Dylan K. Rogers (University of Virginia)
Established in 1819 by Thomas Jeffferson, the University of Virginia (UVa) encapsulated a new form of innovative curriculum would become the later bedrock of the ideal of American higher education. The design of the University was revolutionary, including faithful evocations of classical architecture in America (Wilson et al. 2009). Lurking under the surface, though, was an institution physically tied to slavery, that stemmed from Jefferson’s misguided ideas about race (McInnis), and mis-readings of classical texts on slavery (Teets), and thus reinforced ‘traditional’ southern racial and social orders. Over the last decade archival research has revealed the true extent of the “landscape of slavery” within not only the built environment of UVa (see McInnis & Nelson), but also through pro-slavery thought taught by faculty and consumed by students (giving rise to UVa as a feeder school for the Confederacy; see Bowman & Santos; Taylor). Indeed, one of Jefferson’s motivations to create UVa was to ensure that students from the south were protected from northern Abolitionist teachings (Howard & Brophy). The field of Classics would help shape some of this thought through faculty, whether G.F. Holmes’ 1850 work on slavery in Aristotle or the looming figure of B. Gildersleeve, who taught at UVa from 1856-1876, served as a Confederate officer, and later buried in UVa’s Cemetery, but then went to famously to Johns Hopkins University in 1876 (Michalson).
After the Civil War, in Reconstruction and well beyond, pro-slavery sentiment still reigned around UVa (e.g., speeches of alumni decades later; see Varon). In 1866, E.A. Pollard, a UVa alumnus, devised the rhetorical framework of the Lost Cause (Varon). Indeed, in the latter part of the 19th century, a new racialized landscape was formed on the Grounds of UVa, that could be seen physically. For example, a Roman-style triumphal arch for Confederate soldiers on the south entrance of the Lawn was proposed in the 1890s, but it was abandoned for complex of buildings that would block out the view (and thus hide) a Free Black community, known aptly as Canada. The University administration would continue to set up a dangerous precedent until the mid-20th century, when UVa accepted donations from the KKK to help fund a gymnasium in 1921 (Von Daake) and the University promoted the study of eugenics—all of which fostered notions of white supremacy that is still seen today (Woolfork). Throughout the 19th century, UVa through its curriculum, overall design, and its built environment reinforced social and racial divisions. Further, this ‘landscape of memory’ has the power to highlight the allusions and misappropriations of the Classical past (e.g., the bronze statue of Homer on the south Lawn of M. Ezekiel, a so-called “Sculptors of the Confederacy”), while also diminishing the power of a group of people through targeted and aggressive acts (on Southern memory, see Brundage). As we break away from the shadow of Jefferson in the 21st century, work on the racialized landscapes of the 19th century continues, as we unpack the not-so-distant past to understand its ramifications on today.