University of Virginia: School of Architecture

Louis Nelson

Associate Professor
Associate Dean for Research and International Programs
Louis Nelson
Discipline Architectural History
Education B.A., The College of William and Mary; M.A., Ph.D., University of Delaware
Phone 924-6449
Office 103 Peyton House

Personal Statement

Louis Nelson is an Associate Professor of Architectural History, the Associate Dean for Research and International Programs in the School of Architecture, and the Director of the Program in Historic Preservation. He teaches courses in American architecture specializing in colonial and early national architecture, vernacular architecture, and theories and practices of sacred space. The majority of his work focuses on the early American South, the Greater Caribbean, and the Atlantic rim. Nelson is interested in the close examination of evidence-both material and textual-as a means of interrogating the ways architecture shapes the human experience. His work as an early Americanist is best exemplified in his monograph,The Beauty of Holiness: Anglicanism and Architecture in Colonial South Carolina (UNC, 2008). Winner of the 2010 SESAH Best Book of the Year Prize, The Beauty of Holiness examines the ways Anglican churches in colonial South Carolina-the nexus of many social landscapes-express regional identity, social politics, and divergent theologies of the sacred. He has also edited, together with Maurie McInnis, Shaping the Body Politic: Art and Political Formation in Early America (Virginia, 2011) and has published numerous scholarly articles on early American architecture and everyday life. His commitment to field-based object analysis situates him in the scholarly tradition within American architectural history broadly understood as the study of vernacular architecture. Nelson's prominence in this field is reflected in his six years as a senior co-editor (2006-2012) of Buildings and Landscapes: the journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, a leading scholarly venue for research in the field since 1982. 

His interest in the colonial South has led him past the "sacred 13," to examine the place of the Atlatnic coast of North America as a componet of the interconnected early modern Atlantic rim. He has over the past decade directed a summer field program in Falmouth, Jamaica, now popularly referred to as the Falmouth Field School. One by product of this work is the Falmouth Project, a GIS-based data information system used as a repository for ongoing work in Falmouth:http://falmouth.lib.virginia.edu/. Working together with more than one hundred students over more than 10 years, his fieldwork in Jamaica and the Leeward Islands has resulted in some of the first systematic recording of eighteenth and nineteenth-century architecture in the British Caribbean. In the summer of 2011, Nelson chaired the annual meeting of the Vernacular Architecture Forum in Falmouth:http://www.vernaculararchitectureforum.org/conferences/2011/index.html. His commitment to the value of the object as evidence and the necessity for first-hand examination of the built environment has resulted in numerous trips with graduate students across the American South and the Caribbean.  Working together with archaeologists, Nelson is interested in using buildings to explore Afro-Caribbean culture through the transition from slavery to freedom. He is currently completing two book manuscripts based on his work in Jamaica, a monograph entitled Architecture and Empire in Jamaica, and a book of essays entitled Falmouth, Jamaica: Architecture as History soon to be published by the University of the West Indies Press.

And, lastly, he is actively engaged in research and teaching on theories and practices of sacred space. In this field, he has published American Sanctuary: Understanding Sacred Spaces (Indiana, 2006), a collection of essays that examines the place of the sacred in the American landscape and a number of articles and essays in scholarly journals.

Personal Gallery

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