Architectural Historian and the Somatic Ways of Knowing

Document Type : Original Article


1 Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning, Shahid Beheshti University

2 Associate Professor, Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning, Shahid Beheshti University


Architectural historiography deals with understanding and explaining architectural practices (and their results and products) as they have been realized through history. To do this, the architectural historian should acquire a historical understanding of the knowledge on which the architectural practices had been based. According to a knowledge classification model proposed by Harry Collins, the sociologist of science, the concept of ‘somatic knowledge’, is a kind of tacit knowledge. This concept can be applied to architecture and regarded as a kind of knowledge upon which the architectural practice is based. In the historiography of somatic knowledge in architecture, obtaining historical evidence is the most crucial methodological obstacle; because this knowledge is inexplicable, and its evidence is not clear. Each piece of evidence can only be seen when the historian asks questions about it based on his/her preconceptions. Thus, the prior somatic knowledge acquired through practical architectural experience is highly likely to affect the discovery and interpretation of the evidence of historical somatic knowledge. The question is, therefore, about the ways in which this prior knowledge makes its marks. In this paper, an epistemological idea of the ‘Web of Belief’ is considered for answering this question. According to this idea, the architectural historian acquires new beliefs about the past agents’ somatic knowledge through three ways: recalling personal somatic memory, replicating the past somatic experiences, re-enacting them, and making inductive hypotheses based on his/her somatic expectation. When each of these newcomer beliefs enters the architectural historian’s web of belief, they may be confirmed by his/her prior somatic beliefs, may be rejected, or may turn into non-beliefs. The new belief intervenes in the historian’s understanding of historical practices if accepted in the architectural historian’s web of belief and given it a new coherence.


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