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Rotunda Planetarium: Science & Learning in the University of Virginia's First Library

In 1819, Thomas Jefferson sketched plans for a planetarium spanning the dome of the University of Virginia’s Rotunda library. “The concave ceiling of the Rotunda,“ he wrote, “is proposed to be painted sky-blue and spangled with gilt stars in their position and magnitude copied exactly.“ As designed, the Rotunda’s ceiling would represent the night sky in real time: mock constellations (moved by an operator perched on an elevated seat) would trace their annual progress across a wood-and-plaster firmament. Due to ballooning costs and delays in the Rotunda’s construction, however, Jefferson’s proposed celestial dome was never realized.

The Rotunda Planetarium (scheduled to open in late fall 2019) fulfills this inaugural vision for the University of Virginia’s first library. An array of digital projectors will transform the Rotunda's dome room into a vast Enlightenment planetarium. A paired exhibition, “Rotunda Planetarium: Science & Learning in the University of Virginia’s First Library,” will display books, instruments, specimens, and artifacts from the Rotunda’s early history. This interactive exhibition will highlight the Rotunda’s original function as an interdisciplinary site for natural history, science, and the humanities, while also exploring its history as a lived space, bringing attention to the stories of those who built, worked, taught, and learned under its dome. 

A scholarly symposium will mark the launch of the Rotunda Planetarium (November 1, 2019; 2-8:30pm). Regularly scheduled events will continue thereafter through summer 2020. We invite members of the University and the Charlottesville community to participate and attend. Contact us or follow along at our project Blog

This project emerges from work on an allied digital humanities project, Rotunda Library Online (RLO), which reconstructs the University of Virginia’s first collection of books. It is supported by a major grant from the Jefferson Trust, an initiative of the University of Virginia Alumni Association. Organized in collaboration with Rare Book School; curated by Neal D. Curtis, Samuel V. Lemley, and Madeline L. Zehnder, PhD Candidates in the University of Virginia’s Department of English. 

Please share this announcement with anyone who might be interested—and join the discussion or share your experience on social media: #RotundaPlanetarium

Sponsoring Organization(s):

November 1, 2019 2:00 pm to 8:30 pm

University of Virginia Rotunda Dome Room

Event type: Conference