Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest Archaeology

Location: Forest, VA, US

Season: June 3, 2024 to July 12, 2024

Session Dates: June 3 - July 12, 2024

Application Deadline: April 1, 2024

Deadline Type: Exact Date


Program Type:
Field School

RPA Certified:

Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest and the University of Virginia

Project Director:
Eric Proebsting, Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest

Project Description:

Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest and the University of Virginia are pleased to offer the 33rd 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 2024, field school participants will excavate sites associated with Poplar Forest’s enslaved residents and the plantation’s early infrastructure.

Sites that will be investigated will include searching for the location of a stable, slave quarter, and other structures associated with Jefferson’s retreat home and plantation as well as later residents. This includes the opportunity to explore the archaeology of a standing brick quarter, which was built in the 1850s and continued to house African American residents in the years following emancipation. Students will work with the professional staff to better understand the lives of the individuals living and working at these sites by studying the material remains recovered from the summer’s excavations. These sites will reveal new data about the daily lives of people who labored on this plantation during Thomas Jefferson’s ownership and in the years that followed. 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 this site 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 free and enslaved, 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 3,000 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, and nineteenth-century material culture; the archaeology of the African Diaspora; environmental archaeology; professional opportunities in historical archaeology; and the role of public archaeology in our world today. As part of the program, students will also 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 underway. 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, African Diaspora Archaeology, Public Archaeology, Environmental Studies, Plantation Landscapes, Virginia

Project Size: 1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 6 weeks

Minimum Age: 18

Experience Required: None

Room and Board Arrangements:
Accommodations are available at the University of Lynchburg. Estimated cost is $39 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. Cost: $39 per day

Academic Credit:
6 credits offered by University of Virginia. Tuition is Prices after Poplar Forest Scholarship: $1,368 for Virginia resident undergraduates and $1,605 for Virginia resident graduate students. Out-of-state undergraduates will pay $5,055 and out of state graduate students will pay $3,252. The university also charges a $54 off-grounds administrative fee to all students..

Contact Information:

Eric Proebsting, Director of Archaeology and Landscapes

Poplar Forest, P.O. Box 419





Phone: (434) 534-8102

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