Summer Institute Curriculum Overview


 The Summer Institute at The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts gives students the opportunity to analyze and investigate southern history from first settlement to the Civil War through material culture and the decorative arts. Each Institute focuses on one region, rotating its concentration between the Chesapeake, the Southern Lowcountry, the Backcountry.

The 2018 Summer Institute emphasizes the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry, a region of tremendous cultural diversity that included America’s wealthiest landholders and merchants as well as the huge enslaved work force upon which that world depended.  The focus this year will be on African American material culture and landscapes, considered through a multidisciplinary approach that includes current methods of research, interpretation, preservation, and analysis of material culture. The program’s month-long curriculum includes lectures, discussions, workshops, artifact studies, research projects, and an intensive study trip to Wilmington, NC; Charleston, Georgetown and Penn Center, South Carolina, Savannah, Georgia along with the Hidden Town project at Old Salem Village.

The UVA Visiting Scholar for the 2018 Summer Institute is Dr. Carroll Van West, Professor of History and Director of the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University.  In addition to Dr. West, the faculty is composed of mem­bers of the staffs of MES­DA and Old Salem Museums & Gardens, and other experts in the field of Decorative Arts and Material Culture.

Three hours of graduate credit are awarded through the University of Virginia’s Graduate Program in the History of Art and Architecture.



The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) is home to the country’s finest collection of decorative arts made and used in the early American South.  Through its collection, scholarly research, publications, and programs, the museum is a leader in the study of Southern material culture.  The MESDA Collection spans five centuries and includes furniture, paintings, ceramics, textiles, metalwork, and other decorative arts from Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.  The Anne P. and Thomas A. Gray Library and MESDA Research Center is home to extensive documentary resources related to objects made in the South and the craftsmen who made them.  These resources include biographical files on more than 80,000 Southern craftsmen, an object database containing files on more than 20,000 Southern objects, and a 20,000 volume library and rare book and manuscript collection focused on southern history, material culture, and decorative arts.

The University of Virginia was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. The University sustains the ideal of developing, through education, leaders who are well prepared to help shape the future of the nation.