Genius Loci: The Politics of Pre-Modern Architectural Style Session, International Meeting of the European Architectural History Network, Edinburgh, 10–13 June 2020
Frequently encountered in the historiography of pre-modern architecture is the theme of genius loci – a paradigm in which factors such as climate, local resources, and local traditions are understood as determinative for the building practices of a given region, country, or nation.
Writing on Gothic architecture is a striking case in point. The style was a pan-European phenomenon. Yet, almost from the beginning, it was interpreted in patently ethnic, regional, or national terms. Late medieval observers in northern Europe saw it as French (opus francigenum). Early modern observers in southern Europe saw it as German (maniera tedesca). And antiquarians, archaeologists, and architectural historians active during the era of the formation of modern nation states, in an effort to advance competing domestic claims to Gothic, coined a series of stylistic labels – ‘Perpendicular’ for England, ‘Flamboyant’ for France, ‘Sondergotik’ for Germany – that continue to be employed into the present day.
Thus have medieval architectural historians struggled to examine the buildings of smaller regions with more heterogeneous architectural traditions. Scotland – a land whose medieval edifices have been characterised as ‘dour’, ’embattled’, and even a ‘fag-end’ – is exemplary in this regard. Smaller buildings less sympathetic to foreign fashions have typically been viewed as crude. Larger buildings more sympathetic to foreign fashions have typically been viewed as mannered, wilful, or downright bizarre (cf. Roslin Chapel). Such interpretations not only uphold a simplistic centre-versus-periphery model of historical explanation but also assume that national styles are real ontic categories.
Raising the stakes for a re-evaluation of issues of place, space, and identity is the politically febrile atmosphere in which we now live and work. Indeed, nativism draws on the idea that countries have distinctive (if not inviolable) cultures, and architecture plays a dual role in such discourse in that old buildings can be used as evidence for certain values and new buildings can be used as vehicles for certain ideologies. Consequently, this panel seeks to interrogate the relationship between architecture and regional or national identities in the pre-modern period, with an emphasis on the buildings of medieval Scotland. Possible topics for papers include:
– Definitions of nationalism
– Investigations of ‘schools’, ‘groups’, and/or ‘styles’
– Attributions of buildings to various regional or national idioms
– Explorations of social networks that supported or subverted the exchange of architectural ideas
Please submit a proposal in English of no more than 300 words by 20 September 2019 to Zachary Stewart (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Lizzie Swarbrick (Lizzie.Swarbrick@ed.ac.uk) with the following information:
– The title of the paper
– Your name
– Your professional affiliation
– A short curriculum vitae (maximum of two pages)
– A mailing address, email address and telephone number
Please note: papers may not have been previously published, nor presented in public. Only one submission per author will be accepted by EAHN 2020. Each speaker is expected to fund his or her own registration, travel and expenses to Edinburgh.