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Monticello: The Home of Thomas Jefferson
Created and maintained by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
Reviewed July 2003.

When Jefferson scholars play parlor games, they ask each other which Thomas Jefferson would have used, Windows or Mac? Mac, they usually reply, without hesitation. How appropriate, then, that the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the organization that owns and operates Monticello, would maintain an attractive, user-friendly Web site. The primary audience for the Monticello site is the vast public that is interested in the nation’s most famous founding father. The site easily guides visitors to the information that most of them, one expects, seek: a brief biography and timeline; a sympathetic, multipage excursion through “A Day in the Life of Thomas Jefferson” that functions as a virtual tour of Monticello; and educational resources for teachers and students. (Students are invited to write or email—by a convenient link—“Mr. Jefferson,” and a member of the education staff, writing as Jefferson, will reply.) The site makes good use of available technology, offering, for example, virtual reality panoramas of all the public rooms in the house (including the “Indian hall,” which has been re-created to commemorate the Lewis and Clark journey) and lectures, some by academic historians, in streaming media. Although scholars may not find these sections of the site particularly useful for their research, they effectively serve the purposes for which they were designed.

Several portions of the Web site will be of greater interest to scholars. The Research and Collections heading provides a link to the foundation’s research arm, the International Center for Jefferson Studies, where one can find information about the center’s fellowships, the center’s library catalog, and a portal to research databases about Jefferson and his times. Also nested under this heading is a link to the archaeology department, which leads in turn to its research reports and information about the Digital Archaeological Archive of Chesapeake Slavery (DAACS), a Web-based collaborative venture to create an archive of artifacts excavated from several important regional sites. This project promises to be of great interest to historians of early American slavery.

Monticello’s archaeologists demonstrate how they use the evidence from excavations of the slave quarters to frame a hypothesis about changing patterns of domestic life among the plantation´┐Żs slaves.

In fact, although it is not obvious from the home page or even from the second tier of pages, slave life is one of the Web site’s most important themes. Links from the Plantation section of the site lead to mini-biographies of a dozen of the Monticello slaves; descriptions of Mulberry Row, where the slaves lived and worked; descriptions of the work that slaves performed; the Getting Word Oral History Project, which has tracked descendants of the Monticello slaves; and an archive of documents about the “Jefferson-Hemings Controversy,” which is especially useful for those who teach this topic. They include the foundation’s own report, which concluded that Jefferson “most likely was the father of all six of Sally Hemings’s children” and is the definitive word on the subject. Only in the past decade or so have visitors to Monticello been forced, albeit gently, to recognize that Jefferson was a slaveholder and Monticello a plantation village. Although the site does not compel visitors to explore slave life at Monticello, these dimensions are the richest portions of the site. It is clear that the heart of the research staff lies here—in social history, archaeology, and the history of slavery. Although you would not know it from the home page, this is not your father’s Monticello or your father’s Monticello Web site.

Jan Lewis
Rutgers University
Newark, New Jersey