Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) Virtual Conference, April 30-May 1, 2020

By Aimee Lind, ARLIS/SAH Liaison

The 73rd Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, scheduled to take place in Seattle, WA from April 29th-May 3rd, promised to be one for the ages, with a full roster of paper sessions, roundtables, workshops, seminars, social events, and tours of Seattle and the surrounding areas. On March 10th, however, the SAH Board of Directors announced their difficult decision to cancel the Seattle conference due to the COVID-19 crisis. SAH leadership quickly pivoted to a new online model, a virtual conference with a registration fee of $100 featuring 36 paper sessions, with many papers recorded and available to registrants after the conference.

A welcome from the conference chairs Victoria M. Young, Ann C. Huppert, and Thaisa Way, SAH President Sandy Isenstadt’s State of SAH address, the keynote [“Seattle’s Inventions and Reinventions” delivered by Margaret O’Mara, University of Washington], and the Eduard F. Sekler talk [“The Home of the Oppressed”: Democracy, Slavery and American Civic Architecture, delivered by Mabel O. WIlson, Columbia University] are accessible online to all. Paper sessions as they were delivered live and, through May 31st, as recordings, require a registrant log-in. Roundtables will be held via Zoom from May 19th-May 28th and are free and open to the public. 

While it is regrettable that so many roundtables, seminars, tours, etc. did not survive the transition to the virtual model, there were many unexpected benefits to attending SAH online: fewer paper conflicts due to the ability to watch recordings later, a more accessible registration fee that led to many first time attendees, and the ability to follow along at your own pace to a certain degree. Moving forward, I would appreciate a hybrid model where the in-person conference takes place but there is a less expensive registration fee for virtual-only access to select aspects of the conference and all registrants have the ability to go back and review recorded sessions for a limited period of time. 

While it is difficult to know what we all have in store for us in the coming year, the 2021 SAH conference is scheduled for April 14-18 in Montreal, Canada.

As mentioned above, the State of SAH address is available in its entirety online but I have included my notes below.

State of SAH Address [Sandy Isenstadt, SAH President]

  • Switch to virtual conference
  • SAH Data Project
    • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant assessing the field of architectural history in higher education  in order to finetune commitments of SAH
    • Survey response rate started strong but dropped off after COVID-19 hit; Sarah Dreller adopted a snapshot questionnaire and extended time on original survey
    • Report should be available in 2021
    • More info on SAH website https://www.sah.org/publications-and-research/sah-data-project
  • SAH Affiliate Groups:
    • Meet in person or remotely to pursue common interests
    • SAH board approved 4 inaugural groups
      • Asian American Diaspora Architectural History
      • Historic Interiors
      • Minority Scholars
      • Race in Architectural History
  • SAH IDEAS Initiative
    • Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accountability, and Sustainability
    • Sparked by November 2019 Membership and Diversity meeting; further developed by Pauline Saliga and Carolyn Garrett
    • Among other efforts, SAH is co-organizing a summer teachers institute with Lakeforest College to enhance humanities education through deep engagement in issues of race; urban field trip program for underserved youth; events sponsored by the global architectural history and teaching collaborative; graduate student scholarships; childcare subventions for annual conference; formation of SAH affiliate groups (see above); SAH Data Project (see above).
  • Establishment of David B. Brownlee dissertation award; $1000 stipend to attend conference
  • Gill Family Foundation : Multi-year grant for $5000 in research travel for a doctoral candidate in architectural history. NB: The Gill Family Foundation also sponsored the $100 registration fee for the virtual conference for 160 graduate students.

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