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Overviews of the Collections

The South Slavic Collections at the Library of Congress

Predrag P. Pajic
Former Reference Librarian


The South Slavs have been represented in the Library of Congress for somewhat more than a hundred years. The most significant early acquisition was the library of Professor Martin Hattala (1821-1903), professor of philology at Charles University, in Prague, and member of the Bohemian and Russian academies of science. His collection, which was purchased in 1903, included Rad jugoslavenske akademije [Works of the Yugoslav Academy] (1867-1903), and Ljetopis jugoslavenske akademije [Annals of the Yugoslav Academy] (1877-1903), basic works of this prestigious scientific institution that was located in Zagreb and founded in 1867.

Several decades before this purchase, the Library included contributions by the prominent Slovenian Bishop Friderik Baraga (1797-1868) who, as a missionary among the American Indians and a trained linguist, wrote a grammar of the Chippewa language, A theoretical and practical grammar of the Otchipwe language (Detroit, 1850). Also dating from this period are several important books on the history of South Slavic languages: Kleine serbische Grammatik (Leipzig, 1824) by Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic; Grammatik der illyrischen Sprache (Vienna, 1854) by Andrija Torkvat Brlic; Mala srpska gramatika (1850) by Duro Danicic; and Ilirska slovnica (Zagreb, 1854) by Vjekoslav Babukic.

At the beginning of this century the United States had well-established relations with the independent South Slavic countries, namely, Bulgaria and Serbia, which resulted in an exchange of official government publications, including important legal publications, records of parliaments, censuses and statistical information. Scientific institutions and universities from these countries, as well as from those which were at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy (Croatia and Slovenia), established ongoing relations with the Library of Congress. After World War I and the founding of new states, these relations developed into very comprehensive exchange and acquisition programs. In the post-World War II period, the collection grew to include almost 200,000 volumes of the most outstanding works and several thousand serial titles, the richest depository of South Slavic materials in the United States. The collection is very strong in all areas of the humanities, especially literature, laws, history, and the political, economic, and cultural life of the South Slav peoples.

Bulgarian literature is well represented at LC. Works in Old Bulgarian, i.e., up to 1762, consist of reprints of old manuscripts, the most significant being the oldest Bulgarian anthologies from the sixteeth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, the so-called Damaskini (after the Greek teacher Damaskin Studit). They represent the transition from religious to secular literature and from Old Slavic to the vernacular language. The beginning of modern Bulgarian literature is dated from the publication of the work Slavianobulgarska istoriia by the Chilandar monk, Father Paisi, which first appeared in 1762 and was printed in 1840. The Library has several later editions of this work, as well as other early Bulgarian publications, including the Kyriakodromion, sirech Nedielnik (1806) by Bishop Sofronii of Vratsa, Bukvar s razlichny poucheniia (1824) by Petur Beron, the first Bulgarian secular author, and Kratkoe politicheskoe zemleopisanie za obuchenie na bolgarskoto mladechestvo, the first Bulgarian geography book, by Archimandrite Neofit Bozveli. These books were in the Todor Plochev private collection of 635 early Bulgarian published works that was purchased by the Library in 1950.

Since the Ottoman rulers prohibited the printing of books in Cyrillic, before the country's liberation in 1878 Bulgarian books were printed in Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, Odessa, Salonika, and Vienna. Those titles printed outside the Ottoman Empire between 1806-1878 (totaling 1,910) are listed in Bulgarska vuzrozhdenska knizhnina by Man'o Stoianov. In 1897 when the National Library in Sofia was designated as the depository library, the first copy of the national bibliography Bulgarski knigopis was published. According to this source, Bulgaria published some 1,500 titles a year at the beginning of the century. It now produces an average of 3,000 titles a year. This includes all reprints, translations, textbooks for elementary schools, children's books, as well as original books by Bulgarian authors in all fields. The Library of Congress, through its exchange program with Bulgarian scientific institutions and direct purchases from book dealers, acquires approximately one-half of the yearly production (ca. 1,500 titles), mostly in the humanities and social sciences, as well as the significant works in science. The European Reading Room contains several hundred of the most frequently used Bulgarian reference books, e.g., the latest edition of Entsiklopediia Bulgariia, dictionaries, and the most recent bibliographical sources on government, business, and important personalities.

