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Va. offers Jefferson lessons via Web

WASHINGTON — The University of Virginia picked Presidents’ Day to announce that it is offering a free online course on Thomas Jefferson.

For the public university he founded, Jefferson is indispensable and omnipresent, and the school tries to live up to his vision of an ‘‘academical village.’’

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Jefferson’s fame as the author of the Declaration of Independence also gives the school in Charlottesville endless opportunities to promote its brand around the world. The university will offer subtitled versions in Chinese and Spanish in hopes of tapping audiences in Asia, Europe, and Latin America.

Peter S. Onuf, who teaches the course, tells people that he is not ‘‘a Jefferson worshiper.’’

Onuf is struck by the paradox of a slave-owning Founding Father who espoused liberty. His own political sympathies lie with the party that opposed the nation’s third president. ‘‘I’m a native New Englander,’’ Onuf said, ‘‘and if I had my druthers, I’d probably be a Federalist. But he is a fascinating guy.’’

Anyone with an Internet connection can take the course, for no charge, through the website Coursera or view it through the application iTunes U.

The course is a joint venture of the university and Jefferson’s Monticello museum.

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