I am a licensed preservation architect with over seventeen years of professional experience. I have graduate degrees in historic preservation (MS) and art history (MA), an Architecture Technical Teaching Certificate, a Bachelor of Architecture and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology and I am a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED AP).
Since 2011, my research and professional work has focused exclusively on domestic slave buildings. I am engaged in interdisciplinary research examining the architecture of slavery, the influence these dwellings had on the lives of their inhabitants, and the preservation of the history of enslaved people. In 2012 I started an independent project titled “Saving Slave Houses (SSH),” with the primary goal to ensure that slave houses, irreplaceable pieces of history, are not lost forever; but also, to change the way we think, talk, research, document, interpret, preserve, restore, teach about, and learn from slave houses. In my efforts to preserve extant slave houses and to education the public about them I have had the opportunity to partner with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, TED Talk, Trimble, Google, Historic American Buildings Survey, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, National Trust for Historic Preservation, C-SPAN, Virginia Humanities, Montpelier, and Monticello.
A primary component of my research comes from fieldwork. I have completed architectural and anthropological surveys of over 700 enslaved buildings at 140 sites across 6 states. My fieldwork is the first attempt to identify the rate of disappearance of the slave house in US. Before fieldwork commences, slave house sites are identified. This is done through archival research and a ‘Suggest a Site’ link on my website (SavingSlaveHouses.org) through which the public can suggest potential sites. The three largest collections I have analyzed to identify sites with a slave house were from the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), the Federal Writers’ Project and Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF). Four consecutive Fellowships in African and African American History and Culture from CWF gave me the opportunity to work with the Architectural Research Department to digitize and catalogue the Agricultural Buildings Project collection, which involved scanning over 5,000 measured drawings, fieldnotes, photographs, and written reports. This work was completed in 2017. Of the 700 US sites CWF surveyed, over 240 had a domestic slave building.
As I was scanning these thousands of drawings the same names kept appearing on drawings. Some I were already very familiar with because I was working with them daily for my fellowship such as: Edward Chappell, Carl Lounsbury, Willie Graham, and Jeffery Klee; and I knew Mark Wenger from working with him at Monticello and Mark Schara from working at HABS. But, I knew very little about the other names I was seeing. One person that especially caught my eye was Camille Wells. This incredible woman surveyed over sixty sites in Isle of Wight County in Virginia by herself in 1981. And when I say survey, I mean draw a detailed site plan with notes! It was people like this I was eager to meet someday in person. VAF has given me the opportunity to do so and to meet many other great people that have also done amazing and interesting work. One of the things I am interested in is how to modern technology has changed how we conduct fieldwork and how we teach students to do fieldwork. I believe documentation should include hand sketches, field sketches, measured drawings, photographs, 3D laser scans, geospatial data, fieldnotes, research notes, reports, drone footage, movies, oral histories and interviews.