCAD
In spring 2015, my Research Methods in Architectural History class dedicated its main research project to analyzing documents within the City of Savannah’s Research Library and Municipal Archives in order to compile a research guide for each topic. These guides are now available on their website. Each student selected a type of 19th-century municipal infrastructure — fire hydrants and water mains; municipal wharves; the rope walk; wells and pumps; street lighting; and the landscaping of the downtown squares — as their focus and conducted most of their research using the collections of the City’s municipal archive. Depending on the topic, the records they consulted dated from the late 18th century through to the early 20th century. Secondary research using online and library resources allowed each student to understand Savannah’s infrastructure within a larger context and in comparison to other cities. At the end of spring quarter, the students delivered a formal presentation to municipal staff members in the media room in City Hall. The research guides are now available online through the Municipal Archives website and are meant to help future researchers who may be interested in these topics understand the history of that type of infrastructure in Savannah.
I never imagined that my set of handwritten seminar notes from ARLH759: Power and the Built Environment, and in particular several pages of scribbled notes from the session, “Power and Commemoration,” would become a valuable source of research materials that I would use in my early career as an architectural historian.
This past summer, I was hired as an expert witness (through the introduction of a personal friend of mine) in a legal case that was brought against the University of Texas at Austin. At issue was whether or not the university could remove two bronze statues of historical figures from a war memorial, which had been constructed at the bequest of a former regent and the university’s largest donor; the plaintiffs’ sought an injunction to block the removal. My task, as an architectural historian, was to provide testimony on behalf of the plaintiffs as to the significance of the war memorial, generally and of the statues in particular.
To prepare for my day in court, which required working on a tight deadline (less than ten days), I began with those seminar notes, reviewing them for general background information in order to place the subject memorial in its historic context of war memorials erected from the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries. But for more specific information, I read some relevant journal articles, especially those contained in Commemoration in America, Essays on Monuments, Memorialization, and Memory, edited by SCAD Architectural History Professors, David Gobel and Daves Rossell. My next task required more specific research on the sculptor of the statues and the architect of the war memorial in Austin; a research trip to the Athenæum of Philadelphia, one of the country’s premier archives of American architectural drawings and documents provided a treasure trove of primary and secondary source materials that would form the basis of my testimony.
As a result of my research, I learned that the memorial has a complex and fascinating history. George Washington Littlefield, a Confederate Major, wealthy Austin businessman and former Regent of the University of Texas, bequeathed $250,000 to UT to build a memorial to honor the Confederacy and intended to be a grand gateway to the university. The Roman-inspired triumphal arch would include five colossal bronze statues of prominent men who served in the Confederacy and had personal ties to the state of Texas, including President Jefferson Davis. While Littlefield’s triumphal arch was not realized due to the financial constraints of the bequest, the statues were executed in clay by Italian-born sculptor, Pompeo Luigi Coppini in his Texas studio and cast by the Roman Bronze Works in Brooklyn, New York.
In 1919, plans for Littlefield’s memorial were revived. Coppini’s design integrated the completed bronze statues displayed on a plaza surrounding a fountain, to be dedicated to UT alumni who were killed in the “Great War:” this proposed memorial would jointly commemorate the sacrifice of those who served in the Civil War and World War I and Coppini completed another bronze statue of President Woodrow Wilson as a companion to President Davis, symbolizing a reunified America fighting against a common enemy abroad. This plan likewise was never executed and future plans for the memorial languished until Paul Phillippe Cret, the French-born architect and Chair of the Architecture Department at the University of Pennsylvania was hired by UT to complete a master plan for the campus in 1930. Cret’s master plan included several buildings, most notably the iconic Main Building and Tower and a final plan for the Littlefield’s memorial with a fountain, complete with a Roman quadriga, and Coppini’s six bronze statues sited on the hill along oak-lined walkways leading up to the limestone steps of the Main Building.
