Remarks delivered by the Bishir Prize Committee chair, Allison Hoagland, at the at the annual meeting in Chicago, June 6, 2015.
The Catherine Bishir Prize is awarded to the scholarly article that has made the most significant contribution to the study of vernacular architecture and cultural landscapes. The jury—composed of Betsy Cromley, Bill Littmann, and myself—received a dozen excellent submissions that demonstrated the vitality of the field of vernacular studies. While most of these articles were published in VAF’s own journal, Buildings and Landscapes, we also received submissions from four other journals, showing VAF’s reach into neighboring fields. The submitted articles made us realize how the study of vernacular landscapes continues to be vital and exciting, taking on unexplored topics or developing new methodologies to study the ordinary environment. The high level of scholarship, the close study of buildings, the interpretation of landscapes, and the innovative approaches made these articles a delight to read—and also a tough decision for the jury. But we did reach a decision.
We are pleased to award the Bishir Prize to Louis Nelson for his article, “Architectures of West African Enslavement,” published in Buildings and Landscapes last year. In this article, Nelson looks not only at fortifications in West Africa in which slaves awaiting sale were imprisoned, but, defining space broadly, also at the whole sequence of capture, journey to the coast, and loading onto ships. One of the “methodological convictions” that Nelson lays out in this article is that the experience of a space is far more important than its material making. As he points out, “understanding the architecture of the slave trade helps to ground the horror.” Nelson’s work is rooted in vernacular studies, but he extends it in new directions, including his analysis of how a place is experienced, how a transaction might involve a sequence of spaces, and how these places relate to larger economic systems. Examining both the particular and the general, Nelson’s article is a model of vernacular studies.