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European Studies, where he co-chairs the Study Group on the European and Vilnius and a monograph on the concept of cultural landscape. He
He has published on Berlin imageries, Americanism inGermany, and edited two collections, one on the city of Lviv and the other on
City. recently
commemorative practices in Central Europe. Among his current projects urban history. His edited collection on urban and Euro
composing history
are a comparison of the historical imageries of Berlin, Gdansk, Lviv, Riga, pean integration will be published in 2006.

Urban What Architecture Does, Historically Speaking ...


History:

MAIKEN UMBACH
Manchester University

In recent decades, the visual (or pictorial) turn1 has directed reflect how individuals coped with modernity; they also rep
historians' attention toward the built environment just as resent political strategies. During the nineteenth century,
architectural historians have increasingly grounded their several of the rapidly industrializing cities in Europe?from

analyses
in historical context, reconstructing the socioeco Barcelona to Hamburg?carefully
planned their dramatic
nomic and/or political parameters of the building activity spatial expansion not only to cope with its practical effects,

they study. Both disciplines thus appear to be converging. but also to address the perceived threat of mental disloca
The danger such a convergence poses is that both camps tion. Much of the architecture that gave shape
to these

will be left with an "imperialism of language," where only expansions


was
designed
in such a
way
as to
generate
a ver

what is recorded in written sources counts.2 Yet architec nacular touch, a "sense of If we assume, as most
place."
ture is, first and foremost, something we see. The inher modern scholars of nationalism do, that place-based iden

ently more fluid and ambiguous connotations of semiotic tities emerge not from a place per se, but from the way in
systems other than text, especially the visual, often appear which architecture (and other rituals) interpret and stage

untrustworthy in comparison with archival records. Yet the geographical belonging, the potential political power of
visual aspect of the built environment has to be seen as an such architectural
strategies
becomes apparent. In the case

important historical source in its own right?used along of the expanding industrial cities facing the gigantic task of
side other sources, to be sure, but not to them. a vast influx of workers into an old,
subsidiary assimilating immigrant
We need to think of architecture not (only) as the object elitist civic culture, fostering powerful regional loyalties was
that needs to be explained, but as the object that does the often seen as a
saving grace from the threat of rival, more

abstract of collective such as class.3


explaining. conceptions identity,
Architecture offers us glimpses into thought processes specifically, we might consider imperial Germany.
More

normally hidden from historical view. And these are the The period between 1871 and 1914 was long seen by histori
processes that have been pushed to the forefront of atten ans as a
single era, during which a conservative
political sys
tion by cultural historians, under whose influence the par tem failed to adapt to the pressures of socioeconomic

adigmatic questions of the historical discipline shifted away modernization. contrast, the interwar were treated
By years
from "causation" toward is defini as the great of Recent pre
"meaning." Meaning by laboratory modernity.4 scholarship
tion fluid: traditions invented, remembered, half-forgotten; sents a different picture. The built environment has provided
identities tried out, and half-discarded; futures imagined, important clues for this r??valuation.5 Take the example of
planned, defended, half-abandoned. In shedding light on "historicism." As a style, historicism was firmly identified with
this shifty terrain lies architectural history's potentially the German imperial regime and its grandiose official propa

greatest contribution to history at large. ganda. Yet read more closely, so-called historicist buildings
It is important then for historians to learn to allow document a fluid and dynamic relationship with the past: from
architecture to speak for itself. If we decode it carefully, it a reservoir of
styles, employed according
to academic rules,
can offer insights into mentalities, memories, and other col to an expressive idiom with multiple meanings, uniquely
lective dispositions?and the rapidity with which such dis suited to the representation of the hybrid identities so char

positions change. Take, for example, the role that acteristic of the years around 1900, and incorporating allu
architecture has played in expressing people's responses to sions to collective,
longue
dur?e memories, a
subjective
stream

the process of modernization. Such responses not only of consciousness, and other such modernist mentalities.6

14 JSAH / 65:1, MARCH 2006


On the micro level, too, architecture can illuminate the Notes
1.The phrase "pictorial turn," modeled on Richard Rorty's
way in which people lived modernity. Much exciting "linguistic
research is currently devoted to the history of the domestic turn," was coined inW. J. T. Mitchell, Picture Theory (Chicago and Lon

