Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mac and Cheese!...and other things

So, I have completed my first week at the library. This week I mostly just got an introduction to the library's collections and on how to run the reference desk. I got a chance to answer a couple reference questions and I learned just how varied these questions can be. It is an interesting experience working at a library that revolves around one historical individual. Because Jefferson is the focal point of the library, detailed questions about his life are to be expected. One patron wrote to us requesting Jefferson's favorite mac and cheese recipe and flower arrangement for his dinner table. This patron had heard that Jefferson loved mac and cheese ( if that turned out to be true, he and I would have had something in common!). However, I could not confirm that this was the case, and after some research I found that Jefferson actually referred to all pasta as "macaroni." Several cookbooks that I consulted that are associated with Jefferson's time at Monticello suggest that "macaroni" was typically used in soups; however there was one baked mac and cheese recipe that was common during the time period.

I then turned to the flower arrangement question. It turns out that the use of flower arrangements as a decoration for dinner tables was not that common in Jefferson's era. Instead, elaborately displayed food dishes were the focal point of the table. So, it is possible that Jefferson never incorporated flower arrangements into his dinner parties. Of course, Jefferson was extremely interested in growing all sorts of plants, including flowers. The staff at Monticello have worked hard to recreate the gardens that were so important to Jefferson. If you want to learn more about them, the historic gardens section of the Monticello website is a very interesting source.

I have also found some time to do a few things outside of work. Last Saturday, I went to Washington D.C. with my brother. As this was my first trip there, I wanted to see all I could, but we ran out of steam after seeing a few sites. Our trip included the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
Here I am at the Lincoln Memorial!

Hopefully I can get back to D.C. someday and see more of the city.

I also took another fun side trip to the Shenandoah National Park. My brother and I hiked the Jones Run Trail and were rewarded with this view:

Yes, the waterfall is pretty, but if you want my advice, you should admire it from afar -unless you want to slip and fall into freezing water. But then again, if you are a little less clumsy than me, go for it!

Friday, May 20, 2011

History, Archaeology, and the Wine Industry

Orientation is over and I am excited to begin my summer work in the library! However, I am going to miss all of the lectures and tours that were a part of the orientation process. As an introduction to our lecture on history and Monticello, we were asked to read the introduction to The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History by Gordon S. Wood. It was a very interesting read and I recommend it. I would like to read his entire book. In this article, Wood discussed the transition from a focus on elite history by historians leading up to the 1960s to cultural history, beginning in the 1960s and continuing to the present era. Elite history is comprised of politicians, military leaders, and others who have held power and cultural history is more about the life of ordinary people during historical periods. The shift from elite history to cultural history did not take effect until pretty recently. One reason for this is that obviously most people are coming to Monticello to hear about Thomas Jefferson. They come to see the house he designed and to see the rooms where he entertained his important guests and where he studied. But interestingly, the Foundation has shifted from focusing solely on Jefferson and his positive contributions to American history to his complicity in the the culture of slavery. Recent activity has been focused on developing narratives about the individual slaves who lived at Monticello. This has resulted in projects like the Mulberry Row reassessment. Mulberry Row is an area next to the house where slaves lived and worked, but there is no longer many remnants of that activity. Jefferson documented these buildings and their purposes at one point in his life, but now the curators and archaeologists at the Foundation are trying to create an accurate reconstruction of those buildings based on recent findings. I for one think this project is very important. It is important to recognize that although Jefferson was a wonderful orator, politician, and idealist, he was also a part of a dark period in American history.

Today, we had another lecturer who discussed Jefferson's public life. It was interesting to be reminded of all the positions Jefferson held in his lifetime: lawyer, governor, minister to France, Secretary of State, Vice President, and President. But one aspect of this lecture that I found especially interesting is the comparison between politics at the beginning of the Republic and politics these days. Jefferson was the third president of the US and his presidency marked the first transfer of power between political parties - the Federalists to the Democratic-Republicans. Some of the rhetoric in this period is reminiscent of the rhetoric these days. The Federalists were concerned that if the "french loving, jacobite, aetheistic" Republicans gained power the country would go to hell. Sound familiar?

