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  • 30 Mar 2023 1:04 PM | Michelle Jones (Administrator)

    Vernacular Architecture Forum, Society of Architectural Historians, Society for American City and Regional Planning History

    March 10, 2023

    As organizations representing historians of the built environment, we protest the comments of members of the University of Virginia governing board as reported by the Washington Post on February 23, 2023. The Post quotes text messages from board member U. Bertram Ellis Jr. that are critical of the university’s recognition of its past role in slavery and Jim Crow practices and that call for the governing board to prevent administrators and faculty from acknowledging this difficult past. Mr. Ellis specifically targets Professor Louis P. Nelson, an architectural historian and Vice Provost for Academic Outreach, for his highly successful efforts to bring attention to the university’s racist past.

    In the first place, Mr. Ellis’ comments endanger academic freedom at UVa and, if imitated, to the ability of university faculty everywhere to pursue their research agendas they deem important. Such threats to interfere in faculty members’ teaching and research violate their fundamental right, as experts in their various fields, to carry out their work as they see fit. The tenure system serves as a guarantee that faculty members cannot be removed for social and political views, whether liberal or conservative.

    As part of Mr. Ellis’s disparagement of UVa’s effort to acknowledge past discrimination, he singles out the work of Professor Nelson, a leader in the field of architectural history. Professor Nelson is the author of numerous acclaimed books and peer-reviewed articles documenting the architecture and cultural landscapes of Black communities on both sides of the Atlantic. He has earned multiple awards for his work, including the Abbot Lowell Cummings Prize from the Vernacular Architecture Forum and the John Brinckerhoff Jackson Prize from the Foundation for Landscape Studies. Professor Nelson is a former President of the Vernacular Architecture Forum and served as the editor of its academic journal Buildings & Landscapes. Among his many contributions to the field of architectural history in general and the University of Virginia in particular are the launching of a summer research program that brought students to explore the vernacular architecture of a Black community in Jamaica; successful grant applications to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a $750,000 grant to establish summer field schools in African American communities; and a grant of $5 million to expand the University of Virginia’s academic strengths in teaching about racial equity and democracy. Additionally, he has established several projects that engage students, faculty, and community members in understanding the role of race in the development of the university and its home in Charlottesville.

    As historians of architecture and urban design, we believe that the built environment provides important evidence about social relations and political issues beyond what is expressed in written documents, and we investigate the ways in which prejudice based on race, ethnicity, and gender is inscribed in buildings and landscapes. Board member Ellis expresses concern that examination by Professor Nelson and others of the history of racially-based mistreatment at the University of Virginia is simply part of an effort to undermine the importance of Thomas Jefferson and other founders of the university and to expunge the record of their contributions. We disagree and insist that examination of the full history of slave-holding historical figures provides an appropriate perspective on American history that is indispensable for understanding social relations today. Architectural historians continue to recognize Jefferson’s innovative designs for the University of Virginia and Monticello while also insisting on filling in the blanks about the many other types of people who occupied these buildings. UVa’s history is embedded in its architecture and landscapes; we cannot discuss the stylish designs of Jefferson as an architect without acknowledging the human beings he held as slaves and the cabins, basements, and other hidden spaces of enslavement and discrimination that are an important part of the buildings and landscapes he designed.

    The role of a university is to foster civil discourse. While Mr. Ellis has apologized for his statements becoming public, he has not addressed the need to offer honest interpretations of African American history (and, more specifically, to examine the full history of racial discrimination at the University of Virginia), nor has he acknowledged the importance of academic freedom that allows faculty and students to explore this history. Ellis owes an apology to Professor Nelson and to the UVa community for threatening the university’s distinguished academic reputation.

  • 20 Mar 2023 8:41 AM | Michelle Jones (Administrator)

    The Vernacular Architecture Forum has never been an explicitly political organization. While our general viewpoint has been fairly liberal about the kinds of places and people we study, we have always assumed that our members have a wide variety of perspectives and that they should feel comfortable expressing their opinions without feeling out of place.

