History and heritage at James Madison’s Montpelier: significance and privileged narratives at historic sites

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In 2003, the Montpelier Foundation began a massive restoration of the Montpelier mansion, the lifelong home of James Madison, founding father, fourth president, and architect of the Constitution. But there had also been eight subsequent owners in the 150 years that had passed, including members of the duPont family, who had made extensive changes to the house and landscape. The restoration removed all the non-Madison fabric from the house, but left the landscape as it was. This study examines the reasons why restoration was ultimately chosen over the preservation of the site at Montpelier. I explore the questions of why the Madison narrative was selected as most important and why the stories of our presidents are privileged over all others? After examining the vast duPont landscape, I create a walking tour to interpret the duPont narrative. The project concludes with recommendations for how Montpelier’s story can be more inclusive of the site’s multiple narratives, and how these ideas can be used more broadly for interpretation at other historic sites.


Masters final project submitted to the Faculty of the Historic Preservation Program, School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, University of Maryland, College Park, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Historic Preservation. HISP 710/711 final project, May 2012.