Field Methods in Historic Preservation

Thomas Jefferson's Academical Village has been long celebrated for its use of ancient architectural precedents and its reimagined relationship between faculty and students, something we now call a Living-Learning Community. But one dimension of the lived experience of the Academical Village that has received less attention is the relationship between the students and the faculty and their families as the village’s white population and the numerous enslaved African Americans who lived and worked for decades in and around the academical village.

This semester, the students in Louis Nelson’s “Field Methods in Historic Preservation” class have dedicated their semester to the search for physical evidence of the use of various spaces by this long neglected community. To this end, students have been crawling with flashlights through attics and cellars looking for physical evidence of the workings of basement kitchens, but also the transformation of marginal spaces into spaces of accommodation for the growing population of the enslaved. The attic of Hotel F, it seems, was early converted into accommodations through the installation of a cloth ceiling. They are also working hard to make sense of the spatial connectivity between basements and work yards together with the many now lost kitchens, quarters, smoke houses, and other such buildings erected in the yards behind the pavilions and between the pavilions and the hotels. Students have found clear evidence of the opening of spaces beneath the student rooms into the basements of either pavilions or hotels, creating expanded spaces of habitation for the enslaved who labored in kitchens but also alternative circulation routes through these landscapes of labor.

The spectacular pavilion gardens we now enjoy supplanted—and for a long time silenced—the daily labor of chopping wood and cleaning fowl that once animated these zones. While we have known this in the abstract, this project seeks to be deeply particular about how those spaces functioned and how they were interconnected with basement kitchens and clearly partitioned from the alleys defined by Jefferson’s famous curvilinear walls. Students are thinking through the sensorial experience of these zones: What can you hear from where? What can and what cannot be seen? Students are also reading closely the various reports generously supplied by Rivanna Archaeological Services to incorporate archaeological evidence into their final reports. Using Ground Penetrating Radar students recently confirmed the location of a log double quartering building that once extended from the end of the kitchen building (now commonly called the Crackerbox) behind Hotel F.

And finally, this project is being undertaken in partnership with the Jefferson’s University the Early Life project (JUEL) Project, a new online searchable database of early University records: In this way, students are working to find connections between physical evidence from their on-site investigations, the archaeological record, and the documentary record with the goal of reconstructing critical and densely textured moments in the everyday life of slavery at the University. Next semester the class continues with a shift in focus from recording to representation. In the Spring, students will turn their attention to strategies for digital representation of these landscapes of slavery.