Christa Dierksheide

Associate Professor, Brockman Foundation Jefferson Scholars Foundation Professor

Nau 384
Office Hours: ON LEAVE

Field & Specialties

Early Republic; Slavery and Race; Empire and State Formation; Public History


BA, University of Virginia, English Literature.

PhD, University of Virginia, History.


I am a historian of Early America with an emphasis on empire/state formation, race, and slavery.

My first book, Amelioration and Empire: Progress and Slavery in the Plantation Americas, 1770-1840 (Virginia, 2014) brought the Anglophone Caribbean and the U.S. South into the same frame, arguing that "improvement" lay at the core of both proslavery and antislavery thinking.  I followed that work with several essays and chapters on Jefferson, race, and slavery.  

I've just completed my second book, Beyond Jefferson: the Hemingses, Randolphs, and the Making of Nineteenth Century America (Yale, 2024) -- a global history of Jefferson's family members on both sides of the color line.  

I'm currently at work on my third book, Jefferson's Wolf: The Struggle to End Slavery in the Founding Era (under contract with Harvard), co-written with Nicholas Guyatt of the University of Cambridge.  As the first book-length study to fully examine the topic in 40 years, we hope to scrutinize all of Jefferson's myriad "solutions" to the problem of slavery, including colonization, diffusion, labor experimentation, and the privatization of manumission.  

I've recently turned my attention to the federal territories in the early 19th c. West.  My first foray into this project will be Theophilus Magruder v. Jacob Vanderpool (1851), a case in which the territorial government enforced an 1844 law banishing African Americans from Oregon.

I'm also committed to public history.  Before returning to academia, I worked as Historian at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello.  I have curated or contributed to several exhibitions at Monticello, including The Boisterous Sea of Liberty (2008), Mulberry Row: Landscape of Slavery (2012), and Sally Hemings: A Life (2018).

I direct of the Center for the Study of the Age of Jefferson at the Jefferson Scholars Foundation at UVA, which supports pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships, workshops, and lectures:

Along with Frank Cogliano, Patrick Griffin, and Eliga Gould, I co-edit the series Revolutionary America at UVA Press.

At UVA, I teach courses on Jefferson, public history, legal history, and slavery in the Founding Era.

I'm enthusiastic about working with creative and enterprising grad students, particularly those interested in the era between the American Revolution and the Civil War.  Interested students should contact me directly in the Summer or Fall preceding the UVA application deadline.



Jefferson’s Wolf: The Struggle to End Slavery in the Founding Era (co-authored with Nicholas Guyatt), under contract with Harvard University Press.

Beyond Jefferson: The Hemingses, the Randolphs, and the Making of Nineteenth Century America (Yale University Press, 2024).

Amelioration and Empire: Progress and Slavery in Plantation America, 1770-1840 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014).

Peer-Reviewed Articles and Book Chapters

“The Antebellum Era,” in Nicholas Guyatt, ed., The Oxford Illustrated History of the United States (Oxford University Press, 2024).

“Slavery in Jefferson's Worlds: Monticello, America, and Beyond,” in Andrew Bibby and Dustin Gish, eds., Rival Visions of America: How Jefferson and His Contemporaries Defined the Early American Republic (University of Virginia Press, 2021), pp. 186-207.

“Becoming Co-Imperialists: Anglo-Americans and the First Opium War,” in eds. Francis D. Cogliano and Patrick Griffin, Ireland and America: Empire, Revolution, and Sovereignty (University of Virginia Press, 2021), chap. 9.

“Border Control: Slavery, Diffusion, and State Formation in the Era of the Missouri Crisis,” in John Craig Hammond and Jeffrey L. Pasley, eds., A Fire-Bell in the Past: Reassessing the Missouri Crisis of 1819-1821 (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2021), 161-183.

“US and Empire in the Nineteenth Century,” Oxford Bibliographies in Atlantic History, ed. Trevor Burnard, 2020.

“Slave Hiring at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello,” in Lawrence Aje, Catherine Armstrong, and Lydia Plath, eds., The Many Faces of Slavery: New Perspectives on Slave Ownership in the Americas (London, UK: Bloomsbury, 2019).

“’Taking Root Deeper Than Ever:’ Jeffersonians and Slavery,” in Joanne B. Freeman and Johann N. Neem, eds., Jeffersonians in Power (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019).

“John Gladstone’s Empire,” La Questione Romantica, vol. 7, no. 1-2 (Dec. 2015): 75-83.

 “Slave-holding Nation, Slave-holding Civilization,” (co-authored with Peter Onuf), in John McCardell and William Cooper, eds., In the Cause of Liberty: How the Civil War Redefined American Ideals (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009), 9-24.

“’The great improvement and civilization of that race’: Jefferson, Slavery, and the Amelioration of Virginia, ca. 1770-1826,” Journal of Early American Studies (Spring 2008): 165-197.

“Missionaries, Evangelical Identity, and the Religious Ecology of Early Nineteenth-Century South Carolina and the British Caribbean,” American Nineteenth Century History 7.1 (March 2006): 63-88.

Courses Taught

HIUS 3051: Age of Jefferson

HIUS 3752: History of Early American Law

HIUS 4501: Slavery and the Founders

HIST 5559: Public History

HIST 5559: Race and Slavery at UVA's North Grounds (with Randi Flaherty)

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Christa Dierksheide