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Architecture and World History


Architecture and World History Themes, Concepts, and Pedagogy

Thomas Mounkhall


     World history is distinct from other fields in the degree it emphasizes the complementary nature of teaching and scholarship. Nonetheless, research and the scholarship of teaching on the subject can move along separate tracks with very few junctions. Since its inception, World History Connected has been a positive example of the close, symbiotic relationship that can exist between the two. This forum is no exception. Each of the contributing authors has suggested practical ideas for using architecture to teach world history.

     These essays endorse the view that to teach any subject well, it is necessary to both understand the core ideas that inform research in the field and also stimulate within students sophisticated, domain specific thinking skills. World history, as all history, is an intellectual exercise in which students develop certain cognitive means of understanding the past and the present. All of the core thinking skills in the field (change over time, periodization, comparative method, etc.) can be addressed through the use of architecture.

     All of the Forum's essays draw on data—from memoirs to primary source materials to the built environment itself—while directly or indirectly supporting constructed learning theory. This process holds that newly learned information is best understood and retained if it is linked to previously learned abstractions. The utility of mental constructs or themes is as much a core element of world history as it is of the constructed learning process itself, as will be seen in the themes and supporting examples addressed here.

     This forum is also particularly rich in cultural ideas, themes, and examples long central to both world history methodology and pedagogy. Pilar Maria Guerrieri's piece contains many instances of the world history process of cultural diffusion, which she illustrates with examples of Classical Greek and Roman style buildings being constructed globally in the past four centuries. Kimberly Sayre Alexander joins Guerrieri in referencing the façade of Sao Paulo, Macao, as a distinct exemplar of cultural synthesis, a theme also pursed by this author when identifying the Spanish Baroque and Zapotec/Mixtec mixture in the façade of Santo Domingo, Oaxaca.

     Alexander Mirkovic cites the murals in the British Foreign Office Building as an example of Social Darwinism and racial superiority. Anglo-Saxons are portrayed there as the engines of 20th century world history and the notion of Social Darwinism is given expression though references to the International Eugenics Congress of 1912 c. e. He places his work against the backdrop of the 19th century British Empire and depicts how art and its architectural placement in the built environment can be utilized as a propaganda vehicle

     Ralph Croizier employs Tatlin's Tower as a visual statement of Modernist architecture in that it had specific practical, political usage rather than mere aesthetic value. His essay also illustrates the early 20th century notion of revolutionary utopias as it was understood in the architecture of the USSR of the early 1920's.

     The world history theme of geographic polycentrism is addressed throughout this Forum; its essays emphasize the world's oceans as connectors of human experience. Croizier's study of Tatlin's Tower places it in its proper locations of Western Europe and Eastern Europe, but also shows that one of its aims was to connect global workers' revolutions by radio wherever they occurred. Pilar Maria Guerrieri's and Alexander Mirkovic's contributions demonstrate the influence of the global oceans on Western European imperialism. Kimberly Sayre Alexander's work that focuses on Rebecca Kinsman's journey to Macao by way of the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans also reminds us that oceans act as bridges between peoples and cultures. Her examination of Kinsman's description of the façade of Sao Paulo, Macao, with its Chinese characters and Japanese chrysanthemums attest to East Asian trade, while the statues of Jesuir saints evoke the fervor of the Catholic Counter-Reformation (or Reformation). The existence of the Portuguese caravel on that façade provides an opening to the teaching of very important Early Modern World History processes such as the adaptation of the Islamic lateen sail on the caravel, the agency of Henry the Navigator, and the use of the Indian Ocean monsoon wind cycle for long distance trade.

     From its inception, world history has emphasized comparative thinking and accepted that inherent in that approach is the search for contrasts, as well as commonalities. This can be seen in several of this Forum's essays. Pilar Maria Guerrieri compares the built environment of British New Delhi and French Puducherry (Pondicherry). This writer's contribution to the Forum would have students and teachers compare and contrast the roughly contemporaneous Santo Domingo, Oaxaca with the Taj Mahal in Agra. Ralph Croizier addresses the switch from early global Communism under Lenin and Trotsky to the creation of a Communist nation-state under Stalin. He does this by asking teachers to compare/contrast Tatlin's Tower plans with the staid, conservative architecture of Stalin's Kremlin in Moscow.

     One of the more important aspects of learning world history for students is to recognize the relationship of events across both time and distance, Alexander Mirkovic well illustrates the links among the emergence of 19th Century European Social Darwinism, the Eugenics Movement and the racial discrimination affecting United States' Immigration Policy in the 1920's. This writer's essay depicts the wealth acquired by the Oaxacan Dominicans from their plantations as a major cause of the later anti-clericalism of President Benito Juarez, who nationalized all Catholic Church property, including Santo Domingo in the 1860's.

     One of the more important realizations for students of world history is that people from different time periods and/or different cultures will probably have diverse views on the same event or issue. Our essayists have provided some fine examples of multiple perspectives that could profitably be used in the global history classroom. Alexander Mirkovic demonstrates that for many early 20th Century Britons, the First World War was an Anglo-Saxon civil war between the United Kingdom and Germany. This writer asks how a Renaissance architect, a Zapotec priest, a Calvinist and a Mixtec campesino would respond to seeing the completed Santo Domingo, Oaxaca. Ralph Croizier would have students compare/contrast monuments to the Second World War in Japan, USSR and France.

     In addition to the ideas mentioned above relative to using architecture to develop important domain specific thinking skills, our authors have contributed a set of very efficient pedagogical methods. Pilar Maria Guerrieri advocates a case study approach focusing on buildings as examples of syncretism. Alexander Mirkovic would have students concentrate on the rationale for the appearance of any historical edifice. Ralph Croizier addresses the creative ability of students by asking them to create a monument to a person, event or idea of their choice. Kimberley Sayre Alexander offers a fitting close to this Forum in suggesting that the unique contribution of the built environment to world history scholarship is its ability to concretize the many abstractions in the field, while also reminding us that architecture properly used by teachers and scholars can reveal the true complexities of global encounters.


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