Category Archives: Global Studies

The Muslim World Manuscript Project

How do archives get activated? The Muslim World Manuscript Project at the Columbia University Libraries

On the shore where Time casts up its stray wreckage, we gather corks and broken planks, whence much indeed may be argued and more guessed…. Anonymous

MS Or 152c Single leaf with illustration, between 1850 and 1950?. Manuscript leaf with painting. The recto contains six lines of text in four columns, interrupted by a pastiche painting of six figures, four on the right side in helmets and chains and two on the left side.

 

Turkish calendar, with a lunar table showing the phases of the moon. Includes information on prayer times for each day of the year and astrological signs for finding the best times for curing different illnesses.

MS Or 24, Turkish Calendar for year 1064 AH, 1653, Turkey? (New York, Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

One question that fascinates me is how the power of archives gets activated. What decisions, resources, and institutional support; what historical, intellectual, social and scholarly factors, interests and ideas; what serendipities need to converge for an archive at a research library to become “an active site where social power is negotiated, contested, confirmed” (Schwarz and Cook, Archives, Records and Power: The Making of Modern Memory, in Archival Science 2(1):1-19 · March 2002) or for a documentary record to make it into our collective multi-faceted narratives and discourses, and be lent the power of representation and participation in the scholarly, social and cultural dialogues of our times?

This concern particularly pressed upon me as I considered a specific collection of over 500 codices of Islamic manuscripts housed at the Columbia University Libraries since the early 20th century, when collecting “Islamic” and “Oriental” manuscripts began in earnest at many research libraries in North America. Recently, I was extremely pleased to learn that the stars seemed to have aligned for this collection, which is now the focus of a preservation and intellectual engagement plan at the University. In the spring of 2018,  the Columbia University Libraries, in partnership with the Free Library of Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, Haverford College, and Bryn Mawr College, received a three-year Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), which is supported by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, for a project entitled: the Muslim World Manuscripts (MWM). The project was motivated by a shared interest across the partner institutions in uncovering hidden collections from and about Islamic cultures and societies and in encouraging new scholarship based on the items to be digitized. Over three years, the MWM aims to provide digital access to 576 Islamic manuscripts and 827 paintings from the various participating institutions’ collections. (The Columbia University Libraries will be digitizing 345 manuscripts out of its 500 codices). 

The project also aims to make the discovery of and access to these collections much easier, by allowing for a number of access points, including a unified online collection portal on the University of Pennsylvania’s OPenn site, the Columbia Library Catalog CLIO, WorldCat, the Internet Archive and, eventually the Columbia Libraries Digital Collections’ portal.

The importance of supporting and encouraging inclusiveness and diversity within the overall knowledge production and scholarly landscapes within the academy, as well as the need to advance and support rooted engagement with historical, unique and rare collections from world areas have both been recognized for quite a while at Columbia, and the impetus to preserve and digitize these Islamic manuscripts in particular was the result of the hard work of a group of students, Shabbir Abbas, Catherine Ambler, Sadegh Ansari, Zeinab Azarbadegan, Trevor Brabyn, Mahmood Gharavi, and Matthew Gillman.

MS Or 261 Dalāʼil al-khayrāt. / [دلائل الخيرات], Jazūlī, Muḥammad ibn Sulaymān, -1465 جزولي، محمد بن سليمان،Morocco, between 1800-1850?

The students took it upon themselves to uncover these hidden gems, and to engage with the collection in an interdisciplinary and multi-faceted manner. They built interest on campus and connected with faculty from a  variety of disciplines and backgrounds, including the Religion, History, Middle Eastern, South Asian,African Studies, and Anthropology departments as well as the Libraries, specifically RBML and Global Studies. They  also succeeded in organizing a conference as well as a codicology workshop and an Experimental Methods in Humanistic Research workshop. Faculty members supported and kindled this renewed interest in research and teaching based on scribal material culture from Islamic societies. Shortly after the student organized conference, a joint CLIR application was submitted by the various partners, and the project is now underway, making strides in digitizing, but also in cataloging, and better describing  these collections, with the help of the students (who are learning how to catalog manuscripts), the Middle East and Islamic Studies Librarian at Columbia, Peter Magierski, and the hiring of a full-time cataloger at UPenn, Kelly Tuttle.

                                                                        *****

Here, as elsewhere, accounting for the success story of an archive is an extremely complex task, and indeed perhaps can only be managed well much later, long after an archive emerges from the dust of oblivion, so to speak. And the discoveries along the journey, the newly noticed silences and gaps, the pitch of the voice or where the accent may have been put, our perceptions of these factors, all tell invaluable stories about the times, and the people around the archive, as much as about any specific item in the archive per se. The story of who gets to tell a story over time, how and why they get to do it, is itself a truer story that fleshes out more fully and accurately who we are as scholars, as students and librarians, as academics, and indeed, who and how we are in the world.

With the Muslim World Manuscripts project, one can certainly appeal to the story of the shifting tides of “oriental studies” and the evolution of their trajectory at academic institutions, which may explain, in part, why this particular collection may not have received full individualized attention as a distinct body of knowledge earlier on. And one can also appeal to changes in the politics of representation within the academy; the resurgence of interest in the marginalized, and finally perhaps the impact of digital technology, which has opened new interests and supported various inter-disciplinary perspectives on scribal material cultures, and has opened new venues for access and collaboration.

MS Or 152c Single leaf with illustration, between 1850 and 1950?. Manuscript leaf with painting. The verso holds two clippings of unrelated text pasted in different directions

Questions of provenance and genealogy also deserve to be scrutinized, and unraveled: the provenance of a collection, what scholarly and socio-cultural currents motivated initial collecting efforts around it, and how the collection was used at past times at the University are all important questions to address. For an archive is always more than the sum of its parts, and the collectors behind it, as well as the scholars and students who use it over time, the people who catalog it, present it and valorize it– or not– are all part of what an archive is. Some very informative articles and posts about the history of the Islamic manuscript collection at CUL which touch upon some of these questions have been recently published by Dagmar Riedel. We will come back to some of the questions raised by the genealogy and usages of the collection in future blog posts, but for now, a very basic narrative of some aspects of this historiography can be given here.

