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  • Invitation to Vernacular Architecture: A Guide to the Study of Ordinary Buildings and Landscapes
  • Karen M. Duffy
Invitation to Vernacular Architecture: A Guide to the Study of Ordinary Buildings and Landscapes. By Thomas Carter and Elizabeth Collins Cromley. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2005. Pp. xxv + 120, foreword, acknowledgments, introduction, 90 photographs and illustrations, notes, checklist of sources, index.)

In 1967, James Deetz wrote Invitation to Archaeology to introduce general readers to a field of study that was not well understood. Clearly and cordially, his slim handbook set forth essential information and a range of interesting examples to correct the situation. Nearly forty years later, Thomas Carter and Elizabeth Collins Cromley take inspiration from that model to extend a similar bid to anyone wishing to learn what the study of vernacular architecture is, how to go about it, and what it can reveal about human thought and behavior. Significantly, in their choice of title and approach the two authors pay tribute to Deetz as a founder of contemporary material culture research, in the development of which vernacular architecture study has flourished. Mindful of this debt, Carter and Cromley proceed to make their own distinctive contribution.

Invitation to Vernacular Architecture: A Guide to the Study of Ordinary Buildings and Landscapes opens with an introduction that gives a fair idea of what can be expected in the pages to come; in fact, it commences its work of acquainting beginners with the study of buildings even as it orients readers to the book's contents. Chapter 1 continues the introductory project by tracing concisely the rise of vernacular architecture studies in the academy and defining the term "vernacular architecture" itself. The historical context given is just enough to make plain the political as well as intellectual factors underlying the scholarly endeavor.

Chapter 2, "Architectural Investigations," launches the guide proper; in fact, it comprises the field-guide portion of the book—a guide-within-a-guide, as it were. For would-be researchers and those teaching them, this chapter's presentation of methodology will prove of tremendous use: explaining in nuts-and-bolts fashion the procedures employed in documenting buildings, it amounts to a set of practical instructions that can be followed in one's own neighborhood. Included are directions for how to designate research problems; conduct preliminary surveys; use photography as a documentary tool; take measurements and make drawings for site and floor plans; and examine buildings for information about their construction, ornamentation, finish, and alteration over time. As that list suggests, the advice given is as much how to think about and look for pertinent information as it is how to gather and record it. Ample illustrations—especially the measured drawings—ensure that the chapter's lessons can be understood and replicated.

Chapters 3 and 4 work together to lay out a course for processing and interpreting the data collected in fieldwork. Chapter 3 outlines terms for architectural analysis; temporal, spatial, formal, functional, and technological lines of inquiry are discussed in turn. Chapter 4 then reviews a series of important vernacular architecture studies, to exemplify the range of approaches that may be taken to find greater meaning in buildings and the landscapes of which they are a part.

Finally, chapter 5 summarizes by way of demonstration. Focusing on one house mentioned in the introduction, this chapter applies an appropriate selection of methods and ideas presented throughout the book and thereby brings the whole to an effective and satisfying conclusion. A well-organized checklist of sources at the end directs readers to further works, most of them American.

Ideal for classroom use, Invitation to Vernacular Architecture is a broader resource as well. [End Page 236] Among many who will find it of value are historic preservationists and interested amateurs. Its essential quality is, after all, its promise for raising public awareness of the importance of old buildings. Carter and Cromley are to be commended for producing such a thoughtful, readable, and ultimately helpful guide. It comes as a most welcome invitation indeed.

Karen M. Duffy
Indiana State University


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