Surveying the scene, staking claim: Thomas Jefferson, traveller

Document Type


Publication Date


Journal / Book Title

Studies in Travel Writing


This essay identifies three differing ways of seeing in Thomas Jefferson's writing about land and travel, and associates them with three distinct Jefferersonian personae – “son of science”, “sentimental traveller” and “Romantic”. Jefferson wrote as a scientist for men and as “sentimental traveller” primarily in letters to women. His deployment of the Romantic sublime occurs in both contexts, where his motive is to persuade his reader(s) of the superiority of the New World to the Old. This is in keeping with the fact that Jefferson's vision, especially (given that he was a plantation owner and surveyor) of land and lands, was always proprietorial and, in some sense, political. The essay concludes with the observation that much of Jefferson's genius as political leader lay in his ability as a see-er to visualise a geoimaginative space for his new nation and thereby stake a claim for it, literally and figuratively, vis-à-vis the rest of the world.



Journal ISSN / Book ISBN

1364-5145, 1755-7550 (electronic)

Published Citation

Victoria Tietze Larson (2014) Surveying the scene, staking claim: Thomas Jefferson, traveller, Studies in Travel Writing, 18:3, 211-232, DOI: 10.1080/13645145.2014.943940