    Last month, an issue arose that VAF’s Executive Committee felt required a somewhat political response. On February 23, 2023, the Washington Post reported on emails from Bert Ellis, a new member of the University of Virginia governing board, who criticized members of the university community interested in the role of slavery at UVA. Ellis specifically called out former VAF President and Buildings & Landscapes editor Louis Nelson, a professor and Vice Provost at UVA, who has been very active in exploring racial histories at the school, in the Charlottesville community, and in the larger world. In addition to his excellent books and articles on Black architecture on both sides of the Atlantic, Louis developed a field school in Falmouth, Jamaica which he used as a base for a VAF conference in 2011. He also wrote the grant for Mellon Foundation funding for our wonderful African American Field School, which begins its second season this summer.

    VAF member Marta Gutman, an editor of the architectural history blog PLATFORM, arranged for an editorial on this issue in the blog and inquired about how architectural historians might respond. I am happy to report that VAF joined with the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) and the Society for American City and Regional Planning History (SACRPH) to issue a joint statement objecting to this criticism, the first time these built environment organizations have collaborated in such a manner. The statement points out that the criticism from a member of UVA’s governing board violates the academic freedom of faculty and students to pursue research into topics of their own choosing. It also expresses support for the efforts of Nelson and all other architectural historians to better understand how racial discrimination has shaped our built environment.

    Like many current efforts to prevent uncomfortable racial truths from being exposed, Ellis’s attack on Louis and other academic community members was couched in terms of protecting the founders of the university and the nation, many of whom owned slaves. Ellis is the head of a UVA alumni group organized to honor Thomas Jefferson and defend his legacy. Yet architectural historians today continue to discuss Jefferson’s place in the development of European classical architecture while also exploring how race determined the design and use of spaces within Jefferson’s buildings and landscapes. Ellis, who also suggested UVA’s financial department cannot walk and chew gum at the same time, appears himself incapable of holding two seemingly contradictory thoughts in his head: that the author of the phrase “all men are created equal” could also own other human beings.

    While I don’t see VAF hitting the campaign trail anytime soon, I believe we must stay active as an organization in the wake of an extreme conservatism that seeks to deny our ability to carry out the organization’s most important work: the study of the social, political, and economic origins of a full range of building sites and landscapes. As a product of everyday life, vernacular architecture offers significant evidence of the ways in which racial, ethnic, and other forms of prejudice are inscribed in the physical landscape. VAF members have a strong track record of explaining how different cultures build their own environments and exposing the ways in which discrimination has helped to shape architectural and social form. We cannot allow political forces of any kind to  prevent this work in the future.

  • 20 Mar 2023 8:40 AM | Michelle Jones (Administrator)

    Time is growing near for our annual meeting in Plymouth.  Early registration ends Thursday, March 31 and alacarte registration will begin April 1 and end April 15.

    The conference is tracking for record attendance and we have exhausted our capacity at Hotel 1620.  For information on alternative lodging, check the conference Lodging & Travel page.

    For general questions about the conference contact Michelle Weaver Jones at conference@vafweb.org or 601.507.7222.

    See you soon!

  • 20 Mar 2023 8:40 AM | Michelle Jones (Administrator)

    On Thursday’s tour day, the Plymouth VAF conference will feature a fascinating tour of the region’s industry and culture organized and led by Sally McMurry, organizer of VAF’s 2004 conference in central Pennsylvania. “From Iron Bog to Cranberry Bog” will examine sites created by multiple occupants of this territory as they worked the natural wetlands and other landscape features. Bogs along the coast provided opportunities for the production of iron in the late 18th century (using “bog iron” created from oxidation in groundwater). After bog iron declined, the cranberry growers moved in.  They fashioned a hydraulic landscape of carefully constructed bogs, dikes, ditches, flumes, and reservoirs.

    Wankincko Bog Screen House

    During the period when berries were marketed fresh (to about 1980), cranberry screenhouses provided distinctive spaces for processing and packing. Two Makepeace company sites represent large scale commercial production, while smaller properties owned by Finnish immigrants show how they integrated cranberries into diversified agricultural production.  The Tremont Nail Works, a wonderful factory survivor from about 1850 in nearby Wareham, MA, shows how bog iron era skills were adapted to serve a niche market for custom nails.

    Tremont Nail WorksTremont Nail Works

    Also in Wareham, VAF members will visit the church of St. Patrick, a multiple building complex that reflects the changing history of the region’s workforce as Catholic immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Eastern Europe, and the Cape Verdean islands arrived to for industrial jobs. The tour will end the day at Oakdale Village, a century-old enclave of Cape Verdean culture. The “Bog” Tour promises to be another memorable trip into our fascinating vernacular past!