General Collections and Periodicals

The Library's acquisition of materials from other South Slavic countries was accelerated in 1967 with the introduction of the Public Law 480 Program, which enabled the Library to use Yugoslav domestic currency to set up an office in Belgrade and systematically to purchase all new titles from all parts of Yugoslavia and to subscribe to the most important journals and newspapers. The Library's Belgrade office operated for five years, and offered a unique opportunity for acquiring those titles that the government under Tito later banned and ordered burned (e.g., special issues of the serial publication, Praxis which are publicly available only at the Library of Congress).

Collections from former Yugoslavia grew at approximately 2,000- 3,000 titles per year until the early 1990s, when the outbreak of civil war disrupted both publishing and the acquisitions process. In all, the collection of material from the ex-Yugoslav states now consists of about 130,000 titles and over 2,000 serials.

The voluminous literature of the Croats, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Muslims, Slovenes, and Serbs, as well as that of national minorities such as the Albanians, Slovaks, and Hungarians, that has appeared over the last 50 years is listed in the comprehensive bibliographical source, Bibliografija Jugoslavije. This work is published in several series with a description of the monographs and articles in Yugoslav periodicals listed according to subject. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia and the establishment of new states, this source now only includes publications from Montenegro and Serbia. A similar source, Slovenska bibliografija, has been published in Ljubljana since 1985, and lists current publications from Slovenia.

The strongest part of the entire South Slavic collection comprises legal materials. Official government documents, laws, parliamentary minutes, and other legal materials represent sources much used by all branches of the U.S. government, as well as by legal scholars and practitioners interested in this part of the world. With the extensive immigration of South Slavs into the United States after World War II, this collection has been heavily used by former citizens of these countries through their representatives in the U.S. Congress, in support of all kinds of legal assistance from cases of inheritance and political persecution to divorce and civil cases.

The turbulent history of the South Slavs has become a subject of intense interest in the United States following the breakup of Yugoslavia, the eruption of ethnic conflict, and the deployment of U.S. troops to the region. This history can be studied in the Library of Congress, whose collections contain nearly the same amount of published literature as is available in the national institutions of each of the countries of the former Yugoslavia.

In Bulgarian history, the most important works are the ongoing multivolume monograph Sbornik za narodni umotvoreniia i narodopis which has now reached 58 volumes, Izvori za bulgarskata istoriia in 20 volumes, and especially the comprehensive Bulgarian historical materials from two International Conferences on Bulgarian Studies held in 1981 and 1988 in Sofia in honor of 1300 years of the Bulgarian state.

Historiography of other South Slavic countries can be found under the collective history of Yugoslavia and also under the respective Yugoslav nationalities. In addition, all material published in Yugoslavia in the last fifty years is listed in Bibliografija Jugoslavije and in Bibliografija jugoslovenskih bibliografija, 1945-1960 (1945-1955, 1956-1960). Material published before World War II and that published by authors from Yugoslavia living abroad is catalogued by the respective nationality.

There are about 600 newly published titles on the history of Bosnia, including current material made available by its new government on The Ethnic Cleansing of Bosnia-Hercegovina (Sarajevo, 1992), as well as a recent translation (into Serbo-Croatian) of old Turkish documents published by the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo in its series Monumenta Turcica historiam Slavorum Meridionalium illustrantia.

Croatian history is represented by over a thousand titles acquired by the Library and cataloged after 1980 and by many publications from earlier periods, e.g., Znameniti i zasluzni Hrvati te pomena vrijedna lica u hrvatskoj povijesti od 925-1925 (Zagreb, 1925). Croatians living outside their state made a significant contribution in publishing the memoirs of prominent participants in Croatia's recent history and describing their history from various perspectives. Here the most important titles are Ivo Korsky, Hrvatski nacionalizam (a history of Croatia from 1918 to 1945) and V. Vranic, Branili smo drzavu, as well as the recently published memoirs of the leaders of the new Croatian state, especially, for example, Franjo Tudjman's Bespuca povijesne zbiljnosti (1989).

The history of Macedonia is available in newer studies published by the Macedonian Academy of Arts and Science and is best represented in the series of historical books by Aleksandar Matkovski. Further material on this subject can be found in general works on the history of the Bulgarians, Greeks, and Serbs, whose histories Macedonia shared for centuries.

The history of Slovenia is well represented in several hundred titles in the Library of Congress, but most important are Zgodovina slovenskego naroda, (1912-1916) by J. Gruden and its sequel Zgodovina slovenskego naroda, najnovejsa doba, (1929-1939) by J. Mal. The most recent and authoritative title on this subject is Zgodovina Slovencev, (1979) by Z. Cepic and others.

