Glaire Anderson started her professional life as a historic preservationist. Yet even as she pursued that field, Islamic art and architecture — a topic she’d studied in grad school — continued to exert a hold on her. Five years ago, she decided to give in to that passion, enrolling in an MIT doctoral program in the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, which is jointly run by Harvard and the Institute.

Today, months from graduating, Anderson has no regrets. She’s gained key experience in scholarship and teaching. She’s also become an expert on the architecture and political, economic, and cultural role of villas in medieval Cordoba, Spain — the capital of Islamic Spain in the tenth century, when Muslims ruled much of that country.

In addition, she’s been a pioneering contributor to ArchNet. This monumental Web enterprise, focused on Islamic art and architecture, is run by MIT and also supported by Harvard and the University of Texas. Drawing on the financial backing and collections of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture as well as the knowledge generated through the Aga Khan program, ArchNet today:

  • has roughly 40,000 images available for public viewing;
  • features the contents of some 2,000 journals;
  • provides a virtual forum for discussions of any topic related to its core focus; and
  • gets 6,000 or more Web hits daily.

Anderson learned about ArchNet after she came to MIT and was asked to contribute entries on aspects of Islamic architecture in Spain. Since then, she’s used it in research and relied on its sophisticated chat room capacities to plan a conference with an overseas colleague. She’s also applied it in teaching.

When Anderson taught undergraduates as a visiting scholar at Dartmouth, for example, she used time-tested visuals like slides but also put ArchNet images onto the screen right off the Web. She likewise assigned reading on ArchNet, and even distributed assignments through it.

Today, though no longer involved in developing ArchNet, Anderson still contributes images and other materials. “It’s an amazing resource,” she says, “and I’m proud to have been part of it.”