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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

Thomas Jefferson’s European Travel Guide Includes Architectural Sketches, Farming Tips, and an Astronomical Wine Expense Report

00:00 46:38
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In 1784, Thomas Jefferson was a broken man. Reeling from the loss of his wife and humiliated from a political scandal during the Revolutionary war, he needed to remake himself. And to do that, he traveled. Traipsing through Europe, Jefferson saw and learned as much as he could, ultimately bringing his knowledge home to a young America. He wrote a travelogue called “Hints to Americans Traveling in Europe.”

Jefferson documented his trip in order to educate the infant nation on cutting-edge techniques in agriculture and architecture. He included sketches of buildings with Roman domes and columns, which he thought should be incorporated into America’s buildings to celebrate one of the ancient world’s greatest democracies. But he also indulged in European luxury and spent a gilded carriage’s worth on wine, ivory-handled knives, and porcelain statuettes, and (most odd) an organ for teaching songs to birds.


More than two hundred years later, Derek Baxter, a devotee of American history, decided to follow in his footsteps and see what he could learn from the Founding Father. Baxter is today’s guest and author of “In Pursuit of Jefferson: Traveling Through Europe With the Most Perplexing Founding Father.” He stumbled on Jefferson’s travelogue and used it as a roadmap, embarking on a new journey, following Jefferson to the same French wineries and rivers, even eating period-accurate food at Monticello. The goal was to figure out how to make sense of Jefferson and the multitude of contradictions in his life, the most debated being that he was a slaveholder who also wrote a world-historical testament to freedom.

This is an unflinching look at a founding father, and a moving personal journey. We explore how we can be better moving forward only by first looking back.
September 22, 2022
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to scottrankphd.com.
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