Access your Project MUSE content using one of the login options below Close(X)
Browse Results For:
Thomas Jefferson and the Power of Knowledge
Although Thomas Jefferson’s status as a champion of education is widely known, the essays in Light and Liberty make clear that his efforts to enlighten fellow citizens reflected not only a love of learning but also a love of freedom. Using as a starting point Jefferson's conviction that knowledge is the basis of republican self-government, the contributors examine his educational projects not as disparate attempts to advance knowledge for its own sake but instead as a result of his unyielding, almost obsessive desire to bolster Americans’ republican virtues and values.
Whether by establishing schools or through broader, extra-institutional efforts to disseminate knowledge, Jefferson's endeavors embraced his vision for a dynamic and meritocratic America. He aimed not only to provide Americans with the ability to govern themselves and participate in the government of others but also to influence Americans to remake their society in accordance with his own principles.
Written in clear and accessible prose, Light and Liberty reveals the startling diversity of Jefferson’s attempts to rid citizens of the ignorance and vice that, in the view of Jefferson and many contemporaries, had corroded and corrupted once-great civilizations. Never wavering from his faith that "knowledge is power," Jefferson embraced an expansive understanding of education as the foundation for a republic of free and responsible individuals who understood their rights and stood ready to defend them.
Thomas Jefferson's Dualistic Enlightenment
The Limits of Optimism works to dispel persistent notions about Jefferson’s allegedly paradoxical and sphinx-like quality. Maurizio Valsania shows that Jefferson’s multifaceted character and personality are to a large extent the logical outcome of an anti-metaphysical, enlightened, and humility-oriented approach to reality. That Jefferson’s mind and priorities changed over time and in response to changing circumstances indicates neither incoherence, hypocrisy, nor pathology.
Valsania’s reading of Jefferson, the Enlightenment, and negativity helps to make sense of the many paradoxes typically associated with that eighteenth-century thinker. At the same time, it provides a corrective to the common though erroneous equation of Enlightenment thinking with rationalism and shallow optimism.
Reflections on the Founding Couple
Restored to its original splendor, Montpelier is now a national shrine, but before Montpelier became a place of study and tribute, it was a home. Often kept from it by the business of the young nation, James and Dolley Madison could finally take up permanent residence when they retired from Washington in 1817. Their lifelong friend Thomas Jefferson predicted that, at Montpelier, the retiring Madison could return to his "books and farm, to tranquility, and independence," that he would be released "from incessant labors, corroding anxieties, active enemies, and interested friends."
As the celebrated historian Ralph Ketcham shows, this would turn out to be only partly true. Although the Madisons were no longer in Washington, Dolley continued to take part in its social scene from afar, dominating it just as she had during Jefferson’s and her husband’s administrations, commenting on people and events there and advising the multitude of young people who thought of her as the creator of society life in the young republic. James maintained a steady correspondence about public questions ranging from Native American affairs, slavery, and utopian reform to religion and education. He also took an active role at the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-30, in the defeat of nullification, and in the establishment of the University of Virginia, of which he was the rector for eight years after Jefferson’s death. Exploring Madison’s role in these post-presidential issues reveals a man of extraordinary intellectual vitality and helps us to better understand Madison’s political thought. His friendships with figures such as Jefferson, James Monroe, and the Marquis de Lafayette--as well as his assessment of them (he outlived them all)--shed valuable light on the nature of the republic they had all helped found.
In their last years, James and Dolley Madison personified the republican institutions and culture of the new nation--James as the father of the Constitution and its chief propounder for nearly half a century, and Dolley as the creator of the role of "First Lady." Anything but uneventful, the retirement period at Montpelier should be seen as a crucial element in our understanding of this remarkable couple.
A Landscape Critic in the Gilded Age
Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer (1851–1934) was one of the premier figures in landscape writing and design at the turn of the twentieth century, a moment when the amateur pursuit of gardening and the increasingly professionalized landscape design field were beginning to diverge. This intellectual biography—the first in-depth study of the versatile critic and author—reveals Van Rensselaer’s vital role in this moment in the history of landscape architecture.
Van Rensselaer was one of the new breed of American art and architecture critics, closely examining the nature of her profession and bringing a disciplined scholarship to the craft. She considered herself a professional, leading the effort among women in the Gilded Age to claim the titles of artist, architect, critic, historian, and journalist. Thanks to the resources of her wealthy mercantile family, she had been given a sophisticated European education almost unheard of for a woman of her time. Her close relationship with Frederick Law Olmsted influenced her ideas on landscape gardening, and her interest in botany and geology shaped the ideas upon which her philosophy and art criticism were based. She also studied the works of Charles Darwin, Alexander von Humboldt, Henry David Thoreau, and many other nineteenth-century scientists and nature writers, which influenced her general belief in the relationship between science and the imagination.
Her cosmopolitan education and elevated social status gave her, much like her contemporary Edith Wharton, access to the homes and gardens of the upper classes. This allowed her to mingle with authors, artists, and affluent patrons of the arts and enabled her to write with familiarity about architecture and landscape design. Identifying over 330 previously unattributed editorials and unsigned articles authored by Van Rensselaer in the influential journal Garden and Forest—for which she was the sole female editorial voice—Judith Major offers insight into her ideas about the importance of botanical nomenclature, the similarities between landscape gardening and idealist painting, design in nature, and many other significant topics. Major’s critical examination of Van Rensselaer’s life and writings—which also includes selections from her correspondence—details not only her influential role in the creation of landscape architecture as a discipline but also her contribution to a broader public understanding of the arts in America.
