Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2015
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Slavery at Monticello: Life and Work at Mulberry Row

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Engrossing images, audio reveal the untold stories of Jefferson's estate

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Character & SEL
  • Critical Thinking

Subjects
  • Social Studies
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
4-12
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5 images

Pros: Historical documents, photos, and narration tackle challenging topics about the history of slavery in the United States.

Cons: Without other references or clear learning activities, classroom potential is limited.

Bottom Line: A great invitation to conversation for your history or social studies class, but be sure to build out your activities.

If your class gets the chance to visit Monticello, you're in luck: Use the app on a mobile device to guide your walking tour and learn about the historic significance of different sites on the grounds. As it is, this app is a great way to begin your own dialogue about the legacy of slavery in the United States and the experiences of enslaved people. It's also a great starting point for further research and exploration, whether you further explore these individuals' lives or the themes in greater detail.

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Slavery at Monticello: Life and Work on Mulberry Row is a reference tool that explores life on Mulberry Row, the lane that served as the main economic hub of the Monticello estate outside Charlottesville, Virginia. The app reflects some major work by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation to expand their coverage, tours, and narrative attention to the lives of the hundreds of slaves who lived in and around Jefferson's famous manse at Monticello. Over the past decade, the Mulberry Row exhibit at Monticello has expanded significantly, focusing on the lives of the many people who kept the estate running for the small family who occupied the home and their frequent guests. This app extends that work, giving users on-site at Monticello or anywhere in the world an up-close look at the lives of the men and women who lived and worked on Mulberry Row.

The app has three sections: Sites (where users can explore an interactive map of the area), People (where users can explore biographies of people who lived at Monticello and Mulberry Row), and Themes (where users can learn more about critical historical and social themes). Each entry in People includes a one-liner about that person's role (including "An Irish Master Craftsman" and "Jefferson's Lifelong Companion"), a brief biography and timeline, videos, infographics, and stories about the larger historical context of each person's life. Themes delves more deeply into major issues that faced the people who worked on Mulberry Row: "Family & Separation"; "Labor, Trade & Economy"; "Life After Monticello"; "Living & Working Conditions"; "Racial Identity"; "Resistance & Punishment"; and "Studying Slavery at Monticello."

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This app includes a narrative choice that's on striking display at Monticello: The narrators use the term "enslaved people" rather than "slaves," and there's a focus on the nuances, details, and challenges of these individuals' lives that is rarely seen in historical accounts of African Americans from this period. This app addresses the brutality and complexity of slavery head-on: Instead of skirting the issue, the developers address the problematic, often-troubling legacy of Thomas Jefferson's slave ownership. It's a tough thing to do well, and the developers and historians do an admirable, sensitive job of surfacing these problematic issues and exploring them. For that alone, this free app is worth a look. There simply aren't many resources out there that give faces and names to the larger story of slavery in this country.

The main way to make this app better would be to add more content. The stories and images are good -- and narration from descendants of enslaved people who lived at Monticello is especially affecting. More links out to primary source documents and more opportunities to engage with the content would take this app to the next level. Users can share that they're using the app via social media or email, but it would be even better if they could share more about their experience and reflect on it more deeply. Some kind of forum or space for reflection and discussion would help this app begin a powerful dialogue more successfully and more sustainably.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Kids will be drawn into the stories and images, especially if they use the app on-site at Monticello. There's a lot to read and see, and kids who want to dive deep will love tapping further into the lives explored here.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

This isn't the story of Monticello most people have heard, and teachers and kids alike can get great insights on what life was like for the hundreds of people who lived at Monticello and who didn't live with the former president.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Kids can track their progress through the biographies and sites -- especially if they're strolling down Mulberry Row in real time. Great audio and caption features make the experience especially accessible. 


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

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