don, 1994).
interior. From Margarete Sch?tte-Lihotzky's Frankfurt
2. Peter Wagner, Reading Iconotexts: From Swift to the French Revolution
Kitchen to the socialist living room, the aesthetic and spa
(London, 1995), 169; Ernest B. Gilman, "Interart Studies and the Imperi
tial arrangement of rooms defined identities, from the mod alism of Language," Poetics Today 10 (1989), 5-30; andW. J. T. Mitchell,
ern housewife to the new man of socialism.7 Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (Chicago, 1986).
Throughout
3.Maiken Umbach, "ATale of Second Cities: Culture and the
history, rooms provide clues about the ambitions of partic Autonomy,
Law inHamburg and Barcelona in the Long Nineteenth
ular social groups, the formation of new milieus, and the Century,"
American Historical Review 110 (June 2005), 659-92; Hartmut Frank, ed.,
definition of gender roles. Moreover, outside the realms of Fritz Schumacher. Reformkultur undModerne (Stuttgart, 1994); St?phane
elite history, the analysis of domestic interior space often Michonneau, "Soci?t? et comm?moration ? Barcelone ? lami-XIXe si?
allows us, as historians, to into the mind-set of those cle," Gen?ses 40 (Sept. 2000), 6-32; Andrea Mesecke, Joseph Puig i
tap
who left few traces in historical archives. Domestic spaces Cadafalch (1861-1956). Katalanisches Selbstverst?ndnis und Internationalit?t
in der Architektur (Frankfurt amMain, 1995); Joan R. V?rela, La Renaix
hold clues about the way people configured their lives, nav
en?a. La represa cultural i pol?tica (1833-1886) (Barcelona, 1991); Emili
igating between the poles of local roots and cosmopolitan Giralt, Pere Anguera, Manuel Jorba, et al., Romanticisme i Renaixen?a,
aspiration, politically tainted traditions and Utopian pro 1800-1860 (Barcelona, 1995), esp. Feran Sagarra, "Arquitectura iUrban

jects, patriarchy and social climbing, convention and isme," 162-204.


terms like 4. A useful overview of the different approaches is Richard Evans,
modernity. Clumsy "ordinary," "commonplace,"
and "middle-of-the-road" to characterize the lives of those Rethinking German History: Nineteenth-Century Germany and the Origins of
the Third Reich (London and Boston, 1987).
who "muddled through" the great political upheavals of the
5. Two typical examples are Kevin Repp, Reformers, Critics, and the Paths
of
modern age are indicative of the problems scholars still face
German Modernity: Anti-Politics and the Search 1890-1914
for Alternatives,
in endeavoring to write these histories. This task becomes
(Cambridge, Mass., 2000); and Jennifer Jenkins, Provincial Modernity:
all the more pressing as grand
ideological narratives like Local Culture and Liberal Politics in Fin-de-Siecle
Hamburg (Ithaca, 2003).
6. Neil
theory lose their credibility. If we can no
modernization "The Romantic Idea of Architectural
Levine, Legibility: Henri
Labrouste and the Neo-Grec," in The Architecture the Ecole des Beaux
assume that "rationalization," and of
longer "secularization,"
Arts 1977); andMaiken
(London, Umbach, "Memory and Historicism:
"disenchantment" the demo
automatically accompanied between the Lines of the Built Environment, c. 1900,"
Reading Germany
graphic, geographical, social, and work-related transforma
Representations 88 (2005), 26-54.
tions of the three centuries or then we have all the 7. Interesting
past so, examples of this trend are Lore Kramer, "Rationalisierung
more cause to examine cultural sources in order des Haushalts und Frauenfrage. Die Frankfurter K?che und zeitgen?ssis
carefully
to establish how people "made their home in che Kritik," in Heinrich ed., Ernst May
Klotz, und das neue Frankfurt,
modernity."
1925-1930 (Berlin, 1986), 77-84; Paul Betts, The Authority
The same applies to the disintegration of other master nar of Everyday
Objects: A Cultural History ofWest German Industrial Design (Berkeley, 2004);
ratives, such as those about the "dark"Middle Ages, the Victor An Archaeology
B?chli, of Socialism (Oxford, 1999); and William
"rational" Renaissance, and so forth. Without generalizing Brumfield and Blair Ruble, eds., Russian Housing in theModern Age:
Design
categories, the question of the day-to-day experience and and Social History (Cambridge, England, 1993).
mind-set of contemporaries has to be posed afresh. While
addressing central questions of the historical discipline, such maiken umbach is a senior lecturer in modern European history at the
investigations do anything but make the discipline of archi of Manchester in England. Her research concerns the role of
University
tectural history subservient to it. Quite the opposite is the the built environment inmunicipal, regional, and particularist-identity pol
case. If historians have to learn to material sources, itics from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. She is
decipher currendy
they need to rely on the guidance of architectural historians, preparing amonograph on German cities and the genesis of modernism in

who are trained in the analysis of the visual. Yet this analy the period 1890 to 1930.

sis has to move beyond older paradigms of


style, toward a
notion of the aesthetic performance of identity, a perfor
mance of which the rooms, houses, and cities we inhabit
leave a material trace.

LEARNING FROM ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY 15

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