The beginnings of the collection can be traced back to an initial gift in the late 19th c. from Alexander I. Cotheal (1804-1894) who donated a number of books from his large library. The library was amassed throughout Cotheal’s travels to Africa and the Middle East, where Cotheal engaged in trade. (Cotheal also served as the Consul to Nicaragua). Cotheal was a businessman, but also a true bibliophile, a man who even translated and published a short story from Alf Layla wa Layla, the One Thousand Nights that had not been included in the seminal translation and edition by Sir Burton of 1897, “Attaf the Generous: the Tale of Attaf”. (Burton thanks Cotheal in subsequent editions of the preface of his translation for sharing some manuscripts with him for his seminal edition). 

Cotheal was also a generous donor and an early member of the American Oriental Society, AOS, which was established in 1840–one of the earliest learned societies in North American that was devoted to the Near East: the bylaws, goals and manner of operation of the AOS were modeled after distinguished learned societies in Europe such as the Societe Asiatique, founded in 1822 (which was headed by Antoine-Isaac Silvestre de Sacy, Champollion, among others). Most probably due to his participation in the AOS circle, Cotheal became acquainted with William Dwight Whitney (1814-1901), who was a student of the famous orientalist Edward Salisbury (1814-1901), also a member and president of AOS, and the founder of Arabic and Sanskrit studies at Yale, and in fact, as many would argue, in North America. Whitney, a prolific author, succeeded Salisbury as a professor of Sanskrit at Yale upon his retirement and went on to preside over the AOS twice in his career, in addition to holding the prestigious position of AOS Librarian for almost two decades (1855-73). It is probably through Whitney and the AOS that Cotheal also got to know many of the figures who played an important role in amassing “oriental” manuscripts for Columbia, including Richard Gottheil (1862–1936, CC 1881) and A.V.William Jackson, (1862–1937, CC 1883) professors of Semitic and Indo-Persian languages, respectively.

aid, Omar Ibn, 1770?-1863, Author, and Omar Ibn Said Collection. The life of Omar ben Saeed, a Foulah slave. [New York?: Alexander Cotheal, ?, 1848] Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/item/2018662614/.

Cotheal had a deep interest in Arabic and African cultures, and recently, it was uncovered through a project at the Library of Congress that Cotheal translated, at the turn of the century, the recently digitized and uncovered first known extent copy of a diary of a Muslim slave in America, namely the diary of Omar Ibn Said. Shortly after Cotheal’s death, in 1896, his sisters established an endowed fund in his name, for the purchase of “Oriental” books  at he Columbia Libraries. (Cotheal had no other heirs than his sisters). The Cotheal endowed fund allowed for a sustainable resource to build the collection, and it is still active until today, making it one of the oldest continuously active endowed funds at the Columbia University Libraries.

View of the new Columbia campus taken in 1897, photo courtesy of the Columbia University Archives

Several factors supported and fueled these nascent collecting efforts at Columbia, including an interest in comparative philology, which at the time was perceived by many as the height of humanistic endeavor, based on a pedagogical model mostly practiced in Europe. What also helped was the transformation of the College into a full-fledged university in 1896, and its move to its current location in Morningside Heights. The latter factor allowed for the building of a grand library on a prominent spot overlooking the newly acquired Morningside Heights campus, namely Low Library, which opened in 1897 , designed by McKim, and was funded by a donation of one million dollars from President Seth Low (1850-1916), in honor of his father. The former factor–namely the move to a liberal arts university model, on the other hand, in addition to a rapidly changing world which was witnessing further mobility and connectedness, (as well as unprecedented world scale tragedies such as a first world war) also ushered in an era of active interest in the wider world, and in collecting about and from world cultures and languages, to support the rise of the liberal arts teaching model within the academy (the core curriculum was pioneered at the University after WWI in great part as a response to the war, and as an embodiment of the liberal arts educative impulse).

A dedicated department (one out of six departments that formed the University then) for “Oriental languages” was formed in 1896 as part of the Faculty of Philosophy, and  courses in Semitic and Indo-Persian languages, including Sanskrit, were offered. In general, existing information suggests that four main collections form the core of the Islamic manuscripts collection. These sub-collections have entered the Libraries at various dates, and continuously until the 60s, after which growth slowed tremendously, coming almost to a halt.

After the establishment of the Cotheal fund in 1896, several manuscripts started to enter the Libraries, and now form what is known as the X collection, which is a very broad collection, built in increments of large and small gifts and purchases of manuscripts of all types, up to the 1950s. It is worth noting several factors about this collection: first, its odd naming as X, perhaps signalling the bewilderment of the librarians working with its many unfamiliar non-Roman languages; second, its huge eclecticism, as many subjects, and a wide variety of provenance and languages seem to be allocated in it, and third, its foundational status, as most items in this collection seem to have been acquired in an era predating the official establishment of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML) in the 30s. This is a collection that remains understudied, both in terms of its provenance, as well as in terms of its content, and much remains to be done to uncover its scholarly significance.  

