Jane Kamensky, new President of Monticello. Courtesy of Harvard Crimson. Photo credit Soumyaa Mazumder

by James C. Sherlock

She is certainly qualified.

On Oct. 17 the Thomas Jefferson Foundation announced that Jane Kamensky, Harvard history professor and director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, will be the next president of Monticello.

From an interview with Harvard Crimson.

  • “The combination of celebration, commemoration, and reckoning that takes place at Monticello in 2026 will not only do all those things, but will show America how to do it,” she said.
  • Kamensky said she looks forward to engaging the American public, especially young people, in a “shifted tone of conversation about American ideals and imperfections and possibilities,” she said.

“Show America how to do it” is an aggressive vision, but we wish her well.

There is evidence that there are mines in that field. She needs to try to carefully clear them, not set them off.

From the same interview:

She described Monticello as a nexus for “people who are attached to many different kinds of narratives about American beginnings — including the narrative that we were a nation founded in slavery, and the narrative that we were a nation founded in liberty.”

“It’s a place that has to confront that with every tour group, every guided group that goes through the house,” she added.

In particular, Kamensky said she sees Monticello as “a place that demonstrates that we can disagree fruitfully and that we can overcome our partisan divides.”

I agree with much in her interview. She seems sincere and not hard left. I agree with the first paragraph quoted above.

But the next two are somewhat charged.

Confront. The use of the verb “confront” in the second paragraph is more than unfortunate. The meanings of confront in the Oxford dictionaries include:

  • “meet (someone) face to face with hostile or argumentative intent”;
  • “(of a problem, difficulty, etc.) present itself to (someone) so that dealing with it cannot be avoided”;
  • “compel (someone) to face or consider something, especially by way of accusation”;
  • “appear or be placed in front of (someone) so as to unsettle or threaten”.

Most are looking for a live version of the virtual tour. Just the facts.

She will have to ride herd on the young tour guides. The last thing parents want on a family outing is confrontation on complex issues by people they have never met.

The same caution about off-script musings by guides applies to the live and digital school field trips.

The Monticello Teachers Institute seems ripe for her vision, if she can find social studies teachers willing to speak of Jefferson’s undeniable greatness as well as his weaknesses and sins, including the owning of slaves.

Partisan divides. Most Americans have been disabused of any notion “that disagree fruitfully and that we can overcome our partisan divides.”

In order to do so, Kamensky believes that “we need multiple arguments from multiple sides on any issue to move forward to a more complete truth and a more perfect union.”

Just not on an afternoon outing at Monticello.

Since December 19, 1960, Monticello has been a National Historic Landmark. It is a place for research. But it is not a university classroom.

It achieved National Historic Landmark status on the same day and year as Montpelier, Mount Vernon, the White House of the Confederacy, John Marshall House, Gunston Hall, Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University, Fort Monroe, Five Forks Battlefield and Oak Hill.

Further:

Kamensky said she sees an opportunity for Monticello to use this trust for “frontline epistemology work with an incredibly diverse American public” and to present “even hard evidence fairly and in a way that is generous to the people who created it, but also rigorous and honest.”

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge. As such, it is enormously complex and the practice of that trade is very unlikely to lead to agreement of what constitutes “hard evidence,” much less on its meaning.

Bottom line. That said, I think Dr. Kamensky has an opportunity to improve the understanding and presentations of both Jefferson and Monticello.

Jefferson himself was a walking contradiction. But he was a true giant in the history of democracy. Not every sentence about him needs to include the word “but.”

She will grow to understand that most of the tourists at that National Historic Landmark don’t go there to hear from or to be lectured to by young guns of the DEI left.


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Comments

22 responses to “Harvard History Professor to Lead Monticello”

  1. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    If Melody Barnes is still the chair of the Monticello foundation, then this is just another Harvard radical.

    The Marxist language is exactly what you don’t want to believe, but that is how Marxists roll, using words to deceive, like DEI, which is monoculture, racially divisive and exclusionary for those who do not toe the monocultural line…

  2. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    The first order of business for President Kamensky is addressing the outrageous ticket price of 42 bucks.

