This week, the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) is holding its 2021 annual conference, which presents an opportune time for us to introduce you to the new editor of the SAH’s flagship journal, the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (JSAH). David Karmon, Professor of History of Art and Architecture and Head of the Architectural Studies program at Holy Cross, began his editorial tenure with the March 2021 publication of the journal’s first issue in its 80th volume. David answered a few questions for us via email.
Can you tell us about your research interests and areas of expertise?
My area of research specialization is the history and theory of architecture and urbanism in the early modern world, but given my training as an architect, I am also interested in putting these questions about historic buildings, communities, and cultures into dialogue with contemporary concerns. An enduring area of interest for me has been the investigation of the complex reciprocal process by which we create built environments, and by which these same environments also create us, and I have enjoyed exploring these topics in my research, writing, and teaching.
My first book, The Ruin of the Eternal City: Antiquity and Preservation in Renaissance Rome, examined the destruction and preservation of ancient archaeological remains during the Renaissance in Rome. While scholars are familiar with the infamous destruction of ancient sites condemned by both Renaissance humanists and classical archaeologists, I uncovered evidence for a broader range of Renaissance interventions that suggested the need for a more nuanced account of the history of archaeology in this period. My book investigated the multiple, complex conditions driving interventions on ancient sites in fifteenth and sixteenth-century Rome, and argued that a surprisingly diverse range of approaches to preservation emerged at the time.
More recently, I have investigated the study of architecture and sensory experience. My forthcoming book, Architecture and the Senses in the Italian Renaissance: The Varieties of Architectural Experience, explores how the multisensory experience of early modern buildings and spaces shaped human understanding both in the past and in the present. This has been an exciting adventure into many different fields, from cultural anthropology to cognitive psychology and neuroscience, that has helped me to rethink my approach to the study of architecture, both in terms of better understanding our visual bias as well as the complex process through which the built environment impresses itself upon our bodies and our minds. I’m now beginning a new project that examines how the practice and theory of Renaissance architecture overlapped and intersected with the Renaissance study of natural history.
What drew you to the editorship of JSAH?
I have always enjoyed reading the Journal, as it gives us a sense not only of the history of the field itself, but also where we are today, and where we are going in the future. SAH has always been one of my favorite conferences, as a unique forum for the exchange of ideas about architectural history where you meet scholars from all over. However, when I began working as a review editor for the Journal, I realized how this greater participation and involvement in the Society also offered an education in and of itself. Working for the Journal has given me a completely new understanding of the field by introducing me to an ever-expanding world of scholarly work produced by a network of specialists whose interests in the built environment span the broadest possible spectrum. At the same time I discovered editorial work to be very rewarding, as a chance to help authors sharpen their arguments while also encountering new ideas and approaches. I was fortunate to work with Keith Eggener, as a talented scholar and mentor from whom I learned a great deal. I was also fortunate that the call for the position of JSAH editor came after I had signed my contract for my forthcoming book and submitted my promotion dossier; following these two major milestones it seemed like the right time to take on what was clearly a challenging job. I am delighted and honored to be able to make this contribution and to support the Journal’s distinguished tradition of scholarship.
What distinguishes JSAH from other publications in the field and/or how has JSAH influenced scholarship in the field?
JSAH enjoys a tremendous legacy as the flagship English language journal on the history of the built environment. Keith and I are now working on a free online issue to commemorate JSAH’s 80th anniversary that is intended to highlight the sweeping contributions made by JSAH authors in the study of the built environment since its founding in 1941. To this end, we have invited a diverse group of scholars to each identify a single JSAH article that has made the most important contribution to their field of study, and to comment briefly upon its significance. As many of these scholars have noted, it isn’t easy to select just one article—the many scholarly voices published in JSAH over the years have opened up exciting new avenues for investigation, and these in turn have helped to redefine the field itself. JSAH continues to uphold these high standards today as the professional journal of record for our discipline. As we affirm in correspondence with our authors, “JSAH publishes articles that are based on rigorous historical research, demonstrating a full command of the scholarly literature and the available archival sources, and that proceed beyond the presentation of these materials to draw conclusions and make new interpretations.” Every submission to JSAH goes through multiple rounds of peer review by leading scholars as well as numerous revisions to produce the highest quality of scholarship. JSAH’s enduring commitment to innovative, advanced scholarship ensures its continued position as the leading scholarly publication for the study of the built environment.
What are your aims for the journal?
I am committed to maintaining JSAH’s tradition of advancing the highest quality scholarship in the study of the built environment, and I look forward to continuing our tradition of promoting important scholarly discoveries and innovative theoretical frameworks. Ours is a vast and complex field, and I want to continue to strive to make sure that JSAH represents the full breadth of the discipline. For example, following recent events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, I decided to launch a JSAH roundtable titled “Constructing Race and Architecture 1400-1800.” This initiative was conceived both as a response to contemporary concerns about race and architecture and as a means to target an area of scholarship that needs more work. While scholars can now begin to draw upon important new studies on the intersection of race and architecture for the modern period, we still have very little scholarship on race and architecture for the period between 1400 and 1800 CE. The absence of this material is all the more surprising given that the new global contact, conflict, and exchange of the early modern period contributed in critical ways to the emergence of a greater race-consciousness. The idea of commissioning a series of short essays by different authors to be collectively published as a “roundtable” in JSAH offered an opportunity to begin to respond to this lacuna, not only by highlighting an exciting variety of scholars making important contributions in these areas, but also by encouraging other scholars to pursue these promising new directions in the future. I am grateful to our authors for their contributions, and I look forward to the publication of their work this fall.
If you are interested in contributing to JSAH, please consult the journal’s submission guidelines.