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MONTICELLO: The Magazine | Winter 2018

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Monticello’s International Influence


Thomas Jefferson is ‘a citizen of the World and the friend of universal peace and happiness.’

–Benjamin Rush, July 26, 1796 (to James Currie)

Eastern Exposure

In 2012, a Chinese diplomat visiting Monticello inspired us to consider sending an exhibition about Thomas Jefferson to China and to introduce audiences to Jefferson’s role in founding America, his vast intellect and curiosity, and his global engagement.

With the endorsement of both Chinese and American governments, a team from Monticello has been working closely with colleagues at the National Library of China to present one of the first exhibitions on American history to be mounted in the People’s Republic of China. The exhibition is planned for a three-month run next year in the National Library of China in Beijing. There, a rich mix of authentic objects, artworks, portraits, film, media-based interactive exhibits and architectural models will be displayed.

An early rendering of the virtual reality experience that brings visitors to the exhibition into Jefferson’s Cabinet, his private office.

A William Stone copy of the Declaration of Independence — specifically requested by our Chinese colleagues — anchors the opening section. Visitors will move through thematic zones that explore Jefferson’s wide-ranging contributions — from writing the Declaration of Independence and building the nation to serving as the nation’s third president and founding the University of Virginia. The exhibition will feature his home and plantation at Monticello, as well as his extensive library, including several of his 17 books on Chinese subjects. Another highlight will be a virtual reality experience of Jefferson’s study, the Cabinet.

Thomas Jefferson: Inventing America is an opportunity to foster people-to-people engagement between China and the United States, to increase cultural understanding and to enhance ties between the two nations. As the world shrinks, engaging a global audience in dialogue on Jefferson’s ideals becomes ever more important.

A Global Search

To picture the world apart from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson owned hundreds of maps, most of which were among the collection he sold to Congress in the now legendary 1815 sale.

Among the items he retained were a pair of 18-inch-in-diameter “New British Globes,” made by one of the top globe makers of the time, the family firm of William and Thomas M. Bardin, and sold by W. & S. Jones in London. They arrived at Monticello in 1807.

Cornelia Randolph’s annotated floor plan of Monticello locates Jefferson’s globes in the Cabinet, under the book ledges — near his reading and writing arrangement so that they could be easily consulted. After Jefferson’s death, his grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph purchased the globes at the 1827 dispersal sale for $66. Their whereabouts are unknown, if they survive.

Richard Gilder Senior Curator Susan Stein searched for the missing globes or an identical pair for 25 years — at auction and in the marketplace on two continents — and finally found a pair in exceptionally fine condition meeting the exacting criteria. The Foundation purchased them from the George Glazer Gallery in New York in 2017, 190 years after the original pair were sold at the dispersal sale. The purchase was underwritten by a generous gift from the family of Grady and Lori Durham, who supported the restoration and furnishing of the Cabinet.

Bringing Jefferson to a Global Audience

Through a network of scholars, teachers and resources, Monticello engages a global audience in a dialogue about Jefferson’s ideas and establishes relationships with people from around the world. Monticello’s scholars take an interdisciplinary approach to the study of Jefferson and his legacy by supporting a wide range of inquiry and programs in the Charlottesville area and abroad. From organizing academic conferences around the world to restoring and preserving Monticello, our scholars are passionate about uncovering insights into Jefferson’s world.

The primary focus of these efforts is Monticello’s Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies (established in 1994) and its Jefferson Library (opened in 2002), the first freestanding research facility dedicated to the study of a founding father. The center is designed to be proactive, serving as a nerve center of Jefferson scholarship and teaching and as a clearinghouse for Jefferson research. It seeks an active role in the ongoing study of Thomas Jefferson internationally by supporting a wide range of inquiry; by building a network of scholars, teachers and resources; by helping define new areas of investigation; and by promoting the application of new technologies to Jefferson scholarship.

Monticello Conferences and Symposia

A Journey of Understanding

Inasmuch as slavery can be comprehended, exploring its origins in Ghana is a good start. Traveling in the opposite direction of a story more than 400 years old, 56 people from Charlottesville, Virginia, embarked on just such a journey. Monticello staff members joined the delegation.

The Assin Manso River and Elmina and Cape Coast castles were essential to the transatlantic slave trade.

It was crucial for the delegation to visit these sites, as Ghana was the main transit hub for the estimated 15 million enslaved Africans taken to the Americas.

“When you consider that slavery is a crime against humanity, then it becomes really important to come back to the roots of that and try to understand how it all began,” said Leslie Greene Bowman, president of Monticello.

Spending nine days in Ghana, also visiting Winneba—one of four sister cities to Charlottesville—and contemplating the weight of these landmarks was a visceral and emotional odyssey that won’t soon be forgotten.

“The human suffering is so emotionally impactful at Cape Coast—it’s almost impossible to visit without feeling the power of their struggle,” said Brandon Dillard, manager of special programs at Monticello. “For decades we’ve been working to bring the stories of enslaved people out of the shadows; recognizing the emotional impact of their struggle is key.”

Fostering Global Leadership

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders was welcomed again to Monticello this past July. The flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), the fellowship empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training and networking. This select group of 23 young professionals from countries across sub-Saharan Africa observed Monticello’s Independence Day and Naturalization Ceremony on the West Lawn, toured the House and Mulberry Row, and engaged in a full day of discussions on the essentials of civic and political freedoms in a democracy.

These young African leaders have established records of accomplishment in promoting innovation and positive impact in their organizations, institutions, communities and countries. Monticello has participated in this six-week program since its inception in 2014. YALI is sponsored by the U.S. State Department and hosted in this region by the Presidential Precinct.