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A first edition of Nicolaus Copernicus’ landmark scientific text, “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” will be on display Monday, March 14 for SDSU's quasquicentennial celebration. A first edition of Nicolaus Copernicus’ landmark scientific text, “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” will be on display Monday, March 14 for SDSU's quasquicentennial celebration.
 


Correspondence with MLK, Copernicus’ Landmark Text And Other Rarities on Display at SDSU to Celebrate 125th Birthday

Rarely viewed items from Special Collections and University Archives will be on public display for Quasquicentennial observance March 14.
By Tobin Vaughn
 

An open house at the San Diego campus set for Monday, March 14 will launch the celebration of San Diego State University’s 125th anniversary. The observance lasts 600 days, from March 13 to Nov. 1, 2023, the dates coinciding with the school’s charter signing in 1897 and its first day of classes in 1898.
 
The quasquicentennial kickoff centers around an exhibition that includes performances, interactive elements, and appearances by notable alumni in Montezuma Hall at Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union. The event, which is free and open to the public, will feature displays and vignettes taking visitors through every decade of the university’s history.
 
Many of the historic display components are artifacts from SDSU’s Special Collections and University Archives, which are housed primarily on the bottom floor of Love Library. Along with Anthropology Professor and SDSU History Curator Seth Mallios, library staff and volunteers have spent the better part of a year planning, writing, and curating along with culling ideas and items to include in the exhibition. 
 
Few have been busier than Assistant Head of University Archives and Special Collections Amanda Lanthorne (’04), who sorted through hundreds of items looking for the best and most appropriate artifacts to help convey the university’s rich history.

“It has been going through our collections and deciding what would be the most visually interesting materials to display,” Lanthorne said. “A lot of our stuff is text-heavy, so trying to balance that out, you want it to look nice, but you also want to showcase the really important things in our campus history.”
 
Copernicus to King
 
One of the library’s most prized volumes to be displayed is a first edition of Nicolaus Copernicus’ landmark scientific text, “De revolutionibus orbium coelestium” (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres). Its 1543 publication was a scientific milestone in which Copernicus identified the sun as the center of the solar system.
 
The book was purchased from Stanford University by SDSU Friends of the Library in the 1990s and donated as the one-millionth book in the library’s collection.

 
“How many people get to see a first edition of ‘De revolutionibus,’” Lanthorne asked. “It means so much for science and how we view the world, so it’s a very important work. Our copy actually has papal marginalia where the Church is censoring Copernicus, scribbling over the text and writing in the margin what they think should be there.” 
 
As a complement to the 1960s vignette in the Montezuma Hall exhibition featuring student recitations of remarks delivered on campus by President John F. Kennedy and famed civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Lanthorne has included a letter from King’s team responding to an invitation to speak on campus. Letters from the World War II Servicemen's Correspondence Collection, 1941-1946, will be included with the 1940s vignette.
 
A Sword and a Track Uniform
 
Among Lanthorne’s favorite items on display will be a cane and a sword that belonged to Samuel Black, who served as what was then the San Diego Normal School’s first president from 1898 – 1910. There is also a century-old track uniform made of fading purple and gold fabric, the school colors at the time.
 
In addition to the open house, Lanthorne and her Special Collections colleagues are curating two exhibits to be housed in the library.  Those exhibits will run for several months and will feature many items from the Montezuma Hall exhibition once it closes. 
 
The open house is the first of four signature events, one scheduled for each semester through fall  2023. The other three are the first homecoming in SDSU’s new Snapdragon Stadium this fall, the first all-school graduation for the San Diego campus to be held at Snapdragon Stadium in spring  2023, and the fall 2023 celebration finale of the reenactment of the first day of classes at the site of the school’s original location at Sixth and F Streets in downtown San Diego.
 
The university has established a website, “Celebrating 125 Years of Excellence,” that includes a timeline of events and more information about the quasquicentennial. Alumni, students, faculty, staff and community members are invited and encouraged to share SDSU stories and experiences at 125.sdsu.edu.