Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Architecture and Culture on the Southern Plantation

Inspired by our discussion on the architecture of Monticello I decided to try and look for some more information on the architectural origins of plantation homes from this general period of US history.Many of the plantations are modeled in elaborate style (often Greek Revival or Federal Style. Examining the features of vernacular architecture offers a way to reflect on the culture of a locality. Viewing life on these plantations from a distance would easily suggest an affluent owner. These spaces then, are also offered as a reflection of the owners ideals of power and wealth. I was eager to understand more about how this culturally influenced the perspective of the slaves living and working on these plantations. Then I found this site! It’s basically a history of Atlantic Slave Trade and slavery through images. There was one photo under the plantation scenes and settlements that I thought was interesting. (A slave plantation in Georgia.)

The reference to the plantation as a hermitage, of course, got me thinking about the Jefferson Monticello article and its function as a place of both hermitage and public display, but that’s a little beside my point. Anyways the site doesn’t claim to interpret these photos or renderings but they are useful nonetheless in examining the different spheres of public and private interaction. I searched around for more information about this particular house, then I stumbled across this site which is really interesting and I think super relevant to anyone who wants to find out more about plantation lifestyle, architecture, and its cultural significance. http://www.gwu.edu/~folklife/bighouse/panel1.html
I think when we examine homes or architecture in its historical sense, it is beneficial to examine all inhabitants. That contrasts developed between how landowners might have wanted to portray a certain visions and what these spaces meant for those working there, is important to note.

These specific accounts generally seem to include more harsh circumstances than those found at Monticello but nonetheless this site explores the design and layouts of plantations with regards to their everyday functions and the populations that lived among them. For me it helped a lot in understanding how the slaves may or may not have been able to culturally adapt to their living conditions. These slaves operated within confined conditions. That the social and functional elements of quarters were often retained despite their poor condition, whether or not slaves even made an effort to turn their quarters into a real home, what it meant that  these slaves refused to accept these spaces as simply ‘quarters’ but often determined to make them a family space etc. are very revealing of a deeper more organic sense of what values were important. These conditions directly interconnect with cultures that arose. It is necessary to understand conditions in order to understand how culture, life, and values operate and develop accordingly.   

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