The two other biggest sub-collections came from the Smith and the Plimpton collections, donated respectively in 1931, 1934 for Smith, and in 1936 for Plimpton, and then combined in 1938-39, to form  the Smith/ Plimpton Collection with a dedicated librarian to look after the collection. David Eugene Smith (1860-1944) was a professor

MS Or 327 Qurʼān leaves. Item is undated, perhaps 14th-15th c.? Smith, David Eugene, 1860-1944, former owner

of mathematics at Teachers College, as well as a librarian (1902-1920), and served as the editor of the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, the American Mathematical Monthly, among other important journals about the history of mathematics. Perhaps Smith is best known for his Rara Mathematica (1907) , and his authorship of over forty mathematical textbooks. Smith was an avid collector of manuscripts and mathematical instruments, and he had a clear love for Islamic manuscripts, and went to great lengths to include in his collection beautiful Qurans and other Arabic manuscripts, in spite of his inability to read the language. Smith was also very interested in Persian culture and manuscripts and was instrumental in bringing to the University a number of important Islamic art

MS Or 21 al-Mulakhkhaṣ fī al-hayʼah. / الملخص في الهيئة, Jighmīnī, Maḥmūd ibn Muḥammad, -1221? جغميني، محمود بن محم, Not dated; text was dedicated to Ulugh Beg when first composed; a marginal note on p. 2 also gives a date of A.H. 1256 (1840). Date between 1500 and 1840? Ulugh Beg was a notable astronomer and mathematician (1394-1449), and a Timurid Sultan.

exhibitions in the 30s, where many of his own recently donated manuscripts to the Columbia University libraries were featured. Smith’s personal papers are currently located at RBML, and in his papers, there is a very interesting account of a trip he took to Persia in the late 20s, to which we will come back in subsequent posts. It is an exquisite document that testifies to Smith’s erudition and true love of Persian and Arabic manuscripts, and of the various Near Eastern cultures and ways of life he witnessed during his travels. In her annual report of 1933-34, Ms. Bertha Frick, Librarian of the Plimpton, Smith and Dale collections, gives a clear account of Smith’s passion, as well as his connoisseurship, and keen 

MS Or 344 Rubāʻīyāt-i ʻUmar Khayyam. / رباعيات عمر خيام, Muḥammad ʻAbd al-Subḥān, active 1688, scribe محمد عبد السبحان، Smith, David Eugene, 1860-1944, former owner

eye for valuable manuscripts related to the history of science and mathematics:  “The Oriental material was added to this year, after Dr. Smith’s return from Persia, by some ninety Arabic and Persian manuscripts. Two of these are remarkable mathematical manuscripts of the 14th century – one the algebra of Omar Khayyam, the other the astronomy of al-Khowarizmi. In this new group there are also some tables of Ulugh Beg, books on number mysticism and a number of Korans, prayer books and religions subjects.” (Bertha Frick, Smith Library Annual Report 1933-34). Smith himself stated his love for Arabic and Persian books, particularly for copies of the  Qurans in the following terms: “I have always felt that the most beautiful manuscripts in the world are Korans…” See L.G. Simons, “David Eugene Smith—in Memoriam,” Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. Volume 51, Number 1 (1945), 40-50.

Smith’s colleague and friend, George Arthur Plimpton (1855-1936, 1873 CC) started at the educational publishing house of Ginn and Heath in 1882, and then rose in the ranks to head the firm in 1914, until his death in 1936. Plimpton was an avid manuscript and rare book collector. Describing his love for books, Plimpton wrote in the Preface to his first book, The Education of Shakespeare: “It has been my privilege to get together the manuscripts and books which are more or less responsible for our present civilization, because they are the books from which the youth of many centuries have received their education.” The collection would come as a gift to Columbia in 1936. See the fabulous exhibit: Our Tools of Learning for a glimpse of the many gifts (not all related to Islamic manuscripts, as the collection’s focus on mathematics encompasses many cultures, times and locations) that Plimpton bequeathed to the University Libraries. Plimpton also served as the Trustee of Barnard College upon its opening in in 1889, and then went on to serve  as its Treasurer from 1893 until his death in 1936. With David Eugene Smith, he founded the Friends of the Columbia University Libraries, serving as its Chairman from 1928 until his death. He was a member of the Grolier Club; the Academy of Political Science, and of the Constantinople College for Women, later part of Robert College, and the Union Theological Seminary, among many others. Plimpton’s papers are currently housed at RBML

Plimpton 322

The Smith/Plimpton collection comprises some 413 manuscripts and forms the core of the Islamic manuscript collection. it includes many interesting items related to the history of mathematics, Islamic science, astronomy, and philosophy, in addition to a number of stunning Qurans and astronomical and mathematical instruments. Indeed, the Plimpton collection may be most famous for an important mathematical artifact, Plimpton 322, a clay tablet that gives pre-Pythagorean evidence of the Pythagorean theorem.

A  much smaller collection that entered the Libraries in the late 50s, is the Jeffery collection. It contains some 50 manuscripts and was purchased from Jeffery’s widow in 1959, following Jeffery’s passing. Arthur Jeffery (1892-1959) was Professor of Semitic languages at Columbia University from 1938 until his death, and spent his professional life teaching and writing about Islamic Studies, with a particular focus on Quranic Studies. Jeffery is perhaps best known for his books “The Quran as Scripture” and “The Foreign Vocabulary of the Qur’an, both works exemplify Jeffery’s obsession with the then popular question among many orientalists regarding the “seduction of the myth of origin” for orientalist studies of Islam and the Quran, and the fascination with Islam’s “debt” to other cultures and traditions.. Jeffery counted Joseph Schacht (d.1969) as one of his most famous students at Columbia. (Schacht is known for his interest in and his teaching of Islamic law (Shariah)  at the University).  Jeffery’s papers are housed at RBML

In addition to these collections, we should mention the Burke Library’s small collection  of 25 Arabic, 5 Ottoman Turkish and a few Coptic and Ethiopic manuscripts, in addition to a number of Assyrian manuscripts and fragments. It is not entirely clear when these entered the Library, and much research is still needed regarding this collection.

MS Or 173 Ziyārat-i ʻĀshūrāʼ. / زیارت عاشوراء, Item not dated, likely copied in the mid-18th to mid-19th century, Smith collection

MS Or 355 Kitāb nafīs yufṣaḥu fīhi ʻan al-lughah al-Turkīyah. / كتاب نفيس يفصح فيه عن اللغة التركية, undated, between 1850-1950?, hand-stamped Morroccan cover.

