The Architecture of Democracy in a Landscape of Slavery

Date & Time

June 7, 2019 @ 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.


Newcomb Hall, Theater
180 McCormick Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903


The pavilions of the University of Virginia are among the most studied designs in early American architecture. Much of this stems from the unusually articulate intentions of their designer. The pavilions, in Jefferson’s words, were to be “models of chaste and correct architecture, and of a variety of appearance, no two alike so as to serve as specimens for the architectural lecturer.” UVA was the architecture of democracy. But the University of Virginia was also a landscape of slavery. This lecture will teach attendees how to understand this single place as simultaneously ideal and real.


Louis Nelson

Vice Provost for Outreach; Professor, School of Architecture

Louis Nelson is Professor of Architectural History and the Vice Provost for Academic Outreach in the Office of the Provost. He is a specialist in the built environments of the early modern Atlantic world, with published work on the American South, the Caribbean, and West Africa. His current research engages the spaces of enslavement in West Africa and in the Americas, working to document and interpret the buildings and landscapes that shaped the trans-Atlantic slave trade. He has a second collaborative project working to understand the University of Virginia as a landscape of slavery. Nelson is an accomplished scholar, with two book-length monographs published by UNC and Yale University Presses, three edited collections of essays, two terms as senior co-editor of Buildings and Landscapes–the leading English language venue for scholarship on vernacular architecture–and numerous articles. He is also a celebrated teacher, having won a university-wide teaching award in 2007 and serving as the 2008 UVA nominee for a state-wide Outstanding Faculty Award. Nelson’s teaching and research focuses on the close examination of evidence–both material and textual–as a means of interrogating the ways architecture shapes the human experience. The majority of his work focuses on the early American South, the Greater Caribbean, and the Atlantic rim.