Author Archives: Robert Davis

Baltic and East European Modernist Collections

Since 2009 my colleagues and I have taken special pains to bolster Columbia’s holdings of rare (and in some cases unique) titles in Baltic & East European modernist materials from the dynamic interwar decades, as well as avant-garde (Surrealist, Expressionist, Dadaist, etc.) literature.  We have secured a number of notable acquisitions—more than 150, by my

reckoning, held by either Avery Classics or RBML―that have cemented our position as the premier “destination” collection of such materials in North America.  Scholars are now examining the original and inflected contributions of indigenous intellectuals and artists in the context of broader European literary, artistic, architectural and political movements.  The addition of Polish, Latvian, Estonian, Croatian, Serbian, Hungarian, and Romanian interwar imprints over the past half-decade has established Columbia as an important repository for such materials.

This past fall, thanks to support from Columbia’s Primary Resources Fund, we were able to acquire a group of four exceptionally rare Estonian Modernist publications and two serials from the interwar period:

  • Pedro Krusten, author of Südame rahu. Romaan [Peace of Mind. A Novel] (Tartu, 1928) would achieve fame in his postwar fiction in exile, winning the Visnapuu Award for Literature in 1958. The cover design is by Jaan Vahtra;
  • Julius Öngo’s Ööpäev [Day and night] (Haapsalu (Tallinn), 1921) was issued in an edition of less than 150 copies, with a woodcut cover and five full-page woodcuts by artist Aleksander Bergmann (pseud. of Aleksander Vardi 1901-1983).
  • Hugo Raudsepp was a prolific playwright, journalist and critic who perished in a Siberian labor camp. His Pörunud aru õnnistus [Understand the blessing] Tartu, 1931), has a cover design by Peet Aren.
  • Rudolf Reimann’s Päikseratas. Poeem [Wheel of the sun. Poems] (Võrun, 1922) contains woodcuts by Vahtra.

  • Dünamis. Mõtteid võitlevast vabariigist. [Cultural notes. Thoughts about the struggle for the Republic] (Tartu, 1928) was the first and last issue of a journal launched to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Estonian Republic. It provoked such a strong reaction that it was shut down by the authorities and confiscated with only a few hundred copies actually released. Cover design by Vahtra.
  • Kirjanduslik kuukiri. [Beauty. A literary monthly] (Tartu, 1919-1921) 11 of 12 numbers each containing full-page illustrations and many original graphics showcasing a single artist, and literary contributions by Estonia’s leading modernists.

 

The Ukrainian Print Legacy of the “Surma” Book & Music Store

Earlier this summer, many of you no doubt saw the article by Noah Remnick “With Shop’s Closing, Little Ukraine Grows Smaller,” in the NYT of June 6.  The article concerned the closing of Surma Book & Music Company.  Founded by Ukrainian immigrant Myron Surmach some 98 years ago, the shop had occupied the East 7th street location since 1943.

img_0714Surma’s location at 11 East 7th Street in Manhattan

When Myron’s grandson Markian Surmach decided to sell the building and close up shop, he wished to ensure that the printed legacy of his grandfather’s publishing and book and sheet music retail business was not lost to posterity, and so he donated to the Columbia University Libraries some 140 titles published mainly between 1910 and the 1950s.  Many of these titles are quite rare, with few (or no) holding institutions, and document the Ukrainian community as

img_0717img_0715Examples of early sheet music

it adapted to life in the Greater Metropolitan area.   Now in the process of cataloging, The Surmach Family Collection of Ukrainian Imprints is a wonderful, unique addition to Columbia’s holdings.

Supplemental Purchase Expands Russian Imperial & Early Soviet Sheet Music Collection

img_0773One of the most visually exciting additions to Columbia’s holdings was the purchase of ninety-five additional examples of late Imperial and early Soviet sheet music.  Columbia’s holdings, catalogued collectively at https://clio.columbia.edu/catalog/10290450  are quite likely the largest in any North American collection from this era, now including some 268 titles.

