Before the Cavalier football team kicked off its season against the University of California, Los Angeles on Saturday, the University of Virginia’s Lifetime Learning Program kicked off the annual “More Than the Score” lecture series with U.Va. Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Maurie McInnis. The annual game-day series engages alumni and parents with lectures and discussion based on faculty and alumni research.
McInnis has a long history with U.Va. She is a 1988 graduate of the College of Arts & Sciences with a degree in art history (with highest distinction), and as an undergraduate was a Jefferson Scholar, Echols Scholar, a member of the Raven Society and a Lawn resident. She joined the art history faculty 10 years later, and recently began exploring the early years of Jefferson’s University.
“We certainly all feel as through we know the University of Virginia extraordinarily well,” McInnis said, “but there’s so much about the intervening decades that we don’t have a clear picture of. That’s what we’re hoping to work on.”
In an effort to provide the public with a clearer picture of U.Va.’s first decades, she is leading a project that is cataloging and coding handwritten diaries, letters and documents from the library’s archives.
According to McInnis, “If you really want to understand the University, you would have to sit down and read and keep reading for probably a decade or more,” McInnis said.
The Jefferson University Early Life – JUEL, for short – team hopes to provide the University community with access to this history without such painstaking time. A growing database of the transcribed and digitized information provides the public with a route to explore the history themselves.
Similar to how early students could “drink broadly of knowledge that professors were providing” in the early years of the University, as McInnis said, the public can do the same with JUEL’s research.
Saturday’s lecture served as a tease to the history that will be accessible to the public, as McInnis provided a few tidbits from the project’s research. Many know that the Rotunda was the first home of the University’s library, but few know it also was home to chemical libraries and examination rooms during finals, McInnis explained. The pavilion gardens, now used for social gatherings and quiet escapes, were once gardens of labor; the spaces were filled with smells and noises of slaves at the University providing food for the school behind the walls of greenery.
The JUEL team also is seeking to recreate the original structures of the University in the virtual world; though most are still standing, many have been renovated and repurposed over the years. The team’s work ties in with the Jeffersonian Grounds Initiative, which is restoring the Academical Village for the 21st century.
JUEL is exploring more than the physical University by expanding on the understanding of its early academic and social life.
“The University of Virginia in the early years was a very violent place,” McInnis told Saturday’s audience. “Violence taking place between faculty and students, students and students, and students on enslaved workers at the University. On any random page of faculty minutes you find recitations of a garden wall torn down, cockfighting, the proctor remarking on ‘a riotous behavior last night.’”
U.Va. opened its doors to 63 students with nine faculty, with the student body growing to 125 by the end of the first academic year. The ratio unevenly distributed the power in favor of the students creating a sense of chaos.
“Throughout these early decades, the University of Virginia’s success was not guaranteed,” McInnis said. “Most of the students were used to having their own way and telling others what to do. They came to the University of Virginia and suddenly many people were telling them what to do and they were not happy about it.”
Based on JUEL’s research, students strongly disliked the dress code, which prohibited materials that cost more than $6 per yard, thus limiting the display of wealth among the upper-class students. Among other sources of tension were the daily bell ringing at dawn and prohibitions against alcohol and gambling.
JUEL’s database includes details on each student’s recorded actions during their time at U.Va., allowing users to track individual students and their conduct.
The database also provides insight into slavery at the University in a partnership with the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University.
JUEL represents a broad-based effort that involves significant student and faculty participation, and the resources of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities and the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. The project is funded by the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost and the Jefferson Trust.
Alumni Hall hosts “More Than the Score” talks at 10 a.m. on the Saturdays of home football games. Preregistration is required.
Upcoming talks include:
- Sept. 6: “U.Va.’s Breakthrough in Regenerative Medicine Research,” with cell biology professors Bernard Thisse, Christine Thisse and George Bloom.
- Sept. 13: “41 at 25: Reassessing the President George H.W. Bush,” with Barbara Perry and Sidney Milkis of U.Va.’s Miller Center.
- Sept. 27: “What to Do About Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency?,” with law professor Fredrick Hitz.
- Oct. 4: “The Kennedy Half Century,” with politics professor Larry Sabato.
- Oct. 24 (Friday night, 7 p.m.): “Hoos Heel: Alumni Perspectives Celebrating UVA and UNC,” with Ken Wallenborn and Ted Zoller, both of whom hold degrees from both schools.
- Oct. 25: “My MOOC Journey: Insights Into the Brave New World of Online Education,” with Darden School of Business professor Michael Lenox.
- Nov. 22: “Thomas Jefferson’s Plan for Mount Jefferson to Sustain his Academical Village,” with Nancy Takahashi, distinguished lecturer in landscape architecture.