Two articles have gone up on the Mississippi History Now site that will help give a good basic view of architecture in the Magnolia State. For those unfamiliar with it, History Now is the online publication of the Mississippi Historical Society, and is geared toward elementary and secondary history teachers. A lesson plan supplements each article.
The two articles of interest to the MissPres universe (or could I just call it the “MissPresVerse”?) form a two-part primer on the history of architecture in Mississippi from pre-historic times up until the 1950s or so: “Architecture in Mississippi: From Prehistoric to 1900” and “Architecture in Mississippi during the 20th Century.” Written by Todd Sanders, an architectural historian at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the articles divide our architecture into stylistic categories and vernacular building forms, effectively tying our local landmarks to the larger forces at work in nationally. Sanders, as you may recall, is also the author of Jackson’s North State Street, published last year by Arcadia Press.
Obviously, these articles are meant to be a basic exploration of Mississippi’s architectural history, not full-scale studies. They join the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s recently published Preservation Curriculum as useful resources to help teachers and students understand and appreciate architecture.
Amazingly, Mississippi still awaits a real in-depth statewide architectural study. The first attempt, a classic and a great basis on which to build, is Mary Wallace Crocker’s Historic Architecture of Mississippi, published in 1973 when I was just an innocent babe, or well, maybe not so innocent, but just a babe nonetheless. As might be expected, the focus of that book was on nineteenth-century architecture, and on the grand landmarks from that period. Inexplicably, when the Mississippi Historical Society and MDAH embarked on their joint Heritage of Mississippi series, whose stated purpose is to span the history of the state, focusing on important subjects or eras, the editorial board decided to include the state’s architectural history as just one interwoven topic within the larger (and beautifully done) Art in Mississippi by Patti Carr Black, published in 1998. It’s significant that in the summary of the book on the MDAH website, the emphasis is completely on the state’s visual artists, no mention at all of its architects or architecture. Architecture obviously is one of the arts, but it fits only partially and somewhat fitfully within that topic, as it is also a craft, a functional object, and an industry; a good study should also investigate urban and economic development, engineering advances, and cultural geography.
I am told, however, that there are murmurings of a Mississippi book to be included soon in the Society of Architectural Historians’ Buildings of the United States series, recently revived through the University of Virginia Press. Louisiana already has such a study, designed to be not only an overview of the state’s architectural history but also a geographical guide to the buildings, so it should be a point of pride for Mississippi to try to finish its book before Alabama or Arkansas.