Sheila Crane Department of Architectural History, University of Virginia

From my current perspective, teaching in the Architectural History Department at the University of Virginia, I have gained a deep appreciation for the generosity of the faculty at Northwestern with whom I had the privilege of working as a graduate student. From the initial meetings of the Methods seminar Whitney Davis taught our first semester (which Karl Werkmeister often also attended), it was clear that this was a place where debate was encouraged and expected. The culture of serious intellectual exchange fostered in the department was founded on the expectation that we each articulate a position and explain our ideas in terms that would transcend the particularities of our specialized interests. The faculty’s commitment to students extended far beyond the formal classroom, from impromptu evening lectures Whitney Davis offered on Kant and his legacy, to walks along Chicago streets where we tried valiantly to keep up with David Van Zanten’s vigorous pace, impassioned evening discussions on Angela Rosenthal’s terrace, and summer travel seminars that allowed me to see Prague through Larry Silvers’ eyes and to experience a singular Berlin, framed by Ikem Okoye and the city’s unparalleled collections of Benin art. This was also a time of lively cross-town exchange, encouraged especially by the legendary seminar that Holly Clayson and Marty Ward co-taught. My understanding of Chicago and its architectural landscape was shaped in part by innumerable trips taken by ‘L’ and bus to the U of C to take seminars with Katherine Fisher-Taylor, even as many of my peers “down south” made the pilgrimage northward to take classes at Northwestern. These experiences helped to forge an extraordinary sense of community amongst students and faculty, connections that have continued long after I left Evanston to pursue my dissertation research on urban transformations in Marseille during and after the Second World War.

After three years in France, I began teaching in the History of Art and Visual Culture Department at the University of California Santa Cruz. In 2007, I joined the faculty at the University of Virginia. Teaching in the School of Architecture has provided me with an invaluable informal education in contemporary design discourse and the chance to work closely with my colleagues in Art History in the context of our joint PhD program.  In 2011, I published Mediterranean Crossroads: Marseille and Modern Architecture(University of Minnesota Press), which was awarded the 2013 Spiro Kostof Book Award from the Society of Architectural Historians. While based on my dissertation research, the book benefited greatly from the opportunity to expand and reshape its focus while in residence at the Shelby Collum Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University and at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. What began as a project focused on the politics of urban planning in the shadow of war became an examination of how architects and urban planners responded to mythic ideas about Marseille as a port city, a gateway onto the Mediterranean, and a dynamic hinge between metropolitan and colonial terrains. I was recently awarded a research grant from the Graham Foundation to pursue my current book project, tentatively entitledInventing Informality, which considers the history of the bidonville, or shantytown, as a defining new urban form, subject of visual representation, site of knowledge production, and object of social and spatial reengineering that emerged first in North Africa and later in France, during the long process of decolonization.  I am very much looking forward to the opportunity to continue my work on this project next year as a Fellow at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA.