Library of Congress European Collections: An Illustrated Guide
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In 1814 after the Congress of the United States had lost its library when British soldiers captured Washington and burned the Capitol, former president Thomas Jefferson from his retirement in Monticello offered to replace the lost books by selling to Congress his own library, which was reputed to be the richest private collection in America. Jefferson, who had purchased a sizable portion of his books from dealers in several European cities during his tenure from 1784 to 1789 as minister to France, strongly believed that the involvement of Congress in international as well as national affairs meant that the legislators would benefit substantially from the range of subjects and languages that his collection contained.

Some members, however, challenged the need for such a variety of materials and particularly objected to the French material on both political and moral grounds:

"It might be inferred," said Cyrus King, one of Jefferson's principal antagonists, "from the character of the man who collected it, and France, where the collection was made, that the library contained irreligious and immoral books, works of the French philosophers, who caused and influenced the volcano of the French Revolution which had desolated Europe and extended to this country." Jefferson's books, which would help disseminate his "infidel philosophy," were "good, bad, and indifferent, old, new, and worthless, in languages which many can not read, and most ought not." (Cited in William Dawson Johnston's History of the Library of Congress, vol. 1, 1800-1864 [Washington: Library of Congress, 1904], 86.)

King's arguments failed to persuade a majority of his congressional colleagues, and Jefferson's internationalist philosophy has continued to guide collection development at the Library of Congress. Indeed, books, periodicals, maps, prints, manuscripts, musical scores, films, and other library materials originating from Europe are, after Americana, the most extensive and arguably the most important of the Library's holdings. Although the Library does not have discreet "European collections" in the formal sense, European materials are abundant and, in some special fields, predominant among the holdings.

Thumbnail Image of "The Grammar of Ornament" Owen Jones. The Grammar of Ornament (London, 1856). This work, a careful study of Eastern and Western design motifs and a masterpiece of color printing, was one of the books that had an impact on the design of nineteenth-century English furniture and interiors. Plate LXIV is an example of Celtic ornamentation. (Prints and Photographs Division)

The Library of Congress holds an estimated twenty million book and serial volumes, one-third of which are American imprints. Of the remaining two-thirds, European imprints form a clear majority. And there are areas where European items are especially strong; for example, about 50 percent of the Library's rare books are of European origin. The Library's most valuable book collection, the incunabula, printed with movable type before 1501, is almost exclusively European. This collection of nearly 5,700 books is the largest group of incunabula in the Western Hemisphere. In the Geography and Map Division collections, 25 to 30 percent of all maps are European. European countries account for about 96 percent of the documentary materials obtained by the Library's special project of copying foreign manuscripts inaugurated in 1905.

The acquisition of European books and other materials has a long tradition, characterized initially by remarkable individual purchases and donations following the acquisition of Jefferson's collection: the Smithsonian deposit in 1866, the Peter Force library the following year, the purchase in 1904 of the small (1,500 volumes), highly specialized library of the Czech linguist Martin Hattala, the purchase two years later of the 80,000-volume library of the renowned Siberian book collector Gennadii Yudin, the receipt on deposit in 1910 of the collection of John Boyd Thacher, and the purchase in 1930 of the Vollbehr Collection.

Thumbnail Image of "Letter from Thomas Jefferson, dated October 31, 1823 to the Greek Hellenist and patriot, Adamantios Koraes

 (here Coray)"Letter from Thomas Jefferson, dated October 31, 1823, to the Greek Hellenist and patriot, Adamantios Koraes (here Coray), in which Jefferson responds to Koraes's letter of July 10, 1823, requesting advice on drawing up a constitution for newly liberated Greece. (Manuscript Division)

The Peter Force library launched the Library's collecting of incunabula, and the Yudin acquisition formed the core of the Library's Russian collection. In Hattala's case the purchase provided the Library with its first basic set of key works in Slavic philology. Thacher's deposit, later converted into a gift, contained 904 incunabula. Vollbehr's collection added thousands of incunabula, the most revered being the Library's magnificent Gutenberg Bible.

During the past several decades European materials have been acquired systematically. For most European countries, the Library regulates its supply of currently published books by yearly renewable purchase orders placed with various vendors: national libraries in some cases, private agencies in others. The following statistics illustrate the continual, steady increase of European monographs in the Library's collections: annual additions from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland amount to about 30,000 volumes; French acquisitions total approximately 7,000 volumes yearly; Hungarian monographs increase by about 2,000 volumes every year; the annual rate of acquisition of Czech and Slovak monographs is about 1,500 volumes.

In fact, the Library of Congress holdings of books and other materials from almost all European countries are larger than holdings anywhere else in the world except for the countries themselves. Western and Eastern Europe are equally well represented in the Library of Congress collections. It has been said that items originating from England and Ireland make up the Library's second richest geographic strength. The particularly strong German collections encompass approximately 2.25 million volumes. French items in the general collections are estimated at over one million volumes. Russian-language items amount to about 700,000 volumes, to which may be added about an equal number of volumes in other languages of the former Soviet Union and in Western languages about Russia. Italian items number about 500,000 volumes, and the Spanish collections are of approximately equal size. Poland is represented by about 130,000 books and bound serials.

Thumbnail Image of Chelminski's "L'Armée du duché de Varsovie" Jan V. Chelminski. L'Armée du duché de Varsovie (Paris, 1913). Shown here is Prince Poniatowski's aide-de-camp, on one of fifty-two such plates illustrating the glorious, if brief, history of the Army of the Duchy of Warsaw, 1807-15. (Rare Book and Special Collections Division)

Surprisingly broad are the collections of some of the smaller European countries. The Dutch and Flemish collections consist of about 180,000 items; works on Hungary and Hungarians or by Hungarian authors amount to about 130,000 items; the Czech and Slovak collections are estimated at more than 100,000 volumes.

In general, the European collections in the Library of Congress are well-balanced, but a few special features do stand out in comparison with the holdings of major libraries in Europe. Owing to its emphasis on materials related to the United States, the Library of Congress has become the world's largest repository of publications and documents that have to do with American-European ties in certain historical periods, including records of European exploration of the New World, genealogical records, and materials describing the experiences of American artists and literary figures in Europe.

Another case of the probably unequaled strength of the Library's European collections is literature temporarily classified as libri prohibiti. For many decades the Library collected books and periodicals that were not available to researchers in Central and Eastern Europe under the communist régimes. These include samizdat publications, émigré literatures, and works of Western authors on Central and Eastern Europe. For this reason the European collections of the Library of Congress are, in these genres, even more inclusive than the domestic library collections in some of the European countries themselves, such as Russia, Romania, or the Czech Republic.

Thumbnail image of "Der Sachsenspiegel" Der Sachsenspiegel (Germany, ca. 1500). A page from the illuminated manuscript of one of the oldest and most influential law codes written in High German during the Holy Roman Empire. The original Sachsenspiegel dates from 1230. (Rare Book and Special Collections Division)

It is obvious that the influence of literature published in European languages far exceeds the geographical limits of Europe. For example, the significance of the European collections in the Library of Congress is enhanced by the fact that some of the European languages have become standard or literary languages on other continents. French-speaking areas include not only France and parts of Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland but also countries, regions, or social groups in Africa, Asia, North America, and the Middle East. Portuguese is the official language of several African countries and of Brazil, and Spanish is dominant in most of the rest of South and Central America. Russian remains widely spoken in vast territories in Asia outside the Russian Federation. And, of course, the present status of English as the lingua franca of almost the whole world is the best example of linguistic interaction between Europe and other continents.

A variety of formats conveys the riches of the European collections of the Library of Congress, including books, manuscripts, letters, maps, drawings, music scores, musical instruments, films, and photographs. European materials reside both in the general collections of the Library and in the special collections. The various formats and types of collections are discussed throughout this volume, but for clarity's sake we begin with sections on the principal subject areas -- the humanities and social sciences, the arts, and science and technology -- before turning to more detailed discussions of the Library's special collections, its rare books and manuscripts, and its maps. Finally, this guide focuses on a unique strength, the Library's unparalleled materials on European Americana and American Europeana.

The European collections of the Library of Congress are strongest in the humanities and social sciences, with special strengths in language, literature, history, geography, political science, law, the arts, and economics. Reference materials in all these areas, but particularly in the social sciences and humanities, are represented as comprehensively as possible. For most European countries the Library of Congress offers in-depth coverage of a wide variety of subjects throughout all periods. All in all, the Library provides the best resources in the United States for the study of European affairs in the broad disciplines of social sciences, humanities, and law.

All forms of art are strongly represented in the Library of Congress, but music stands out as the strongest single area with about 600 donor-named collections containing instruments, original scores, manuscripts, librettos, and original recordings, most of which are European in provenance or inspiration. Of course one need only visit the magnificent Main Reading Room of the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building to be reminded of the heritage of European art and architecture at the institution, and the arts section of this guide also outlines the art and architecture catalogs from various centuries and the numerous books illustrated by renowned artists. Noteworthy, in addition, are the Library's extensive holdings of films from several European countries.

For centuries Europe has played a leading role in many areas of science, a fact mirrored in the Library's vast and diverse holdings of scientific and technological literature. From the first complete edition of the works of Archimedes to an original copy of Sir Francis Bacon's Novum organum to a complete twenty-eight volume set of Diderot's Encyclopédie, the Library of Congress is a treasure trove, largely centered on Europe, for the historian of science. The Library, of course, acquires a full complement of contemporary scientific and technological journals and holds nearly four million technical reports, including technical standards from France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, and the European Union.

