Library of Congress and National Library of France Launch Joint Web Site
The Library of Congress and the National Library of France (Bibliothèque nationale de France) have launched a bilingual (English-French) online presentation that explores the history of the French presence in North America and the interactions between the French and American peoples from the early 16th to the early 19th centuries. The Web site was unveiled in Paris on May 10 at a ceremony attended by Jean-Noël Jeanneney, president of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and John Van Oudenaren, chief of the Library's European Division and director of its Global Gateway initiative.
"We are pleased to cooperate with other national libraries to make these rich historical resources globally accessible," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "This site will be especially valuable for teachers as they prepare lessons on this complex and pivotal chapter in American and French history."
"In developing this Web presentation, both national libraries have done what they do best—sift through an exhaustive amount of material in order to make our common histories comprehensible and accessible to the public," said Jeanneney.
The online English presentation, titled "France in America," joins other world history resources on the Library of Congress Global Gateway Web site as part of the "Collaborative Digital Libraries" section, at http://international.loc.gov. The site features the extraordinary international collections of the Library of Congress as well as those of its partners from libraries in Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands and Russia—and now France.
The French version, titled "La France en Amérique," is the newest addition to Gallica, the Bibliothèque nationale de France's digital library, at http://gallica.bnf.fr/franceamerique/.
The English and French presentations each include more than 100,000 images from the rare book, manuscript, map and print collections of the Library of Congress and the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Among the items available on the site are print versions of Samuel de Champlain's "Voyages," Jacques Marquette's account of his voyage of 1673, Theodor de Bry's late 16th century illustrations of Native American villages, narratives by French officers who participated in the American Revolution and rare maps from the Rochambeau Collection in the Library of Congress and the d'Anville Collection in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
The first release of the online presentation focuses on the role played by France in the exploration and settlement of North America and in such formative events in the history of the United States as the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the Louisiana Purchase. It documents the voyages of important explorers such as Jacques Cartier, Champlain and Sieur Cavelier de La Salle; the role of French fur traders, missionaries and soldiers in opening up and settling the upper Midwest; and the interactions between the French settlers and the Native American tribes they encountered.
A second release, to be launched in 2006, will document the continuing links between France and the United States in the 19th century through trade, immigration, scientific exchange, literature and the arts.
The Bibliothèque nationale de France was founded (as the first Royal Library) by King Charles V in 1368. Through the mandatory deposit of printed works (since 1537) as well as numerous acquisitions and donations, the collection has grown to some 31 million documents, including books, manuscripts, prints, photographs, posters, maps, musical scores, sound recordings, video, multimedia, seals, coins and antiques. Today the Bibliothèque nationale de France serves visitors in its 35 reading rooms in five locations and through its Web site at www.bnf.fr.
Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States
A recent addition to the "Individual Digital Collections" on the Global Gateway Web site is "Polish Declarations of Admiration and Friendship for the United States," a presentation of selected manuscript volumes from the Library of Congress Manuscript Division, which can be accessed on the Web at http://international.loc.gov/intldl/pldechtml/.
The "Digital Collections" section provides links to thematic presentations, including "Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age," "The Spanish-American War in Motion Pictures" and the extraordinary "Prokudin-Gorskii Collection" of color photographs of Russia taken just before the 1917 revolution.
"Polish Declarations" offers the first 13 volumes of a larger collection of 111 volumes compiled in Poland in 1926 and delivered to President Calvin Coolidge at the White House to honor the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Richly illustrated with original works by prominent Polish graphic artists, the collection includes the greetings and signatures of national, provincial and local government officials; representatives of religious, social, business, academic and military institutions; and approximately 5.5 million schoolchildren.
At President Coolidge's behest, this unique gift was transferred to the Library of Congress, where it remained largely unused for some seven decades. In 1996 the collection was "rediscovered" serendipitously during the visit of Polish first lady Jolanta Kwasniewska and other dignitaries from the Embassy of Poland. The collection generated such intense interest that the Library, in cooperation with the Embassy of Poland, organized a special program on May 2, 1997, to showcase this symbol of the enduring friendship between Poland and the United States.
More than an impressive artifact, the collection is an important, largely unexplored primary source for genealogical, historical and sociological research, for it includes the signatures of nearly one-sixth of the population of Poland as it existed in 1926.
This searchable online presentation is a complete facsimile of the six oversized presentation volumes and the seven volumes of secondary school signatures. With the exception of famous people after whom institutions are named, such as the Maria Konopnicka Municipal Gimnazjum in Leszno or the Queen Jadwiga State Gimnazjum in Pabianice, personal names are not searchable. However, researchers are now able to search by keyword (English or Polish without diacritics) and locate information about particular villages, cities, districts, provinces, institutions or organizations.
The ancient form of pictographic writing known as cuneiform is the subject of another recent Web presentation, which showcases these 4,000-year-old materials from the Library's collections. "Cuneiform Tablets: From the Reign of Gudea of Lagash to Shalmanassar III" can be seen on the Library's Global Gateway Web site at http://international.loc.gov/intldl/cuneihtml/. The materials are housed in the Library's African and Middle Eastern Division.
"Cuneiform Tablets" includes 38 items—mostly clay tablets, but also several brick fragments and two clay cones. The oldest tablets date from the reign of Gudea of Lagash (2144-2124 B.C.). These tablets contain the earliest examples of writing held in the Library of Congress.
The Sumerians first developed cuneiform as a writing system, using reeds to make impressions in clay. The tip of a reed stylus was impressed into a wet clay surface to draw the strokes of the pictograph, thus acquiring a wedge-shaped appearance. The clay [or brick] was then either baked in a kiln or dried by the sun. The word cuneiform is derived from Latin— cuneus, for wedge, and forma, meaning shape.
The cuneiform tablets in this online presentation served various purposes. Twenty-two tablets contain inscriptions pertaining primarily to the receipt of and payment for goods and services; they were essentially accounting records. Twelve tablets are school exercise tablets, used by scribes learning the cuneiform writing system.
The Library of Congress acquired its collection of cuneiform materials in 1929 from Kirkor Minassian, an art dealer. These materials were part of his collection of Islamic bookbindings, manuscripts, textiles and ceramic and metal objects illustrating the history of the development of writing and book arts in the Middle East.