CHAD students learn with U.S. Department of Interior database
This photo of the Old Arsenal building in New Castle, Del., is part of the HABS collection. The U.S. government built the arsenal in 1809 under threat of war with Britain. Originally a one-story building with a wagon entrance at each end to help with the storage and distribution of arms, the Old Arsenal played an important role in both the War of 1812 and the Mexican War of 1846-48. It also housed the garrison from nearby Fort Delaware when that fort burned in 1831. The second story and cupola date from the 1850s, when the building was converted into a public school. The photo was taken by W. S. Stewart on Nov. 23, 1936.


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12:59 p.m., Jan. 19, 2010----Students in an introductory preservation graduate course at the University of Delaware recently traveled to Washington, D.C., for a presentation to the Historical American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) in the U.S. Department of the Interior about how they have used its database of drawings and photographs to conduct research on historic architecture.

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The class of 10 first-year graduate students used the HABS/HAER collections to research four styles of architecture and identify what they thought were the best examples of the particular styles. Then they presented and defended their choices in class.

Students then presented their findings about the architectural styles, their experiences using the collection and recommendations on how the database can be enhanced to the HABS/HAER staff during a meeting in Washington in December.

The class was taught by David Ames, professor and director of the UD Center for Historical Architecture and Design, and Chandra Reedy, professor in the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy in the College of Education and Public Policy.

The HABS/HAER database has been a valuable resource for his students, Ames said, during a time in which the Internet is frequently being used to conduct distance learning. The collection, which was started in 1933, features photographs, detailed measurements and written history for over 35,000 structures, ranging from Pre-Columbian times to the 20th century.

“The problem with historical architecture is that you are limited to buildings around you that still exist,” Ames said. “The HABS/HAER database lets you access thousands of buildings around the country from the past and present, and that is very beneficial for students.”

Ames said the trip and the assignment were designed to help network students with the HABS/HAER staff and get them acquainted with their services, as the HABS/HAER database is frequently used in professional training.

The four styles of architecture the students researched were Greek Revival, which was used from 1825-1860 and draws on ancient Greek and Roman architectural features such as columns; Gothic Revival, used from 1840-1880 and based on gothic churches; Italianate, used from 1840-1885 and drawing on the Italian renaissance, featuring a low pitched roof and arched windows; and Second Empire, seen from 1855-1885 and featuring mansard roofs, similar to the roofs of some buildings on Newark's Main Street.

Ames and his students agree that the HABS/HAER collection is valuable because of its extensive details in the documentation of buildings. The information in the database, for some buildings, serves as the only record that the structures existed.

“The collection has very interesting information on the environment and architecture of everyday buildings,” graduate student Riley Hollenbaugh said. “The buildings have a lot of culture and value in our society.”

“Using the collection in our research is like being able to visit the building and take a virtual tour,” graduate student Jim Gosney added. “The database is important because with it, we are able to determine who occupied it, when the building was built and its architectural significance.”

Carolyn Barry, another graduate student, said an advantage of using HABS/HAER is that it can be used to research buildings that no longer exist.

“It is interesting to see what America has had in the past,” she said.

Article by Jon Bleiweis