The Summer Institute at The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts is a month-long, hands-on, multidisciplinary, material culture field school.  In this course students will learn current methods of object-based research, interpretation, and analysis. They will also learn how to apply these skills as public-facing historians engaged in creating compelling object- and place-based histories.

The 2019 Summer Institute will focus on the Southern Backcountry, in particular the Cotton South, a region that includes Piedmont Georgia and Upstate South Carolina.  Students will learn about the region from prehistory to the Civil War through the objects, buildings, and landscapes made and used by the diverse people who called the region home.

The program’s month-long curriculum includes lectures, discussions, hands-on workshops, artifact studies, an intensive study trip through western North Carolina, east Tennessee, the Georgia Piedmont, and Upcountry South Carolina, and a capstone research project.

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

Program Resources

The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) at Old Salem Museums & Gardens 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.  Students will have access to the University of Virginia’s extensive digital scholarly resources.