History is human drama. It doesn’t always draw in straight lines or paint in primary colors. It curves and contradicts. It colors with subtle hues that give off different casts depending on how deeply you look, and when.
You see this in the picture that emerges of the former Anatomical Theatre. Thomas Jefferson considered it so important he was willing to delay completion of the Rotunda to get it built. A century later, it would be the University’s only Jeffersonian structure to be torn down.
It was by turns grand and gruesome, a once-shining example of medical education that would later cast a shadow—its architectural symmetry nearly perfect, its ethical practices anything but. It trafficked with grave robbers and gave rise to the student Cadaver Society, the historical photographs of which we have spared you. Our architectural postmortem appears in “Theatre of the Macabre.” As with any good horror story, you will cringe, but you won’t want to avert your eyes.
Here’s where you might: the tradition of streaking the Lawn, a custom more honored in the buff than in the observation. Just as history rarely takes a direct path from Point A to Point B, so too does the naked there-and-back between the Rotunda steps and Homer’s backside take some wild detours, as we report in “Streak Show.”
The Retrospect section in this issue begins a series of historical reports on the birth of UVA, timed over the next several issues with the University’s bicentennial celebrations. Historian Peter Onuf explores why Jefferson chose a university to be his legacy to the republic. The first clue comes in the title of the essay: “Thomas Jefferson’s Prayer for the Future.”
It was once considered a conspicuous omission for a University speaker not to begin and end remarks with the phrase, “as Thomas Jefferson once said.” When UVA President Teresa Sullivan quoted Jefferson in a pair of University-wide appeals for postelection calm, she got back a petition. Some 400-plus students and faculty had taken offense, given Jefferson’s life as a slaveholder. But, as with history itself, there’s more to it than that. Our story, “Unquoting Jefferson,” lays out the timeline of the national-headlining events and presents a spectrum of opinion on the topic. The consensus that emerges forms around the remarkable civility of the public discussion and the full functioning of the First Amendment at UVA.
But don’t let us color your view. You should color for yourself. In “Pigments of Your Imagination” you’ll find a UVA adult coloring book, the latest trend in mindfulness. Think of this special section as a meditative aid as you ponder history’s arc, those curving lines and complicated shades of meaning. If you don’t mind getting mindfully competitive in your contemplation, enter our Beta Bridge coloring contest. So, take up your colored pencils and take a deep, relaxing breath. As you exhale, repeat the mantra on the cover: Go Hues!
S. Richard Gard Jr.