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Exhibit explores 300 years of American views on apocalypse
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View the end of the world as seen through American literature and history in the Special Collections exhibition, free and open to the public. Alderman Library's hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Exhibit explores 300 years of American views on apocalypse

By Melissa Norris

How often have American "prophets" predicted the end of the world? Puritan preacher Cotton Mather did so in 1697, 1716 and 1736. Apocalyptic thinker William Miller saw the end coming in 1843 and again in 1844. More recently, writer Hal Lindsay predicted the end of the world in 1988. Is the Y2K bug the latest in these predictions of the end of the world?

"Red, White, Blue and Brimstone: New World Literature and the American Millennium," an exhibition that opened Nov. 19 and runs through April 28 in the McGregor Room of Alderman Library, explores American views of the apocalypse. Rare books, manuscripts and engravings illustrate apocalyptic and millennialist movements in American history. The exhibition surveys the range of national writings from the 17th century to the present day, including early colonial sermons and histories of New England, Bibles from the 16th through 19th centuries, as well as missionary tracts for indigenous Americans, broadsides from obscure religious cults, tabloids and popular literature, and tracts from contemporary millennial movements.

Red, White, Blue & Brimstone
The exhibition may also be viewed online at

The apocalypse and the millennium have long been a subject of American thought, and thus expressed through early writings to present-day novels, according to Heather Moore, head of public services for the library's Special Collections department.

Included in the exhibition are original sermons and letters from American theorists and preachers such as Cotton Mather, who delivered fiery sermons on topics of sin and described the end of the world as a great cataclysmic battle between good and evil.

Cotton Mather
Cotton Mather,
American clergyman

The Eliot "Indian" Bible, one of the earliest pieces on display, dates back to 1663 and is the first complete Bible printed in America. John Eliot translated the Old and New Testaments into the language of Algonquian in hopes of converting the Native Americans so that they could be reconciled with Christ at the end of time.

Thomas Jefferson was familiar with apocalyptic theorists such as Emanuel Swedenborg, Alexander Smyth, and the Shakers. On display is Jefferson's own copy of "Notes on the State of Virginia," the only book he ever wrote and which is said to contain apocalyptic metaphors.

The 20th century includes its share of millennialist groups preparing for the end of the world. These views can be seen in items on display such as the best-selling book, The Late Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsay, who predicted the world would end in 1988. Other writers can see 666, the mark of the beast, in the "New Money System" of check-out counter barcodes, in fiber-optics, and, not surprisingly, in the Y2K scare, as is depicted in N.W. Hutchings and Larry Spargimino's book, How Will January 1, 2000 Affect You? Y2K=666, published by Hearthstone Publishers in 1998.


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