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Checklist of East Slavic Modernist Titles Available

The 197-page Checklist of Russian, Ukrainian & Belarusian Avant-Garde & Modernist Books, Serials & Works on Paper at The New York Public Library & Columbia University Libraries compiled by Robert H. Davis Jr. and Megan Duncan-Smith, Harvard University (with an Introduction by Steven Mansbach, University of Maryland) is now available for viewing or download via Columbia’s Academic Commons:

http://dx.doi.org/10.7916/D8542NDZ

Sierra Exif JPEG

Image from No. 1086, Tugendkhol’d, IAkov Aleksandrovich. Iskusstvo v bytu. (Moskva, [1925?]) held by NYPL.

Slavic & East European Collections Add Rare Titles

A number of significant, rare, and in some cases unique antiquarian works from Eastern Europe were purchased for Columbia’s libraries over the past twelve months.  Through the efforts of colleagues in Global Studies, Rare Books & Manuscripts, and the Avery Classics Library, and with additional financial support from the Libraries’ Primary Resources Fund, distinctive collections in a number of languages were further enhanced.

–Columbia’s Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library added to its growing holdings of Baltic and East Central European modernist publications. Thirteen Latvian, Lithuanian, or Estonian titles (including six serials), and sixteen Hungarian titles were purchased. The vast majority are unique additions to WorldCat, or are held by only one or two other libraries in North America. Among the Baltic titles are Elegiski moment [Elegiac Moment] (Riga, 1925); and Karavane [Caravan](Riga [1920]), both illustrated by Niklāvs Strunke (1894-1966), one of the major artists of the Latvian avant-garde; and the satirical journals Hallo! (Riga, 1927-1928), and Ho-Ho (Riga, 1922-1924) containing graphics and articles by prominent Latvian modernist artists and writers. Other titles include works illustrated with linocuts by the Hungarian architect, writer, graphic artist, ethnologist, publisher and politician Károly Kós (1883-1977); an exhibition catalogue (Budapest, 1919) of art seized by the Hungarian Soviets from private collectors during the abortive revolution of 1919; the Hungarian Dadaist Ödön Palasovszky’s (1899-1980) Reorganizacio [Reorganization] (Budapest, 1924) a collection of poems and declarations; and Világanyám: Versek [My World-Mother: Poems] by the avant-garde poet, novelist and artist Lajos Kassák (1887-1967) published in 1921 in Vienna during his exile from Hungary. This latter title is characterized by the use of képarchitektura (pictorial architecture), in which words and images hold equal compositional value in the page design.

–Interesting Czech antiquarian acquisitions included collection of poems by Bretislav Mencák (1903-1981), Romance počestného clowna [Romance of an Honorable Clown] ([Prague], 1929).

–Columbia’s Polish acquisitions included two one-act plays by the noted Futurist artist, poet, and playwright Tytus Czyżewski (1880-1945) Osioł I słońce w metamorfozie [Donkey & the Sun in Metamorphosis] (Kraków, 1922), and Stanisław Przybyszewski (1868-1927) Matka: Dramat w IV aktach [Mother: A drama in 4 acts](Lwów & Warszawa, 1903).

–Another unusual acquisition was a five-volume limited edition of the collected works of the polymath Jan Potocki’s (1761-1815) (Louvain-Paris, 2004-2006). This set comes from an edition of only fifteen printed on special paper for Count Marek Potocki, a descendant.

–Sketches from the Warsaw literary cabarets of the interwar years: Pierwsza szopka warszawska. [The First Warsaw Revue] (Krakow, 1922) with illustrated wrappers and illustations by Zbigniew Pronaszko; Polityczna szopka cyrulika Warszawskiegopiora Marjana Hemara, Jana Lechonia, Antoniego Slonimskiego, Juliana Tuwima. [Political Revue by the Warsaw Barber, by Mariana Hemar, Antoni Słonimski, and Julian Tuwim](Warszawa, 1927); Szopka Polityczna. [Political Revue] (Warszawa, 1930); and Szopka Polityczna. [Political Revue] (Warszawa, 1931), with decorated wrappers. Such compilations of cabaret sketches are extremely scarce, and there are no examples in any public collections in the United States with the exception of Widener Library (and not these particular examples!).

