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In honor of Thomas Jefferson’s 281st birthday, will you help us preserve and protect Monticello for generations to come?


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - February 5, 2014
Media Contacts:
University of Virginia, Jane Kelly, 434-243-9935
Monticello, Amy Atticks, 434-984-7529

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Feb. 5, 2014 — The University of Virginia and Monticello are launching a massive open online course – or MOOC – on the life and legacy of Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States and U.Va. founder.

The MOOC, titled “Age of Jefferson,” launches Feb. 17, Presidents' Day, and is being taught by Peter Onuf, U.Va.’s Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor, Emeritus;  Senior Fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello; and an expert on Jefferson and the early American republic. The six-week, noncredit course is free and can be taken on either Coursera or iTunes U. A preview of the course can be viewed here.

“Thinking about – and with – Jefferson enables us to gain a fresh perspective on our world, a world that Jefferson did so much to shape,” said Onuf, who is also one of the three history guys who host the public radio show, BackStory with the American History Guys. “The American Revolution marked a critical and formative epoch in the emergence of the modern world. Studying Jefferson, his hopes and fears, his achievements and his failures, enables us to understand our world better.”

The course will offer an introduction to Jefferson’s thoughts, focusing on several key ideas and themes that engaged him throughout his public career and private life. It will address the three achievements Jefferson asked to be listed on his tombstone; writing the Declaration of Independence, advocating religious freedom and advancing the cause of education by founding the University of Virginia. The course will also explore Jefferson’s lifelong relationship with the institution of slavery.

“Peter Onuf’s MOOC on Jefferson has something for everyone everywhere. The ideas that Jefferson struggled with – the equality of people, human freedom, church and state, the best means of higher education and the need for political change – are ideas that people near and far continue to struggle with today,” said Jeffrey W. Legro, U.Va.’s vice provost for global affairs. “Jefferson is one of America’s original global thinkers – in this course Onuf brings him, and the magic of the University of Virginia and Monticello, to inquiring minds around the world.”

“Jefferson knew that what he had put in motion in the Declaration of Independence was for all men, everywhere. As Jefferson said, ‘this little ball of liberty is now so well in motion,’ and he hoped that it would continue to roll around the globe. This new MOOC is a unique opportunity to engage audiences in a global dialogue about Jefferson’s actions and principles in his time, and their continued influence to the present day,” said Leslie Greene Bowman, President and CEO of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

Peter S. Onuf, is a graduate of the prestigious Johns Hopkins University doctoral program, and author or editor of over a dozen books, including The Mind of Thomas Jefferson.   Teaching and advising students has been central to Onuf’s career; he has supervised or advised over 100 doctoral dissertations and, in 2012, the American Historical Association recognized Onuf’s remarkable teaching abilities with the Nancy Lyman Roelker Mentorship Award.  Currently, Onuf is collaborating with Pulitzer Prize-winning author and MacArthur Fellow Annette Gordon-Reed on a book about Jefferson’s intellectual life, entitled The Most Blessed of the Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination.

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The central purpose of the University of Virginia, founded in 1819, is to enrich the mind by stimulating and sustaining a spirit of free inquiry directed to understanding the nature of the universe and the role of mankind in it. Activities designed to quicken, discipline, and enlarge the intellectual and creative capacities, as well as the aesthetic and ethical awareness, of the members of the University and to record, preserve, and disseminate the results of intellectual discovery and creative endeavor serve this purpose. In fulfilling it, the University places the highest priority on achieving eminence as a center of higher learning.

Thomas Jefferson Foundation was incorporated in 1923 to preserve Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Today the Foundation seeks to engage a global audience in a dialogue with Jefferson’s ideas. Monticello is now recognized as a National Historic Landmark and a United Nations World Heritage Site. As a private, nonprofit organization, the Foundation is not supported by federal or state budgets to fund its twofold mission of preservation and education. About 450,000 people visit Monticello each year. For information, visit