Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest Archaeology

Location: Forest, VA, US

Season: June 3, 2019 to July 12, 2019

Session Dates: June 3 - July 12, 2019

Application Deadline: April 15, 2019

Deadline Type: Contact for details


Program Type:
Field school

RPA Certified:

Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest and 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 30th 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 2019, 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.

Sites that will be investigated will include a standing brick slave quarter and nearby overseer’s residence dating to the mid-19th century as well as the potential location of earlier structures associated with Jefferson’s retreat home and plantation. Students will work with the professional staff to better understand the lives of the individuals living 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 both enslaved and free people who labored on this plantation both during and after Thomas Jefferson’s ownership. 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 2,500 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: 18

Experience Required: None

Room and Board Arrangements:
Accommodations are available at the University of Lynchburg. 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. Cost: $35 per day

Academic Credit:
6 credits offered by University of Virginia. Tuition is Prices after Poplar Forest Scholarship: $1,188 for Virginia resident undergraduates and $1,362 for Virginia resident graduate students. Out-of-state undergraduates will pay $4,326 and out of state graduate students will pay $2,766. The university also charges a $210 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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