–Bohumil Stibor. Soubor dřevorytů z koncentračního tábora. [Portfolio of Woodcuts from a Concentration Camp] (V Pelhřimově, 1946), consisting of ten original woodcuts by a former prisoner, printed shortly after his liberation. The images depict the steps from arrest, imprisonment, torture and finally mass murder. This portfolio may contain one of the very first graphic images of the crematoria. The only other copies in WorldCat are at Stanford and the Národní knihovna České republiky (Czech National Library).

Holocaust Album 2

Columbia’s holdings of 20th century Russian-language materials are among the largest and finest in North America. The collection of early 20th century imprints produced in both the homeland and emigration are particularly distinguished, and are regularly supplemented via gift and purchase on the antiquarian market. Among the acquisitions made over the past semester:

–Il’ia Erenburg, Trinadtsat trubok. [Thirteen Pipes] (Moskva, 1923), with wrappers in black and red designed by Liubov Kozintsova (1898-1970);

–Nikolai Gorlov, Futurizm i revoliutsiia; poezii futuristov. [Futurism and Revolution: poems of the Futurists] (Moskva, 1924).

Futurizm–Zakhida Iffat (pseud. of Burnasheva, Zaida Khusainovna, b. 1896-?). Zora Iulduz (Zvezda Venera). [Dream Star (Star of Venus)](Kazan, 1922), a scarce provincial imprint of a work by a female Tatar poet, translated from the Tatar original, with lovely wrappers and illustration by Aleksandra Platunova (1896-1966), painter, graphic artist and a member of the short-lived Kazan group “Vsadnik” which was active from 1920 to 1924.

Sorochinskaia Iarmarka. [The Market/Fair at Sorochyntsi] ([Moscow, [1932]). This unique example of a theatre program consists of one small oblong sheet ingeniously folded into five pages, with a Constructivist wrapper printed in black and red. The wrappers may be the work of Nisson Shifrin (1892-1961) who is credited as the designer of the overall production. V.I. Nemirovich- Danchenko (1858-1943) had returned to Soviet Russia from Hollywood in 1926 and opened the Musical Theater.

Byt’ bditel’nym: Al’bom nagliadnykh posobii [Be Vigilant! An Album of Visual Aides] (Moskva, 1963). This rare title consists of sixty unbound pages of illustrations on individual 35 x 51 cm. sheets. Designed by Varvara Rodchenko (b. 1925), the daughter of Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) and Varvara Stepanova (1894-1958), the photos and photomontages depict ways in which foreign agents might surreptitiously gather intelligence. The individual sheets were intended to be mounted on a wall, making this complete copy, in its original illustrated slipcase, all the more rare.

–Henri de Règnier (1864-1936). Tri Rasskaza. [Three Tales] (Peterburg, 1922). One of 75 numbered examples in an edition of 500, consists of illustrations by Dmitri Buchène (1893-1993)to the mildly erotic tales of de Règnier, and is reminiscent of the roughly contemporaneous works of Konstantin Somov (1869-1939). Somov’s exceptionally rare and particularly “revealing” (and incredibly rare) uncensored version of the 1918 Le Livre de la Marquise (held by New York Public) was printed in 1918 in St. Petersburg under a false imprint, indicating Venice. (See: Edward Kasinec & Robert Davis, “A Note on Konstantin Somov’s Erotic Book Illustration,” Eros and Pornography in Russian Culture = Eros i pornografiia v russkoi kul’ture (Moscow: Ladomir, 1999), pp. 338-[395].)

–Mikhail Vladimirovich Matorin (1901-1976). Shest Nature-Morte. [Six Still Lifes] Moskva, printed by the artist, 1921), is a portfolio of six wood engravings and linoleum cuts (some in color), each signed and dated by the artist, produced in an edition of only 30 copies, none of which are found in WorldCat. Matorin was a painter, illustrator and graphic artist who in 1920, despite his youth, began his long and distinguished career as a teacher, first at Moscow’s State Printing Workshop and later as Professor at Moscow’s V.I. Surikov Institute.

