Roxanne and Jefferson thinking about the world’s big ideas.
I have three children and my house is loud, my attention often divided. This weekend my eldest daughter, Roxanne, and I flew from Boston to Richmond to spend the weekend together. Three days of uninterrupted time with just one child is a wonderful luxury. Roxanne loves history, especially presidential history (she memorized all of the presidents in order before she could read) and the focus of this trip was visiting Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville.
We had 9am tickets on Saturday morning and spent five hours touring the home, the grounds, the slave quarters, and the graves. We lingered over Jefferson’s double-side bed alcove and marveled at his system of dumb waiters that brought bottles of wine and different champagne bottle sizes up to the dining room from the cellar below. With that, we also learned how to store fine wine. We also battled with what it meant for the author of the Declaration of Independence to own hundreds of people and to father children with his slave. It was intense.
Jefferson was clearly interested in optimizing things in his day-to-day life. He put the double doors of his house on pulleys so that when you closed one the other would close at the same time. He soaked his feet in cold water for 20 minutes each morning to increase circulation. Roxanne and I joked that Jefferson would be a lifehacker if he was alive today.
Jefferson valued ideas. At a time when books were rare and expensive, he had hundreds and he read in seven languages in order to access them all. He was an avid correspondent and devised a sort of copy machine so that he could retain a copy of every letter. He would have been a great blogger.
What impressed me most about this glimpse into Jefferson’s life was his strongly held belief that ideas should flow freely. Rather than hording them away on his mountain top, Jefferson felt compelled to share what he knew and to create systems that would allow all of us to live better lives.
He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself, without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. – Thomas Jefferson
This statement struck me so deeply, especially on the way home when, facing a two hour flight delay, I bought How Google Works in the airport bookstore. Written by the company’s Executive Chairman and former CEO, this book explains how Google came to be one of the largest and most valuable companies in the world. While Roxanne watched a movie I read the book, including this:
Many incumbents – aka pre-Internet companies – built their businesses based on assumptions of scarcity: scarce information, scarce distribution resources and market reach, or scarce choice and shelf space. Now, though, these factors are abundant, lowering or eliminating barriers to entry and making entire industries ripe for change.
Jefferson would have loved the internet, and he would have especially loved Google. We live in a time where ideas flow more freely than ever before. Rather than relying on control of information or a stranglehold on distribution, brands of all sizes (from the big 4 sewing pattern companies to the indie designer in her home studio; from major media outlets to the lone blogger) compete based on the quality of their product and the experience they’re able to provide.
We made it home on Sunday night facing a week jam packed with school assemblies and ceremonies. This weekend of connectedness with one another and with big ideas past and present is carrying us through the hecticness that the end of the school year brings.
Thank you for sharing some of the treasures from your weekend and the lessons you’re weaving from the past to the present. Hope your busy week goes well!
Sarah @BerryBarnDesigns says
I’m so glad you got to get away for some quiet parent/child time, and to see Monticello! I went last summer and was fascinated by the tweaks he’d made to create a more efficient day-to-day flow in his house. I was especially impressed with the knowledge of the staff because we learned so much from them. I don’t remember another recent museum or historical site visit I’ve made where the tour guides shared so much insight in such a relatively fast paced tour. I wish they had restored more of Mulbery Row, though I think there are new buildings there since we visited.
Monticello is very well done as a historical site and museum. We were super impressed. They’re definitely working on expanding the exhibits on slavery and the guide who took us on the slavery tour was truly fantastic. I learned so much! It was like a college course.
On this page under “You Might Also Like” is the link to your Happy Halloween! posting. It is easy to see your daughter’s love of history beginning as a very small child in the costume choices she’s made through the years. Thank goodness you have the talent to keep up with your girls’ creative (and no doubt challenging) ideas!
She loves to dress as historical characters and always has 🙂
Your daughter might enjoy historical fiction author Ann Rinaldi. She wrote “Wolf by the Ears” which was a novel from the perspective of one of Thomas Jefferson’s teenaged female slaves. She’s written many of my teenaged favorites, and I still find them to have stood the test of time as an adult reader.
Robyn Fogler says
So glad that you enjoyed Monticello. It’s practically in my backyard but, I haven’t made a visit in a few years. They had updated so much of it, I need to plan a trip soon. As well as Ashlawn and Montpelier. There is so much history in our lovely little area….as with your area.
Pearl Moon says
what an interesting post. Though I was born in New Zealand and have lived the last 30 years in Australia I’ve always loved American history. For about 3 months I’ve been slowly ploughing through a book called “The Hemingses of Monticello” which is the story of Jeffersons relationship with Sally Hemings, their lives together and the children they had. I’m only about three quarters of the way through it and its a fascinating read from a historical, sociological and feminist viewpoint. I was thrilled to see the photo of you and your daughter standing outside Monticello….the very house and doorway that those two people walked in and out of for decades…
I hope you’ll get to visit Monticello some day!
Allison S. says
Ideas can flow more freely with the internet; but you have to look for them. Google’s algorithm determines what you see, based on your previous search history, your physical location, the type of computer/device, and many other factors. The end result is that if it thinks you’re more conservative/liberal, it will show you results that align with those views, and you won’t be exposed to other viewpoints. I wonder how much this has influenced our current political climate.
I highly recommend Eli Parisier’s TED talk on Filter Bubbles. https://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles
Jess @ Quilty Habit says
Jefferson and his life have always fascinated me. I think you’re right when you say that he’d LOVE the internet. I remember seeing a snippet of his library (I believe at the Library of Congress) and wanting to spend hours there. I hope to get to Monticello someday… so glad you and Roxanne had this experience together!