Jefferson-Hemings Controversy Digital Library Project

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Ed Gallagher photo

This summer, LTS’ Library Technology Team launched The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy, the latest in a series of e-history projects by Ed Gallagher, Professor of English. Gallagher’s suite of websites, known collectively as History on Trial, examines various controversies concerning the representation of history. This addition, described as "properly provocative" by Jefferson scholar Andrew Burstein, focuses on the debate surrounding Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings.

Historian Joseph Ellis has remarked that “[t]he alleged liaison between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings may be described as the longest-running miniseries in American history." Using this quip as a framework for analysis and discussion, The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy presents sixteen “episodes”, each representing a key development in the evolution of the controversy. Each section includes primary and secondary sources, commentary and analysis by students, tools for teaching and learning, and other resources.

The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy includes contributions from approximately seventy-five students from four different courses, spanning the period of 2009-2012 and ranging from a seminar for entering students to a senior seminar for English majors. Gallagher motivates students to “experience the controversy step-by-step rather than just be told about it, to live in each moment, to witness ‘history’ changing, and ultimately to come to their own conclusions about the truth of a relationship and the significance of the enduring controversy.” Erica Prosser ’11 relates that “[e]xamining the scandal reveals biases in our national records, and, if nothing else, it encourages us to dig deeper into our past to discover the voices and experiences of the forgotten.”

In addition to Julia Maserjian and Rob Weidman of the Library Technology Team, a number of LTS staff supported the development of this project. The site features a series of images created by students under the supervision of Johanna Brams. This included design concept by Darien Hester, design treatments by Darien Hester and Monica Shell, and modifications by Lauren Glackin. The Lending Services Team was instrumental in obtaining the materials for the research presented on the site. Finally, graduate student Marcela Gamallo provided research assistance while undergraduate Doug Christman assisted with web development.

The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy is an organic work that will evolve with the controversy that it covers. All are invited to explore this resource and provide feedback and possible additions for supplementing and expanding the scholarship presented. Professor Gallagher will discuss his project at a Friends of Libraries sponsored event on Thursday, September 26th at 4:00 pm in the Scheler Humanities Forum (Linderman Library Room 200).