UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

We hold these truths to be self-evident : Monumental error: writing wrongs on the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Parlett, Martin Antony


Detailed analysis of the inscriptions found upon the walls of The Thomas Jefferson Memorial (TJM), in Washington D.C. reveals an astonishing rhetorical secret, hidden in plain sight in the form of one of America’s most visited, and high-profile, national monuments. Upon the marbled interior of this Washingtonian pantheon, brass lettered quotations from Jefferson’s works, epistles, and legislation, purport to communicate an accurate and accessible facsimile version of the third president’s intellect, philosophy, and politics. Comparison of the quinquepartite panels to the original documents authored by Jefferson, however, exposes a systematic and purposeful series of textual and semantic alterations, giving rise to a highly manipulated form of US national history, presidential memorialization, and public understanding. This thesis moves in three parts: 1) to establish the existence and extent of these manipulations; 2) to interrogate the means and agents of Jefferson’s mediation; and 3) to assess the material and symbolic consequence of the TJM’s continued presence in extant form. In so doing, this thesis - informed by rhetorical theory, studies in public memory, and intensive archival research - finds that the inscriptions of the Jefferson Memorial were knowingly edited to function not only as a subjective commemoration of a national political hero, but also as an item of contemporary Progressive propaganda, communicating messages consistently sympathetic to Roosevelt’s New Deal and wartime agendas. Accordingly, the monument becomes an important locus for investigating the specific rhetorical formation and consequence of a single (and highly motivated) public memory space, whilst also providing a replicable case study methodology for a broader derivation of the workings of “technologies of memory” (as defined by Sturken, 1997), as they function at political mnemonic sites in the U.S. and beyond.

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