College of Architecture, Art and Construction

Historic Preservation field school engages Gullah Geechee community


Clemson University’s Historic Preservation program is launching the Johns Island Preservation Field School. The summer field school program funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Vernacular Architecture Forum focuses on researching and documenting late 19th and early 20th century public buildings and their role within the African American community on Johns Island, SC.

Alongside Clemson’s Historic Preservation program, the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston, the Progressive Club and the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission (GGCHCC) are hosting this three-week program—the field school runs from May 22 to June 9. 

“The field school brings together African American studies, public history, history, historic preservation and other thinking and skills, all surrounding important and story-laden historic places and the people associated with these built environments,” explained Amalia Leifeste, associate professor of historic preservation at Clemson University. 

The program includes workshops by historic preservation faculty, history faculty, archivist, scholars and local community educators, teaching participants about life in the Johns Island community during the Reconstruction, Jim Crow and Civil Rights periods. Through hands-on training in historic preservation documentation and research methods, including archival research, measured drawing, photography, laser scanning, photogrammetry and GIS, participants will learn how to document the physical fabric and cultural narratives associated with the historic buildings and landscapes on Johns Island. 

“This is the kind of work that can bring new people into the field of historic preservation and assists in continuing to evolve the field to include buildings and people not always centered in historic conversations,” Leifeste said.  

Johns Island residents will also be encouraged to apply to the second year of the field school (Summer of 2024), and they will be given priority along with applicants demonstrating historic or cultural ties to Johns Island or the broader Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. Residents will also be invited to participate in one-day workshops with topics including reading buildings with Jobie Hill.  Community members will be compensated for their time in attending these workshops. 

Public Preservation Events

Johns Island Preservation Field School also offers three public events during its three-week tenure on the island. The public is invited to panel discussions, student presentations and a preservation advocacy discussion. Following are the events that are open to the public: 

  • May 22, 4:00 p.m. – Wesley United Methodist Church
    Johns Island History Panel Discussion and Dinner
    A panel discussion on the history and built heritage of Johns Island moderated by Dr. Tamara Butler. Panelists are Michael Allen, Nancy Butler and Josephine Robinson. A light supper will follow the panel discussion and audience questions and comments and will be catered by Diamond Star Catering.
  • June 3, 11 a.m. – John’s Island Library
    Student Research Presentations and Panel Discussion
    Student archival research presentation and “Telling Your Story: authors, publisher and social media experts and their processes.” This is a two-part program. Ten field school students will discuss their in-progress work conducting archival research and building documentation for the Progressive Club ruins and Moving Star Hall, two places important in the story of Johns Island civic life in the Reconstruction and Civil Rights eras. Discussion can continue over lunchtime refreshments leading into the 12:30 p.m. panel discussion on “Telling Your Story: authors, publishers, and social media experts and their processes” with panelists Greg Estevez, Akua Page and Joshua Parks.
  • June 9, 1 p.m. –  John’s Island Library
    Johns Island Preservation Field School Final Presentations and Dinner
    This is a two-part program. The John’s Island Preservation Field School students will discuss their completed three weeks of work conducting archival research and building documentation for the Progressive Club ruins and Moving Star Hall. Around 2:30 p.m., a Preservation Advocacy Panel will discuss how to motivate preservation and create change. The Preservation Advocacy Panelists are Dr. Jessica Berry, Emily Pigott, Brittany Lavelle Tulla, Dr. Shawn Mitchell and Chloe Stubber. The event will conclude with a reception.
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