Guide to the Research Collections

- Section -- II: -- THE HUMANITIES


The library's collections of the literatures of Africa, the Near East, and the Far East augment important holdings in history, religion, philosophy, and archaeology. Arabic is the best represented literature both in number of volumes and in range of coverage, although since 1950 holdings in Japanese and Korean literature have been considerably strengthened. The Spencer Collection's rare illustrated Japanese books and scrolls, many of which are literary in nature, augment the resources. The Armenian, Georgian, and Central Asian literatures have benefited from increased acquisitions since 1950: the Armenian collection, while not large numerically, represents a great proportion of the available published works. The Oriental Division acquires only a sampling of current popular literature from the Near East and Far East.

Among the research tools available for locating materials mentioned in this chapter are the Dictionary Catalog of the Oriental Collection in sixteen volumes (1960) and the Dictionary Catalog of the Slavonic Collection in forty-four volumes (1974), both of which were published by G. K. Hall & Company of Boston.

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The African literatures considered in this section are those of nations south of the Sahara Desert, with the exception of the literature of South Africa. The responsibility for acquiring material in African languages which employ or once employed the Arabic alphabet (such as Fula, Hausa, Somali, and Swahili) lies with the Oriental Division; other African languages are the responsibility of the General Research and Humanities Division. The collecting policies in both areas are representative.

The interest in acquiring literature in the African vernaculars is one of long standing, although prior to World War II there was a small amount of such materials available. For example, there are some twenty-five items in Zulu vernacular, excluding translations from other languages, and approximately half that number in Swahili. Much material formerly came from missionary stations and was, therefore, primarily religious in nature. With the development of the countries there has been a growth of creative literature, which is being acquired through the aid of new bibliographical publications. African writing in the Western European languages, most notably English, French, and Portuguese, is collected on the same basis as other materials in those languages.

The Schomburg Center

The Schomburg Center is devoted to the acquisition and preservation of materials relating to persons of African descent, and contains rarities not available in the general collections of the Research Libraries. Among unique materials is a copy of the Latin verse of Juan Latino, printed in Granada in 1573; another rarity is Bakary Diallo's Force-honté, considered to be the first novel produced by a French West African.

The Schomburg Center has especially interesting holdings on the histories of the ancient African kingdoms and on Portuguese Africa and Madagascar. There is a good representation of the contemporary literature of Senegal, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, and other countries, which includes the work of Moussa Travélé, Léopold Sédar Senghor, Antoine Bolamba, Gaddiel R. Acquaah, and other authors. The center is also acquiring examples of one of the livelier manifestations of the modern African creative spirit, popular fiction, poetry, and drama published in paperbound format. Written primarily in English and for the most part in Nigeria, the material is the production of the younger African writers. A proportion of the literature produced in vernacular African languages reaches the Schomburg Center, but current creative work is principally written in English and French.

A Dictionary Catalog of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and History in nine volumes was published by G. K. Hall & Company of Boston in 1962. Five-year Cumulation Supplements are to be issued; the first appeared in 1967, the second in 1972.


The Jewish Division has the responsibility for collecting Hebrew and Yiddish literature, as well as literature in Jewish languages and dialects such as Ladino and Judeo-Arabic. Works of sociological, ethnological, and linguistic importance relating to the Jewish experience are collected along with Hebrew and Yiddish belles-letters.

Hebrew and Yiddish fiction, poetry, drama, and essays are acquired comprehensively. Contemporary translations into Hebrew and Yiddish are acquired selectively, with a comprehensive attempt to collect nineteenth-century translations. The Jewish Division collects all anthologies of Hebrew and Yiddish literature translated into languages other than English.

A Dictionary Catalog of the Jewish Collection in fourteen volumes, including a three-volume title catalog of works in Hebrew and Yiddish, was published in 1960 by G. K. Hall & Company of Boston.

Hebrew Literature

The 4,000 volumes of Hebrew literature represent 12 percent of the total holdings in the Hebrew language, as compared to Yiddish literature, which represents about 40 percent of the total holdings in the Yiddish language. These proportions are somewhat misleading, due to the fact that so much material of a literary nature in Hebrew is classified as "religion," "Bibles," or "philosophy."