Besides these four main collections, there were numerous gifts and purchases throughout the years, of which I cite a couple, just to give a sense of the complementary collecting around Islamic manuscripts that was going on in the first half of the 20th c.  in the city, across several institutions, including the NYPL, the Metropolitan Museum, the Morgan Library, etc. Often the same donors or scholars would be involved in developing the “oriental” collections and shaping the focus of the collecting at each of these institutions, with roughly the items of higher aesthetic value would go to the Met, the Morgan or NYPL, while Columbia would receive items of pedagogical, rather than pure aesthetic value. I cite here a gift in 1904 of 22 Arabic and Persian manuscripts purchased for Columbia by Jacob H. Schiff (1847–1920), with the assistance of James Speyer (1861–1941) and Professor J. Dyneley Prince (1868–1945) from the widow of Carl Reinhardt (d. before 1904) and another gift from 1907 of several manuscripts (number still to be determined) from the industrialist Alexander S. Cochran (1874–1929) who inherited a vast fortune from his father, and had a keen interest in Islamic art. Cochran traveled with Prof. Jackson in 1907 to India and purchased a number of art objects and manuscripts, many of which he donated the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1913, along with an endowment for the care and purchase of illuminated Persian and Arabic manuscripts, while manuscripts of less aesthetic value and of higher pedagogical interest may have been donated to the Columbia Libraries

These collections did receive scholarly attention, and were integrated into the scholarly life of the University, through a variety of channels, and throughout the years. For example, a number of important celebrations and exhibits were organized in the 30s around the collections, to varying degrees. Two exhibits are worth noting here in particular, one is an exhibition of Islamic art which was held at the Avery Library between January 8th and February  3rd, 1934, including “almost 200 items from the Smith Library and Dr. Smith’s home. It was viewed by about one thousand persons.” (Bertha Frick, Smith Library Annual Report 1933-34). Much research needs to be done about this exhibit, and of the interest in Islamic manuscripts and art in the city during this period, as the donation was very close to the exhibit.

 

Another large exhibition was held in November 9-21 1934, to celebrate the millennial anniversary of

the birth of Firdawsī, the famous Persian poet, author of the Shahnameh. A lavish exhibit and reception were organized at the Low Library at Columbia and a clear effort to tap into this scholarly and cultural event as an additional cultural diplomacy effort was clearly on display: the exhibit was supported in part by the Persian embassy in Washington, Persian representative to the US was the guest of honor, President Butler was on attendance, and delivered a speech, the Persian Minister to the US, Mirza Ghaffar Khan Djalal was also present. Dr. Isaac Mendelsohn was in charge of the bibliography, and the printed catalog, and he listed, after being in touch with numerous public and private libraries some 350 known manuscripts of the Shahnameh, in addition to some 175 printed editions. A copy of the exhibit catalog, with the bibliography was sent to many members of the Iranian Government, including the Shah. David Eugene Smith was instrumental in helping with all the logistics of the exhibit, as was A. W. Jackson, too. This was a highly advertised exhibit, in which the Metropolitan Museum, NYPL and the American Institute of Persian Art and Archaeology all  collaborated, and the Met showcased some of its finest pieces.

This exhibit coincided with  a time of high interest in Persian art in the city, where Between October 1933 and November 1934, New York alone hosted a staggering nine exhibitions devoted to Persian art and culture , including the following exhibits: Islamic Miniature Painting and Book Illumination (Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 1933–January 1934); Smith Collection of Islamic Art (Columbia University, January–February 1934); Persian and Indian Miniature Paintings in the Kelekian Collection (New York and Detroit, February–March 1934); Persian and Indian Miniature Paintings in the Demotte Collection (March 1934); Persian Silks and Tapestries (Cooper-Union, April 1934); Persian Pottery (Parish Watson & Co., April 1934); The American Institute for Persian Art and Archaeology Photographic Survey of Islamic Architecture (Architectural League, April–May 1934); Celebration of the Millennial Birthday of Ferdowsi (Columbia University, November 1934); Persian Art by Ali Khan Vaziri Hassan (Roerich Museum, November 1934). (“From Pahlavi Isfahan to Pacific Shangri La: Reviving, Restoring, and Reinventing Safavid Aesthetics, ca. 1920–40“, Keelan Overton, this article appeared in the Vol. 19 No. 1 / Spring-Summer 2012 issue of West 86th).

There were also modest, but candid and serious efforts at cataloging and/or listing the collection (even if only partial, and incomplete), including some efforts by Awwād, Georges to document Islamic manuscripts in north American libraries: “Al-Makhṭūṭāt al-ʿarabiyya fī dūr al-kutub al-amrīkiyya.” Sumer  7 (1951): 237-277; Martinovitch, Nicholas N.’s handlist of 47 mss:  “Arabic, Persian and Turkish Manuscripts in the Columbia University Library.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 49 (1929): 219-233; Yvonne Khalil’s cataloging of 45 manuscripts from the Jeffery collection in the 60s:Card catalog of the Arthur Jeffrey MSS, Rare Book and Manuscript Library.  Compiled by Yvonne Khalil, an Egyptian student in Columbia’s Library School, in 1962, and the card catalog of the Smith Plimpton collection by  the distinguished calligrapher, art historian and medical doctor Suheyl Unver’s (1898-1986) the Card catalog of the Smith/Plimpton MSS oriental, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (1958-59). This card catalog  covers 440 manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman from the Smith/Plimpton Ünver, A. Süheyl. “Islamic Manuscripts in the Columbia Libraries.” Columbia Library Columns 8, no. 3 (May 1959): 31-35.)

