Water, water everywhere: Charting new courses for architectural history


  • W. Mick Charney Kansas State University




architectural history, multiculturalism, thematic pedagogies


Too often the basic framework upon which historians hang the facts of architecture's past is constructed from presumptions that the only historic events of any consequence are those based on terra firma because that is where foundations must necessarily come to rest. Occasionally, we need to up end the usual exposition of contextual historical circumstances in order to chart new courses for our explorations of architecture worldwide. Michael Shenefelt's seafaring proposition, proffered as a template by which to explore the ebb and flow of any number of historical forces, can challenge the tyranny of Western architectural canon as well as doctrines of Western cultural hegemony. Ultimately, it can undermine those obdurately insoluble formulations that have typically imparted historical narratives as separately cloven chapters of different global building traditions clumsily butted together in reputedly comprehensive texts. The integration of non-Western traditions in traditionally Eurocentric courses has always been problematic; but, with Shenefelt's approach as a springboard, this paper models an alternative didactic strategy that leaves deeply-rooted principles of historical taxonomy behind, embarking instead on a more fluid exposition of how the legacies of several cultures are rendered more coherent if studied as a great confluence of cross-cultural currents that overlap each other in one boundless yet tentacled sea. The particular case study outlined here demonstrates how the historical dominion given to Atlantic trade is subsumed within a universal global impulse to sail the "Seven Seas” –evidenced in particular by the far-flung voyages, from Africa to Indonesia, of Ming dynasty sailors. However, in a larger sense, tales of Chinese nautical enterprises grant students permission to fathom, to think critically about the interconnectedness of other-worldly cultures – yesterday and today. These new yarns reorient the magnifications of storied European adventures through different lenses thereby correcting (mis)perceptions of supposed Western only"ages of discovery” or cultural superiority.




How to Cite

Charney, W. M. (2014). Water, water everywhere: Charting new courses for architectural history. ARCC Conference Repository. https://doi.org/10.17831/rep:arcc%y241