chapter  20
Content And Craft
What do we do when we do the history of architecture?
ByDavid Theodore
Pages 15

In Built upon Love, Alberto Pérez-Gómez begins his chapter on the ­brothers Jean-Louis and Charles-François Viel with a reference to the work of another historian. He discusses Jean-Marie Pérouse de Montclos, who in 1966 marshaled evidence to argue that the brothers, active in post-revolutionary Paris, were indeed two distinct persons. For Pérez-Gómez, Pérouse de Montclos’s attribution was helpful, but his analysis was not, for it seemed “to miss the profound implications of the multiple layers of his [Charles-François’s] critique.” 1 This is a curious but telling opening; it metes out praise for archival, documentary fact-finding research, while simultaneously denigrating it as secondary: what matters is whether the historian makes the right judgment, and the right interpretation. Pérez-Gómez’s own chapter brings no new evidence to bear on this historical incident; he sets out instead to offer a textual re-reading, searching in the past for a meaningful understanding of the present. Here, then, rhetorically, is a brilliant opening flourish that invites –perhaps compels – us to read what follows as a model for doing history. In miniature, it is a brief manifesto of what we should do when we do the history of architecture; namely, it is not enough to get the facts and the story right, we must also receptively grasp the problems raised by the text and which the text addresses.