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Department History

The architectural history department was established at the Savannah College of Art and Design in 1995 in response to the growing number of professional opportunities within the field, particularly outside of academia. Robin Williams, Ph.D., then a professor of art history at SCAD, was appointed chair (a position he has held ever since) and oversaw the hiring of faculty, the creation of degree programs and the expansion of curriculum. Karl Schuler, Ph.D., and David Gobel, Ph.D., were first to join the department in Fall 1996; Daves Rossell, Ph.D., in Fall 1997; Thomas Gensheimer, Ph.D., in Winter 2000; and Celeste Guichard, Ph.D., in Fall 2004. Professor Jeff Eley, a veteran of the art history department prior to 1995, joined the department’s faculty in Fall 2005 after serving more than 10 years in various administrative positions; in spring 2011, Eley took on the position of chair of the Historic Preservation department, making way for the department’s newest member, Patrick Haughey, Ph.D., in fall 2011.  In spring 2011, the department took up a new home in Eichberg Hall and moved administratively from the School of Liberal Arts to the School of Building Arts.
Early on, the department undertook a variety of initiatives that have proven very influential on the growth of the programs. The Savannah Symposium, conceived in 1997 and inaugurated in February 1999, quickly put the department on the map by attracting scholars and professionals from around the world to participate in this biennial event. The first symposium, focusing on “The City Square,” received the first outside humanities grants ever awarded to SCAD — from the Georgia Humanities Council and the Samuel Kress Foundation. Addressing a different theme every two years — “Authenticity in Architecture” (2001), “Commemoration and the City” (2003), “Architecture and Regionalism” (2005), “Building in the Public Realm” (2007), “World Heritage and National Registers in Perspective” (2009), “The Spirituality of Place” (2011), “Modernities Across Time and Space (2013) and “The Architecture of Trade” (2015) — the series has become an established event in the calendar of architectural history conferences and has hosted over 350 speakers from 30 countries.  Select papers from the 3rd Savannah Symposium: Commemoration and the City were published in the book Commemoration in America edited by Gobel and Dr. Daves Rossell (University of Virginia Press, 2013) and the 6th Savannah Symposium: World Heritage and National Registers in Perspective was published as World Heritage and National Registers: Stewardship in Perspective, edited by Dr. Celeste Guichard and Dr. Thomas Gensheimer (Transactions Publishers, 2014). Papers from the 9th Savannah Symposium: Modernities Across Time and Space, edited by Dr. Patrick Haughey, will be published in 2015 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Another early initiative, the Survey of Professional Career Opportunities in Architectural History, was begun in 1997 by Schuler to clarify the nature and range of career paths available within this field. His ongoing research and compilation of data, updated semi-annually, has greatly informed curriculum development and served as a valuable resource for students both at SCAD and at other institutions. Based on listings for full-time positions in which architectural history is listed as one of the desired degrees, the survey identifies five principal types of positions along with their responsibilities and expected skills, calculates regional distributions of positions and summarizes typical salary ranges. On average, about 175 full-time positions in architectural history outside of academia are advertised annually.

The Virtual Historic Savannah Project, conceived in 1997 by Williams, who has since served as its director, aims to bridge traditional architectural history research and computer database and visualization technology through a collaboration with the college’s interactive design and game development department. Documenting the evolution of downtown Savannah, the online project has provided scores of students with valuable practical experience at a wide array of tasks. The project was the recipient in 2000 of the first major research grants awarded to SCAD — a pair of planning grants, $9,766 from the Georgia Humanities Council and $50,200 from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2002, it received a $150,000 implementation grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project has become a valuable and innovative resource of data about the city’s architectural heritage.

The rapid establishment of the department’s reputation and success of the Savannah Symposium series led to the opportunity to host outside professional organizations, beginning in October 2003 with the annual meeting, co-chaired by Gobel and Williams, of the Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (SESAH) — a regional chapter of the national organization. In April 2006, Williams served as local chair for the 59th annual meeting of the national Society of Architectural Historians held in Savannah. A year later, Rossell served as organizer for 2007 annual meeting in Savannah of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, the other national society of architectural historians.  As the local chair, Rossell coordinated and co-edited the compendious 500-page local guide printed for the conference.

SCAD architectural history faculty have played an increasingly active role in professional societies, as well as regional and local heritage organizations:

Jeff Eley
– Architectural historian representative, Georgia National Register Review Board (2006-10)
– Board of Trustees, Historic Savannah Foundation

Thomas Gensheimer
– Board Member, Historic Sites and Monuments Commission, City of Savannah (2012-2016)

David Gobel
– President, Southeast Chapter Society of Architectural Historians (2006-2008)
– vice-President, Southeast Society of Architectural Historians (2004-2006)
– Co-editor, Arris: The Journal of the Southeast Society of Architectural Historians (2000-2003)

Celeste Lovette Guichard
– Co-editor, Arris: The Journal of the Southeast Society of Architectural Historians (2015-2017)
– Guest editor, Journal of Virtual World Research (2013)
– Managing Committee, The American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Patrick Haughey
– Global Architecture History and Theory Collaborative, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2014-2015)

Daves Rossell
– Chairman, Chatham County Historic Preservation Commission (2006-)
– Architectural historian representative, Georgia National Register Review Board (2002-2006; 2010-)
– Georgia representative, Board of Directors Southeast Chapter Society of Architectural Historians
– Co-editor, Arris: The Journal of the Southeast Society of Architectural Historians (2000-2003)
– President, Vernacular Georgia Association (2000-2005)

Karl Schuler
– Vice-president, Coastal Georgia Archeological Society (2006- )
– board member, Friends of Wormloe State Historic Site (2005- )

Robin Williams
– Co-editor, Arris: The Journal of the Southeast Society of Architectural Historians (2015-2017)
– Board of Directors (Georgia Representative), Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (2013-2016)
– Member, Historic District Board of Review, Metropolitan Planning Commission, City of Savannah (2010-2015)
– Board of Directors, Society of Architectural Historians (2007-2010)
– Member, Historic District Ordinance Revision Committee, Metropolitan Planning Commission, City of Savannah (2001–04; 2009)
– Consulting Committee, Owens-Thomas House Slave Quarters Interpretation project (2007-2013)
– Architectural historian representative, Georgia National Register Review Board (1999–2002)
Since the graduation of the department’s first student in 1999 (Laura Lee Fisher, M.F.A.) architectural history alumni have successfully secured positions around the country and abroad.  Undergraduates have gone on to graduate programs in such fields as city planning, American studies, historic preservation and architectural history at such schools as George Washington University, the Pratt Institute, the College of William and Mary, Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Virginia. Graduate students occupy positions around the country as architectural historians at state preservation offices and local heritage organizations, in several main street programs, at historic sites and museums, and as private consultants. Two international alumni are successfully pursuing careers in architectural history in their native lands — one as a researcher for a conservation firm in Mumbai (Bombay), India, the other as an instructor of architectural history in Seoul, South Korea. Our Master’s students have also been accepted into prestigious Ph.D. programs, including Brown University, the University of California, Santa Barbara (twice), the University of Iowa — and in the United Kingdom, the University of York and the University of Liverpool.

The department’s students have received notable accolades from the institution: in 2002, Marc Belanger (M.F.A.) was  named Excelsus Laureate (top graduate student) at the SCAD graduation.  Nathaniel Walker (M.A. 2006) received the 2006 Outstanding Thesis Award, Marisa Gomez (B.F.A. 2007) was selected as the 2007 SCAD Valedictorian and Olivier Maene (B.F.A. 2014) was selected as the 2014 SCAD Salutatorian.

(updated November 2014)

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