News Article

David M. Rubenstein Gallery to Open December 10

October 31, 2013

The National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, will significantly expand its permanent exhibitions with the opening of its new Orientation Plaza and the David M. Rubenstein Gallery on December 10.  

The project is made possible by congressional appropriations as well as a gift of $13.5 million from David M. Rubenstein to the Foundation for the National Archives, the National Archives’ private partner.

The David M. Rubenstein Gallery provides new context for the Charters of Freedom—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights—on view in the National Archives Rotunda. The new exhibition at the entrance to the museum begins with Rubenstein’s 1297 Magna Carta and traces the evolution of rights in the United States from our country’s founding through the present day.

“Records of Rights” will use original documents, photographs, facsimiles, videos, and interactive exhibits to explore how Americans have worked to realize the ideals of freedom enshrined in our nation’s founding documents, and how they debated issues such as citizenship, free speech, voting rights, and equal opportunity. Exploring many stories—and showcasing the drive for civil rights for African Americans, women, and immigrants—the new exhibition chronicles the past and current generations whose efforts to secure equality under the law have shaped the country we live in today.

“Behind each record in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery—whether the 15th Amendment, which granted African American men the right to vote, or the Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act, which ensures equal pay for women—are countless stories of courage, resilience, and the belief in a better future,” said Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero. “I want to thank David Rubenstein for his tremendous generosity that is enabling the National Archives to strengthen our role as one of the great destinations of Washington, DC, and to deepen our ability to share with everyone the legacy of the American people’s fight for freedom.”

“As Americans, we embrace the rights and freedoms guaranteed by our founding documents, while striving to ensure that these rights apply to all and are meaningful in the present,” said David M. Rubenstein. “I’m honored that this new gallery will help the National Archives showcase its incredible collection of records that tell the story of who we are as a people, where we’ve been, and where we are going.”

Orientation Plaza

The Orientation Plaza will serve as a gathering place and a new entry point into the National Archives Museum. The new space will provide orientation and access to the Rubenstein Gallery, the public exhibitions on the second floor—including the Rotunda, the Public Vaults, and the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery—as well as to the Boeing Learning Center and the William G. McGowan Theater. On the ceiling of the Orientation Plaza will be a trompe l’oeil painting of the Archives Rotunda, giving the illusion of looking directly up into the room that holds the original Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The Orientation Plaza will also feature a short film on eight video screens that tells the story of the National Archives’ mission, collection, locations, and activities. Two video orientation walls will serve as a directory, highlighting the visitor destinations within the National Archives, and touchscreen mapping stations will help guide visitors.

New Exhibit Details

Setting the stage at the entrance of the “Records of Rights” exhibition in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery is the 1297 Magna Carta, the first English charter to directly challenge the monarch’s authority. This foundational document served as a precedent for the concept of freedom under law envisioned by the Founding Fathers, and set in motion the process of defining civil liberties for all Americans.

In the center of the Rubenstein Gallery will be a 17-foot-long touch-screen interactive table showcasing more than 300 National Archives documents on subjects such as workplace rights, First Amendment rights, equal rights, and Native American rights. The interactive table allows visitors to explore issues and share documents  in a dynamic, motion-activated display. Through a complementary website, the public can also access the database from their home computers and experience the exhibition beyond the gallery walls.

Displays surrounding the interactive table in the “Records of Rights” exhibition highlight documents related to the civil rights struggles of African Americans, women, and immigrants. The exhibit area for each theme contains original documents that give personal glimpses into these struggles, and facsimiles of milestone documents as well as photographs, drawings, and videos from the National Archives.

Vote Now!

The National Archives invites the public to become “citizen curators” and help choose an original document for the opening of our new David M. Rubenstein Gallery “Records of Rights ” exhibitionVote online through November 15, 2013.

Now everyone can join this debate and help the curators select the first original landmark document to be featured for the opening. Make your mark at the Records of Rights Vote,” an online poll where you can help choose the opening document to be displayed.

The documents under consideration are:

  • The 1868 joint resolution proposing the 14th Amendment to the states. The 14th amendment established the principle of “equal protection of the laws” and granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.”
  • The 1971 certification of the 26th Amendment. The amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990, which expanded Federal civil rights laws to include disabled Americans and banned discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.
  • Executive Order 9981, 1948. Signed by President Harry S. Truman, this order desegregated the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • The Immigration Reform Act, 1965. These amendments to a 1952 immigration law ended the country-based immigration quotas that had favored immigrants from western and northern Europe.

Since “Records of Rights” is a permanent exhibition, there will be many opportunities to display other landmark documents. Feel free to suggest your favorite for future consideration! Share your thoughts about why you voted for a document or why it is meaningful in the comments section of the Prologue: Pieces of History blog.