Beyond the Rotunda: Public Spaces in the National Archives Building

U.S. National Archives

The National Archives is best known for its Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, but the building is so much more. From exhibits to learning centers and research rooms, take a closer look at the public spaces of the National Archives Building.

The William G. McGowan Theater
This state-of-the-art facility replaced the original theater on the fifth floor of the National Archives.

The William G. McGowan Theater serves as a gathering place for National Archives visitors and staff to attend lectures, film screenings, and symposia.

The theater is named for the founder of MCI Communications, Inc., which donated five million dollars through the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund.

The McGowan Theater was constructed under the Constitution Avenue steps in 2004 and is a state-of-the-art 1930s style theater. Designed by Warren Cox, it seats 290 visitors.

In keeping with the character of the building and its design, this theater was loosely modeled after National Archives architect John Russell Pope's theater in the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall.

Education at the National Archives
The Charters of Freedom aren't the only attraction at the National Archives. The Boeing Learning Center is an excellent resource for visitors to delve deeper into the work of the National Archives.

In the ReSource Room, visitors can participate in hands-on activities, featuring documents, maps, and images, that simulate the archival work done at the National Archives.

In the Learning Lab, students can select documents from a simulated archival stacks and analyze primary sources to better understand American history and government.

Exhibits at the National Archives 
The National Archives Building has several exhibit spaces including the Public Vaults, the David M. Rubenstein Gallery, and the Lawrence F. O'Brien temporary exhibit gallery. 

The Public Vaults is a permanent exhibition that allows visitors to have a behind-the-scenes look at National Archives holdings.

Interactive activities coupled with original and facsimile documents bring visitors into the National Archives stacks and highlight the agency's work.

The exhibit is organized according to the five sections of the Preamble to the Constitution. Each section displays documents relating to citizenship, law and liberty, war, frontiers and firsts, and recordkeeping for the future.

The David M. Rubenstein Gallery hosts a permanent exhibition called "Records of Rights" that explores how Americans have fought for their rights throughout the nation's history.

"Records of Rights" examines how Americans protested and fought for their rights to citizenship, voting, and free speech among other important rights we hold today.

The exhibit also features a rotating landmark document case that highlights different important documents granting rights to Americans, such as treaties and documents from Supreme Court cases.

In the center of the Gallery is a 17-foot-long computer touch-screen interactive table showcasing more than 300 National Archives documents allowing visitors to explore issues in a dynamic, motion-activated display.

"Records of Rights" features an original 1297 Magna Carta, which is the origin of many ideas on the rights of citizens and government.

The Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery opened in 2004 and features temporary exhibitions that draw on the holdings of the National Archives.

The gallery is named in memory of Foundation board Member Larry O’Brien’s father.

The East Rotunda Gallery holds the Featured Document Exhibit. This small rotating exhibit highlights single documents from the holdings of the National Archives.

Past examples have included President Lyndon B. Johnson's nomination of Thurgood Marshall, first African American on the Supreme Court, and President George Washington's first Inaugural Address.

Researcher Services
In addition to education and exhibit spaces, the National Archives research rooms are open to the public.  

In the Robert M. Warner Research Center researchers can speak with archivists, view microfilm, and explore our digitized records on public access computers.

The Central Research Room is a public research room and library, with space to hold up to 40,000 volumes of reference work.

Researchers can request and view original records, take notes, make copies, and explore documents relating to family history, government, and more.

A Space of Everyone
Visitors of all ages come to the National Archives to explore the holdings of the National Archives through its exhibit, education, and research spaces. Come visit us today:
Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by Lily Tyndall with special thanks to Kaitlin Errickson, Billy Wade, Jeff Reed, Brogan Jackson, Mary Ryan, and Jessie Kratz.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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