We were also taken on a lovely garden tour today; courtesy of Gabriele Rausse, who has been dubbed by some as the "Father of the Virginian Wine Industry" Mr. Rausse was very enthusiastic as he took us through the flower and vegetable gardens which are kept up as Thomas Jefferson had them when he lived at Monticello. It is amazing to see the wide variety of plants that are grown on the premises. Mr. Rausse is a very interesting person. He told us the story of pursuing wine production in Virginia despite the opposition he faced from many scientists and government officials who believed it could not be done. Jefferson himself pursued the growth of grapes on his property, but he was never able to achieve success. Mr. Rausse proved many people wrong and since he embarked on his project in the 1970s, there are now around 190 wineries in Virginia. 

That's all for now. I will report back next week after I start a project at the library!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Politics, Architecture, Horticulture...oh my!

Orientation began today. I joined about 15 other interns for a day of immersion at Monticello. We began the day by learning a little bit about the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and its mission statement. One thing I found interesting is that the Foundation is targeting a global audience to "engage in a dialogue with Jefferson's ideas", rather than just reaching out to Americans who wish to learn more about their country's foundation. After our introduction, we were set free to experience Monticello as a visitor would. We took the standard house tour - which takes you through the rooms on the first floor of the house. These rooms included the entryway, the schoolroom utilized by Jefferson's grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Jefferson's personal study and bedroom, the show-case parlor, as well as two rooms used for entertainment. The tour guide supplemented our viewing with amusing anecdotes about Jefferson and his many guests. What really stands out in the house is the number of innovations Jefferson created to make life more comfortable. These included a calendar clock and dumbwaiters in the fireplace to transport wine from the basement.

A word of advice to visitors: Ask the tour guide questions! They have a whole spiel rehearsed that they run through every time, but it makes the tour more interesting when someone is asking more in-depth questions. The guides have a wealth of knowledge to draw on and can usually answer your questions.

 After our free exploring time, we met back up and had another little lecture reviewing some basic facts about Jefferson's life. Of course, we all know that Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, was the third President of the United States and built a beautiful and innovative home that still attracts 350,000 visitors a year, but today I learned a few interesting facts that seem little known (at least to me). So I think it is time for some Jefferson trivia!

1. Monticello is the only home in America listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (due to its stunning architecture)
2. Monticello is the only home featured on a piece of American currency (the nickel)3. Jefferson's grave site is located next to Monticello, but it is owned by a separate organization who decides who is a legitimate descendant of Thomas Jefferson and is therefore eligible to be buried on the site
4.  Jefferson's grave indicates that he was born on April 2 1743, but he was actually born on April 13, 1743. The discrepancy is due to a switch from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar during Jefferson's lifetime.
5. Jefferson tried to amend the Constitution to guarantee a right to a public higher education
6. Jefferson gathered seeds from all over the world and put a lot of effort into a his 1,000 foot garden and many other horticultural endeavors

Of course, not everything about Jefferson's legacy is positive. One thing that stood out to me is the way the Foundation handles controversial topics like Thomas Jefferson's stance on race and his alleged relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings. The Foundation acknowledges that Jefferson's writings indicate that Africans were an inferior race, common to the ideology of the time, but they try to ameliorate this acknowledgment by pointing out that Jefferson also believed that slavery was wrong and should one day be abolished. According to a few people who I met today, the tour guides avoided the subject of Sally Hemings altogether when they took the tour many years ago. But ever since DNA evidence has emerged, it is the official position of the Foundation that Thomas Jefferson fathered at least one of Sally Heming's children, if not all. Of course there are still those who refuse to accept the available evidence, which is not 100% fool-proof.

 That's all for now! I still have another 4 days of orientation; then I begin my work at the Library!


Hello! My name is Elizabeth and I just completed my junior year at Clark University . This summer I have an internship at the Jefferson Library at Monticello. The Jefferson Library was opened in 2002 and it is a small library with three full time staff members. The library specializes in anything regarding the life, times, and legacy of Thomas Jefferson. So far, I know that my duties will involve answering reference questions and researching to create entries to expand the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia.