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Thomas Jefferson, the Classical World, and Early America

Edited by Peter S. Onuf and Nicholas P. Cole

BUY Ebook · 328 pp. · ISBN 9780813931821 · $32.00 · Oct 2011
BUY Paper · 328 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813934433 · $32.00 · Mar 2013

Thomas Jefferson read Latin and Greek authors throughout his life and wrote movingly about his love of the ancient texts, which he thought should be at the core of America's curriculum. Yet at the same time, Jefferson warned his countrymen not to look to the ancient world for modern lessons and deplored many of the ways his peers used classical authors to address contemporary questions. As a result, the contribution of the ancient world to the thought of America's most classically educated Founding Father remains difficult to assess.

This volume brings together historians of political thought with classicists and historians of art and culture to find new approaches to the difficult questions raised by America's classical heritage. The essays explore the classical contribution to different aspects of Jefferson’s thought and taste, as well as examining the significance of the ancient world to America in a broader historical context. The diverse interests and methodologies of the contributors suggest new ways of approaching one of the most prominent and contested of the traditions that helped create America's revolutionary republicanism.

Contributors:Gordon S. Wood, Brown University * Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia * Michael P. Zuckert, University of Notre Dame * Caroline Winterer, Stanford University * Richard Guy Wilson, University of Virginia * Maurie D. McInnis, University of Virginia * Nicholas P. Cole, University of Oxford * Peter Thompson, University of Oxford * Eran Shalev, Haifa University * Paul A. Rahe, Hillsdale College * Jennifer T. Roberts, City University of New York, Graduate Center * Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy, University of Virginia


This well-written, thoroughly researched, highly provocative collection of essays by eminent scholars makes a significant contribution to an understanding of Jefferson’s classicism.

Carl J. Richard, University of Louisiana at Lafayette · author of Greeks and Romans Bearing Gifts: How the Ancients Inspired the Founding Fathers

This is a striking collection of essays. Jefferson associated classicism with ideas of beauty and taste, and ideals of health, virtue, and contentment. Yet this volume says much more, going beyond Jefferson to address broader intellectual currents and matters of historical consciousness. Importantly, the contributors do not shy from questioning traditional assumptions about the centrality of classical knowledge in the political thought of early Americans. Diverse and greatly appealing.

Andrew Burstein, Louisiana State University · author of Jefferson’s Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello

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