This cursory survey of the history of the Islamic manuscripts collections at Columbia does not on its own take us very far in the direction of an answer to the question raised earlier about the phenomena through which an archive can successfully get activated, and how serendipity, luck, resources, interest, can sometimes successfully converge, in order to propel visibility of a resource, and crystallize its relevance to researchers, while other collections lie—often for decades– “hidden” and “dormant” in the stacks of research libraries.  But I believe that this history must be reckoned with if we are ever to offer anything fully convincing here. In any case, these are questions to which we will return in subsequent posts, and try to unravel one step at a time, by shedding light on various aspects of these collections and of their uses, and their perceived relevance and interest. We all retain the hope of gaining better self-understanding of our place in the world, and of who we are, as academics, scholars, librarians, archivists and students, as we seek to get ever closer to the shore where wreckage from the ship is retrieved, and awaits being gathered up, examined, and argued about.*

For inquiries regarding the Muslim World Manuscript project at Columbia, please contact RBML: Jane Siegel: Librarian for Rare Books & Bibliographic Services: jane.siegel@columbia.edu; Peter Magierski:The Middle East and Islamic Studies Librarian: pm2650@columbia.edu, or Kaoukab Chebaro: Global Studies, Head: kc3287@ columbia.edu

Kaoukab Chebaro, Global Studies, Head, Columbia University Libraries

*Many thanks for Jane Siegel for sharing with me invaluable information about the history of the collection. This post would not have been without her.

 

Ilia Zdanevich: The Tbilisi Years: An Exhibit at Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Through July 12, 2019

From guest blogger, and exhibition Curator, Thomas J. Kitson, PhD*

Professor Valentina Izmirlieva (Slavic Department) and I approached Rob Davis (Librarian for Russian, Eurasian & East European Studies) and Tanya Chebotarev (Bakhmeteff Archive, RBML) early last year about the possibility of mounting an exhibition on Ilia Zdanevich (1894-1975).  The Russian-Georgian Futurist poet ended up in Paris and became, under the name Iliazd, one of the most prominent figures in the book arts, designing and printing numerous projects with Picasso, Giacometti, Ernst, and Miró.  At the time, Columbia University Libraries held only a few items related to Zdanevich, but Rob and Tanya immediately agreed to investigate what could be acquired in fairly short order and managed to put together a collection that allows us to see Zdanevich from an unusual angle.

“Ilia Zdanevich: The Tbilisi Years” focuses on a crucial period in Zdanevich’s career by placing him within the vibrant community of poets, visual artists, and composers working in relatively peaceful Tbilisi (Tiflis before 1936), capital of temporarily independent Georgia, during the Russian Civil War, from late 1917 until early 1921.  Zdanevich’s most intense engagement with avant-garde zaum poetry (written in “transrational” or “transmental” language – “beyonsense”) took place in a city where multiple languages – Georgian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Turkish, Russian, German, French, English, and Persian – could be heard.  Zdanevich composed a cycle of dramas in which sound released from sense produces equivocal meanings. Any given combination of sounds might be taken to indicate a number of possible, often contradictory, meanings – and in some cases, sounds might be heard in multiple languages at once.  In order to print the “scores” to his dramas, Zdanevich learned to set type and soon became adept at producing highly original pages.  Zdanevich, with missionary zeal, took the principles of “mature” zaum and his new typographic skills to Paris, where his hopes for zaum foundered, even as typography eventually made his reputation.

Zdanevich’s older brother Kirill (1892-1969) is represented by several items in the exhibition, including holograph letters, a carved wood-block, and a splendid gouache composition (below) of a man waving a red flag.

Kirill had ushered Ilia into avant-garde circles in Petersburg and Moscow before World War I and now became one of his closest associates in Tbilisi.  They were key members of 41°, perhaps the most

radical poetic and artistic circle active in Tbilisi, where Symbolists, Acmeists, and Futurists performed together and published one another in their journals. (The sole issue of their manifesto, Sorok-odin gradus–one of only two copies in North America–is depicted above).  One of the finest of Columbia’s new acquisitions in the exhibition is a 1919 anthology (below) designed and printed by Zdanevich under the 41° imprint, For Sophia Georgievna Melnikova: The Fantastic Tavern,

Tiflis 1917 1918 1919.  The anthology features poems, lectures, plays, and artwork in Russian, Georgian, Armenian, and zaum by the regular performers at a cabaret that anchored artistic life in Tbilisi during these years.  The dynamism of Zdanevich’s typographic illustrations can be compared with Kirill’s gouache.

As I worked with the materials Rob and Tanya assembled, I came to appreciate very much a small collection that belonged to Dmitrii Gordeev, a young art historian whose lecture on Persian influences in 16th-century Georgian frescoes appears in Zdanevich’s Melnikova anthology.  This cache of photographs, music scores, postcards, and

poetry chapbooks (depicted above), many inscribed to Gordeev, helps to embody the Fantastic Tavern community and place it squarely in an even broader network.  For those of us used to seeing Zdanevich among either the pre-war Russian Futurists of Petersburg and Moscow or the mid-century artists of Paris, this exhibition offers a refreshing view of creative life in the short-lived haven of Tbilisi, away from the world’s great capitals.

I am grateful to both Rob and Tanya for their willingness to take on the challenge of organizing an exhibition not on the basis of what Columbia University Libraries already held in its collections, but on the serendipity of what the Libraries might be able to acquire in a relatively short time frame.  For me, the unexpected opportunity to curate when the collecting was done turned out to be a gift.  I leave it to Rob and Tanya to evaluate how well this method worked from the collectors’ standpoint.

*Thomas J. Kitson is a freelance translator, including Iliazd’s Voskhishchenie, Rapture: A Novel (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017).  Thomas holds a PhD in Russian language and literature from Columbia.

