Spotlight on Current Students
The Real Thing: Westovers in the Jefferson Colloquium Go to Monticello
On Sunday, October 6, a majority of the students in the Westover Colloquium on Thomas Jefferson travelled to Monticello to take a privileged tour of the historic site of Monticello. The class has been studying Jefferson intensely, already having covered a biography on Jefferson, as well as a multitude of his letters.
This prior knowledge made the trip even more rewarding than going the site without the class, though Monticello is heavily visited throughout the year. Walking up from the newly established visitor center at the bottom of the “Little Mountain,” the students, led by their professor Tracy Simmons, made the ascent by foot to see the cemetery where Jefferson lies, and to approach the house as the many historic visitors to Monticello had come to see Jefferson.
As the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, the third president of the United States, and perhaps the first true American connoisseur of wine, Jefferson lived a lavish lifestyle. The debt that haunted him throughout his life is better understood upon seeing his fantastic abode. With approximately 180 people living there at a given time, including slaves and servants, the house is marvelous, as are the surrounding historic gardens and foliage, much of which had come originally from Jefferson’s research abroad.
After trekking up, down, and around the mountain, the bunch was treated by Professor Simmons to a fine Italian dinner and time together to reflect on their experience, what they found most intriguing, and how their prior knowledge interacted with what the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the current proprietor of the estate, presented on the tour.
One locus of interest was the Foundation’s standpoint on the inconclusive evidence that Jefferson had a relationship with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings, which it presents as fact during the tour. Hemmings, a slave at Monticello, bore six children before she died, and it is possible that they were Jefferson’s offspring. There has been no solid evidence either way, despite the extensive DNA testing, but their relationship remains one of the many mysteries and potential contradictions for which Jefferson is so well known.
Shakespeare Lives! Westovers Delight in Discovering London, the Globe, and More
This summer, five Westover Honors students, along with other students from their Shakespeare class, took a study abroad course in London, led by their teacher, Dr. Robin Bates. Becca Brummett, Sammie Chapman, Paige Hammock, Emma Kinsey, Erin Gough, and Deirdre Scanlon all returned home excited about new academic, cultural, and experiential enrichments.
Among the favorite discoveries in London were the interactive Theatre and Performance exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Kew Gardens, Piccadilly Circus, and Covent Garden where, Emma writes, “always a musician [was] playing right in the street at a place that we began to call ‘music square’ because it was so frequented, and often times we would sit right on the curb in the sun and listen to people sing as we wrote. The comfortable coexistence of so many people created an atmosphere like no other and provided an amazing place to visit often while we were in London.”
Sammie and Deirdre were most impressed by the tour and workshop at the Globe Theatre: “Being able to see the actors at work while they rehearsed for A Midsummer Night's Dream was an unreal experience. The workshop that followed provided great insight into the acting process.” After seeing the rehearsal, students got to experience the stage from the perspective of “groundlings, standing in the pit, for The Tempest.” “It was so amazing to see a Shakespeare play on Shakespeare's stage.”
Deeply impressed by being able to do some research in the British Library, Paige writes: “Although not all students had the opportunity to go, I am incredibly fortunate to have been able to. I was able to start work on my thesis by working directly with the text I am using--which, mind you, is from 1641 and I was terrified of accidentally tearing pages--and it is something I am hoping to do again in the not too distant future. It was surreal working with a text that I had only seen in PDF version before, and it's an addiction I likely won't be able to shake.”
Becca was pleasantly surprised by English cultural attitudes, first toward the presence of dogs everywhere, including on the tube, “. . . once even sitting in the seat next to its owner,” and then toward smoking: “Almost everyone who was not obviously a tourist was smoking. ...Yet, as far as I could tell anti-smoking campaigns were nonexistent....In London I never saw or heard an anti-smoking advertisement.”
Other Westovers were in awe of the human diversity in the city: “Although the city is tiny [compared] to many American cities and states, it felt incredibly expansive; each borough provided a unique cultural experience despite each being located within London, and I was able to experience a wide-range of customs as a result.”
Their “strangest” cultural experiences in London include being caught amidst the squaring off of two groups of German football fans who chanted across a street in support of their opposing teams ; an open air public urinal; a man playing a flaming tuba; the strange (to Americans) use of common words by English speakers, such as “sorry” not “excuse me,” finding a “ toilet,” not a “bathroom, “ and taking the “tube” rather than the “subway.”
For some, the most strange was a disturbing performance of Lear, an adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear, in which the King was cast as a woman and the staging included unconventional lighting and use of theatre spaces (some scenes were staged in the aisles), slow motion action, and “bone-rattling thunder strokes.” “I think all of us were a bit disturbed by the performance, but it definitely helped us appreciate the choices that directors and actors made in the other plays that we saw.”
When Westover students embark on a study abroad, they begin with clearly defined academic and cultural goals. They always return with the sort of deepening and broadening experiences that enrich their personal understanding, develops their characters, and enhance their view of the world and their places in it.