Sarah Fayen Scarlett

Sarah Fayen Scarlett


Download CV

  • Associate Professor of History
  • PhD, Art History, Building-Landscapes-Cultures Program, University of Wisconsin–Madison
  • MA, American Material Culture, Winterthur Program, University of Delaware
  • BA, American Studies, Yale University


I am a social historian who privileges architecture, landscapes, objects, and artworks in my research, public interpretation, and teaching strategies. My work relies on the idea that the built environment and the objects within it reflect and also shape human beliefs and attitudes. I locate myself at the intersection of three interdisciplinary subfields: vernacular architecture, material culture, and cultural landscape studies. I interface with scholars and methodologies from fields including history, archaeology, geography, American studies, architecture, and art history.

My forthcoming book Company Suburbs: Architecture, Power, and The Transformation of Michigan's Mining Fronter (Univ of Tennessee Press 2021) investigates space, materiality, and mobility in domestic landscapes to explore complex social identities in America between 1875 and 1920. I focus on Michigan’s Copper Country as a case study for using overlapping social landscapes as a framework for place-based examinations of class and gender identities. By documenting well-preserved late nineteenth-century patternbook houses, and contextualizing their suburban neighborhoods in a modernizing industrial community, my work implicates buildings and landscapes in the development of relational class identities and acts of resistance. This research is grounded in object-driven modes of inquiry that engage interdisciplinary trends in the spatial humanities. I have published related research about communities in Milwaukee and the Lead Region of southwestern Wisconsin.

Another area of my research explores the roles of digital spatial tools in community-engaged heritage projects. I co-direct the NEH-sponsored historical GIS of the Copper Country called the Keweenaw Time Traveler, which asks “Citizen Historians” to contribute their own knowledge about landscape change over time and to help process additional historical data. In my undergrad courses, students add their research with primary documents and material evidence to this growing "deep map" to learn place-based digital storytelling. These projects are demonstrating the value – both pedagogical and scholarly – of combining mobile-enabled HGIS projects with techniques in community-engaged scholarship to create active learning opportunities.

Research Interests

  • Spatial, material, and experiential aspects of social power in industrial communities
  • Historical GIS for Community-Engaged Scholarship
  • American Vernacular Architecture and Material Culture Studies
  • Public History, Historic Preservation, and Museums
  • History of Design, Craft, and Production in the United States
  • Cultural Landscapes and Historic Architecture of the Keweenaw