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 Near East
Section, the African 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 sections. 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.
In 1945, the Near East Section was 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. 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.
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.
"Asiae Nova Descriptio,"
from the 1598 edition of Abraham Ortelius's Theatrum
orbis terrarum, depicts the lands of the Middle East,
Anatolia, Transcaucasia, and Central Asia. Ortelius's seminal
work, originally published in Antwerp in 1570, is recognized
as the first modern atlas. It included a world map, as well
as continental and regional maps.
and Map Division)
Volumes about the Middle East and Africa 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 the
Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Africa.
The Near East and Hebraic 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. 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.
The Hebraic Section collections contain some 160,000 volumes in
Hebrew and related languages, including Yiddish, Ladino, Syriac,
and the languages of Ethiopia. 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, generous gifts from Mr. and Mrs. Arthur
Dadian in the 1990s created an endowment to develop and maintain
the Library's Armenian holdings. 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 Hebraic collections.
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 the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central
Asia, and Africa 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.
The Persian mystical poet Sadi (d. 1404) is an outstanding
example of the Persian classical tradition. From a nineteenth-century
manuscript of his poems, this richly colored illustration
depicts the princess Shirin's attempt to hide her beauty
from prince Khusrov, clearly enchanted, who is accompanied
by a Pir (wiseman).
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.
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. 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." 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.
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.
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 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. 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 its design.
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