National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Spring 2002


Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 3:1, Spring/Summer 2002. Copyright © 2002 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


The study of Colonial Williamsburg, which celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary in December 2001, is a useful means of approaching the discussion of the ways interior decoration and garden design can be used as a means to promote political ideology. While the political role of these two areas of creative expression may not be immediately apparent in a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, they played an instrumental role in the restoration of the eighteenth-century town. They were also part of the original plan of the restoration’s founders to promote in twentieth-century Americans a strong national pride and love of country. At the same time, the restoration’s founders sought to downplay the importance of the town’s less prominent residents, including white laborers and slaves. The result was an intentional deception that used interior decoration and garden design to foster an image of life in colonial Williamsburg that accentuated fine furniture, wallpaper, and draperies, as well as attractive gardens, while failing to represent the lives of the majority of the town’s population and masking the inequalities of life in eighteenth-century Virginia. For the restoration’s early visitors, this deception fostered a sense of the beauty and charm of the eighteenth century, without a discussion of the lives of approximately half of the town’s colonial residents who were enslaved. For contemporary visitors from an Honors class at Long Island University, Colonial Williamsburg was an ideal site for studying not just colonial America but the historical contexts, goals, and agendas of a major restoration project.