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The Rise of Architectural History

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David Watkin

Buildings are the most tangible and evocative products of human societies and human aspirations, yet architectural history is a comparatively new discipline – if it is really a discipline at all, taught though it is in several universities. Writing about architecture was very much the province of architects until the 1930s, when the gentlemanly English amateur tradition was supplanted by rigorous German academic principles of art history at the Courtauld and Warburg Institutes, very much as a result of political events in Europe. It may well be significant that of our three knights of architectural writing, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner was a German academic exile from Nazism, Sir John Summerson was originally an architect and an architectural journalist, while Sir John Betjeman is not really an historian at all but a poet and an English amateur in the best sense. All three have in very different ways greatly illuminated the extraordinary architectural heritage of this country for subsequent generations.

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