For those looking to satisfy some historical curiosity in Charlottesville this Fourth of July week, a visit to the University of Virginia Library’s Declaration of Independence exhibit before or after Thursday’s national holiday may fit the bill.
“Declaring Independence: Creating and Recreating America’s Document,” is a permanent exhibit at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library and is widely considered the most comprehensive collection of letters, documents and early printings related to the Declaration and its signers.
The library and the free exhibit will be closed on Independence Day, but it will be open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of this week. With many people extending their holiday weekend by taking Friday off from work, library officials anticipate an increase in visitors to the exhibit following Thursday’s holiday.
“There’s a lot of interest in that exhibit year-round,” said Heather Riser, the Special Collections Library’s head of reference and research services. “But we do see a little uptick of interest in the summer months.”
The Albert H. Small Declaration of Independence Collection traces the history behind the seminal document of American history, from the draft produced by U.Va. founder Thomas Jefferson, with the aid of John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, to its first printing and widespread dissemination following its signing in 1776.
The great risks taken by key figures at that crucial moment in American history are illuminated in the exhibit through documents and letters from the signers. The exhibit also features a 13-minute documentary narrated by presidential historian Michael Beschloss guiding visitors through the events that led to the founding of the United States.
The exhibit is open to the public on Wednesday and Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Saturday, the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library will be open again from 1 to 5 p.m. for exhibit visitors.
Those interested in an online look at the exhibit’s holdings may visit it here. For visitors wanting to view the permanent exhibit at a later date, the library’s summer hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
Located on U.Va.’s Central Grounds, adjacent to Alderman and Clemons Library, the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library holds more than 16 million objects, including manuscripts, archival records, rare books, maps, broadsides, photographs and audio and video recordings. The noteworthy collections include American and British literature, the history of Virginia and the southeastern United States, the history and archives of the University of Virginia, sporting books and manuscripts, World War I, bibliography and book arts.
Occupying 58,000 square feet in two underground floors of the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture/Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library building, the library features a reading room with seating for 32 researchers. While the stacks are not open to the public, the reading room is open to anyone with a photo ID.