I am putting together a session for the 2019 conference of the Society of Architectural Historians to be held in Providence, Rhode Island, April 24–28. Please see the description below and consider submitting a proposal if you work in this field of scholarship.
Infrastructure: Global Perspectives from Architectural History
We tend to think of infrastructure in utilitarian terms. But infrastructure emerges from deep within our dreams, instantiating through designed artifacts that in turn give rise to new dreams. In this sense, infrastructure unfolds in excess of itself, dense congeries of always-incomplete social relations, human desires, and material resonances that amplify and expand the world. The Silk Road is at once a collection of architectural forms (caravanseri, fortifications, ports, custom houses, water wells) and a space of world-making across geography and culture. The U.S. Interstate is both a slab of asphalt with supremely engineered fault tolerances, and a space for projecting freedom, mobility, and American power.
Meanwhile, infrastructure tends to obscure the forces of its own production. Immense expenditures of capital and labor shape networked materialities and spaces of flows, even while those expenditures recede into the overdetermined symbolism of the forms themselves. Roads, bridges, dams, docks, pipes, rail lines, and other artifacts seldom reveal their political and economic affordances. Moreover, the extensivity of infrastructure lends it an air of totality and smoothness, obscuring its lumpy, uneven topography. Even as it connects, it disconnects; as it assembles, it dissembles; as it brings some people together, it keeps others apart.
Far from a uniform condition, infrastructure projects tend to be unleashed in nervous eruptions at key historical moments, often as exercises in war, nation-building, or imperial control.Papers that consider infrastructure across a wide variety of forms, locations, and temporalities are welcome. Participants might connect disparate world regions, explore themes across broad spans of time, examine questions of linkage and scale, investigate infrastructure as phenomenon and affect, or trace the interrelation of aesthetics, technology, and power. Papers may cover singular infrastructural elements or whole systems; in all cases, the key criterion is the richness and quality of the argument.
Session Chair: Joseph Heathcott, The New School
Submission Deadline: June 5
To submit, go to the SAH web site here.