The African and Middle Eastern Division (AMED) was created in
1978 as part of a general Library of Congress reorganization.
At that time, three disparate administrative units -- the African
Section, the Near East Section, and the Hebraic Section -- were
combined. Together they cover some seventy countries and regions
from Southern Africa to the Maghreb and from the Middle East to
Central Asia. The division coordinates and directs the component
Battle of Adwa,
an oil painting probably done by a monk near Addis Ababa
(ca. 1970), is of aesthetic and historic interest. The scene
of the battle has been repeated almost ritualistically in
this same style many times. Led by Emperor Menelik II, Ethiopian
forces defeated the Italian army of General Oreste Baratieri
at Adwa on March 1, 1896. Considered to be one of the most
important events in Ethiopian history, this battle is seen
by some as the first great step in the African journey toward
freedom from colonial rule. Ethiopians celebrate "Adwa"
day as a national holiday. (African and Middle Eastern
Each section plays a vital role in the Library's acquisitions
program; offers expert reference and bibliographic services to
Congress and researchers in this country and abroad; develops
projects, special events, and publications; and cooperates and
participates with other institutions and scholarly and professional
associations in the United States and around the world.
Although proposed earlier, it was not until 1960 -- with mounting
national academic and government interest in sub-Saharan Africa
-- that the Library's African Section was established, administered
initially by the General Reference and Bibliography Division.
This section focuses on virtually all topics relating to sub-Saharan
Africa. In 1945, the Near East Section had been created as part
of the Orientalia Division to serve as a focal point of the Library's
programs for this pivotal area, which includes North Africa, the
Arab world, Turkey, Iran, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Islam.
The Hebraic Section, the oldest of the three, began operation
in 1914 as part of the Division of Semitic and Oriental Literature,
and it concentrates on Jewish culture, Israel, the Hebrew language,
biblical studies, and the ancient Near East.
Volumes about Africa and the Middle East were among the books
making up one of the first major purchases by the Library of Congress,
the 1815 acquisition of Thomas Jefferson's library, the subject
and linguistic range of which greatly influenced future Library
acquisition policies. Although sporadic receipts of publications
from or about the region were reported in various annual reports
of the Librarian of Congress over the years, systematic acquisition
efforts for publications from this part of the world were limited
before World War II. Yet today the African and Middle Eastern
Division is recognized as a major world resource center for Africa,
the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.
a watercolor sketch, ca. 1930, by Ibo artist D. L.
K. Nnachy, depicts a dance celebrating the harvest of new
yams. Nnachy was born about 1910 in the Ohafia area of eastern
Nigeria. Twenty-two of his watercolors are among the papers
of the Harmon Foundation (see page 20). ( Reproduced
by courtesy of the Harmon Foundation) (Manuscript
The Hebraic and Near East sections have custody of materials
in many formats in the non-roman-alphabet languages of the region,
which together number more than half a million volumes. The Hebraic
Section collections contain some 160,000 volumes in Hebrew and
related languages, including Yiddish, Ladino, Syriac, and the
languages of Ethiopia. Materials in more than forty languages
are held by the Near East Section, the major holdings of which
are in Arabic (the largest language group represented, with approximately
130,000 volumes), Persian, Turkish, non-Cyrillic Central Asian
languages, Armenian, and Georgian. Although the African Section
has no formal custodial responsibilities, it maintains a pamphlet
collection of more than 22,000 items.
To further enhance holdings already strong in the fields of history,
literature, economics, linguistics, art, religion, and philosophical
studies, division curators participate in acquiring materials
of research value through purchase, copyright, exchange, and gift.
Noteworthy grants and gifts have also served to strengthen these
collections. For example, in 1960 a grant from the Carnegie Corporation
provided initial support for the African Section, including staff
travel to many African countries to obtain publications for the
Library's collections. Gifts from Jacob H. Schiff, one in 1912
and another in 1914, enabled the Library to acquire nearly 10,000
volumes and substantially increased the Hebraica collections.
Generous gifts from Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Dadian in the 1990s created
an endowment to develop and maintain the Library's Armenian holdings.