Serbian history is represented with somewhat fewer than 600 titles in the Library, but includes the very good seven-volume monograph, Istorija srpskog naroda by Dragoslav Srejovic and others. For the English reader there is the excellent work by Michael B. Petrovich, A History of Modern Serbia, 1804-1918.

Works on political science and economics account for most of the publications in the social sciences from this area. For the last fifty years the centralized government in Bulgaria produced a considerable amount of published material discussing Bulgarian political life and administration of the economy. With the advent of democracy and a free market economy, the Library offers to American enterprises that are interested in investing in Bulgaria such titles as Bulgariia--8,000 firmi, instituti, organizatsii (1991) by A. Iliev.

In regard to the political history and economic condition of the peoples of former Yugoslavia, the Library has almost everything published in the languages of these peoples since World War II, as well as important books on these subjects in English and other West European languages. The Library also has most, although not all, of the important publications from before and after World War I, including those dealing with the creation of Yugoslavia. However, it lacks considerable material published during World War II.

Works in science and technology from South Slavic countries are mainly represented by works from various scientific institutions in Bulgaria and former Yugoslavia, as well as materials from numerous international conferences held in this part of the world. Most important are collections of works by the Bulgarian, Croatian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Slovenian and Serbian academies of arts and science.

Highlights from Special Collections

The arts of the South Slavic area, because of its complicated history and culture, reflect a wide spectrum of Eastern and Western influences. The Library's collection of publications on Bulgarian and Serbian medieval monasteries and their icons is considered the largest collection outside these countries. In addition, there are voluminous works on the Western arts of Croatia and Slovenia, beautiful prints of Dubrovnik and Dalmatia, descriptions of Muslim arts, particularly architecture, as well as numerous of catalogs of important individual artists and collective exhibits.

The Prints and Photographs Division has an excellent collection of pictures of East European architecture, including the best examples of South Slavic cities at the beginning of this century, as well as pictures of colorful national costumes of the region. The Music Division has works available showing the diversity of folklore and folk music, including recordings of the music of the Bosnian Muslims with its strong oriental influence. There is also a very good collection of works and recordings by internationally-known South Slavic composers and performers. These include recordings of the famous Bulgarian bass Boris Christoff, the Croatian soprano Zinka Kunc Milanov (with the Metropolitan Opera for many years), and the Serbian composer Stevan Mokranjac, as well as the most important choral groups from this area, performing, among other works, famous sacred music from cathedrals and monasteries in Belgrade, Sofia, and Zagreb.

In the Library's collection of 12,550 foreign films from 23 countries are many from the South Slavic region. There are cultural films from Bulgaria, internationally-recognized Croatian cartoons, and films by the well-known Bosnian film director Emir Kusturica and his Yugoslav colleague Dusan Makavejev. The Motion Picture & Television Reading Room Division also has available relatively recent television news broadcasts from Belgrade and Zagreb showing the contrasts in reporting on events in former Yugoslavia.

The Geography and Map Division has a very fine collection of maps dating from the early history of the South Slav region and continuing to the present, with the most recent maps of the independent states of former Yugoslavia. The earliest map from this area is a 1541 Ptolemaic map of the Dalmatian coast.

In addition to the previously-mentioned Plochev collection of the first Bulgarian books printed, the Rare Book Division has also several cultural treasures of Croatian and Serbian literature; notably the oldest Croatian book, the Missale Glagoliticum printed in 1483 in Venice, and the 11th edition of the Psaltir printed in 1638 in Venice. The Psaltir was printed a short time after the first Serbian book Octoechos was printed in 1494 by the monk Makarije on the first printing press in this part of the world, that of nobleman Durde Crnojevic in Obod, Montenegro. In addition, there is the original edition (Rome, 1755) of De litteraria expeditione per pontificiam ditionem ad dimentendos meridiani gradus et corrigendam mappam geograficam by Rogerio Josepho Boscovich, the Jesuit astronomer, philosopher, mathematician and diplomat from Dubrovnik. Recently, the Law Library has added to its collection a beautiful photo reprint of the Nomokanon of Saint Sava, the most comprehensive medieval Serbian book of law, written in 1265 by Archbishop Sava, later known as Saint Sava.

Finally, in the Manuscript Division's papers of Woodrow Wilson and his Secretary of State Robert Lansing there is extensive correspondence with Nikola Pasic, then prime minister of Serbia. This Division also has about 25 letters of Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), outstanding inventor in the field of electricity, naturalized American, and son of a Serbian Orthodox priest from the Krajina, then part of Austria-Hungary.

Additional South Slavic resources at the Library of Congress:

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  January 6, 2020
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