- American Architects and Their Books, 1840-1915
In 1983 the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, established the Program in the History of the Book in American Culture. The resulting conferences, publications, and research support have helped propel the study of the book to the status of a "hot topic" in the humanities, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education (Karen J. Winkler, "In Electronic Age, Scholars Are Drawn to Study of Print," July 14, 1993). In the intervening period numerous titles on the history of the book have appeared. The interdisciplinary nature of the field is reflected in the variety of these studies and in the contents of the international journal Book History. The journal's stated research parameters define the breadth of the field: social, economic, and cultural history of authorship; editing; printing; publishing; the book trade; the book arts; periodicals; newspapers; ephemera; copyright; censorship; literacy; literary criticism; libraries (both institutional and personal); and reading habits. [End Page 385]
A new contribution to the history of American print culture explores the dynamic relationship between books and their readers. Not unlike those in professions such as medicine and law, practitioners of architecture have long evinced an interest in and reliance upon written texts. The ownership and use of books among this occupational class is the subject of American Architects and Their Books, 1840–1915. The book continues the discussion of the topic begun in American Architects and Their Books to 1848 (University of Massachusetts Press, 2001). That earlier volume brought together papers delivered at the 1997 "Deerfield-Wellesley Symposium on American Culture" held at Historic Deerfield. The present work publishes twelve papers presented at the 2004 annual meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians in Providence, Rhode Island. Presenters were Kenneth Hafertepe, Ted Cavanagh, Jhennifer Amundson, Elspeth Cowell, Daniel D. Reiff, Chris Szczesny-Adams, Michael J. Lewis, James F. O'Gorman, Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., Elaine Harrington, and Edward R. Bosley and Anne E. Mallek.
As stated in the editors' introduction, "the authors have applied a broad definition to the category of architectural books" (xvii), which allows for an equally wide range of topics. Inscribed flyleaves, architectural sketches, the design of bookplates, architects as authors, and even Frank Lloyd Wright's reading of Herman Melville are all contemplated. But the volume's overarching theme is the intersection of books, whether individual titles or assembled libraries, with the work of the consumers of those texts. The architect's fundamental need for a wide range of literature is demonstrated in a chapter on Thomas Ustick Walter. As early as the 1840s, Walter argued that familiarity with earlier writings, regardless of the culture of origin, was necessary to inspire modern, inventive designs. Based on the libraries that many of them gathered, other architects subscribed to this view.
American Architects and Their Books provides multiple perspectives on the nexus of print culture and the built environment. Ken Hafertepe's insightful essay on the writers who influenced architect A. J. Downing and the subsequent impact of Downing's books on American builders explores issues of period style and taste. Authors Edward R. Bosley and Anne E. Mallek also examine the effect of books on style in their discussion of Pasadena, California, architect Charles Sumner Greene at the beginning of the twentieth century. Greene's aesthetic was in part informed by Japanese Homes and Their Surroundings (1895) and other "exotic" texts as well as contemporary Arts and Crafts movement publications. The career of Enoch A. Curtis began with a study of theory and design books, according to Daniel Reiff. To re-create Curtis's early reading Reiff analyzes the books recommended in the pages of the American Architect and Building News, the most widely read architectural journal at the end of the nineteenth century. Coupling the journal's suggestions for "professional study" with details from Curtis's extant buildings allows the author to surmise which titles the architect relied upon. Elspeth Cowell's chapter on Samuel Sloan focuses...