Following the horrific murder of parishioners at a Charleston, S.C. church and related anti-Confederate sentiment, the university sought to remove Jefferson Davis’ as the statue was deemed to be “offensive” in the wake of the tragedy in Charleston. Wilson too would be removed to maintain a symmetrical appearance of the south mall. As an architectural historian, I was not as concerned with the underlying cause célèbre but with the university’s wanton destruction of an eighty-year-old war memorial, erected to honor and commemorate sacrifice and a symbol of Texas’ shared cultural heritage located just steps from the statehouse. Further, the removal of these statues would not only alter a masterpiece of one of America’s greatest architects and urban planners of the twentieth century, but removing Messrs. Davis and Wilson would forever destroy the central iconographic meaning of the monument and fountain.
I prepared talking points, elevator pitches and curated images for a PowerPoint (drawing on what I learned in COMM740: Professional Presentations) and headed to Texas. Appearing in a Travis County District Court was an experience that I will not soon forget. First of all, this was a big local news event and I was a bit unprepared for all the media attention this case was getting. In fact, the courtroom was packed, not only with supporters of both sides, but with every local television news outlet and newspaper jockeying for position on the front row for the best view of the action. But, I had a job to do and while I was not able to deliver all my pithy comments (e.g “architecture is fragile” and “we inherit our monuments from our ancestors and borrow them from our children,”) I successfully answered counsels’ questions, remained poised under cross examination and made the points I needed to—and I ended up on the 6:00P news and my picture was in the newspaper (one resourceful reporter accessed my LinkedIn profile for his article on the proceedings).
Even though the plaintiffs’ motion was denied, and the university hastily and unceremoniously removing the “offensive” statues mere hours after the court’s ruling, the case is currently at the appellate division, which means I may have a second chance to advocate in court for the preservation of an historic cultural landscape and the replacement of the statues. But the moral of the story is two-fold: first, this is proof that Richard Nickel’s famous quip, “[g]reat architecture has only two natural enemies; water and stupid men,” is true and secondly, take good class notes—you never know when you may need them for a future research project.
Editor’s Note: Glen Umberger is an alumnus of our Architectural History program (M.F.A. 2015).
The trend towards an increasing number of full-time positions continues with the latest set of career survey data compiled by Dr. Karl Schuler in our department, with 153 positions counted, up from 129 in 2014. This is the highest number since 2008. Positions involving historical research and evaluation are the most numerous among the five main kinds of positions, with the Southeast offering the greatest number of positions of any part of the country.
The data can be viewed in the Career Survey tab above.
I have recently learned about the Italian writer Italo Calvino’s travels in the United States in 1959-60 in which he kept a journal, translated and published in the book Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings. Calvino (1923-1985) is most famous for his book Invisible Cities (1972). In his journal entry of March 8, 1960, he had this to say about Savannah:
“Consequently, my impressions of the South would be very dark if I had not discovered
I stopped at Savannah, Georgia, to sleep and have a look at it, attracted only by its beautiful name and by some historical, literary or musical memory, but no one said I should go there, no one in any State of the United States. AND IT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CITY IN THE UNITED STATES. Absolutely, there is nothing to compare with it. I don’t know yet what Charleston, South Carolina, is like, where I will be going tomorrow and which is more famous. This is a town where nobody ever comes (despite having a top-class tourist infrastructure and knowing how to present its attractions — relating to both history and town planning — with a sophistication unknown elsewhere; but this is perhaps the secret of its charm, that internal American tourism, which is always so phoney, has not touched it). It is a town which has remained practically unchanged, just as it was in the prosperous days of the South at the start of the nineteenth century, in the heyday of cotton; and it is one of the only American cities to have been built with unique urban planning, of extreme rational regularity and variety and harmony: at every second intersection there is a small tree-lined square, all identical, but always different, because the pleasantness of the buildings which range from the colonial period to that of the Civil War. I stayed there spending the whole day going round from street to street, enjoying the forgotten pleasure of feeling a city, a city in which the expression of a civilization, and it is only in this way by seeing Savannah that you can understand what type of civilization the South was. …”
Calvino is one of numerous visitors during the city’s history that have written glowingly about Savannah and admired its urban plan. To read what others’ have said, visit our collection of praise for Savannah (or click the link above).