 Dr. Ambedkar and Columbia University: A Legacy to Celebrate

Every morning, I look forward to glancing at Dr. Ambedkar’s bust, in the far East corner of the Lehman Social Sciences Library, on my way to work. My eyes first rest on the bright garlands (offerings of admirers) that often adorn the bust, hanging around the neck, and then, unfailingly, go to the glasses carved in dark bronze (like the rest of the sculpture), almost indistinguishable from the broad face, but yet magnetically pulling my eyes in. I find myself drawn into the eyes of the “Father of the Constitution”, the “Doctor and Saint” or as people affectionately refer to him, Baba Saheb Ambedkar (1891-1956), and I unfailingly detect a subtle smile. I tried looking at the glasses, and the eyes, from different angles, and the smile is always there, barely perceptible, but definitely present. There is something slightly jolting, refreshing about this daily ritual: looking for that subtle grin has come to frame my mornings, and in fact, my whole experience of my working space, the Lehman Social Sciences Library. A grand library, designed like a “ship of state”, and part of the SIPA and Law School complex (–both designed by Max Abramovitz and Wallace Harrisonthe latter is known for leading an international team of architects on the design of  the United Nations Headquarters in NYC, and the former for designing the Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center –) the Lehman Social Sciences Library opened in the early 70s, and is often jokingly referred to by students as “the NASA Headquarters” or even  “the bunker from the cold war”, for its subterranean open aesthetics and its typical late 60s, early 70s look. That is very far from how I experience this space, and I just realized recently, it is in large part due to my daily anticipation of seeing that fleeting grin in the morning subterranean light of Lehman Library’s open skyline.

 

 

Continue reading

Sorry, This Page Does Not Exist!: The Brazilian Presidential Transition (2018) Web Archive

The web lives in the present tense. But, as librarians understand all too well, scholarly research and knowledge production require sustainable long-term access and preservation of evidence that supports the deciphering and understanding of the world. The broken links we encounter throughout the web can signify the loss of important information, sometimes when it seems to matter the most. In addition, as those of us in global studies librarianship are especially well placed to appreciate, information that may not be congenial to those in power is especially vulnerable and the disappearance of opposing ideas and agendas can frame narratives and shape policies that reproduce and/or reinforce political control. Many important questions open up when we consider web archiving: How do we select and curate what to archive? What should be our thematic focus? What perspectives do we preserve? How do we achieve sustainability? What tools to use? Who can we partner with, as we take in the breathtaking magnitude of the task at hand? All of these questions are relevant to the aim of minimizing the negative impact of the number of instances of that dreaded message: “Sorry, this page does not exist!”

The Latin America Libraries of the North East Consortium (LANE) has had web archiving on its agenda for the past few years. However the thought of selecting content to preserve from the vast and inestimable world of the web often seemed daunting and intimidating.  In a collaborative setting where lots of good ideas surface but consensus is harder to achieve, focusing on a thematic collection would also prove to be a challenge. However as Latin Americanist librarians we know from decades of organizational efforts dedicated to collecting in the region that collaboration is key to successful outcomes.

This month, the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation launched the Brazilian Presidential Transition (2018) Web Archive, a collection built by the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation and member libraries of LANE with significant contributions from members of the Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM). The Archive consists of Brazilian government websites in the areas of human rights, the environment, LGBTQ issues, and culture, for the period following the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil on October 28, 2018, up to his inauguration on January 1, 2019. A timely and urgent collection borne out of Pasteur’s maxim, “In the field of observation, chance favors the prepared mind.”

During a meeting I hosted at Columbia University Libraries in November 2017 I invited several speakers to talk about their work in web archiving. Alex Thurman and Samantha Abrams gave the group an overview of web archiving issues including global efforts to preserve a continuously vanishing landscape, the technology and infrastructure that currently supports preservation, the technical and ethical challenges of preserving spaces such as social media platforms and the workflows necessary for starting a web archiving project.

2017 LANE meeting at Columbia University

It was also important to hear from two Columbia colleagues who had already developed collections and thought through criteria for inclusion. Pamela Graham, who curates the Human Rights Web Archive and Christine Sala who curates the Avery Library Historic Preservation and Urban Planning Web Archive, spoke about developing collections, the process of selecting content, creating descriptive metadata for discovery, and potential use of these collections for future researchers.  What was particularly helpful about these talks was seeing how this new sphere of collecting could work in parallel with our established forms of collecting and how much the thinking process for selecting web content mirrors the collecting of traditional library material.  The 2017 meeting made web archiving accessible and ostensibly possible for the group.

While the group was determined to work on something, we had not reached a consensus on the content of the web archiving project yet. This had to wait another year, when the Fall LANE meeting was held at New York University in October of 2018. We were instructed by LANE chair Jill Baron (Dartmouth Library) to “come prepared with a topic idea we are passionate about, and be ready to convince others that the websites reflecting this topic necessitate collection and preservation action.”

The group brainstormed about any and all topics of interests and voted on four topics that we could focus our energies on. Small groups researched and compiled content for the four collections. Some of the topics didn’t yield the information we expected and one of the topics we worked on stood out for its immediacy, vulnerability, and relevance to collection priorities established by many in the group.

Our meeting took place a couple of weeks after Jair Bolsonaro had come in the first round of the Brazilian presidential election and a couple of days before he would go on to win the run-off election. Throughout his campaign Bolsonaro repeatedly made statements about his agenda and his vision for government that concerned academics, journalists and activists. LANE decided to prioritize Brazilian government websites in the areas of human rights, the environment, LGBTQ issues, and culture. We considered these sites to be vulnerable due to anticipated consolidation, elimination or defunding.

2018 LANE meeting at New York University

Over the next couple of months we researched state and federal government sites in the hopes of capturing as much as we could before Bolsonaro took power. Given the scope of the work and the size of Brazil as a country it was clear we needed help. LANE is a regional group under the umbrella of the Seminar for the Acquisition of Latin American Materials (SALALM) and we called on our colleagues for assistance and many of them graciously contributed some of their time to our effort. Our colleague Samantha Abrams, Ivy Plus Libraries Web Resources Collection Librarian worked diligently to capture the sites within a limited amount of time.

As the Brazilian specialist at the Library of Congress Talía Guzman-González has been instrumental to this project. LC archived the 2010 Brazilian election and this past election and Talía’s deep expertise in the region was particularly helpful. Metadata in a crowdsourced project requires some editorial cohesiveness and Talía, Jill and I led the effort to normalize subject headings, geographic descriptions and descriptive fields. The results of this work is a snapshot of government content before Bolsonaro took office, with the aim of preserving these important, but potentially ephemeral, documents for researchers and scholars.

