University of Virginia: School of Architecture

Louis Nelson

Associate Professor
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 teaches courses in American architecture specializing in colonial and early national architecture, vernacular architecture, and theories and methods of sacred space. The majority of his work focuses on the early American South and the Greater Caribbean. Nelson is interested in the close examination of evidence-both material and textual-as a means of examining the ways architecture shapes the human experience. Nelson's prominence in the field is reflected in his selection as a senior co-editor of Buildings and Landscapes, a leading scholarly venue for research in the field since 1982. The Beauty of Holiness, his most recent book and winner of the 2010 SESAH Best Book of the Year Prize, 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. 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. 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. He also directs the UVA Falmouth Field School in Historic Preservation, a month-long program held each summer in the coastal town of Falmouth, Jamaica. While his interest in the Caribbean began in colonial Anglican churches, his most recent work has focused on post-Emancipation domestic architecture. Working together with archaeologists, Nelson is interested using buildings to explore Afro-Caribbean culture through the transition from slavery to freedom. As a result of his work on early American churches, Nelson has also become leading voice in the interpretation of American sacred spaces. He has published an edited collection of essays, American Sanctuary: Understanding Sacred Spaces (Indiana, 2006) and a state-of-the-field essay on sacred space in Religious Studies Review.