On prizes and disciplines
Updated: Nov 25, 2021
I'm really very happy and proud that my monograph has been shortlisted for the Society for Architectural Historians of Great Britain's Alice Davis Hitchcock Medallion for outstanding contributions to architectural history.
It is a literal medallion, of Wedgwood jasperware, by the way.
Working in mixed disciplines always make for strange bedfellows. I have never thought of myself as an architectural historian until relatively recently. It is not a discipline that I've trained in, frankly. My undergraduate degree was in history, with a minor in classical archaeology, and all my postgraduate work was in medieval archaeology. Working on this research, I tried to blend the two disciplines as much as possible. Architectural history seemed a bit of a far reach, seeing as how most of my buildings no longer exist, but it also seems to work.
What resulted is a mixed discipline Frankenstein of a monograph. This beaut.
This is the sort of thing that usually proves difficult to receive by readers. Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary work is called for in so many places - research projects, funding bids, PhD scholarships and studentships. Then, when it gets to the academic workplace, it gets a little more difficult. One has to be employed, usually, in an academic department which tends to compartmentalise disciplines rather than share them. Interdisciplinary academic books that don't entirely fit a single mold are hard to gauge against other work, which makes reviewing it difficult. I could probably say a lot about the pitfalls of REF and UKRI, but suffice to say that institutions that encourge interdisciplinary work seldom seems to reward it.
That's a real problem. There is absolute and definite value in single-discipline research, don't get me wrong. I can't speak to it as I've never really done it. To me, some of what I want to do and learn about can't exist in a single-discipline world. How far can we push the ideas of what a building meant to people...when the building doesn't exist? Can we marry text with excavation and good theoretical grounding to try to discern this, to read between the slippages in evidence, as I told my 1st years earlier this week?
I think we can. Stuff I'm researching right now is trying to combine archaeological excavations with eleventh-century writings about buildings with literary theory and history of emotions. I get a little leery just shy of phenomenology, but I do think that's got value too if done well and cautiously. I'll probably push this as far as I can to try to talk about senses, emotions and buildings until someone tells me I'm full of it and I run, weeping, back to slightly less dynamic territory...for a month or two.
Anyway, my publisher called my beautiful disciplinary Frankenstein book marmite - people were either going to love it or hate it.
I'm sure that's true. (And by the way, the publisher said that kindly and gently, and with their full faith behind the book.) I've waltzed between disciplines for some time now. I'm a materialist and a buildings person with a full set of archaeological training. I work in a history department, where as long as I can teach the core materials and my own modules, no one really minds what I do, and every now and again there are good-natured cracks about archaeology to see how well I've acclimatised. (I've also just finally moved into a new, solo office. Where did I end up? In the archaeology corridor. The mothership, and so forth.)
So creating a piece of research that dances with disciplines can be difficult to place, and hard for some to take in as legitimate. Having the book not just received well, but being held up as an outstanding accomplishment, is incredibly gratifying.
I am proud, and I am thrilled.