Antiquarian Purchases Enhance Rare Books, Avery Classics Collections

Columbia has supplemented holdings of rare Russian film programs of the 1920s (cataloged as [Soviet film programs from 1926-1930] in the Rare Books & Manuscripts Library). Five additional programs were added, bringing total holdings to twenty. Below are programs for Kto ty takoi?[Who Are You?] (1927, directed by Iurii Zheliabuzhskii, 1888-1955), and for the Russian release of Paramount’s The Spanish Dancer (1923) starring Polish-born actress Pola Negri (b. 1897 in Lipno, d. 1987 in San Antonio, Texas).

IMG_1020IMG_1021Thanks to support from Avery Library Director Carole Ann Fabian, Columbia purchased two very rare Hungarian titles:

A Ház [The House] (Budapest: Atheneum, 1908-1911), a journal dedicated to the building and visual arts, which appeared for four years under the directorship of Béla Málnai (1878-1941). It is a major document of the Hungarian architecture of the era, as well as examining the building and design of traditional Hungarian arts and crafts. From the late 19th century up to 1918, the territories under Hungarian rule employed a unique form of Secessionist architecture.

A Haz 1 A Haz 2Unfortunately, a number of examples of this style were destroyed in the closing days of World War II, and these pages may provide the only visual record of them. There are only two, incomplete sets of this title in North America.

 

The second Hungarian title, Dezső Keér’s (b. 1905) Harminc vers [Thirty Verses] (Budapest: Vajda Janos Tarsasag, 1925), features illustrations by Róbert Byssz (1899-1961), an early

Harminc verscontributor to avant-garde and leftist publications. Not found in any other WorldCat location, this title was produced in only 100 numbered copies, with a handwritten dedication by Keér.

Among North American collections, Columbia’s Hungarian holdings are exceeded in size only by those of  the Library of Congress.

 

Columbia Acquires Papers of Brodsky Translator & Biographer Lev Loseff

Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library has acquired the papers of Lev Loseff (1937-1999), noted Russian émigré poet, literary critic, professor of Russian Literature and Language at Dartmouth College, and a lifelong friend and authoritative biographer of Nobel Prize Laureate Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996). 

This acquisition of about 40 linear feet (more than twenty-eight packing boxes) of manuscripts, poems, correspondence, photographs, autographed first editions, and subject files includes a plethora of Brodsky materials, and represents an important addition to the  already rich collection of Russian materials in the Bakhmeteff Archive of Russian and East European History and Culture.

Born Lev Lifshits, Loseff was the son of Vladimir Lifshits, a well-known Russian poet.  He graduated from the Leningrad State University and soon after started writing poetry for Russian children’s magazines. In order not to be confused with his father, he changed his name to Loseff. 

He immigrated to the U.S. in 1976, and spent several years in Ann Arbor working for the Ardis Publishing House while obtaining his American doctoral degree.  In 1979, he accepted a position at Dartmouth College where he worked until his death.  In America he published twelve  well-received collections of verse and fiction in Russian, as well as numerous works of literary criticism. 

Joseph Brodsky’s correspondence, drawings, typed and holograph manuscripts, and books with inscriptions cover the period 1969 to 2001.  Some of the photographs cover an even earlier period in Brodsky’s life in Soviet Russia.  The collection also includes legal papers relating to Joseph Brodsky’s will.

Lev Loseff’s correspondence with well known Russian émigré intellectuals including Sergei Dovlatov, Ivan Elagin, Konstantin Kuzminsky, Leonid Rzhevsky is complimented by his research materials on these significant representatives of Russian Diaspora.

A collection of this magnitude offers valuable information on Russian émigré literary circles and sources of Russian scholarship in the United States. The Loseff Collection will also enhance the research and outreach activities of both the Harriman Institute and the East European Studies Center, both recipients of recent NEH Summer Institute grants for the study of America’s Russophone and East Central European communities. The Loseff collection constitutes an important complement to Brodsky materials already held at the Beinecke Library, Yale University, The Russian National Library, St. Petersburg, and the Green Library, Stanford University.

The Library can provide users with limited access to the Loseff papers while they are being processed. Patrons should make an appointment by calling the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at 212-854-3986.

