VAF 2021 Virtual Plenary Session: Fieldwork Futures Friday, May 21, 3:30pm CDT

15 May 2021 11:40 AM | Christine R Henry

Session leaders Brent R. Fortenberry, Tulane University, and James Buckley, University of Oregon 


  • Sarah Lopez (University of Texas, Austin)
  • Arijit Sen (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee)
  • Elaine Stiles (Roger Williams University)
  • Danielle Willkens (Georgia Tech)

The 2021 VAF Conference plenary session examines the nature of contemporary vernacular architecture fieldwork. Fieldwork Futures provides a space for reflection and discussion of the importance of field-based research in the work of vernacular architecture historians in the past and considers the possibilities for new practices in the future.

Methods of documenting the physical qualities of ordinary buildings and landscapes have been at the heart of VAF members’ work from the organization’s inception. In the 21st century, new research and engagement questions challenge the way in which we investigate the material remnants of the past as embedded in the present. Tape measures and sketchbooks remain key tools for fieldwork, but fieldworkers now bring along digital technology to collect digital data and audio recorders to gather ethnographic information. Researchers and practitioners also have novel sociological and ethical considerations as they document everyday structures and map out the broader impacts of scholarship and knowledge production not just for the academy, but also for stakeholders and communities. Fieldwork in vernacular architecture studies now closely mingles the tangible and intangible past more than ever before, and champions community engagement as a critical component of the methodological and interpretive process.

Four fieldwork scholars will present vignettes of their current methods of fieldwork to set the stage for a broad discussion of the social and technological challenges facing field-based research today.

Sarah Lopez and Arijit Sen explore how their fieldwork integrates ethnography and community engagement in exploring the historic built environment in Texas and the Upper-Mid West. Elaine Stiles will discuss how fieldwork and survey efforts can incorporate the recent re-thinking of the historic preservation policy process, and Danielle Willkens examines how digital technology can be integrated into design engagement through an Atlanta case study.

The session organizers will then facilitate a conversation among all attendees aimed at identifying key principles of field-based practice in our field.

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