Slavic collections at Harvard

1959-1999, Czterdziestolecie Wydawnictwa Znak. Kraków 2000 (fragment). Part of Polish assorted cultural, museum exhibitions posters. HOLLIS # 8001162585.

Harvard University holds one of the largest Slavic collections outside the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe. The main collection of over 850,000 volumes in the areas of the humanities and social sciences is housed in the Widener Library and supported by the Americas, Europe and Oceania Division of Harvard Library. Manuscripts, rare books, and materials in the areas of fine arts, music, anthropology, ethnology, law, and science are found in other libraries of the Harvard College Library (for the list of these locations with details on their Slavic holdings please consult Locating Slavic materials at Harvard section of this guide).

The Harvard Slavic collection has as its mission the documentation of the Slavic and Baltic countries throughout history in order to support the teaching and research at Harvard and to serve as a resource for the scholarly community. To carry out this mission, the European Languages Division collects in great depth materials from Russia, Eastern and Central Europe, Central Asia, and the Caucasus in all Slavic, Baltic and Western languages, and from various émigré communities from these areas scattered throughout the world. In addition to books, serials and microforms, the Division collects non-book materials, such as videos, CD-ROM's, posters and ephemera, and electronic resources with Slavic content.

Highlights of Harvard's Slavic collections

Some of Harvard's unique library holdings in Slavic studies include:

Unique collections of documents created at Harvard:

Harvard Project on the Soviet Social System/Harvard Interview Project (1949-1953).

Rare books:

Psaltir s Posledovanjem (Cetinje, 1495) – only copy recorded outside Eastern Europe and Russia and the earliest Old Church Slavonic printed book at Harvard.

Ivan Fedorov’s Primer (L’viv, 1574) – first book to be published on the territory of Ukraine and one of only two known copies outside Eastern Europe and Russia.

The Kilgour collection of Russian literature (1750-1920) – one of the finest collection of first editions of Russian belles-lettres, from Lomonosov to Blok, including the complete set of Pushkin's first editions.

Pre-Soviet Russian Law Collection - nineteenth- and twentieth-century pre-Soviet Russian collection, well over 5,500 separate titles, also available on microfilm.

Archival and manuscript collections:

The archives of Leon Trotsky (1904-1941), including Soviet and Exile papers.

Andrei Sakharov Archives.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana Collection on Soviet Theater and Film and University Lecture Notes (1902-1955)

Ukrainian Archives and Manuscript Collections (1870s-present).

Visual collections:

Ballets Russes Designs

Soviet Information Bureau Photograph Collection

Audio collections:

The Millman Parry Collection of South Slavic Oral Literature.

Laura Boulton Collection of Byzantine Eastern Orthodox Chant (Armenian, Russian, Coptic, Ethiopian, and related repertoires).

Modern history archives of independent publications:

The Solidarity Bibliographic Center collection of independent, underground, and uncensored Polish publications (1970s-1990).

The Czech and Slovak samizdat collection :1968-1990.

The independent/unofficial press of the Soviet Union (1987-1991).

Ephemera collections:

Russian ephemera (late 1980s-1990s)

Political and cultural ephemera from Russia, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia (1990s-present).

Rare topographic materials:

The collection of Soviet military topographic maps of the European areas of the Soviet Union. (Search HOLLIS for Author: "Soviet Union. Sovetskai͡a Armii͡a. Generalʹnyĭ shtab.")

Bohdan and Neonila Krawciw Ucrainica Map Collection. (Read a description of the collection here.)

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The history of Slavic collection at Harvard


A.C. Coolidge

Archibald Cary Coolidge (1866-1928), one of the creators of the Slavic library collection at Harvard.
Painting by Page, Marie Danforth (1890-1940), 1930. © President and Fellows of Harvard College. Image from VIA (Harvard University Library Visual Information Access).
Record Identifier: HUAM304784

The Harvard College Library began to expand its acquisitions into areas concerning Eastern and Central Europe, Russia, and Eurasia towards the end of the nineteenth century with the introduction at Harvard University of courses in Old Church Slavonic, Polish, and Russian. Many of the earliest Slavic acquisitions came to Harvard through gifts and contributions from Archibald Cary Coolidge (Harvard Class of 1887), Professor of History and Director of the University Library (1910-1928), who anticipated teaching and research needs of future generations of Slavists and built major collections in the area at a time when only a handful of American scholars were prepared to use them. Thanks to his pioneering leadership, the Harvard Slavic collection grew from about 3,500 volumes in the mid-1890s to 30,000 volumes by the mid-1930s. By then, this sizeable collection also came to support teaching in the areas of Czech, Slovak, Serbo-Croatian, and Ukrainian. Despite this growth, however, in the years following World War I, the regular acquisition of well-rounded collections of publications in all Slavic languages remained out of reach; and it became nearly impossible during World War II. Nonetheless, the Library maintained its commitment to this area in the hopes that the Library would be reasonably prepared to cope with the influx of material after the war.

A systematic plan for the development of Harvard's Slavic library collections began in the mid-1950s following the creation of the Russian Research Center in 1948, and the official establishment of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures in 1949. After years when it had been difficult to obtain material from behind the Iron Curtain, the Library suddenly faced a flood of Slavic publications and made more Slavic acquisitions than during any previous decade, including the significant contributions to Harvard's collection of Slavic early printing, history, and literature made by Bayard L. Kilgour, Jr. (Harvard Class of 1927). The 1960s and 1970s brought a concerted effort to fill in gaps in Harvard's Slavic collections and the Library set out to complete sets of Slavic periodicals and to search out originals, copies and microfilms of out-of-print research materials, particularly from the Russian revolutionary period through the first half of the 20th century. With the formation of the Committee on Ukrainian Studies in 1968 and the establishment of the Ukrainian Research Institute in 1973, the Library also began to acquire unparalleled collections of Ukrainian material from private collectors. During the 1980s, the focus turned towards preserving Harvard’s Slavic holdings and towards raising endowed book funds to ensure future research needs and acquisitions. At the same time, the Slavic Division developed an elaborate network of exchange relationships throughout the Slavic world by which it acquired works in nearly all disciplines of the social sciences and humanities. As a result of these strategic decisions, Harvard’s Slavic collection grew from about 124,000 titles in 1950 to nearly 800,000 by 1998. Proceeding from an acquisition rate of approximately 500 volumes per year in the late 1940s to 1,000 volumes per month in the 1960s, the Harvard College Library’s Slavic collection has grown to an acquisition rate of approximately 1,700 volumes per month at the turn of the twenty-first century. Thus, even before the deluge of publications that attended the break-up of the Soviet empire in the Baltics, Eurasia, and East-Central Europe, Harvard University managed to acquire the single largest academic collection of Slavic materials in the world.

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