ARC 342R / ARC 388R

Reconstruction—both a historical period and an unfinished project—is political, but it is also deeply material and spatial. This seminar will consider the architectural and built environment history of the period known as Reconstruction (1863-1877) and its aftermath, up until the New Deal. We will discuss the built aspects of institutions and issues such as the Freedmen’s Bureau, sharecropping and the post-slavery transformation of the plantation system, industrialization and convict labor, the development of the southern US petroleum industry, and the rise of Jim Crow. Drawing in particular on the framework laid out by W. E. B. Du Bois in Black Reconstruction in America (1935), we will position Reconstruction’s promises of a transformed world within a longer history of transnational industrial and capitalistic transformations. We will also consider the projective usages of the term reconstruction, framing it as an “unfinished revolution,” as the historian Eric Foner famously described it. In this sense, we will consider topics such as reparations, conceptions of “the South,” struggles over citizenship, and the tensions of history and memory. 

We will seek to understand what the promise of reconstruction continues to hold out for the built environment. We will read and discuss an array of secondary sources in this class, but we will also devote time to interrogating a primary source: Southern Architect and Building News (published in varying forms from 1890-1931). UTSOA’s special collections library holds one of, if not the, most complete sets of issues of this journal. Examining the articles, photographs, advertisements, and directories contained in the journal, we will begin to piece together an account of how architects and builders envisioned and were involved in the transformation of the Southern built environment in Reconstruction’s wake.


Architectural History


Fall 2023