Janina Gosseye (Zürich): A Short History of Silence: Oral History and the Politics of Voicelessness in Architectural Historiography

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In The Mother of All Questions (2017) Rebecca Solnit includes a poignant chapter entitled ‘A Short History of Silence’. Chronicling stories of exclusion and violence against women, she denounces silence as ‘the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard’. In her book, which carries the subtitle ‘Further Feminisms’, Solnit advocates not just for women’s rights, but for human rights, for universal equality—for all voices to be heard. She writes: ‘Words bring us together, and silence separates us … Liberation is always in part a storytelling process: breaking stories, breaking silences, making new stories’, and poses the fundamental question: ‘Who has been unheard?’ This question – of who speaks, who is heard, and who is cast into silence – can equally be asked of architectural culture, and hence of architectural historiography, and hence of architectural history as written. It was first posed in the 1960s and 1970s when researchers across scholarly disciplines – mainly those sympathetic to the political left and involved in feminist politics – began to use oral history to make visible those groups who traditionally had been silenced in historical narratives. Since then, for the past fifty years, feminists and social activists have strived for equality, and so too have (some) architectural historians and writers regularly pleaded for and endeavoured to write alternative, more diverse, multifaceted, and polyvocal architectural histories. The fact that such histories have never been fully realised or truly embraced, as evidenced by the ongoing lineage of such calls, is a sobering realisation – but more than that it is revealing. In tracing a series of such instances, such calls to probe architecture’s blind spots and listen to its repressed and ignored voices, in this lecture, Dr. Janina Gosseye will also trace trace a history of silence in architectural historiography, and point to the politics of voicelessness that underpin it.

Janina Gosseye is a Senior Assistant at ETH Zürich. Her research is situated at the nexus of 20th century architectural/urban theory and social and political history. Gosseye’s work has been published in several leading academic journals, including the Journal of ArchitectureJournal of Urban History, and Planning Perspectives. She has edited and authored several books, including Shopping Towns Europe (with Tom Avermaete, 2017) and, most recently, Speaking of Building (with Naomi Stead and Deborah van der Plaat, 2019).