Inventing architectural history: James Fergusson’s Handbook of Architecture (1855)

  • 17:15

  • Minto House, Elliot Room
    20-22 Chambers Street
    EH1 1JZ

Join us for the Architectural History & Theory Seminar Series for 2023/24.

This event is taking place both in person and online. Please confirm how you wish to attend when reserving your ticket. Instructions will be sent on how to find the venue and how to join online via email.

Speaker bio:

Petra Brouwer is an architectural historian at the University of Amsterdam specializing in the history and historiography of modern architecture and town planning. From 2017 to 2021 she served as editor-in-chief for the journal Architectural Histories. With Martin Bressani and Drew Armstrong she is the  editor of Narrating the Globe: The Emergence of World Histories of Architecture, which just appeared with MIT Press.


James Fergusson’s Handbook of Architecture (1855) was one of the first general surveys on the history of architecture. Together with the contemporary surveys of German scholars, the Handbook of Architecture created and structured a body of knowledge which profoundly influenced architectural history as a discipline up to today. In this lecture I will analyse the characteristics of the genre and their effect on the narration of architectural history. Taking examples from Fergusson’s Handbook I will also discuss the often-repeated critique on the Eurocentric perspective of these canonical surveys. The narrative strategies and terminology commonly referred to as Eurocentric, I will argue, are inseparable from the method of architectural history writing and, as such, challenge the discipline of architectural history at a more fundamental level.

Image: Title page of James Fergusson’s Handbook of Architecture (1855). Copyright Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA).

Booking: Book Zoom online at Eventbrite.  
Venue: Elliot Room (2.403), Minto House, 20 Chambers Street.