Trove of Prokofiev Materials Comes to Columbia!

Columbia will soon become the home of the Serge Prokofiev Foundation’s collection of scores, documents, and ephemera covering the years 1918-1938.

The collection is described in today’s New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/17/arts/music/columbia-to-house-a-trove-of-prokofievs-items.html?_r=0

Presently held by Goldsmiths College, London, and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, ownership if the trove will be retained by the Foundation, with the understanding that it may be permanently given to the rare Book & Manuscript Library in five years.  The transfer of materials from London and Paris will begin November 1, and continue into 2014.

NEH Summer Institute Website Goes Live

The website for the 2014 NEH Summer Institute “America’s East Central Europeans: Migration & Memory,” scheduled for June 8-29, 2014, is now available at: http://nehsummerinst.columbia.edu/

This website includes detailed information on the Institute, daily agenda, reading list, eligibility and application information.

The new website also includes the archived content, including videos of selected presentations, of the 2011 and 2013 NEH Summer Institutes.

Individuals interested in applying are welcome to contact Robert Davis at mailto:rhd2106@Columbia.edu

2014 NEH Summer Institute Award Announced: “America’s East Central Europeans.”

The National Endowment for the Humanities has announced that it will support yet another prestigious Summer Institute for College & University Teachers, this entitled “America’s East Central Europeans: Migration & Memory” which will run from June 9-29, 2014.  Principal Investigator Alan Timberlake, Director of Columbia’s East Central European Center, will be assisted by Co-Directors Edward Kasinec (Harriman Institute) and Robert Davis (Global Studies, Columbia University Libraries). 

 

During the Institute, the twenty-five NEH Summer Scholars selected, together with an array of some fifty master teachers, scholars, and social services and community representatives will address three core questions: First, what are some of the methodological and conceptual issues (e.g., ethnic identity maintenance, inter-generational and inter-ethnic relations) to consider in any approach to the study of the East Central European emigrations?  Second, what were some of the particular characteristics, motivations, and experiences of these immigrants?  Finally, can we create a sophisticated narrative synthesis of the “East Central European Experience” in America that could be integrated into broader courses on American politics and immigration, sociology, and ethnic studies, or that could constitute “stand alone” courses in teaching curricula?  

 

East Central Europe is large and diverse, and so the Co-Directors have chosen to examine only a selection of ethnic categories.  Specific institute units are devoted to Baltic (Estonian & Latvian), Western Slavic (Czech/Polish/Slovak), South Slavic (Croatian & Serbian), Hungarian, and East Central European Jewish immigration to the United States following World War I, during the interwar period, after World War II, and in the post-Communist period.  In addition to discussing the core questions noted above, the institute also looks at and discusses topics ranging from community organization, political influence, and everyday life of people of East Central European backgrounds in the U.S. over the course of the last century. 

 

The 2014 Institute continues the Co-Directors’ cycle of NEH Summer Institutes emphasizing curricular enhancement and enrichment of syllabi in a number of disciplines.   As in previous institutes, it is expected that while the specific focus is on East Central European migration, the issues addressed will resonate for those studying other immigrant groups.  Therefore, the Co-Directors will strive to reach out to other area studies specialties—Latin Americanists, Asianists, Islamicists, Africanists, etc.—for potential Summer Scholar applicants.  Our essential goal is to enrich the historical narrative of immigration to America by identifying both unique aspects and commonalities among the diverse groups studied, and to strategize how to better weave these strands into the warp and weft of American immigration and global history. 

 

This will be the third Summer Institute awarded to Harriman, the previous taking place in June 2011 and June 2013.   It will be the sixth co-directed by Messrs. Kasinec & Davis.

 

College & university teachers, researchers, independent scholars, museum curators and libraries are encouraged to apply for this competitive program.  Successful applications are notified by April 1.   In the fall of 2013, full information as to application procedures, requirements, daily schedule, and on-campus housing will be disseminated via the Institute website at NEHsummerinst.Columbia.edu. 

 

Information on, and video from previous Summer Institutes are archived at the URL above.