Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize


Thomas Carter’s Building Zion: The Material World of the Mormon Settlementbrings the reader into a world that is both immediately recognizable and deeply, thrillingly unfamiliar. Grounded in the methods of classic vernacular architectural investigation, documentation, and analysis, and leavened with a gentle wit and graceful, highly readable prose, Building Zion demonstrates the emphasis on primary research and fieldwork, and interpretive innovation and provocation that the Abbot Lowell Cummings Prize represents. For this, Carter's book received the prize for 2016.

Through detailed, decades-long field work and documentary research of Sanpete Valley’s (Utah) built environment, Carter has uncovered tensions that undergird the 19th century Mormon world and the way those tensions shaped settlement planning, land use, resource allocation, and social relations.  In taking on Mormon conceptions of utopia, community, destruction, and creation, and setting them against Western bourgeois traditions of consumption and individualism, Carter has exposed universal themes that connect to American expansion in the west and beyond.

Building Zion is a work that weaves effortlessly between discussions of the ecstatic and the mundane, between meticulous, close readings of the built environment, and a deep engagement with the 19th century Mormon world view in all its varied manifestations. Building Zion accomplishes the difficult architectural balance between a highly unique Mormon religious and cultural history and broader currents of American material cultural and building history. In examining the specific and the regional, Carter has illuminated American history as a whole.

The Abbott Lowell Cummings Prize, named after the founding president of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, is awarded annually to the publication that has made the most significant contribution to the study of vernacular architecture and cultural landscapes. In judging the nominated books, the jurors look for a publication that is: 

- based on primary research,

- emphasizes fieldwork,

- breaks new ground in interpretation or methodology, and

- contributes generally to the intellectual vitality of vernacular studies in North America

Entries may come from any discipline concerned with vernacular architecture studies. Books published from January 2015 through December 2016 are eligible for consideration. Edited collections of previously published materials are not eligible.

The nomination deadline for the 2017 Cummings Prize is December 15, 2016.

There is no application form, but a cover letter should include a complete mailing address, phone number and email address in order to notify the candidate should the nominated work receive the award.

Books should be sent directly by the author or publisher to each of the three committee members for the Cummings Prize. Please contact the committee chair with any questions at

2017 Cummings Prize committee:
Ryan Smith, chair
Department of History
Virginia Commonwealth University
811 S. Cathedral Place
Richmond, VA 23284-9105

Annmarie Adams
School of Architecture
McGill University
815 Sherbrooke St. West
Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 0C2
*To avoid customs charges for the book recipients, please ensure the shippers pay all duties and taxes.  The parcels must arrive Delivered Duty Paid (DDP).

Robert Saint-George
History Department
University of Pennsylvania
1 College Hall, Room 208
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6379

Past Cummings Prize Winners

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