    A much better bargain can be found at the George Washington Foundation’s two historic properties in Fredericksburg. Ferry Farm and Kenmore. For 24 dollars you get two great house tours that are informative, even handed, and just plain good old-fashioned history. Confrontation and awkwardness not included. And for no extra charge I will be delighted to be your host and guide.
    https://kenmore.org/

  3. William O'Keefe Avatar
    William O’Keefe

    Monticello should be a place where people can learn objective facts about Thomas Jefferson–the good and bad–and not a forum to promote what some might call critical race theory. History is a story that should be told as accurately as possible.
    What we don’t need is what Walter Smith refers to as Marxist language or words that deceive or diminish Jefferson’s genius.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      History is more than objective facts. An objective fact is that Virginia schools were racially segregated until the 1960s. A more complete history would be the effect that had on generations of Black students. The United States was involved in a war in Vietnam, which became unpopular. That is a fact. A more complete history would examine the changes in U.S. society that resulted from that war and opposition to it. The approach to history as being just “objective facts” is the reason that a lot of students are turned off to that subject in school.

      However, if we want to stick to facts, here are some:
      1. Jefferson, the man who wrote that “all men are equal,” had slaves.
      2. Jefferson worked young boys (10-12 years old) in his nail factory, which was a good source of profit for him.
      3. These boys were sometimes whipped to get them to work.
      4. One boy, after causing trouble, was sold down South as an example to the other boys.
      5. Jefferson’s slaves that escaped were whipped when captured.
      https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-dark-side-of-thomas-jefferson-35976004/

      1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        Thanks Dick. Those things are among Mr. Jefferson’s sins of which I wrote.

        They are taught in every public school in Virginia.

        Do you think they need to be taught again to everyone visiting Monticello with their kids for an outing?

      2. walter smith Avatar
        walter smith

        Those are bad facts. You mean Jefferson wasn’t perfect? Wow. Wouldn’t have thought that, except maybe those evil, uneducated unwashed Christians who we are so superior to, while running elections where the most important thing is the right to kill a baby, with no limits, because that baby is not created equal. We are perfect and enlightened. Shut up peasants!
        Shall I go on about immoral monsters judging without any humility or humanity or awareness of their own shortcomings. Yeah, put a person full of hate in charge of the Memory Project to melt a statue of Lee…
        Hey, did you know the only cause of the Civil War was the virtuous North desiring to end the evil of slavery and the only reason the South fought was because the South was evil? Simple. So how come the North fought to “save” the “union” if it fought to keep morally evil people in?
        Wake up all you Leftist tools. And you are tools…

      3. Matt Adams Avatar
        Matt Adams

        “History is more than objective facts.”

        That’s completely and utterly false, history is nothing but facts. Most times written by the victors or those who were left.

        “1. Jefferson, the man who wrote that “all men are equal,” had slaves.”

        Presentism, he was unable to under Virginia law at the time.

        “2. Jefferson worked young boys (10-12 years old) in his nail factory, which was a good source of profit for him.
        3. These boys were sometimes whipped to get them to work.
        4. One boy, after causing trouble, was sold down South as an example to the other boys.
        5. Jefferson’s slaves that escaped were whipped when captured.”

        All listed items are examples of presentism, does it make them right, no.

        You’re also not viewing as objective fact, because if you were to use objectivity you’d not be using your “presentism” argument.

      4. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        Thanks Dick. Those things are among Mr. Jefferson’s sins of which I wrote.

        They are taught in every public school in Virginia.

        Do you think they need to be taught again to everyone visiting Monticello with their kids for an outing?

      5. William O'Keefe Avatar
        William O’Keefe

        What I meant was history that is more or less verifiable and not speculation that distorts facts. Jefferson like all of us was a flawed human being but in addition to the facts you cite is the facts that he attempted to insert anti-slavery language in the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Constitution.
        History is multi-dimensional and should cover all documented sides equally.
        I hope this clarifies what I meant.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    Poplar Forest is also a part of Jefferson’s life to be included in interpretation.

  5. DJRippert Avatar

    She sounds like a great choice. Time will tell if that’s right, but ….

    In order to do so, Kamensky believes that “we need multiple arguments from multiple sides on any issue to move forward to a more complete truth and a more perfect union.”

    is a key concept.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    There are undeniable changes to how we interpret history and sharp differences of opinion as to how and what especially
    with regard to slavery and Native Americans.

