May 14, 2019 Library of Congress Appoints Simon Martin as Jay I. Kislak Chair for the Study of the Early Americas

Press Contact: Benny Seda-Galarza (202) 707-8732
Public Contact: Andrew Breiner (202) 707-9219

The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress today announced the appointment of Simon Martin, an anthropologist and specialist in Maya hieroglyphic writing, as the 2019-2020 Jay I. Kislak Chair for the Study of the History and Cultures of the Early Americas. Martin will begin his tenure in November 2019.

The Kislak chair helps nourish a wide conversation ranging from the technical aspects of archaeological discovery to issues of interest in the current cultural conversation. By encouraging broad interdisciplinary inquiry, the Chair aims to generate broad public engagement with themes related to the early history of the Americas.

Martin has taken the lead in understanding the politics of the Classic Maya (150-900 A.D.) based on deciphering their hieroglyphic script. Much of this work focuses on the complex hierarchies between individual kings and the ideology that enabled and sustained that order.

Recently, he has extended his enquiry to societies across the globe that demonstrate types of political segmentation similar to those seen with the Maya.

At the Kluge Center, Martin will further expand that comparative work, with the help of the Library’s resources related to political science and political anthropology. He will also engage in a close study of items in the Kislak Collection, focusing on their use as instruments of political power.

Best known for his co-authored books “Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens” (2004) and “Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya” (2004), Martin is an associate curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and teaches anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.

The Kislak chair is funded by the Kislak Family Foundation to support annually a distinguished individual to undertake research using the Kislak Collections and related materials at the Library of Congress.

The Kislak Collection encompasses more than 3,000 rare books, maps, manuscripts, historic documents, artifacts and works of art related to early American history and the cultures of Florida, the Caribbean and Mesoamerica. It is considered among the finest collections of its kind in the world, one that brings together material of equal interest to scholars and the general public.

The Kluge Center’s mission, as established in 2000, is to “reinvigorate the interconnection between thought and action,” bridging the gap between scholarship and policymaking. To that end, the Center brings some of the world’s great thinkers to the Library to make use of the Library collections and engage in conversations addressing the challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at and register creative works of authorship at


PR 19-048
ISSN 0731-3527