Discrete Phenomena on a Global Scale: Studying the British Empire

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract

One of the regrettable if not entirely unexpected consequences of the West's focus on its own historical canon has been a tendency to narrow the field of analysis geographically. This has left an understanding of the ‘life of forms' in a fragmentary state, as scholars have worked to study whole or discrete phenomena in largely isolated contexts, rarely if ever joining the dots to form an integrated historiography across larger units of time and space. However, seismic shifts have taken place recently in mainstream history leading to a much more expansive purview in the form of regional histories (‘Atlantic' and ‘Pacific') and World/Global history. Unfortunately, these new methodologies have gone almost completely un-noticed by architectural historians.

While a coherent ‘global history' of architecture per se may be difficult, if not impossible, histories of discrete architectural phenomena on a global scale are not. Moving beyond post-colonial theory to pick up methodologies developed in the field of ‘New British' and ‘World' history (Pocock, 1974, 1979 & 2007; Armitage, 1999; Bayly, 2004), as well as scholarship in the geography of art (Kubler and Soria, 1959), this paper will argue for a different and more expansive approach to the understanding of architecture on a global scale -- in this case focusing on Britain and the British colonial world. The argument will be presented in the context of Anglican colonial church architecture, demonstrating the significance of institutional identity, political geography, agency, and professional networks in the shaping of a trans-regional (i.e., global) architectural agenda. The spread of Anglicanism throughout the British empire during the nineteenth century was fundamental to the social and cultural configuration of colonial society. It will be suggested that careful analysis of this phenomenon presents fresh challenges and opportunities for the study of architecture generally and in the context of empire.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication65th Annual Meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians
Publication statusUnpublished - Apr 2012

Keywords

  • global architecture
  • British empire
  • methodology

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