Ignoring, Evading, and Trumping the Supreme Court
Based on an award-winning dissertation, Merely Judgment examines what happens after a Supreme Court decision is handed down--in particular how governments and other institutions can derail the implementation of Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action in governmental contracting; also flag burning, hate speech, and school prayer.
Postwar London and the West Indian Novel
In Migrant Modernism, J. Dillon Brown examines the intersection between British literary modernism and the foundational West Indian novels that emerged in London after World War II. By emphasizing the location in which anglophone Caribbean writers such as George Lamming, V. S. Naipaul, and Samuel Selvon produced and published their work, Brown reveals a dynamic convergence between modernism and postcolonial literature that has often been ignored. Modernist techniques not only provided a way for these writers to mark their difference from the aggressively English, literalist aesthetic that dominated postwar literature in London but also served as a self-critical medium through which to treat themes of nationalism, cultural inheritance, and identity.
Culture, Politics, and Time in Paris and Tokyo
As society becomes more global, many see the world’s great cities as becoming increasingly similar. But while contemporary cultures do depend on and resemble each other in previously unimagined ways, homogenization is sometimes overestimated. In his compelling new book, James W. White considers how two of the world’s great cities, Paris and Tokyo, may appear to be growing more alike--both are vast, modern, dominating, capitalist cities--but in fact remain profoundly different places.
The Evolving Latino Electorate and the Future of American Politics
The growth of the Latino population is the most significant demographic shift in the United States today. Yet growth alone cannot explain this population’s increasing impact on the electorate; nor can a parsing of its subethnicities. In the most significant analysis to date on the growing political activation of Latinos, Ricardo Ramírez identifies when and where Latino participation in the political process has come about as well as its many motivations. Using a state-centered approach, the author focuses on the interaction between demographic factors and political contexts, from long-term trends in party competition, to the resources and mobilization efforts of ethnic organizations and the Spanish-language media, to the perception of political threat as a basis for mobilization.
The picture that emerges is one of great temporal and geographic variation. In it, Ramírez captures the transformation of Latinos’ civic and political reality and the engines behind the evolution of this crucial electorate.
Race, Ethnicity, and Politics
From Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Ezra Pound
In The Modern Portrait Poem, Frances Dickey recovers the portrait as a poetic genre from the 1860s through the 1920s. Combining literary and art history, she examines the ways Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Swinburne, and J. M. Whistler transformed the genre of portraiture in both painting and poetry. She then shows how their new ways of looking at and thinking about the portrait subject migrated across the Atlantic to influence Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Amy Lowell, E. E. Cummings, and other poets. These poets creatively exposed the Victorian portrait to new influences ranging from Manet’s realism to modern dance, Futurism, and American avant-garde art. They also condensed, expanded, and combined the genre with other literary modes including epitaph, pastoral, and Bildungsroman.
Dickey challenges the tendency to view Modernism as a break with the past and as a transition from aural to visual orientation. She argues that the Victorian poets and painters inspired the new generation of Modernists to test their vision of Aestheticism against their perception of modernity and the relationship between image and text. In bridging historical periods, national boundaries, and disciplinary distinctions, Dickey makes a case for the continuity of this genre over the Victorian/Modernist divide and from Britain to the United States in a time of rapid change in the arts.
The America Begotten by Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings
The debate over the affair between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings rarely rises above the question of "Did they or didn’t they?" But lost in the argument over the existence of such a relationship are equally urgent questions about a history that is more complex, both sexually and culturally, than most of us realize. Mongrel Nation seeks to uncover this complexity, as well as the reasons it is so often obscured.
Clarence Walker contends that the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings must be seen not in isolation but in the broader context of interracial affairs within the plantation complex. Viewed from this perspective, the relationship was not unusual or aberrant but was fairly typical. For many, this is a disturbing realization, because it forces us to abandon the idea of American exceptionalism and re-examine slavery in America as part of a long, global history of slaveholders frequently crossing the color line.
More than many other societies--and despite our obvious mixed-race population--our nation has displayed particular reluctance to acknowledge this dynamic. In a country where, as early as 1662, interracial sex was already punishable by law, an understanding of the Hemings-Jefferson relationship has consistently met with resistance. From Jefferson’s time to our own, the general public denied--or remained oblivious to--the possibility of the affair. Historians, too, dismissed the idea, even when confronted with compelling arguments by fellow scholars. It took the DNA findings of 1998 to persuade many (although, to this day, doubters remain).
The refusal to admit the likelihood of this union between master and slave stems, of course, from Jefferson’s symbolic significance as a Founding Father. The president’s apologists, both before and after the DNA findings, have constructed an iconic Jefferson that tells us more about their own beliefs--and the often alarming demands of those beliefs--than it does about the interaction between slave owners and slaves. Much more than a search for the facts about two individuals, the debate over Jefferson and Hemings is emblematic of tensions in our society between competing conceptions of race and of our nation.