We very much hope that this effort will inspire other collaborative web archiving projects, to preserve and provide continuous access to timely and important scholarly global content!

Sócrates Silva (2CUL Latin American and Iberian Studies Librarian)

Women and Gender Studies, Resources for International Research, and… Coffee! Find out more!

For the occasions of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8th, I sat down with Sarah Witte, our Women & Gender Studies Librarian, and Yuusuf Caruso, our African Studies Librarian, and asked them about resources that the Columbia Libraries makes available to researchers interested in women and gender studies at the global level.

What are your recommended resources for getting started with research?

SARAH: Ebscohost Research Databases. “This is a platform of core subject databases, including Gender Studies Database, LGBT Life, Historical Abstracts, Index to Legal Periodicals, Anthropology Plus, Art Source, Film and Television Literature Index, ATLA Religion; as well as interdisciplinary databases focused on specific regions: Bibliography of Asian Studies, and Middle Eastern & Central Asian Studies, Africa Wide, and American Bibliography of Slavic and East European Studies. It is a resource for scholarly work on virtually any topic related to women, gender, sexuality and feminism, though the literature it indexes is primarily in English.”

YUUSUF emphasized the need to carry out research based on print and subscription-based holdings at the Libraries while supplementing them with open access research publications on gender and social equity, environmental sustainability, economic security, sustainable and ethical agriculture and trade, and the role of NGOs and grassroots movements. In addition to the EBSCO suite of index databases mentioned by Sarah, he cites the African Women’s  Bibliographic Database (Leiden);  online journals:  Feminist AfricaAgenda—a journal about women and gender;  and, New African woman ;  web sites:  CODESRIA-Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Dakar, Senegal), with over 230 online full texts on African women and agriculture; African Women’s Development Fund (Accra, Ghana);  Forum for African Women Educationalists (Nairobi, Kenya); and, Gender Links for Equality and Justice (Johannesburg, South Africa).  For historical research at Columbia on women, gender, and sexuality in Africa, see:  Gender and Sexuality in African History.

What new research interests and trends have you noticed in women’s and gender studies at Columbia, and what new or timely resources are available to researchers?

SARAH emphasized a number of areas of strong research interest at Columbia, including: national and transnational feminist movements, inter-generational trauma, menstrual health and justice, rights for sexual minorities, for diaspora and immigrant communities, to name a few. She also stressed the growing interest of researchers in alternative forms of documentation and grassroots testimony, including personal narratives, oral histories, letters, memoirs, film, art and literature.

Women and Social Movements, Modern Empires Since 1820, from Alexander Street Press is a new full-text database that seeks to explore themes in world history since 1820: conquest, colonization, settlement, resistance, and post-colonialism, through the voices of individual women.  It includes more than 50 curated document clusters organized by theme, time period and empire, including the Habsburg, Ottoman, the British, French, Italian, Dutch, Russian, Japanese, and United States Empires, and settler societies in the United States, New Zealand and Australia.  It includes a variety of sources: 93 issues of L’Egyptienne, an Egyptian feminist and nationalist journal published from 1925 to 1940, transcripts of interviews with women activists in South Africa, Guatemala, Romania, and the United States, manuscript letters in Arabic with English translations.  It is a companion database to Women and Social Movements International: 1840 to present, which focuses on international organizations.”

It is no secret that coffee, and agriculture in general, were a major factor in setting up colonies in East Africa. These excerpts are from: Farming and planting in British East Africa: a description of the leading agricultural centres and an account of agricultural conditions and prospects / compiled and edited by T.J. O’Shea, Nairobi : Newland, Tarlton & Co., Ltd., 1917.

YUUSUF: Stressing emerging areas of scholarly relevance, Yuusuf highlighted women’s development, labor movements, and gender-related social and economic justice movements in Africa.  Then noticing the cup of coffee I held in my hand, he smiled and said: “So for example, if you were interested in something as mundane as the provenance of that cup of coffee …and women’s roles in our world, assuming this is coffee imported from Africa,  you may want to consult a few recent publications for starters available in the Libraries, such as:  the 2018 Coffee Atlas of Ethiopia, which documents the sources of Ethiopia’s coffee production ;  A Good African Story, an incisive insider account of a successful African-owned coffee company in Uganda (the company’s website features articles and links to interviews about different aspects of the coffee business, including the role of women’s cooperatives);  a chapter on the same company in a 2018 book on Africapitalism: rethinking the role of business in Africa offers an analysis of the attempt to transform Uganda’s and even Africa’s role in the coffee industry—from being merely exporters of green beans to becoming exporters of high-quality roasted and packaged coffee that can be bought straight off shelves in Europe ; plus, two case studies:  Rita Verma’s Gender, land and livelihoods in East Africa: through farmers’ eyes and Kiah Smith’s Ethical trade, gender, and sustainable livelihoods: women smallholders and ethicality in Kenya,  which examine social and economic issues surrounding women and cash crop farming in post-colonial and 21st century Kenya.”

Yuusuf also had tips on how to conduct productive searches in the Library catalog and in other databases. One is that –because the issue of “women farmers” is often lumped in with that of agricultural development in general—there are few books with LC subject headings “women farmers” for African countries. Hence, the best search strategy might be to use “Women Agriculture [name of country]” as keywords in “all fields”.

There’s a lot to think about the next time you head out to grab that cup of coffee!

OLIVER “TUKU” MTUKUDZI, 1952-2019

Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi performing in 2018. Credit: Mário Pires.
Photo: Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi performing in 2018. Credit: Mário Pires. From African Arguments (UK).

Columbia University’s WWW-Virtual Library on “Tuku” 

African Arguments (UK): “Rest in power: Oliver Mtukudzi…,” by Rumbidzai Dube, January 25, 2019.

Afropop Worldwide (USA): “Remembering Oliver Mtukudzi,” by Banning Eyre. January 24, 2019 ; “Oliver Mtukudzi dies at 66,” January 23, 2019.

