As a historian teaching in an architecture school, I help students address big questions: How does the built environment mediate power? How can design promote the public good? How does change happen?
The menu above includes drop-down links to the websites associated with some of the courses I currently teach.
- UPSTATE MODERN is a three-year research seminar on the urban history of Upstate New York.
- AMERICAN ARCHITECTURE is a survey of the U.S. from the colonial era to the Civil War.
- ARCHITECTURE’S GLOBAL HISTORY presents work-in-progress from the global architecture history survey currently in progress.
- HAVANA, REVOLUTIONARY CITY, taught in Cuba, explores the ways that architects and clients, planners and everyday citizens have remade and appropriated the built environment to reflect and contest the ideals of Cuban communism.
Past projects include Marcel Breuer and Postwar America, a seminar co-taught in 2011 with Barry Bergdoll through which students drew from the Marcel Breuer Papers to curated an exhibition designed by Jon Lott, Brett Snyder, and me. For an example of my thesis advising, see the short piece I published on the Temple Kabbalah Madonna by Kyle Weeks, B.Arch 2010.
Below are some of the principles that guide my teaching.
I approach teaching above all as the cultivation of our students’ capacities—intellectual, critical, ethical, and technical.
WORK BACKWARD FROM OUTCOMES TO ACTIVITIES
In designing a course, I start by identifying the skills, knowledges, and capabilities that my colleagues and I want our students to develop. Then I outline assignments and projects the doing of which will challenge students to develop those capacities. I work backward from the cumulative objectives the students should meet by term’s end to the subcomponents and interim deadlines that will allow me to give guidance and feedback at several critical junctures. Laying these out across the semester calendar, I program each class meeting with the readings, lectures, and activities that will enable students to complete their work. Finally, I mobilize my knowledge and interpersonal skills to connect disciplinary questions with matters of public concern and with the structures of meaning relevant to students so that they become invested in the work.
PARTNER WITH STUDENTS
Whenever possible, I partner with students to find the best fit between their goals and the objectives of the course and curriculum, so that each course becomes a mutually rewarding undertaking. This means learning early on who my students are and what they care about, then folding that knowledge into the framing of course material, classroom conversations, and potential research topics. Over a longer timeframe, it means getting to know each cohort of students early in their career so that as they move into the more self-directed later years of study I can provide informed encouragement and mentoring.
ENGAGE STUDENTS WITH ARCHIVES
I pride myself on providing a deep and up-to-date intellectual framework through lectures and readings. But these aren’t enough to fulfill the ambitions of undergraduate and graduate education at a research university. As much as possible, I craft assignments that challenge students to conduct research that goes beyond course material. In large survey courses the resources available to students are mostly online and in the library. In mid-sized lecture courses and smaller seminars, however, I use the buildings, landscapes, and document collections in Syracuse and beyond as a set of archives for students to explore. I help students identify local sites that open onto their intellectual interests and combine fieldwork (site visits and documentation) with document-based research (libraries, databases, and archives) to describe and interpret those sites, in dialogue with the existing scholarly literature on the bigger historical picture.
ENGAGE STUDENTS WITH AUDIENCES
I encourage students to aim their work not only at me but also at one another and at broader audiences so that their coursework begins to feed back into communities beyond the classroom. To support this—and to tap the skills and passions of these emerging designers—I have students develop their work through presentations, blog posts, websites, and other online media. These media help students share ideas and information to generate discussions that advance learning. In large courses, presentations, posters, and websites make student work visible to other students and faculty. At more advanced levels, student work reaches audiences on campus, in the community, and across the discipline via websites, competition submittals, exhibitions, and publications.