The many special collections at the Library of Congress include some on individual European countries like Bulgaria, Portugal, and Russia; others on discreet fields of endeavor or knowledge with a strong European accent, like aeronautics, gastronomy, or magic; and still others on individual European personalities.

Breathtaking in their richness and variety, the Library's rare book and manuscript collections feature the Gutenberg Bible, one of only three known complete copies printed on vellum. The Library possesses legal milestones like England's Magna Charta and France's Grand Coutumier de Normandie, and manuscripts of the Sachsenspiegel and of the Russkaia Pravda, the oldest law codes of Germany and Eastern Europe, respectively. Rare editions of many European writers including Herodotus, Augustine, and Descartes; Burke, Kant, and Lomonosov; Keats, Goethe, and Dostoyevsky grace the Library's collections. In 1993, the Library passed a milestone when it acquired its 100,000,001st item, and it was European -- the first printed account of the fifteenth-century Portuguese discoveries.

Thumbnail Image of the "Magna charta cum statuis angliae"Magna charta cum statutis angliae (XIVth c). Among the Law Library's rarest books, this miniature manuscript is still in its original pigskin wrapper. Very intricate colored pen work graces this small version of the basic source of English common law. (Law Library, Rare Book Room)

A special pride of the Library of Congress is its splendid collection of maps, which include more than one million items of European cartographic material in virtually every form. They range from a 1474 first edition of Ptolemy's Geographike and a 1595 first edition of Mercator's Atlas to early twentieth-century maps of Europe that played a role at the peace conferences ending World War I.

Perhaps nothing at the Library of Congress is culturally more significant than its unique collection of European Americana and American Europeana. Beginning with the Columbus Codex (Book of Privileges) of 1502 and Martin Waldseemüller's Cosmographiae introductio of 1507 in which the word "America" appeared in print for the first time, the Library's holdings vividly trace the ties that link the Old and New Worlds. One can find the maps of early European explorers and accounts of the tribulations of the first European settlers. The period of the American Revolution is extensively documented in the Count de Rochambeau Papers, and letters of Revolutionary War advisers Lafayette, von Steuben, Kosciuszko, and Pulaski to American founding fathers like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Hancock are among the Library's treasures of European Americana.

Thumbnail Image of "Front page of Corant or Weekly Newes"Front page of Corant or Weekly Newes, from Italy, Germany, Hungaria, Polonia, Bohemia, France, and the Low-countries, published in London on October 11, 1621. Acquired with the Feleky Collection of Hungarica in 1953, the Corant was at that time the oldest-known extant copy of an English-language newspaper. (Rare Book and Special Collections Division)

For the era of the First World War and its aftermath, the Library of Congress offers a multitude of both published works and unique manuscript documents -- in the Woodrow Wilson Papers, the Robert Lansing Papers, and elsewhere -- illustrating the movements for the independence of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and other countries that have been assisted by the United States. Today, thousands of individual Americans use the impressive genealogical resources of the Library to trace their family roots to Europe. The Library's collections also provide a fascinating array of Americans' perspectives on Europe and of European exiles' poignant views of their homelands from these shores.

* * * * *

The writing of this book was a team effort, led by the talented area specialists and research librarians of the Library's European Division. Unlike many other units of the Library of Congress, the European Division is not the custodian of most of the materials that support its acquisitions and reference work. Hence, the staff of the Division, collectively and individually, visited and consulted with colleagues throughout the Library to assess the particular strengths of the vast holdings on the countries of Europe on which they are expert and for which they are responsible. Most of the Division's area specialists and reference librarians wrote lengthy country-specific essays, which have been edited and made available online via Internet. Special thanks are due Carol Armbruster, Ronald Bachman, Grant Harris, Harold Leich, Kenneth Nyirady, and Predrag Pajic for integrating the voluminous findings of the country-specific essays in the writing of first drafts of the textual sections of this guide.

In addition, since the administrative structure of the Library places Spain and Portugal in the Hispanic Division and Great Britain and Ireland in the Humanities and Social Sciences Division, we were aided by specialists from those areas and by experts in the classics and in Hebraica. I am deeply appreciative of their assistance.

Above all, I am indebted to my colleagues David H. Kraus, Assistant Division Chief and Specialist for Eastern Europe, and particularly George Kovtun, Specialist for the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Eastern Europe. Their indefatigble labors spanned a range of tasks, from research and writing to collating and organizing, to assisting in choosing the illustrations for the book from a great variety of interesting possibilities. They, and the other contributors mentioned above, with good humor and deep cultural sensitivity, have collaborated on this volume, which attempts to convey the remarkable breadth and richness of the European collections of the Library of Congress.


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