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Mr. Jefferson's Telescope

A History of the University of Virginia in One Hundred Objects
Brendan Wolfe

BUY Cloth · 248 pp. · 7 × 8 · ISBN 9780813940106 · $29.95 · Aug 2017

Thomas Jefferson considered the University of Virginia to be among his finest achievements--a living monument to his artistic and intellectual ambitions. Now, on the occasion of the University's bicentennial, Brendan Wolfe has assembled one hundred objects that, brought together in one fascinating book, offer a new, sometimes surprising history of Jefferson’s favorite project.

Mr. Jefferson’s Telescope begins with the years leading up to the University's 1819 founding and continues to the triumphs and challenges of the present day, each entry joining a full-color image with an engaging description that both stands alone and contributes to an engrossing larger narrative about how the school has evolved over time. Considering an orange and blue silk handkerchief, Wolfe reveals that the University’s school colors were originally cardinal red and gray--calling to mind a Confederate soldier’s blood-stained uniform but ultimately deemed not bright enough to stand out on muddy football fields. The record of an overdue book checked out by a young Edgar Allan Poe speaks to a long literary tradition. On the subject of a key to the Rotunda’s doors, Wolfe introduces us to its keeper, the Monticello-born ex-slave who rang the hourly bells on Grounds into the early twentieth century.

Beautifully illustrated with over one hundred new and archival images, this book brings to life a remarkable array of significant objects while offering to the reader the best introduction available to the history of Jefferson’s great institution.


[O]n Aug. 11, white supremacists carried torches on the very steps Jefferson designed, and fought with counterprotesters in clashes that turned deadly the next day in Charlottesville.... The librarians had been planning to open "The University of Virginia in 100 Objects" exhibit to the public Aug. 14, and delayed it for security reasons.... The exhibit is based on Brendan Wolfe’s book, Mr. Jefferson’s Telescope: A History of the University of Virginia in One Hundred Objects, and that simple idea manages to convey something incredibly complex. It’s a perfect counterpoint to the traditional narrative of the rise of a great university, Schwartzburg said. "It’s the exploding out of our idea of a university into a lot of small pieces," in a way that’s particularly fitting at a time when many different narratives of the past are being discussed and debated.

Washington Post

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