Louis P. Nelson

B.A., The College of William and Mary, 1990
M.A., Ph.D., University of Delaware, 2001

Associate Professor, American and Caribbean Architecture, Chair, Department of Architectural History

Louis Nelson specializes in American architecture-focusing on the early South and the Greater Caribbean-vernacular architecture and sacred space. The Beauty of Holiness, his first monograph, examines the ways Anglican churches in colonial South Carolina express regional identity, social politics, and divergent theologies of the sacred. The manuscript was recently completed with the help of a Mellon-funded sabbatical at the Newberry Library in Chicago. His interest in the colonial South has led him past the “sacred 13,” where his fieldwork in Jamaica and the Leeward Islands has resulted in some of the first systematic recording of eighteenth and nineteenth-century English architecture in the Caribbean. Working together with Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Falmouth Heritage Renewal and other institutions, Mr. Nelson is committed to recording and preserving the historic core of Falmouth, Jamaica, in an effort to preserve this important town-included by the World Monuments Fund on its list of 100 Most Endangered Sites-generate investment in the local economy, and the improve the lives of local residents. His annual summer field school to Falmouth reinforces his commitment to training students in an intensive first-hand examination of the historic built environment rooted in the methods of vernacular architecture, material culture, and historic preservation.

While his interest in the Caribbean began in colonial Anglican churches, his most recent work in the Greater Caribbean has focused on post-Emancipation domestic architecture, using buildings to explore the transformation from slavery to freedom. As a result of his commitment to the study of vernacular architecture, Mr. Nelson serves as the position of senior co-editor of Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, the scholarly voice of the Vernacular Architecture Forum and a leading venue for research in the field since 1982. Mr. Nelson has a secondary interest in the theories and practices of sacred space. As the editor of American Sanctuary: Understanding Sacred Spaces (Indiana, 2006) and the author of a state-of-the-field essay on the subject in Religious Studies Review, Mr. Nelson is a leading voice in the debates over the interpretation of American sacred space. To coincide with this research and writing, he has developed a popular graduate seminar entitled “American Sacred Space” which fosters inter-disciplinary research in architecture, religious studies, history, anthropology and other disciplines. He also serves his department as Director of Graduate Studies.

Department of Architectural History
231 Campbell Hall
(434) 924-6449
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University of VirginiaSchool of Architecture