Cities 306, Advanced Fieldwork Techniques

-- projects

Project 1:

For the first of the two research/website projects, I will provide the topical focus in the form of some images of unpublished 19th-century watercolors or prints of Philadelphia blocks. Your goal will be to be resourceful in discovering the history of the site depicted and effective in presenting it in a way that directly engages both the evidence and the viewer.

Most of the images show a set of buildings rather than a single one, and the goal will be to tell the story of these buildings as best you can based on firm period evidence, carrying the history from their construction through changes and demolition. You will also tap into other kinds of documentation to tell a more urbanistic story: why was what was built built here in terms of the tides and functional patterning of the city over time? In part, this is a block story (or more closely, a half-block story), telling the tale of part of a block's particular history, but it also a story of that place amid a changing city around it.

As you can guess, finding this story may take you in several directions, from details of land ownership to footprints on successions of old atlases, from larger maps to rare surviving insurance surveys, from old city directories to census records, from building records or newspaper accounts, from representation in old watercolors or prints to early photographs, from its history as undeveloped land to the present -- although you can jump to that from the time of the depicted buildings' disappearance.

You'll be exposed to the sources of such documentary and graphic resources through your reading and our visits, most of them requiring visits downtown. Don't forget to look beyond the boundaries of your lot, for the urbanistic forces at work in explaining changes there. And you may want to explore signs of life and use in details visible in the originals or a high-res version of your images. If you find that these to be cues to important themes that beg discussion or explanation, research and bring that in. As always, be scrupulous and precise as to where information and images come from, integrating that into the presentation.

In a few cases, these views may include an extraordinary, architect-designed place, but more often you may be dealing with the products of builder/developers and buildings that are understandable less as examples of design innovation than in the degree to which they conform to particular types or their variants. Try to read these landscapes not just in terms of documents specifically about them, but also in terms of the most helpful interpretive referents, considering matters of type in plan and use patterns.

For project1 I'll give you one or two images of a specific sites to pursue, either individually or in a team of two. You'll get started, building this with discernable progress that you can show each week, and then we'll have a class presentation a few weeks in for what should be a fairly complete representation of the final product. Based on feedback from classmates, the instructor, and recommendations of further research, you'll have another week or two to go over the whole thing, considering and resolving every comment, correction, or suggestion, for a final version to be handed in on CD and that may be posted on the Web.

Project 2:

As we've mentioned, the second project will be more open to student definition, and may be less tightly focused in geography or the 19th century. Generally, these projects might:

(a) work on a documentary or even an old published resource, to bring it to life for readers though annotation, framing, and illustration, to make it useful to other researchers, to frame, and contextualize it, and make specific parts usefully accessible; or
(b) look at the activites of a specific agent of building activites, a developer or builder or architect, finding and sorting evidence of their activities, contextualizing and characterizing that; or
(c) look at distributions in time or geography of different types of architectural "behavior," whether building types, specific details, specific functions, etc., and to characterize and try to account for them.

Here are some stray notes positing more specifics on some possible project2 topics that you might consider. As we visit repositories, we'll learn of particular projects they'd be interested in your adopting. I'll continue to throw ideas into this section. You may also propose others.

I'll add a few more as we get closer. But whatever you choose as a topic, it should be a good learning exercise in historical documentation with a good project achieveable within the time for the assignment, it should go beyond just mechanical and scanning tasks, have certain possibilities of public benefit and interest, involve research challenges, offer some scope for interpretive decision-making and analysis, and some scope for your conceptualization and presentation.

05-306a.html last rev.= 25 aug 05