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Architectural History focuses on the evolution of buildings, monuments, pediments and settlements in relation to art, history and philosophy. Architectural historians understand settlement patterns and regional growth. Just as important as understanding the history behind the earth’s greatest temples, cathedrals, palaces and gardens is the knowledge of how to preserve these treasures.

Along with a desire to preserve architectural masterpieces is an appreciation for understanding and conserving the cultural heritage that comes along with architecture. There is a deep appreciation for history and culture in architecture that historians try to preserve for future generations.

In addition to studying Architectural History, students learn about preservation, construction methods, and the importance of architecture in urban development and economic revitalization. Architectural history allows the student to develop a broad framework in economics, design, philosophy, urban development and art.

Since Architectural History is considered a specialized field, only a select number of schools offer the program. More often, architectural history is used as a supplement for architecture and urban planning programs.

Degree Information

A master’s degree in Architectural History will typically take between one and a half and two years to complete and will involve a thesis in addition (usually) to oral and written exams. Additionally, the M.A. may require familiarity with at least one foreign language.

A Ph.D. in Architectural History can take as few as three years or as many as seven, and will involve mastery of one or more foreign language, as well as a dissertation and oral defense.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • Where is the program located, and will it give me access to architecture which interests me? How much of a role does location play in the program?
  • Who are the faculty members and what are their areas of expertise?
  • What sort of access do you have to faculty members, especially any big names? What about the students? Where are they from? What are they doing?
  • What about the alumni? Have they stayed local? Do they support the school once they've left?
  • What sort of assistantships, grants, and other financial aid opportunities are available?

Career Overview

The limits to where architectural history can lead you seem endless. Though the largest field is probably historic preservation—making sure that places and objects of beauty endure—architectural historians have been known to consult for major real estate developers redeveloping historic areas.

Architectural historians have also been found at major architectural houses keeping archival records. They’ve been spotted in museums across the country, curating and consulting on architectural exhibits. They’re the driving force behind landmarks preservation (figuring out which landmarks are indeed of historical significance, and which buildings need landmark status. And, many end up in public education, which can involve giving architectural tours of Chicago, or donning a powdered wig at Old Sturbridge Village, to show the public how to look at the constructed world around them, and how it’s changed.

Plus, architectural historians stand between Joe Public and his house getting on the National Register of Historic Places, but don’t let that kind of power go to your head.

Career/Licensing Requirements

There are no specific licensing requirements for a career in Architectural History.

Salary Information

Because the range of jobs is so broad, the salaries can vary wildly, but those with a freshly minted degree can expect to make between from $28,000 to $44,000. Historians with a few years of experience under their belts can expect to make more, probably between $35,000 and $50,000, though those working with larger corporations can probably expect higher salaries.

Related Links

American Institute of Architects
News, conferences, education, government affairs and everything else an architect needs to know from the American Institute of Architects.

Society of Architectural Historians
The Society of Architectural Historians provides links to local chapters, places of interest, conferences, and archives from their journal.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation
The Chicago Architecture Foundation is dedicated to educating the visitors and residents about Chicago’s architectural legacy.