VAF is thrilled to announce the launch of a new field school program dedicated to documenting threatened African American cultural landscapes. In partnership with the University of Virginia, VAF has received support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to document and interpret African American buildings and landscapes, training a new generation of students in conducting the fieldwork necessary for documenting suppressed architectural histories, while involving the relevant communities in the process.
The Mellon grant will fund three different field schools launched in three consecutive summers; the schools will differ in location and type of architectural content, but all will contribute to the goal of examining architectural relevance to social history. Louis Nelson, the PI for the grant, and Claire Dempsey, president of VAF, will head an advisory committee currently composed of Niya Bates, Jim Buckley, Kim Hoagland, and Carl Lounsbury, and intended to be expanded. The committee will review proposals from potential field-school leadership teams comprised of scholars familiar with a range of field documentation strategies, expertise in African American history and culture, and local community partnership.
Drawing from VAF’s traditional strength in documentation and expanding to engage best practices of mutuality in community partnership, the students will learn traditional and new fieldwork strategies, from making measured drawings and taking photographs to using the latest digital-capture and visualization techniques. They also will learn ethical guidelines and community engagement methods for working with residents in collecting oral histories.
The program assumes that each field school will run for two field seasons and have a third season to complete a research report and the public presentation/dissemination of the work. The committee will begin taking applications in the late summer of 2021 with the expected launch of the first program in the summer of 2022.
“Standing at the heart of this proposal is the assumption that architectural historians have an important opportunity and responsibility to engage the contested histories of race in America,” Nelson argued in the application to Mellon. “This series of summer programs will provide an important catalyst for the fields of historic preservation, and for social justice scholars who endeavor to uncover suppressed and erased histories of marginalized people, as we train the next generation of scholars and practitioners in the fieldwork techniques that characterize Vernacular Architecture Forum’s close study of the built environment.”
This winter, the VAF website will upload a page with more detailed information about this initiative, including how to develop a proposal to direct a field school.