Alice Y. Tseng, JSAH Editor, 2024-25

Alice Y. Tseng assumed the Editor-in-Chief position of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (JSAH) in January 2024, after serving as the Associate Editor for the journal for the past two years and following the completion of David Karmon’s editorial term in December of last year. Tseng is Professor of History of Art and Architecture and Associate Dean of the Faculty for the Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences at Boston University. A specialist of modern Japan, she examines concepts of cultural intersection, disruption, reassessment, and vitalization in a connected world, when Japan navigated new relationships with nations on the European, North American, and Asian continents beginning in the 1850s. She is the author of Modern Kyoto: Building for Ceremony and Commemoration, 1868-1940 and The Imperial Museums of Meiji Japan: Architecture and the Art of the Nation.

With the publication of JSAH‘s first issue under Tseng’s purview (issue 83.1), we thought it a good time to ask her more about herself and her plans for the journal.

Can you tell us more about your research interests and areas of expertise?

I was trained as a historian of art and architecture and also fortunate to receive the full gamut of humanities education that encouraged exploration of languages, literatures, history, East Asian studies, plus a little bit of studio design. That’s just my way of saying I tend to think about architecture as porous rather than defined rigidly by a singular discipline. It’s not my job to dictate what is “important architecture,” nor do I endorse the one-dimensional view that architecture worthy of study need to be big, tall, expensive, and ingenious. My research looks at the ways that groups of historical actors have believed in the capacity of built structures and spaces to communicate big messages (such as national identity), or perpetuate authority, or convey a new group ethos. I tend to focus on publicly accessible museums, libraries, train stations, parks, and exhibitions to understand how these urban institutions and events permeated the lives of large swaths of ordinary and not-so-ordinary people. 

Because East Asia is the geographical center of my research, and I am a scholar physically based in North America, I don’t automatically take for granted Asia or America as the default perspective, or that there is even a default perspective. My research revolves around the long global nineteenth century, when the experience of urbanization and industrialization was shared by many around the world. The comparative framework keeps my thinking honest. Some of my publications inch closer to the present century, since ultimately what we find intriguing about earlier times reflects our current concerns and values.

What drew you to editorship of JSAH?

I have been a member of the Society of Architectural Historians and reader of the Journal since I was a doctoral student, which makes me a dedicated fan of both for over two decades. JSAH has been a guiding light for my understanding of who and what makes architectural history, what are the topical issues, which methods are steadfast and which are emerging, and where this field is heading. It’s a great honor that I get to steer this great ship for a couple of years. I was drawn to the editorship for the access to a comprehensive view of the histories of architecture, chronologically and geographically speaking. Scholars tend to have to stay in their silos of knowledge in order to think and write in the kind of depth necessary for publishing monographs and long-form peer-reviewed articles. But the editor of a journal like JSAH has the opportunity to engage with scholarship of the highest caliber that is far and wide beyond one’s own specialization. I offer guidance and support to the authors as much as I am learning from their expertise. More than an important service role, the editorship is an intellectually enriching opportunity. Plus, there is the perk of communicating with author-scholars from around the world, which has broadened my scholarly network for sure.  

How has JSAH influenced scholarship in the field?

I recall that when I was finishing my dissertation and thinking about going on the job market, JSAH, under the editorship of Zeynep Çelik, published three sets of commissioned essays on a global inquiry on the state of teaching the history of architecture (September 2002, December 2002, and March 2003). By having a collection of 15 essays, discussing pedagogy at the national and regional scales on five continents, the take-home message was that this journal acknowledges and takes seriously its position as “the journal of architectural history par excellence among the international scholarly community,” in the words of Çelik. This is the JSAH that propelled my confidence in a field that can embrace my kind of work that is not centered in Europe or the United States nor solely preoccupied with canonical works. I am sure many other readers experienced a similar relief and optimism thanks to this incisive publication.

What’s in your first issues and what are your aims for the journal?

I begin my first issue, March 2024, with a Roundtable on Asian American and Pacific Islander architectural histories, co-edited by Gail Dubrow, Sean McPherson, and me. It gives me great pleasure to help bring to light the histories of spaces made by and for Americans of Asian descent. Architectural historians have a long road ahead in comparison to scholars in literature, history, performance studies, public health, and education when it comes to Asian American studies, and I hope that the Roundtable ignites a flurry of new studies on the subject. Later in 2024, we will have another Roundtable, also featuring an under-published subject in architectural history and in JSAH specifically.

My goal for JSAH is that the journal is seen as a publication that showcases new ways of exploring subjects both familiar and unfamiliar with the level of scholarly rigor that makes dissertation advisors proud. It is not the kind of journal that one reads from cover to cover in one sitting. If readers find themselves needing to pause and think a bit after reading an article, review, or the occasional findings or roundtables in the issues, then I believe JSAH is doing its job well.

We are pleased to make Alice Tseng’s inaugural issue, including her editorial, “Authorship, Scholarship, Editorship,” and the roundtable she discusses above, “Asian American and Pacific Islander Architectural Histories: Mapping the Field and Its Futures,” free to read online for a limited time. Click here to access the full issue. To purchase a print copy of this issue (83.1) or previous issues, please visit our shopcart page.

For ongoing access to JSAH, ask your library to subscribe and/or become a member of the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) to receive access to JSAH, as well as member grants and fellowships, annual conference opportunities, and online academic resources.