    Hebron Chapel

    Submitted by James Buckley & Sally McMurray

  • 20 Mar 2023 8:40 AM | Michelle Jones (Administrator)

    You can help us stay in touch with you by making sure your mailing and email addresses are complete and up to date in our membership database.  If you have moved recently, please go to the VAF website, log into your membership account, and make those changes. We want to make certain you receive all the benefits of membership, including Buildings & Landscapes. If you need help or have questions, please email Paula Mohr at secretary@vafweb.org.

    Paula Mohr

  • 20 Mar 2023 8:40 AM | Michelle Jones (Administrator)

    Laura E. Ruberto and Joseph Sciorra have published  “Italian American Stuff: A Survey of Material Culture, Migration, and Ethnicity.” SOAR: The Society of Americanists Review 3 (2021-2022), 1-82 which deals, in part, with vernacular architecture, structures, and landscapeshttps://journals.psu.edu/soar/article/view/62731/62214

    Dennis De Witt is the author of four books completed and one updated since the beginning of Covid.  All are imprints of the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum in Boston.  They may be purchased there, through selected bookstores, or ordered from Amazon.  

       Wachusett Water: Dam ≈ Reservoir ≈ Aqueduct, Construction Photographs 1895-1906 is a 212 page volume with hundreds of detailed photographs made from large format glass plate negatives.  It visually documents the construction process of this major civil engineering project, still in use, that eliminated two towns while establishing the model for Boston’s metropolitan infrastructure.  

       Arthur H. Vinal / Edmund March Wheelwright and the Chestnut Hill Pumping Station  was re-released in 2022 in a revised, expanded edition.  This 259 page, heavily illustrated study combines monographs and catalogs raisonné concerning two of nineteenth century Boston’s official City Architects, who had very different careers, as well as a study of the imposing Richardsonian Romanesque building that Vinal initiated and Wheelwright seamlessly expanded.  

       Water Works Pumping Stations in Massachusetts & Rhode Island, 1870-1920  is one of three volumes the author completed in 2020 and 2021 during Covid.  It is a 178 page catalog raisonné that draws heavily on colored postcard views from that “golden age" of postcards, reflecting the then widespread civic pride in these buildings.  It documents a now little recalled, highly specialized, civic building type that accommodated the very specific needs of steam powered pumping.  

       Metropolitan Boston Street Views 1896-1920 from Metropolitan Water Works Glass Plate Images is a 164 page volume of selected photographs originally made to document waterworks infrastructure work throughout the Boston metropolitan area.  It provides candid views of urban and streetcar-suburban street life just before the automobile would initiate decades of destructive de-urbanization.  

       The Chestnut Hill Reservoir & Water Works: A Visual History is a richly illustrated, chronologically and topically organized, 193 page, study of Boston’s metropolitan water system, with particular reference to its Chestnut Hill nexus, from the mid-nineteenth century until today, including the complex preservation history of the site and its important buildings. 

  • 20 Mar 2023 8:40 AM | Michelle Jones (Administrator)

    What: Summer fieldwork training in cultural resources, public history and cultural landscapes research

    Where: Cherry Street Community Garden and Cherry Court Housing, Midtown Neighborhood, Milwaukee, WI

    When: July 7 2023—August 11, 2023

    Project Objectives

    The Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures Field School is a nationally recognized award-winning project that combines place-based immersive learning with civic engagement. The focus of the 2023 Field School is to write urban histories that reflect the lived realities of people in Milwaukee’s marginalized and segregated neighborhoods. Using methods such as material culture and architectural documentation, history harvests, short and long form oral histories, community led walks, asset mapping, and spatial ethnography, we will document the geography, layout, and stories of everyday life. We will explore how residents remember, preserve, and pass down stories of place, environment, and ecology to the next generation and examine how researchers and scholars may be able to collaborate with local communities to archive and preserve these forms of knowledge. The Field School welcomes the participation of members of the community, and it is open to anyone who is interested and can make a full-time commitment (Mon-Fri 9am-4pm) for five weeks. Participants are eligible to receive academic credit (3-6 cr.).   

    During the 5-week period, we will examine the following:

    Current thinking on concepts such as “black ecologies” and “radical care.”

    ·       How to collect, index, analyze, and disseminate oral histories.

    ·       How to observe, map, and document everyday places.

    ·       How to conduct and analyze community led walks and history harvests. 

    ·       How to search the archives to find underrepresented stories.

