CONVERSATION 2: Architectural Histories Of/By The Collective


Friday, December 4, 2015, 3:00­5:00 pm, AAB 2210

Conversants:​Maria Cotera (American Culture / Women’s Studies), Julia Hell (German Studies), Ana María León (History of Art/ Romance Languages and Literature), Keith Mitnick (Taubman College)

Curators: M​aja Babic, Seçil Binboğa, Seda Kayim, Jieqiong Wang Moderator:​Joss Kiely


Architectural history—as the history of an intrinsically political practice—is prevalently established in and by institutions. Although it is problematic to limit the practice of history-writing to the confines of any single official discourse, the multiplicity of conflicting architectural narratives today, and the diversity of the methodologies we use in writing history and theory, still seem to ignore ‘unsanctioned’ historical narratives –namely, those of different collectives.

We are seeking to understand how the history of architecture might be written collectively, or whether it has ever been written in such a manner. Yet, in order to pursue this exploration, we first need to question what ‘collective history’ is and how it ‘works’: Is it possible to write history of any sort in this way? Who are the actors, agents and subjects of collective history? What would be the methodologies of such a historiography? What role do objects of collective memory play in the production of collective history? Given that Walter Benjamin has conceived of architecture as being “always… consumed by a collective in a state of distraction,” we seek to understand how collective memory might be engaged with the collective writing of urban and architectural history itself.

This Conversation will take place with scholars who study collective historiography and memory in diverse ways. In a two-hour conversation, we hope to explore the relationship between architecture and collective memory in relation to the historian’s work—looking at how collective memory shapes the perception and production of architecture and of its recorded history.


  1. How do you understand the notion of “collective history” within the framework of your own work?
  2. To what extent is the history of any collective related to the built environment? Can we discuss collective history without recourse to its spatial frame?
  3. What is the relationship between place and representation within the concept of collective history? How does the notion of a collective shift between these two frameworks in any project of writing or scholarship?
  4. What is the nature and role of WRITING in your understanding of collective history? How do we “write” collectively in the context of the built environment, and how does such a metaphorical notion of writing relate to the politics of any collective or group?

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