Educational Programs & Resources

Archaeology Field School

Field School Dates: June 3- July 12, 2024

A Unique Learning Experience at Thomas Jefferson’s Retreat

Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest and the University of Virginia are pleased to offer the 33rd annual Summer Field School in Historical Archaeology. The field school provides a foundation in current methods and theories of historical archaeology, and offers a solid introduction to the practical skills of site survey, excavation, recording, and laboratory procedures. Students will also actively participate in our ongoing interpretation of archaeology to the public. In the summer of 2024, field school participants will excavate sites associated with Poplar Forest’s enslaved residents and the plantation’s early infrastructure. Sites that will be investigated will include searching for the location of a stable, slave quarter, and other structures associated with Jefferson’s retreat home and plantation as well as later residents. This includes the opportunity to explore the archaeology of a standing brick quarter, which was built in the 1850s and continued to house African American residents in the years following emancipation. Students will work with the professional staff to better understand the lives of the individuals living and working at these sites by studying the material remains recovered from the summer’s excavations. These sites will reveal new data about the daily lives of people who labored on this plantation. This data can be compared with multiple sites that have already been excavated at Poplar Forest, allowing us to trace the plantation layout and the ways it changed at Poplar Forest over time. The study of this site will also provide new information for Poplar Forest’s interpretive efforts that can be included in signage and tours that help our visitors better understand the landscapes and lives of the many people, both free and enslaved, that lived on this plantation.

What Would I Do at the Poplar Forest Field School?

Students will spend 40 hours a week at Poplar Forest, with most of the time split between the excavation site and the archaeology laboratory. Strenuous daily activity will require physical endurance and good health. Participants will have the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art equipment and software, including a total station for recording field information, GPS receivers for collecting spatial data over large areas, a database system containing both the archaeological artifact and context records, and a complete inventory of over 3,000 historical documents relating to Poplar Forest.

Field School Schedule

The program includes weekly readings on topics in historical archaeology; lectures by staff and noted authorities covering such topics as landscape history, plantation life, and nineteenth-century material culture; the archaeology of the African Diaspora in America and beyond; environmental archaeology; professional opportunities in historical archaeology; and the role of public archaeology in our world today. As part of the program, students will also participate in a half-day workshop on architectural restoration and preservation philosophy. On-site work is supplemented by field trips to sites where historical archaeology is underway. Students will be asked to observe and evaluate strategies used by these sites to incorporate archaeology into their public interpretation.

  • Week 1 Orientation to Poplar Forest, instruction, initial excavation, guest lecture, discussion of readings
  • Week 2 Field and lab work at Poplar Forest, field trip, guest lecture, discussion of readings
  • Week 3 Field and lab work at Poplar Forest, guest lecture, discussion of readings
  • Week 4 Field and lab work at Poplar Forest, field trip, guest lecture, discussion of readings
  • Week 5 Field and lab work at Poplar Forest, overnight field trip, discussion of readings
  • Week 6 Conclusion of field work, presentations, summation of activities

What if I’ve Never Studied Archaeology or Been on a “Dig”?

The Poplar Forest Field School is designed for the beginner. While some will bring previous experience, for most participants, this will be their first archaeological field school.

Who Should Attend?

Graduate and undergraduate students in anthropology, archaeology, history, or historic preservation; museum volunteers and staff; public and private school teachers in social studies and related subjects; individuals interested in pursuing archaeology as a career; individuals interested in archaeology, history, and early American Southern culture; students of Jefferson, African-American and early American history. Applicants must be at least 18 years old and have finished high school.

University Credit

This field school in historical archaeology carries six credits from the University of Virginia’s School of Arts and Sciences. Students who do not attend the University of Virginia should check with their degree-granting institution to verify transferability of credits.

Tuition & Scholarship Assistance

All participants accepted into the field school will receive a scholarship from Poplar Forest. This is a tuition grant that covers half of the tuition charge for six credit hours. With this scholarship assistance, Virginia resident undergraduates will pay $1,368 and Virginia resident graduate students will pay $1,605. Out-of-state undergraduate students will pay $5,055 and out of state graduate students will pay  $3,252. The university also charges a $54 off-grounds administrative fee to all students.


Air-conditioned accommodations are available at the University of Lynchburg. Estimated cost is $39 per day. Students are responsible for their own meals and transportation to the site each day. Students are free to make other housing arrangements as well.

Special Needs

If your attendance requires any aids or services as addressed in the Americans with Disabilities Act, please inform us at least two weeks prior to the course. Contact the UVA Office of Summer & Special Academic Programs at 434-924-3371 or

Poplar Forest Archaeology Instructors

Eric Proebsting, Ph.D., Director of Archaeology and Landscapes

Dr. Proebsting’s research interests include historical archaeology, agricultural communities, landscape archaeology, historical ecology, plantation studies, the archaeology of slavery, public outreach, and the archaeological applications of GIS and other techniques for collaborative research projects.

Steve Lenik, Ph.D., Research Archaeologist

Dr. Lenik’s research interests include the archaeology of the African Diaspora, the archaeology of missions, the Atlantic World, plantation landscapes, and community engagement.

Karen McIlvoy, M.A., Archaeology Laboratory Supervisor

Ms. McIlvoy’s research interests include the material culture of slavery and the African Diaspora, social dynamics within plantation communities, the archaeology of spirituality and folk beliefs, and the interactions between people and material culture.

Erin Schwartz, M.A., Assistant Archaeologist

Ms. Schwartz’s research interests include historical archaeology, Southern Appalachia, industrialism and capitalism, gender and identity, architectural history, ceramics, (geo)spatial analysis, and public outreach.


Contact Eric Proebsting, Director of Archaeology and Landscapes at or 434.534.8102

Apply Now

Please submit your application by filling out the form below and attaching your résumé. A statement of personal and professional reasons for participating is required. Application deadline is April 1, 2024.


  • Accepted file types: pdf, doc, docx, Max. file size: 512 MB.