Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest Archaeology

Location: Forest, Virginia, United States

June 4, 2018 to July 13, 2018

Session dates: 
June 4 - July 13, 2018

Application Deadline: 
Monday, April 16, 2018

Deadline Type: 
Contact for details

Program Type

Field school

RPA certified



Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest and University of Virginia

Project Director:

Jack Gary and Eric Proebsting, Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest

Project Description

Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest and the University of Virginia are pleased to offer the 29th annual Summer Field School in Historical Archaeology. The field school provides a foundation in the current methods and theories of historical archaeology and offers a solid introduction to the practical skills of site survey, excavation, recording, and laboratory procedures. Students will actively participate in our ongoing interpretation of archaeology to the public. In the summer of 2018, field school participants will excavate sites associated with Poplar Forest’s enslaved residents as we attempt to better understand their lives by looking at the places they lived and worked.

The primary sites for this summer’s research will be a standing brick slave quarter dating to the mid-19th century and the possible site of an 18th-century overseer’s house. Students will work with the professional staff to locate any structural features of this building in order to better understand its size and layout. The material remains found at this site will also provide information about the daily lives of the enslaved people who may have once lived and worked here. This data can be compared with multiple sites that have already been excavated at Poplar Forest, allowing us to trace the plantation layout and the ways it changed at Poplar Forest over time. The study of these sites will also provide new information for Poplar Forest’s interpretive efforts that can be included in signage and tours that help our visitors better understand the landscapes and lives of the many people, both enslaved and free, that lived on this plantation.

Students will spend 40 hours a week at Poplar Forest, with most of the time split between the excavation site and the archaeology laboratory. Strenuous daily activity will require physical endurance and good health. Participants will have the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art equipment and software, including a total station for recording field information, a database system containing both the archaeological artifact and context records, and a complete inventory of over 2,800 historical documents relating to Poplar Forest. The program includes weekly readings on topics in historical archaeology and lectures by staff and noted authorities covering such topics as landscape history, plantation life, material culture, professional opportunities in historical archaeology, and the role of public archaeology. As part of the program, students will participate in a half-day workshop on architectural restoration and preservation philosophy. On-site work is supplemented by field trips to sites where historical archaeology is under way. Students will be asked to observe and evaluate strategies used by these sites to incorporate archaeology into their public interpretation.

All students who take the field school will receive a scholarship from Poplar Forest. This grant covers half of the University of Virginia tuition charge.

Period(s) of Occupation: Historical U.S.

Thomas Jefferson, Historical Archaeology, Plantation Landscapes, Virginia

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 6 weeks

Minimum age: 

Experience required: 

Room and Board Arrangements

Accommodations are available at Lynchburg College. Estimated cost is $35 per day. Students are responsible for their own meals and transportation to the site each day.  Students are free to make other housing arrangements as well.

$35 per day

Academic Credit

Name of institution offering credit: 
University of Virginia
Number of credits offered 6
Prices after Poplar Forest Scholarship: $1,158 for Virginia resident undergraduates and $1,317 for Virginia resident graduate students. Out-of-state undergraduates will pay $4,182 and out of state graduate students will pay $2,670. The university also charges a $210 off-grounds administrative fee to all students.


Contact Information
Jack Gary, Director of Archaeology and Landscapes
Poplar Forest, P.O. Box 419
(434) 534-8105
Recommended Bibliography: 

Gary, Jack, Eric Proebsting, and Lori Lee, "Culture of the Earth:" The Archaeology of the Ornamental Plant Nursery and an Antebellum Slave Cabin at Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest, 2010, The Coorporation for Jefferson's Poplar Forest, Forest, VA.  Available online at

Heath, Barbara J., Hidden Lives: The Archaeology of Slave Life at Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest, 1999, University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville.

Heath, Barbara J. and Jack Gary (editors), Jefferson's Poplar Forest: Unearthing a Virginia Plantation, 2012, University Press of Florida, Gainesville, FL.

Noel Hume, Ivor, A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America, 2001, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.

Orser, Charles E. Jr., Historical Archaeology, 2016, Routledge, New York, NY.

Proebsting, Eric and Jack Gary (editors), Current Research into the Archaeology of American Landscapes, 2016, Thematic Issue, Historical Archaeology 50(1).

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