Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy of his only published book, Notes on the State of Virginia, is one of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library’s most treasured holdings. Written in a response to a 1780 questionnaire from French emissary François Marbois, the book provides an exhaustive account of subjects ranging from climate to politics.
“It’s the single most important book written by an American in the 18th century,” says UVA English professor John O’Brien.
But Jefferson wasn’t satisfied to take just one pass at the topics, and his copy of Notes is filled with margin notes and revisions in his own handwriting.
“Radical that he was, he knew it couldn’t be fixed in print. Just as he kept changing his house, Monticello—he would build something, tear it down and build again—he would work on the book,” says Brad Pasanek, another UVA English professor.
To make the book and Jefferson’s additional notes available to a wider audience—it’s one of the library’s few “restricted” holdings—O’Brien and Pasanek secured seed money from the Alumni Association’s Jefferson Trust and worked with students and the Scholar’s Lab to create a Web application. The app, which is accessible on any computer, tablet or mobile device, “affords a visually rich environment in which users may inspect, compare and analyze” two editions of Notes and a modern annotated and searchable text.