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Date of Graduation
Master of Arts (MA)
Department of History
Gabrielle M. Lanier
This thesis examines the paradigmatic shift in interpretation that occurred at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello during the 1980s and 1990s. For decades, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation presented the site as a marvel of architecture, décor, as well as exemplifying Jefferson’s tranquil domestic life and intellectual talents. Beginning in the 1980s, the Foundation began to address slavery at the site. Chapter one introduction of slavery interpretation during this period. Early attempts to interpret slavery became intertwined with the Foundation’s positive portrayal of Jefferson before becoming more varied and provocative in the 1990s. Chapter two examines the parallel evolution in Jefferson scholarship, where biographers attempted to both address slavery and preserve their hagiographic vision of Jefferson. Chapter 3 explores an unintended consequence of the slavery interpretation: the reemergence of Jefferson’s political legacies as a thematic and tonal counterbalance to critical discussions about slavery. The inclusion of slavery in Monticello’s interpretation created a space for critical thought and provocative questions about the symbolism of Jefferson and the site. However, the presentation of Jefferson’s political legacies remained uncritical and congratulatory, showing the limits of Monticello’s transformation.
Miles, Andrew, "“Without obscuring deeper truths:” Interpreting slavery and Jefferson at Monticello" (2021). Masters Theses, 2020-current. 76.