January 05: Mr. Jefferson’s ‘Academical Village’

2016/01/05 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1805, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Littleton Waller Tazewell in which he articulates the concept of a college as “village.”

It was a decade or so later that Mr. Jefferson began expanding his term to the idea of an “academical village,” and began drawing it, as seen in the letter above (to William Thornton, May 9, 1817).  It’s crummy drawing, but that’s not the point.  (And for the record, Mr. Jefferson had a very steady hand, and crisp line weight, when he wanted to bother.)  As a diagram–a graphic manifestation of architectural theory–, it communicates his ideals of education that are so closely related to his notions of individual liberty.  Thinking of the model of every other college built so far in America, in which all activities were gathered in one large pile, he wrote to Tazewell:

Large houses are always ugly, inconvenient, exposed to accident of fire, and in bad cases of infection. A plain small house for the school & lodging of each professor is best. These connected by covered ways out of which the rooms of the students should open would be best. These may then be built as they shall be wanting. In fact, an University should not be a house but a village. 

Later, to Nathaniel Bowditch (26 October 1818) he would elaborate that such a scheme would be friendlier “to health, to study, to manners, morals, and order.” By this time he was working in earnest on realizing his vision for American education with the construction of the core of what is now known as the University of Virginia.

Image: letter from Thomas Jefferson to William Thornton, May 9, 1817 (from this source)


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