TwHP Lessons

Thomas Jefferson's Plan for
the University of Virginia:
Lessons from the Lawn

[Photo] Aerial view of the Lawn today.
(Photograph by Dan Grogan)

[Drawing] The University of Virginia, 1826.
(The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, The Albert & Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia Library)

It is safer to have the whole people respectably enlightened than a few in a high state of science and the many in ignorance.

--Thomas Jefferson

Although Thomas Jefferson did not begin the effort of designing the University of Virginia in Charlottesville until late in his life, the education of the common man had occupied his thoughts for decades. He believed ignorance to be the enemy of freedom, and he wanted to correct what he considered to be the defects of educational institutions modeled on European settings and curriculum. He imagined that an "academical village" clustered around a tree-lined lawn would provide an ideal setting in which to pursue higher education. The focal point of such a village would be a Temple of Knowledge that would house the university library.

When the Virginia Legislature authorized a state university in 1818, the retired U.S. President finally was able to dedicate his intellect, time, and energy to creating this new kind of educational institution. By the time he was finished with his design, Jefferson had invented a uniquely American setting for higher education: the college campus.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Virginia and Washington, D.C.
 2. Charlottesville area, 1877

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. Education as the Keystone
 to the New Democracy

 2. Building the Academical Village
 3. Jefferson's Philosophy of Education

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. College of New Jersey, Princeton, 1764
 2. The University of Virginia, 1826
 3. Plan of the University of Virginia, 1825
 4. Study for Anatomical Theatre, c. 1825
 5. Students on the Lawn, 19th century
 6. Aerial view of the Lawn, 1997

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. A Village for Learning
 2. Local Schools
 3. Education through the Generations

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This lesson is based on the University of Virginia Historic District, among the thousands of historic districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The University of Virginia Historic District has also been designated a National Historic Landmark.



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