UCL History’s Emeritus Professor Kathleen Burk on BBC Radio 4 ‘Great Lives’

2 January 2024

Emeritus Professor Kathleen Burk (Modern and Contemporary History at UCL) helps shine a light on Thomas Jefferson's political legacy and how his attitudes to slavery impact how he's seen today.

Thomas Jefferson painting, 3rd president of US

In 1776 Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, kick-starting the movement against British rule and putting in place the foundations for democracy in what became the United States of America. 

But he was a man of contradictions. He argued passionately against slavery but was a slave-owner. He had a relationship with an enslaved woman, Sally Hemings which may have started in France when she was just fourteen. He became the third President of the United States, and he loved philosophy, nature and wine. 

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, first-learned of Jefferson and the founding fathers when he was in school. He became fascinated with Jefferson's political principles and many contradictions. With the help of Kathleen Burk, they discuss Jefferson's political legacy and how his attitudes to slavery are impacting on how he's seen today. 

Listen: BBC Radio 4 'Great Lives' (from 4 mins 48 secs)