Iri-Agha, a watercolor
by D. L. K. Nnachy, ca. 1930, shows a drummer, a horn-player,
singers, and dancers who carry a board decorated with wooden
skulls and human heads. Nnachy's sketches, applications
from many other African artists seeking foundation support,
biographical information, awards, scrapbooks, and administrative
files are found in the Harmon Foundation Papers. (Reproduced
by courtesy of the Harmon Foundation) (Manuscript
In the spring of 1997, the division moved from the John Adams
Building to its present imposing location in the newly renovated
Thomas Jefferson Building. The new African and Middle Eastern
Division Reading Room houses a 10,000- volume reference collection
and a rotating display of current events journals, arranged and
maintained by each of the three sections. The division welcomes
visitors and provides prearranged briefings on its activities
and services for individuals and for groups. Researchers may consult
specialists who readily provide in-depth reference assistance
in identifying materials in their custodial collection as well
as related sources about Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus,
and Central Asia in roman script and in other formats or specializations
found in the Library of Congress General Collections or in units
such as the Geography and Map Division, the Manuscript Division,
the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and the Law Library.
In the several display cases located in its grand reading room,
the division mounts small exhibits such as Oil and Petroleum
in Africa and the Middle East. Major exhibits featuring AMED
collections have been mounted in the Library's galleries.
From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of
Congress was prepared to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary
of the Hebraic Section, and a version of this exhibit later traveled
to several North American cities.
Frank G. Carpenter (1855-1924), an American journalist and
photographer, visited numerous regions of Africa in 1881,
1886, 1906-7, and 1908-9, where he and his daughter assembled
extensive photographic files to document and illustrate
his books. As a collector of photographs, Carpenter showed
a wide breadth of interests in the diversity of daily life
across the African continent. "Africa,
Native Girl, 1900," photographed by C. Vincent of Dar-es-Salaam,
Tanzania, and "Zanzibar Sultan"
are examples of work in his collections. In 1951, his daughter,
Frances Carpenter, gave the Library this important visual
resource. The Frank and Frances Carpenter collection includes
approximately 5,600 original contact prints, 8,000 negatives,
and a large group of goldtoned albumen prints from commercial
firms. (Prints and Photographs Division)
Special events and outreach activities have long been part of
the division's agenda. Working through the three sections, it
sponsors many library, cultural, and scholarly programs. The Africana
Librarians Council of the African Studies Association has held
several of its semiannual meetings at the Library. Officials of
the International Summer Seminar in Jewish Genealogy accepted
an offer from the Hebraic Section to serve as host for the seminar's
1995 meeting, making the Library's outstanding genealogy-related
resources readily available to participants. As part of its fiftieth
anniversary celebration in 1995, the Near East Section held a
conference on "Arab-American Cultural Relations," and more recently,
it cosponsored with the Embassy of Tunisia a panel of international
experts who spoke on "Tunisia: Past, Present, and Future." Lectures,
including a research seminar series, are another important and
ongoing part of the division's outreach program. Well-known speakers
such as MacArthur Fellow and human rights lawyer Gay McDougall,
Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, and Egyptian philosopher Zaki Naguib
Mahmoud have participated.
Another role of the division is to facilitate projects to enhance
access to the collections, as it does through
the widely acclaimed body of publications issued under its auspices.
The African Section has compiled more than forty publications
ranging from bibliographies of official publications of African
nations to short subject guides on contemporary issues such as
Abuja: The New Federal Capital of Nigeria. Titles
prepared in the Near East Section include The Holy Koran at
the Library of Congress and American Doctoral
Dissertations on the Arab World. The catalog of the highly
successful exhibit initiated by the Hebraic Section, Scrolls
from the Dead Sea: The Ancient Library of Qumran and
Modern Scholarship, published jointly by the Library and
the Israel Antiquities Authority, received several awards for
The African and Middle Eastern Division continues to exert a
vital influence in the development of area studies librarianship.
Its staff is recognized for scholarly publications. They serve
as officers in area studies organizations and attend and participate
in national and international meetings on their areas of expertise.
And, finally, a significant contribution made by the division
is in its training of young scholars and future librarians through
briefings and presentations, the internships and volunteer positions
it offers, and the mentoring it provides to promising candidates,
thus preparing the way for the future success of the study of
these vital areas in world culture.
Chief, African and Middle Eastern Division