National Museum of American History Showcases “Cosmos in Miniature: The Remarkable Star Map of Simeon De Witt”

May 11, 2010

 

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will open a new exhibition in the Albert H. Small Documents Gallery May 28. “Cosmos in Miniature: The Remarkable Star Map of Simeon De Witt” showcases the astronomical accomplishments of De Witt, a surveyor to George Washington and the Continental Army. It will be on view through the end of August.

The exhibition focuses on De Witt’s “astrolabe” of 1780, a small, circular map of the stars that were visible from his New Jersey post. It is one of the oldest surviving Anglo American star maps, and it was based on much larger British celestial maps printed earlier in the 18th century. De Witt’s astrolabe was a forerunner of the handheld star finders that would become common in the 19th century and are still sold today.

“Cosmos in Miniature” sets De Witt’s astrolabe within the context of contemporary star maps, earlier astrolabes and later star finders, as well as the cartography of the Revolutionary War. The exhibition also considers how 18th- and early 19th-century Americans saw themselves within the stars, which suggests much about the popularization of astronomy, the role of Britain in American scholarship and the status of astronomy within American society.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro lunch counter sit-in, the museum explores stories of freedom and justice, both in Washington and online. To learn more about the museum, check http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).