By popular demand: Experimental History Reading List

Here’s the reading list from the experimental history course that I taught this past spring to CCA undergraduate students. You will see many people, concepts, and works discussed on this site.

In this seminar we explore recent forms of “experimental practice” in architectural, urban, and spatial history — considering the future possibilities of these methods. While all forms of architectural, urban and spatial historical inquiry involve some form of experimentation, this course explores methods, techniques, and media that force the history of spaces to appear in highly unconventional forms. “Experimental” spatial histories typically confront our expectations of history as a practice and often enable neglected aspects of a city’s history (eg. of particular people, things, or events) to take on a more visible and central role in urban life. In this sense, experimental history is like public history; however in using the term “experimental” we hope to emphasize the critical implications of unusual methods rather than their often mass-communicative capacities.

Recent experimental historical projects involve appropriations of the practice of historical reenactment (eg. Jeremy Deller’s “Battle of Orgreave” or or the PBS series “1900 House”), reconstructions of the ineffable matter of famous buildings (eg. Jorge Otero Pailos’ reconstruction of the odors of the Glass House); “counter-factual” histories that examine alternative pasts and presents of cities (eg. Crimson’s “What If?”); or acts of maintenance on historical spaces that enable us to consider how maintenance erases and preserves aspects of our collective past.

The course will entail readings, the viewing of television and film, and select site visits. Students are expected to write weekly critical responses and to develop an experimental history of a particular site in San Francisco that includes a substantial written component.

1. The Functions of History
*Friedrich Nietzsche “Uses and Abuses of History”
*Benjamin, Walter (1940) “On the Concept of History”*
*Lowenthal, David (1986) “Benefits and Burdens of the Past” in The Past is a Foreign Country (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press): 35-73.

2. Reenactments
*Agnew, Lisa (2004) “Introduction: What is Reenactment?” in Criticism, 46.3: 327-339.
*Thompson, Nato (2006) “Ahistoric Essay” in Ahistoric Occasion: Artists Making History (Mass Moca): 12-25.

Case Studies
*Jeremy Deller, The Battle of Orgreave, 2002

*1900 House, BBC Documentary, 1999

3.Tours and Guides
*Kurgan, Laura (2002) “Around Ground Zero.” Grey Room, 7: 96-101.

*Davis, Felicia (2001) “Uncovering Places of Memory: Walking Tours of Manhattan” in Sites of Memory: Perspectives on Architecture and Race (New York: Princeton Architectural Press): 27-36

*Studio Beirut (2009) “My City” and “Over a Cup of Coffee” in Beyroutes (Rotterdam: Volume Magazine): 8-17.

Case Studies:
*Laura Kurgan, Around Ground Zero, 2002
(in Kurgan’s essay above)

*Beyroutes: Guide to Lebanon (2009)

*“After the Gold Rush,” Jeremy Deller, CCA, 2002

*Black Panther Tour
( )

4. Reconstructions
*Jorge Otero-Pailos (2008) “An Olfactory Reconstruction of Philip Johnson’s Glass House.” AA Files, 57.

Case Studies:
*Jorge Otero Pailos, Olfactory Reconstruction of Philip Johnson’s Glass House, 2008

*Philippe Rahm, Deterritorialised Milieus
( )

*Gissen, David, Air Conditioning Map and Pittsburgh Reconstruction
( )
( )

5. Preservations
*Rem Koolhaas, “Preservation is Overtaking Us” Future Anterior 1, no. 2 (2004).

*Michael Caratzas, Preservation of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, Future Anterior, 2002

Case Studies:
*OMA, Beijing Preservation, Beijing, China, 2003.
*OMA, Prada Store, Beijing, 2003.

*Diller-Scofidio + Renfro. Lincoln Center, 2009

*Michael Caratzas, Preservation of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, 2002

6. Projections
*Matthew Buckingham (2002) The Six Grandfathers, Paha Sapa, in the Year 592,002 C.E.” Cabinet Magazine, #7: 47-50.

*Crimson Historians, “What If?” in Too Blessed To Be Depressed (Rotterdam 2002); p. 57 – 64

Case Studies:
*Matthew Buckingham, The Six Grandfathers, 2002 in “The Six Grandfathers”

*Crimson Historians, “What If,” 1999

*Faulders Studio, Ray Dike, Rising Tides Competition, 2009
( )

7. Cleanings
*Sam Jacob (2002) “Architecture: Dirty Filthy Things” in Contemporary, 73.

*Otero Pailos, Jorge (2007) “Conservation Cleaning/Cleaning Conservation.” Future Anterior, IV(1): iii-viii

Case Studies:
*Carmen Perrin, Swiss Path: Cleaning of Boulders, 1991

*Jorge Otero Pailos, Ethics of Dust, 2008.

*Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, La Baiser/The Kiss, 2000

*Keller Easterling, “Subtraction,” Perspecta 34 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003) 80-93.

*Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti, Eyal Weizman (2009) “Return to Nature”

Case Studies:
*Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti, Eyal Weizman. Oush Grab, 2008

*Manuel Herz, Open Air Café (or Café Aachener), 2005


  1. thanks for sharing this! it would be interesting to know what sort of projects your students came up with.

  2. dlgissen

    I can see if they will let me post some things here. But virtually all did some form of tour (the default assignment); the best of these played with the “tourists'” expectations of historical time. That is, through the tour, the tourist was brought to sites in the city that upset notions of linear time – sites of de-modernization or re-creation that had ambivalent relations to the present. For example, a student did a tour of former freeway sites; through this tour, it was unclear if the photographs of the actual built freeways (included in the tour, but which collapsed in the 89 earthquake) were part of the city’s past or proposals for some future.

    The first two weeks of the course defined the course: particularly the Benjamin reading, which we referenced continually and the Jeremy Deller Orgreave reenactment, which is exceptional in many ways.

    If this interests you, please stay in touch; I am trying to gather a group of people around this subject for a future exhibition.

  3. Benjamin Golder

    This looks great! Thanks for being generous enough to share it. I’ll definitely hunt some of these down.

  4. thanks for answering! sounds very interesting… and i’m a big fan of that benjamin. along these lines, i really like sigmund freud’s description of a simultaneous rome in civilization and its discontents [to describe mental life, but just plain fascinating to imagine].

  5. Jordan

    Hey, great to see you posted these! I second the interest in the student outcomes.

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