Monday, August 28, 2017

Preservation Pitch Spotlight: Jobie Hill’s Slave House Database Project

(Left to right) Leighton Powell, Scenic Virginia; Jobie Hill and Preservation Virginia CEO Elizabeth Kostelny
Slave dwellings exist throughout Virginia that tell stories of a difficult time in history that should never be forgotten. Our 2015 Preservation Pitch winner, Jobie Hill, has been doing great work with her Slave House Database Project to document and interpret these spaces.

Hill, a historic preservation architect, started her independent project in 2012 to, “ensure that slave houses, irreplaceable pieces of history, are not lost forever.”

The database serves as a repository for information and data pertinent to all the known slave houses in the United States. At the time of her Preservation Pitch win, she had gathered more than 26,000 images and ex-slave narratives related to slave houses. In describing the Slave House Database, Hill says:

The documentation [of slave houses] is the visual representation of the spaces; and the interpretations are descriptions of the spaces from the actual inhabitants who lived and worked there during slavery. The narratives recorded from former slaves breathe life into the two-dimensional drawings and photographs of slave houses.

After having surveyed slave dwellings in various other states, Hill set her focus on documenting slave dwellings in Virginia for her Preservation Pitch project. She aimed to locate and resurvey at least 30 slave houses documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey program. Her goal was to identify which houses still exist, document the current conditions of the structures and record architectural information missing from the original survey.

Hill ended up surveying 37 slave houses in Virginia with the help of the $2,000 grant she received from her Preservation Pitch win. In total, she has surveyed 117 dwellings in Virginia over the past four years, with some located in Campbell and Pittsylvania Counties.

Overall, she believes that the relationship between the historical record of slave houses and stories of the inhabitants are crucial to the understanding and interpretation of the lives and settings of enslaved people. She states that through this relationship, “the plantation landscape is revealed not through the eyes of the master but through the perspective of those who were in his charge.”

The deadline for entering this year’s Preservation Pitch competition has been extended to Friday, September 8. If you have a historic preservation project that you would like to pitch, visit Eventbrite for submission details and to register.