IATH Helps a Course Find Evidence of Slaves at UVa

February 18, 2016

An IATH project is being used in a two-part course on the architectural history of UVa's Academical Village. The "Field Methods in Historic Preservation" class, being taught in the fall and spring by Professors Louis Nelson and Andrew S. Johnson, is looking at evidence of use of the working areas of the University, particularly spaces that were used by slaves. This is part of a larger effort at UVA to uncover the history of slaves at the University. Histories of UVa's first few decades have not acknowledged the role of slave labor in both building the University and in the daily life of the students, faculty, and staff. The course is teaching students to collect data from both physical examination of the Academical Village and from studying historical records, and then to integrate that with known historical evidence of both the University and of the region.

The documents being used are from Jefferson's University — the early life, 1819-1870 (JUEL), which was started in 2012 as collaboration between Maurie McInnis, Professor of Art History and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Kirt Von Daacke, Associate Professor of History and Assistant Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, and IATH. The project began as an effort to transcribe early University personal and administrative documents, and has since grown to include a searchable database of records, archival images, and 3D renderings of now-lost buildings.

The first part of the course was gathering and reconciling data, and the second part will focus on how to interpret the results of this work and tell the stories that have emerged. The goal is to tell "a more honest history of the Academical Village," Prof. Nelson said, and the class has discovered evidence showing the forgotten and suppressed importance of the black slave labor force in the early years at the University.