April 9, 2014
Samuel G. Freedman
: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau
: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau
: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
April 8, 2014
Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease
Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear
April 4, 2014
A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children
Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet
Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds
Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves
April 2, 2014
Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?
Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities
It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene
Jewish World Review
April 14, 2009
/ 20 Nisan 5769
Do we really need interactive exhibits to bring Jefferson to life?
Odd though it sounds, I can confirm that there is deep satisfaction to be had in watching one's child clutch the pen of Thomas Jefferson's "polygraph machine," steady it with his grubby hands, and carefully draw two identically wobbly circles. The machine in question wasn't really Jefferson's own, of course; it is a copy, part of the children's exhibit at the new Monticello visitor center, which officially opens April 15.
Whether it was new or old, my 8-year-old couldn't have cared less. He instantly understood the principle of the thing the pen is attached to a metal contraption, which is itself attached to another pen as well as why Jefferson called it "the finest invention of the present age": In an era before Xerox machines, the polygraph automatically made copies of his written correspondence. For a man who wrote some 19,000 letters, this was a real time-saver.
When I first visited Monticello more than 30 years ago, there was no polygraph machine to play with. Inside the house, one could gaze, in silence, upon the original. One could also hear the guide's reverent description of how Jefferson had invented it, along with the seven-day clock in the hall, the dumbwaiter that brought wine from the cellar, and the revolving bookstand. Nowadays, the tour guides agree disappointingly that Jefferson's only original invention was a rather dull plow. All the quirkier gadgets at Monticello were either adapted or copied from something else.
Other aspects of the Monticello visit have changed. In the new exhibition halls and on the house tour, a lot more is said about the people whom our guide called the "enslaved residents" of the estate. Some of them, it turns out, built those gadgets by hand. Others helped bring Jefferson's architectural, agricultural, and culinary visions to life. One of them, Sally Hemings, may have been the mother of some his children. The foundations of slave cabins are clearly marked in the garden, and the remains of slave pottery and tools, recent archeological finds, are prominently displayed.
It makes for a different experience from the one I remembered. Nowadays, hagiography is out. Historical reconstruction is in. Silent contemplation of the great man's possessions is out. Recent scholarship about those possessions is firmly in. Interactive games and objects are in, too. This is not unique to Monticello Mozart's house in Vienna has undergone a similar transformation but it is particularly striking at the home of our third president. The piety that once surrounded all relics of all Founding Fathers has given way to galleries where adults can press buttons to read Jefferson quotations and then see the Venezuelan Declaration of Independence those quotes inspired as well as a "discovery room" where children can build mini-Monticellos with wooden blocks.
Some people won't like it, and I understand their skepticism, at least in theory. The words "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are part of our national DNA. Do we really need to reread that famous preamble on a screen or to hold the polygraph in our hands in order to understand how it works? Actually, we do. Monticello's longtime curator Susan Stein reckons that many Americans who visit the house no longer know Jefferson's words, let alone the way they have echoed around the world. Besides, as an Easter-weekend activity, Monticello now has a lot of competition: amusement parks, Monsters vs. Aliens, Grand Theft Auto. Every generation rewrites its history books, so why shouldn't every generation redesign its museums, too?
In practice, the new Monticello exhibitions are superb. The honest discussion of slavery makes Jefferson more complicated, more interesting, and more real than he used to be. The displays of his meticulous account books and daily weather records show off his appetite for knowledge as well as his persnickety love of detail. The high-tech exhibits take some getting used to, but at least they are aimed well above the eighth-grade level to which most American museums aspire. There is something for everybody: In one room, I watched a Muslim woman reading about Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on one wall while some children gleefully stamped on the floor in order to make Jeffersonian quotations appear on the wall opposite.
I won't say, "Jefferson would love it," because, given his love of rural peace and quiet, I suspect he wouldn't. Still, it seems appropriate and rather a relief in these gloomy times to report on the successful modernization of a place that was, after all, built as a monument to progress. Jefferson's ideas have kept up with the times; it's great that his house has, too.
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Gulag: A History
Nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union's labor camps in their more than 60 years of operation. This remarkable volume, the first fully documented history of the gulag, describes how, largely under Stalin's watch, a regulated, centralized system of prison labor-unprecedented in scope-gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Fueled by waves of capricious arrests, this prison labor came to underpin the Soviet economy. JWR's Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for the Economist and a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, draws on newly accessible Soviet archives as well as scores of camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the gulag's origins and expansion Sales help fund JWR.
Comment on JWR contributor Anne Applebaum's column by clicking here.
04/07/09: No Nukes? No Thanks: Obama's odd obsession with universal nuclear disarmament
03/31/09: What's Loud, Unnecessary, and Costs $75 Million?
03/03/09: European Disunion
02/24/09: Who cares what Hillary Clinton says to China's leaders about human rights?
02/17/09: Witless protection
02/10/09: Our Ticket Out of Afghanistan
01/27/09:Why some foreigners can't believe Obama won the presidency fair and square
01/20/09: A Flight Test for All of Us
01/14/09: Europe's New Cold War
01/07/09: Pointless Peace Proposals
12/30/08: The magnificent rhetorical legacy of the Founding Fathers
12/23/08: Do riots in Athens portend demonstrations in Paris and Cincinnati?
12/16/08: Breach of Trust: Bernard Madoff's massive fraud will cripple American capitalism
12/09/08: In praise of charismatic politicians
12/03/08: Moscow's Empire of Dust
11/20/08: Getting Past Mythmaking In Georgia
11/12/08: In Praise of Political Rock Stars
10/03/08: Election Day myths you must resist
09/30/08: Not just a metaphor: Lehman Brothers was economic's 9/11
09/04/08: Class of '64
08/28/08: Did Hillary really help the Barack cause?
08/27/08: Show of Power, Indeed
08/19/08: What Is Russia Afraid Of?
08/13/08: When China Starved
08/11/08: Two of the world's rising powers are strutting their stuff
08/05/08: How Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago changed the world
07/29/08:The Hour of Europe Tolls Again … But are European politicians up to the task?
07/15/08: Why Does Obama Want To Campaign in Berlin?
07/01/08: Citizen Athletes: How did a guy who can't speak Polish end up scoring Poland's only goal of Euro 2008?
06/24/08: Why do we expect presidential candidates to be kind?
06/17/08: Pity the Poor Eurocrats
06/12/08: Is the World Ready for a Black American President?
05/28/08: The Busiest Generation: America seems to value its children's status and achievements over their happiness
05/20/08: Leave Hitler Out of It: The craze for injecting the Nazis into political debate must end
05/13/08: A Drastic Remedy: The case for intervention in Burma
05/07/08: A Warning Shot From Moscow?
04/23/08: Radio to stay tuned to
04/17/08: China learns the price of a few weeks of global attention
04/01/08: Head scarves are potent political symbols
03/26/08: The Olympics are the perfect place for a protest
03/19/08: Could Tibet bring down modern China?
03/12/08: Have political autobiographies made us more susceptible to fake memoirs?
03/05/08: Why does Russia bother to hold elections?
02/20/08: Kosovo is a textbook example of the law of unintended consequences
02/06/08: A Craven Canterbury Tale
02/06/08: French prez' whirlwind romance reminds voters of his political recklessness
© 2008, Anne Applebaum