“Beyond Jefferson: The Hemingses and Randolphs and the Making of Nineteenth-Century America,” 12/1 Colloquium with UVA’s Christa Dierksheide


For the final Friday Colloquium Series presentation of the Fall 2023 semester, Kinder Institute Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow Christa Dierksheide, on leave for the year from University of Virginia, will explore how two Founding Era principles central to Jefferson’s understanding of the nation’s republican project, equality and independence, were redefined by his descendants, in widely varying terms, to fit a historical context half a century removed from the Declaration of Independence. The talk will take place on December 1 at 3:30pm in Jesse 410.


In the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson repeated an important phrase—later edited out by Congress—in the first two paragraphs: “equal & independent.”

Equality and independence—for nations and for individual Americans—were entwined and definitive principles that would influence and direct successive generations of U.S. citizens as they sought to perfect the republican project after 1776. But, he cautioned, each new generation would have to look to its own “reason and experience”—not that of the Founders in the Revolutionary era—to interpret and apply those principles in new and more progressive ways.

This critical idea—of enduring principles harnessed to changing circumstances—defined the United States in the long nineteenth century. And it allowed the rising generation of Jefferson’s own family members to redefine equality and independence within a historical context that was at least a half century removed from the American Revolution. The question of how to better secure or preserve these Founding era principles remained pressing questions for the Hemingses and Randolphs, yet their answers varied widely, reflecting the “experience of the present” rather than the “wisdom” of the past.


Christa Dierksheide is Brockman Foundation Jefferson Scholars Foundation Professor and Associate Professor of History at the University of Virginia. She is the author of Amelioration and Empire: Progress and Slavery in the Plantation Americas, 1770-1840 (Virginia, 2014) and a forthcoming global history of Jefferson’s family members on both sides of the color line, ca. 1820-1880 (Yale). Formerly Historian at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello, she has curated several exhibitions and written and lectured about the early United States for a wide variety of scholarly and public audiences. Her next project is the first book-length study on Jefferson and slavery in forty years, co-authored with Nicholas Guyatt.