Visiting History: The Paradox of Liberty

Teachers investigate the paradox of liberty through primary sources on display by National Museum of African American History and Culture, hosted by the Museum of American History. This workshop was part of the 2012-2013 TAH program.

The Paradox of Liberty: Part I

In this segment, Dr. Rex Ellis introduces the exhibit, Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: The Paradox of Liberty. The exhibit is constructed so that visitors can investigate Jefferson’s public and private life, while also considering Monticello through its enslaved population. The entryway to the exhibit exemplifies the paradox between the idea of liberty and the slave owners who fought for it.

The Paradox of Liberty: Part II

A product of his time: Teachers discuss the institution of slavery and how Jefferson’s attitudes were contingent on the values and economic system that characterized the 19th century. Many also point out the primary sources throughout the exhibit that reveal more about life at Monticello.

The Paradox of Liberty: Part III

What do you notice? Teachers turn their attention to objects or primary sources that they found surprising. Dr. Ellis then elaborates on some of these ideas and teachers think about the choices that were made in constructing the exhibit to represent slave life at Monticello.

The Paradox of Liberty: Part IV

Through different lenses: Teachers discuss how presentism affects our perceptions of Jefferson and the Paradox of Liberty. Also, that understanding Jefferson requires a collection of multiple perspectives in order to piece together his private and public life during the time in which he lived.

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