    A couple of examples:

    ” Dozens of bird names honoring enslavers and racists will be changed

    The American Ornithological Society says it will alter the names of North American birds named after humans, starting with up to 80 of them”

    https://wapo.st/3Mr8fDw

    and

    “In 1879, the Little Bighorn Battlefield was designated a national cemetery administered by the War Department. In 1881, a memorial was erected on Last Stand Hill, over the mass grave of the Seventh Cavalry soldiers, U.S. Indian Scouts, and other personnel killed in battle. In 1940, jurisdiction of the battlefield was transferred to the National Park Service. These early interpretations were largely mono-cultural, honoring only the U.S. Army’s perspective, with headstones marking where each fell.

    “In 1991 the U. S. Congress changed the name of the battlefield and ordered the construction of an Indian Memorial. In 1996, the National Park Service – guided by the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument Advisory Committee, made up of members from the Indian nations involved in the battle, historians, artists and landscape architects – conducted a national design competition. In 1997, a winning design was selected.”

    https://www.nps.gov/libi/learn/historyculture/indian-memorial.htm

    1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead

      Mr. Larry. Lawrence Taliaferro of King George County was a slave owner and Indian Agent (stealer of land).
      https://aaregistry.org/story/lawrence-taliaferro-soldier-and-slave-owner-born/
      Because of these facts the name Lawrence is tainted in sin. We hereby request that you change your name Lawrence and drop Larry too. This will bring you into good standing with the left.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        you’re starting to sound like Walter… James…

        1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
          James Wyatt Whitehead

          You can adopt James if you like! But on the BR you will have to take the number 6 since I am the 5th of my line.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            I like your sense of humor… 😉 Need more of it… but you could tweak some of your conservative
            instincts a bit… 😉

  7. killerhertz Avatar
    killerhertz

    Wouldn’t trust her based on the cut of her jib and surname.

  8. Lefty665 Avatar

    “Kamensky believes that “we need multiple arguments from multiple sides on any issue to move forward to a more complete truth and a more perfect union.”

    How will we get to multiple sides on slavery? Will those who think it was hateful and that those who owned slaves should be expunged from public recognition and their images melted down “disagree fruitfully” that there were multiple sides to the issue?

    That seems an unlikely dialogue, and in anticipation I am stocking up on popcorn. Does Ms Kamensky get combat pay?

  9. Lefty665 Avatar

    “Kamensky believes that “we need multiple arguments from multiple sides on any issue to move forward to a more complete truth and a more perfect union.”

    How will we get to multiple sides on slavery? Will those who think it was hateful and that those who owned slaves should be expunged from public recognition and their images melted down “disagree fruitfully” that there were multiple sides to the issue?

    That seems an unlikely dialogue, and in anticipation I am stocking up on popcorn. Does Ms Kamensky get combat pay?

  10. Lefty665 Avatar

    “Kamensky believes that “we need multiple arguments from multiple sides on any issue to move forward to a more complete truth and a more perfect union.”

    How will we get to multiple sides on slavery? Will those who think it was hateful and that those who owned slaves should be expunged from public recognition and their images melted down “disagree fruitfully” that there were multiple sides to the issue?

    That seems an unlikely dialogue, and in anticipation I am stocking up on popcorn. Does Ms Kamensky get combat pay?

  11. Lefty665 Avatar

    “Kamensky believes that “we need multiple arguments from multiple sides on any issue to move forward to a more complete truth and a more perfect union.”

    How will we get to multiple sides on slavery? Will those who think it was hateful and that those who owned slaves should be expunged from public recognition and their images melted down “disagree fruitfully” that there were multiple sides to the issue?

    I am also having trouble even conceptualizing what multiple sides to slavery would be. As valuable property many slaves were treated well? Many slaves had better lives than their relatives in Africa? Sally had nice quarters in the basement of the big house? Some free black people owned slaves too? I don’t see much beyond a binary on slavery, it is either good or bad.

    Slavery seems unlikely to be a fruitful dialogue with many sides, but it is a primary issue at Monticello. In anticipation I am stocking up on popcorn. Does Ms Kamensky get combat pay?

    1. Matt Adams Avatar
      Matt Adams

      She might go and crush their “presentism” based knowledge, not long of the job.

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