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!