CNN Online News: “Oliver ‘Tuku’ Mtukudzi: Healing a wounded nation through music.” (January 2013)

Mail & Guardian (South Africa): “Through upheaval and instability, we always had Oliver Mtukudzi,” January 24, 2019

Music.org.za: Mtukudzi, Oliver (Tuku), 2003 (Making Music Productions, South Africa)

National Public Radio (USA): “‘Left Alone’: Oliver Mtukudzi sees music as therapy.” (July 24, 2013)

BBC World Service, via YouTube.com: Oliver Mtukudzi’s “Neria,” September 2009.

YouTube.com: “Oliver Mtukudzi & Ladysmith Black Mambazo–“Neria”, June 2018 ; “Neria”, October 2009 ; “Todii,” February 2012 ; “Wasakara”, May 2011 ; “Ndakuvara”, September 2009 ; “Chiri Nani,” August 2009 ; “Ngoromera”, May 2009.

Mtukudzi in Columbia’s Library Catalog:

Oliver Mtukudzi : living Tuku music in Zimbabwe
Author: Kyker, Jennifer, 1979- Published: Bloomington, Indiana : Indiana University Press, [2016]

Tuku backstage : the first tell-all biography of the music, life and secrets of Oliver Mtukudzi
Author: Mutamba, Shepherd Published: Harare : Mhotsi Uruka, 2015.

Acoustic Africa [sound recording] : in concert
Published: Doische, Belgium : Contre Jour, p2011.

The culture of AIDS in Africa : hope and healing in music and the arts
Published: New York : Oxford University Press, c2011. –See also: E-Book version

Keeping the embers alive : musicians of Zimbabwe.
Author: Capp, Myrna Published: Trenton, NJ : Africa World Press, 2006.

Sounds of change : social and political features of music in Africa.
Published: Stockholm: Swedish Development Cooperation Agency, [2004]

African odyssey [sound recording]
Published: [S.l.] : Putumayo, p2001.

The Rough guide to the music of Zimbabwe [sound recording]
Published: London : World Music Network, pc1996.

Jit [videorecording]
Published: [Chicago, IL] : Home Vision, 1993.

Neria [videorecording]
Published: [Lexington, Ky. : Amazon.com.kydc., 2010?]

Mbira music [videorecording] : spirit of the people
Published: Princeton, NJ : Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 2006.

Africa [sound recording] : 50 years of music : 50 years of independence = Afrique : 50 ans de musique : 50 ans d’indepéndances
Published: [Paris?] : Discograph, p2010.

See also: “Music of Zimbabwe” [Subject]

100th Anniversary of Birth of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela & Barack Obama’s 2018 Mandela Lecture

For 20 years, one popular feature of Columbia University Libraries’ virtual library for
“African Studies Internet Resources” has been and continues to be a list of web links to reliable information about famous people of African descent, past and present.  This month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the much celebrated South African, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.  A list of annotated links on Mandela are posted on library web pages for “African Biography on the Internet” -and- “South Africa–Culture, History, & Languages”.  Included in this updated list are web sites or pages in honor of this year’s 100th anniversary and on “Mandela Day”, which is observed in South Africa every year on July 18th….as well as a link to the full text transcript of the16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture delivered on July 17, 2018 by former US President Barack Obama, at the Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, sponsored by The Nelson Mandela Foundation.

See Columbia’s library holdings: About Nelson Mandela and Mandela, the author;
About Barack Obama and Obama, the author

Columbia Acquires “Annual Departmental Reports Relating to Nigeria and the British Cameroons, 1887-1962”

Columbia University Libraries’ has just acquired a searchable online version of the British Colonial Office’s “Annual Departmental Reports Relating to Nigeria and the British Cameroons, 1887-1962.”  

As part of their series “British Online Archives”, Microform Academic Publishers is making available a digitized version of the microfilmed administrative records on colonial Nigeria and Cameroon. The collection is “..divided between ten headings: Administration, Finance, Judicial and Police, Natural Resources, Social Services, Transport and Public Works, Communications and Post Office Savings, Commerce, Miscellaneous, and reports relating to the British Cameroons.”

This collection is also available on microfilm through interlibrary loan for all Columbia affiliates from The Center for Research Libraries (Chicago), see: http://catalog.crl.edu/record=b1922197~S1

Please send comments to Dr. Yuusuf Caruso, African Studies Librarian, Columbia University, at: caruso@columbia.edu

African Studies WWW-Virtual Library Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

Columbia University sponsors the most detailed, comprehensive guide on “African Studies Internet Resources” available anywhere.  Frequently updated, this resource is celebrating its 20th anniversary during the academic year 2017-2018 as the official WWW-Virtual Library for African Studies.

Open access electronic resources from Africa are organized by region and country. All materials are arranged to encourage an awareness of authorship, type of information, and subject. The selection criteria for the collection is research-oriented, but it also provides access to other web sites with different or broader missions.

The site includes links to: Africana library catalogs and archives ; African art and archaeology ; African languages ; African literature ; African studies programs and Universities in Africa ; Business and economic information on Africa ; Climate and environment in Africa ; Electronic newspapers from Africa ; Energy in Africa ; Films from and about Africa  ; Health information on Africa ; Human rights in Africa ; Maps of Africa Religion in Africa ; and much more.

Another demonstration of its scope and precision are selected links to breaking and current news analysis from and about every country on the continent.  Some examples are selections on Democratic Republic of Congo (2018) ; Nigeria (2018-2019) ; Kenya (2017-2018) ; and Zimbabwe (2017-2018), where recent political crises and elections since mid-2017 have drawn wide international attention.

 

South & Southeast Asia Columbia Libraries Newsletter Launched

The first issue of a South & Southeast Asia, Columbia University Libraries Newsletter has been launched. Those interested in subscribing to future newsletter mailings, and in viewing archived newsletters, can visit the following link. The newsletter will provide periodic updates of South/Southeast Asia library acquisitions and developments at Columbia University Libraries.