    ·       How to curate community exhibits and community archives.

    Contact :For more information email senA@uwm.edu

    Website and other urls

    Field School website: https://thefieldschool.weebly.com/

    Field School Application: http://thefieldschool.weebly.com/application.html

    Field School Story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDKZoe3nM4k

    Podcast: https://wisconsinhumanities.org/episode-1/

    Submitted by Arjit Sen

  • 20 Mar 2023 8:39 AM | Michelle Jones (Administrator)

    The SESAH Publication Awards honor outstanding scholarship on the architecture of the South, or by authors who reside in the South (defined as SESAH member states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) at the time of publication. Four categories of publication are recognized:

    • Best Book
    • Best Journal Article (all articles published in Arris, the SESAH journal, are automatically
    • nominated if the regional criteria are met)
    • Best Essay in an Edited Volume
    • Best Guidebook for Architecture in the Southeast

    Criteria for consideration include the publication’s contribution to scholarship, as measured by the potential impact on the field through the author(s) methodological approach and analysis; breadth of research and resources; and quality of production, particularly in the illustrations and photographs selected. All entries should be well-written, and each should be an original and thorough piece of scholarship. The copyright for entries should be no earlier than 2021.

    The deadline for nominations is March 31, 2023. Winners will be contacted via email and then officially recognized at the 2023 SESAH Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, from September 27-30. 

    More info here

    Submitted by Danielle Willkens

  • 20 Mar 2023 8:39 AM | Michelle Jones (Administrator)

    For more information Competitive Grants - Historic Preservation Fund (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

    History of Equal Rights:  Accepting applications SPRING 2023 The goal of the History of Equal Rights grant program is to preserve and protect sites associated with efforts to achieve equal rights. The History of Equal Rights grants are not limited to any specific group and are intended to include the broadest possible interpretation of equal rights for any American.

    Underrepresented Communities: Accepting applications SPRING 2023 National Park Service’s Underrepresented Community Grant Program (URC) works towards diversifying the nominations submitted to the National Register of Historic Places. Projects include surveys and inventories of historic properties associated with communities underrepresented in the National Register, as well as the development of nominations to the National Register for specific sites.

    African American Civil Rights: Accepting applications EARLY SUMMER 2023 The goal of the African American Civil Rights grant program is to preserve and protect sites associated with the struggle for equality from the transatlantic slave trade forward.

    Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization(Rural): Accepting applications SUMMER 2023 The Paul Bruhn Historic Revitalization Grant Program fosters economic development in rural communities through the rehabilitation of historic properties. The intent of this program is to provide funds to the recipient (referred to as prime grantees) that can be regranted to projects that have been selected through a locally administered competitive process (or subgrant programs). Recipients design and administer the award to subgrantees via subgrant programs where the prime grantee determines the eligibility of these community resources.

    Semiquincentennial: Accepting applications SUMMER 2023 The Semiquincentennial Grant Program supports the preservation of a broad variety of cultural resources associated with the founding of America as a nation in commemoration of the country’s Semiquincentennial (250th anniversary) in 2026. For the purposes of this grant program, the “founding of the nation” is defined as the period ending December 31, 1800.

    Save Americas Treasures: Accepting applications LATE SUMMER 2023 The Save America’s Treasures grant program was established in 1998 to celebrate America's premier cultural resources in the new millennium. After more than 20 years, this grant program has awarded more than 1,300 grants totaling more than $300 million to projects across the United States. Funded projects, represent nationally significant historic properties and collections that convey our nation's rich heritage to future generations. The National Park Service administers Save America's Treasures grants in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

    Competitive Grants - Historic Preservation Fund (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

    Submitted by Katherine Carey

  • 20 Mar 2023 8:38 AM | Michelle Jones (Administrator)

    The Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada will be hosting its 48th Annual Conference under the theme Cast in Place at the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, University of Calgary, in Calgary, Alberta, from May 31 to June 3, 2023. The conference will feature an opening reception evening on Wednesday, paper sessions on Thursday and Friday, tours, a coach excursion on Saturday, and a concluding banquet. Stay tuned for registration and accommodation details.

    UNESCO Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump World Heritage Site (cliffs at right), showing the Interpretive Centre with the (cast-in place concrete) museum built into the cliff and tipis pitched on the prairie in the foreground. © Alberta Culture (2009)"

    Submitted by Magdalena Milosz

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