Publication Awards


Each year the Publications Award Committee is honored to recognize scholarship that sheds new light on the region in published book, article and essay formats.

In 2014, the Publications Award Committee is pleased to recognize Daniel Bluestone’s analysis of the preservation movement’s history and its present course in his provocative Buildings, Landscapes, and Memory: Case Studies in Historic Preservation recently published by Norton & Company Press. Bluestone traces the preservation movement through ten case studies, and in this collective reading, reminds us that common meanings and shared histories are often locally made and political in nature.

The case studies represent topics within the dialogue surrounding preservation and public history, and while forming a survey of the movement as a whole, they also reflect Bluestone’s advocacy of cultural landscapes and, more broadly, of community preservation itself. One case study resonated for the committee because of its focus within the SESAH region and its exploration of the tensions between tradition and modernism that are encapsulated in Jeffersonian design. In his essay, presented in the third chapter of the book and entitled, “Captured by Context: Architectural Innovation and Banality at Thomas Jefferson’s University,” Bluestone weighs the legacy of Thomas Jefferson the architect. In this essay, Bluestone discusses how that legacy is interpreted in the preservation of the academic village and through the new building projects that emulate its appearance, but arguably not its creative essence.


The Publications Award Committee is also honored to recognize the article by Cary Carson entitled “Banqueting Houses and the ‘Need of Society’ among Slave-Owning Planters in the Chesapeake Colonies,” published in the William and Mary Quarterly in October 2013. Carson is laudable for his distillations of sources and re-interpretations of material evidence.

In the wining article, Carson digs deep into the documentary archive to produce an index of household amenities that is as valuable as the catalogue of archaeological findings. The index makes reevaluations of much studied, yet long gone, places possible. Carson deftly reminds his audience of the meanings embedded in the archaeological remains of buildings (here three seminal houses in the early Chesapeake: Green Spring, Corotoman, Fairfield) as well as those represented in the contents of households recorded for probate. For Carson, each place setting inventoried is a placeholder for a social ritual. Each post mold or footing is a foundation for social space shaped by past societies. In Carson’s hands the banqueting house of early Virginia’s tastemakers becomes a larger stage that filled societal needs. The banqueting house served as a hegemonic tool that affirmed status and belonging, and functioned as a distinguishing display that separated the planter aristocracy from the middling sort. Possession, performance and plantation slavery shaped the world of the early Chesapeake and the region’s early architectural forms.

Finally, the 2014 Publications Award Committee is pleased to honor Catherine W. Bishir and her book Crafting Lives: African American Artisans in New Bern, North Carolina, 1770-1900, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2013.

Bishir brings out of the shadows the artisans who crafted their lives as they designed the built environment and painted over societal boundaries in New Bern, North Carolina. Persons of color in a white world, these artisans were painters, carpenters, masons, and blacksmiths serving in the building trades. They gave tangible expression to the architectural landscape. Also moving within that setting were the dressmakers, carriage makers, and coopers who stitched and hammered an intangible community together across time and place.

Bishir’s detailed research reconstructs that network, and, in her nuanced telling, the lives of artisans are situated within a context of black life in the South from the Revolutionary period to Jim Crow. The biographies of thirty-one artisans reinforce Bishir’s tightly joined narrative with stories of remarkable resiliency and undeniable humanity.

Bishir discovers the antebellum success of free blacks who shaped New Bern through their craftsmanship and through an equally visible presence in civic life. She then traces the community’s struggles for economy and equality in the postbellum years as prejudice pushed opportunities out of reach and manufactured goods made their skilled labor obsolete.

The architectural landscape of New Bern is a testament to the craftsmanship of these men and women, and Bishir has impressively shown it holds clues to the lives they crafted as well.

Congratulations to Catherine Bishir for her book, and for her skillful weaving together of the lives of skilled African American workers with the places they made in New Bern and beyond.


The Publication Awards go back to 2004. Read More…

SESAH’s annual Publication Awards honor outstanding scholarship about the architecture of the South or by authors who reside in the South (defined as SESAH member states). Three categories of publication are recognized: books, journal articles, and essays published in book format.

Travis McDonald (Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, Chair), Virginia B. Price (Historian, Arlington, VA), and E.G. Daves Rossell (Savannah College of Art and Design) served on the Publications Award Committee for 2012-2013.

The awards are as follows:

SESAH 2013 Book Award

Perhaps once in a generation there appears a published architectural history that achieves landmark status at the onset.The Chesapeake House deserves that status and more. For more than thirty years a core group of architectural historians at Colonial Williamsburg, and associated colleagues, have produced detailed architectural fieldwork drawings, photographs, and archival documentation on hundreds of early buildings in Virginia and Maryland. That corpus alone is remarkable and worthy of a singular publication. But that’s only the supporting part of a complex and collaborative scholarship and history. The other recorded, researched, and analyzed components of this book could also stand alone: new understandings of seventeenth-century houses, regional peculiarities of building design, interior room arrangement and evolution, the use of moldings as an indication of social interaction, the hierarchical nature of hardware, the role of outbuildings, the evolution of construction technology, decorative wall treatments, and the nature of eighteenth-century slave quarters. This book manages to combine all of these factors, and more, in an overall interpretive social history of architecture that includes designers, builders, owners, visitors, and servants. The scope ranges from the gentry house to the slave quarter and synthesizes the details of fieldwork with archival research. What distinguishes this impressive effort are the questions asked of the material, and its interpretation. As an architectural history the actual publication is without peer in its beautifully rendered drawings, computer-generated cut-away and exploded views, and striking professional photographs. This is a collaborative professional work that offers the fruitful answers to a generation’s questions on the methodology of studying early American architecture. The simplistic statement that this book “demonstrates the value of objects treated as important primary evidence for the study of the past,” is a grossly understated description. This work can truly be called a paradigm shift for how we should see and understand a significant regional development of American architecture.


Article Award

buildingsLandscapesMargaret Ruth Little, “Getting the American Dream for Themselves: Postwar Modern Subdivisions for African Americans in Raleigh, North Carolina”, in Buildings and Landscapes 19, no. 1 (2012).

Ruth Little’s article, “Getting the American Dream for Themselves,” is the recipient of SESAH’s excellence award  for breaking new ground on an important, but overlooked, architectural history of African Americans and post-war suburbs. Ruth’s fieldwork in the Raleigh post-war suburbs revealed an amazing story that she says was hidden in plain sight. Little neatly ties together the story of lingering Jim Crow segregation, post-war housing developers, aspiring and successful African American professionals, and modern architecture. Little adds to the sociological history of African American suburbs by defining a different architectural history of the American Dream.  In this positive story African American professionals and middle class families chose more progressive modern designs than their white counterparts as a statement about the future and new beginnings. These choices and a progressive spirit of a new architecture might have even contributed to bold actions taken in the Civil Rights Movement.


Essay Published in a Book Award

In a brilliant analysis of a vernacular place she called the “agora of the highway,” Ethel Goodstein-Murphree has given us a fresh look at the common truck stop. The American truck stop had no architectural tradition and since the 1920s it has developed as a unique community and social space in the “dynamic conduit” of our highways. Like the ancient trade routes, it speaks of trade and respite. The author describes it as a “hybrid place that straddles the borders between a private precinct and a public domain,” and even sacred in the proliferation of truck stop chapels that are “devoted to mitigating the rigors of trucking with the fast-food-like deliveries of faith.” In her enviable way, the author brings in American Road literature and cultural landscape art to define this overlooked building type that “weaves together the vast spaces of the road” through time, space and society.