Joshua Rothman chairs the history department at the University of Alabama, where he is also a professor of history specializing in nineteenth-century America and the history of race and slavery. He is the author of Notorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and Families across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787–1861 (2003); Reforming America, 1815–1860 (2009); and Flush Times and Fever Dreams: A Story of Capitalism and Slavery in the Age of Jackson (2012), which won the Gulf South Historical Association's Michael Thomason Book Award and the Southern Historical Association's Frank L. and Harriet C. Owsley Prize. His latest book is titled The Ledger and the Chain: How Domestic Slave Traders Shaped America.
While DNA evidence emerged in the late 1990s seeming to confirm centuries-old rumors and family stories that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings had children together, for some, the historical truth of that relationship remains controversial. This lecture discusses how the story first came to be told during the lifetimes of Jefferson and Hemings, the nature of the historical evidence, the treatment over time of that evidence by historians, and where the story stands today among historians and in the popular imagination.