I work on medieval architecture, on issues that range from the construction process to the social function of space. My research focuses on France and Italy in the 12th through 14th centuries. I am particularly interested in how social action shapes space, and in particular, these days, on the Mendicant orders and their new approach to religious architecture. This has to do with the effects of the externalized mission of the friars, whose preaching and religious mission took place in public spaces, markets and piazze. At the same time, the friars seem to have played a fundamental role in changes that took place in the practice of burial, which moved into cities and into churches - with important consequences for architectural and urban space.
My work on Naples involved several convents for women religious, and that has become an importnat theme in my research: how did clausura affect the shaping of space for women in convents of the 13th and 14th centuries. When I began that research, there wasn’t a lot out there; now, I’m glad to say, the bibliography has become much richer.
We are now deeply engaged in teaching new representational media for architectural history and archaeology at Duke. Please see our course website: http://www.jhfc.duke.edu/olson/courses/wired/final-projects for some examples of what we have been able to do with our students.