Strong resources in Hebrew literature include important early literary periodicals such as ha-Me'asef (1784-1811) and Bikure ha-'Itim (1820-31), as well as modern examples such as Moznayim (1929- ) and ha-Do'ar (1921- ). Hebrew literature of the Middle Ages is represented primarily by modern printed texts. Among the approximately forty incunabula in the division are Immanuel ben Solomon's Sefer ha-mahbarot ("Book of Poems") (1491) and Solomon ibn Gabirol's Mivhar ha-peninim ("Maxims") (1484). Other rare texts include Ephraim Luzzatto's Eleh bene ha-ne'urim (Poems) of 1766, and Moses Chayyim Luzzatto's play la-Yesharim tehilah (1743). A number of first editions of the nineteenth century are worthy of note. The novel ha-Avot veha-banim (1868) by Shalom Jacob Abramowitsch (Mendele Mokher Sforim), the grandfather of modern Hebrew and Yiddish literature, and his first story, Limdu hetev (1862), are both in the division. Judah Loeb Gordon's play Mishle Yehudah (1859) is also present. Poland, Israel, and the United States were the leading centers of publication in Hebrew before World War II; after the war Israel assumed leadership in this field. The Jewish Division has obtained almost all the significant publications from the major areas of Hebrew book production. There is complete coverage of materials published in Israel since 1964. Most of the Hebrew literary manuscripts held in the Jewish Division date from the twentieth century, together with several hundred letters written by Hebrew literary figures. An older manuscript of outstanding importance is the 1640 copy of the first play in Hebrew by Leone Sommo de Portaleone.

Yiddish Literature

Approximately 6,500 volumes in Yiddish literature are administered by the Jewish Division. The division also has rich holdings in manuscripts of Yiddish drama (some 460 items); 300 plays and prompt-books were donated by the family of Boris Thomashefsky, and cover his career on the New York stage from the end of the nineteenth century to the 1930s. The division holds an additional 150 plays, parts of plays, and scenarios which were performed in the New York Yiddish theatre from the last decades of the nineteenth

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century to 1920. Works of the classic Yiddish literary authors are present in the collections, with Shalom Jacob Abramowitsch (Mendele Mokher Sforim), Isaac Loeb Perez, and Sholom Aleichem (Shalom Rabinowitz) best represented. The division presently receives everything of significance published in Israel, the United States. Argentina, and France, as well as from countries with less ambitious publishing programs.

Among rare items in the division are first editions of nineteenth-century Yiddish authors. Works of Shalom Jacob Abramowitsch, Israel Axenfeld, and Abraham Goldfaden are particularly worthy of mention.

Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) Literature

A small collection of material in Ladino consists primarily of translations of ethical and Kabbalistic works, commentaries on the Bible, and translations of popular literature from French and Spanish. The first printed original work in the language, Moses ben Baruch Almosnino's Regimento de la vida (1564) is outstanding among the holdings. The division has files of four major newspapers published in Ladino.

Judeo-Arabic Literature

Judeo-Arabic is the dialect spoken by the native Jews of Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, and other Oriental countries; it is written in Hebrew characters. Resources in this area include approximately 100 volumes published in a village on the island of Jerba off the Tunisian coast, among those liturgical works, rabbinical texts, biblical commentaries, and biographies of religious leaders. Some 50 paperback romances, translations for the most part, were published in Tunis and in the town of Sousse. Sefunot, published annually by the Ben-Zvi Institute of Hebrew University, is devoted to gathering documents, stimulating research, and encouraging publication of studies bearing on Oriental Jewish communities.


The 2,000 volumes of literary materials in the Arabic languages, including translations and criticism, form a strong archive of the Oriental Division. Arabian poetry is collected comprehensively; other genres are collected on a representative basis. Translations from the European languages into Arabic are acquired selectively.

There are 720 volumes of Arabian poetry, 634 volumes of Adab, fables, romances, and drama, 96 volumes of proverbs and sayings, and 440 volumes related to the Arabian Nights. There are more than 250 Arabic manuscripts in the Oriental Division, 36 in the Manuscripts and Archives Division, and 12 in the Spencer Collection. The greater number pertain to fields other than literature, such as law, medicine, religion, and philology.

Texts of the Arabian Nights number 440 volumes. Arabic texts include the Calcutta II edition, dated 1839-42, edited by Macnaghten, and the Breslau edition of 1825-43, edited by Habicht. Most of the standard translations into Western European languages are present, from Galland to Burton, Payne, and Mardrus.


Sanskrit Literature

The collecting policy is representative for Sanskrit literature. Many of the epics, dramas, and fables in Sanskrit are contained in the library's rich holdings of some 720 volumes. Epics number approximately 400 volumes, with numerous editions of the Mah[amacr ]bh[amacr ]rata and the R[amacr ]m[amacr ]yana both in Sanskrit and in translation. The drama holdings, 120 volumes, feature many editions of K[amacr ]lid[amacr ]sa's Sakuntala. Somadeva's Kath[amacr ]sarit-s[amacr ]gara (Ocean of Story), both in the original and in the Tawney translation of 1924-28, is among some 200 volumes in the Sanskrit fiction section. There are also editions of Pa&nmacr;catantra (Five Chapters on Wisdom) and the Hitopadesa (Good Counsel). The Spencer Collection has fine illustrated editions of Sanskrit fables. Some of the 13 manuscripts in Sanskrit in the Manuscripts and Archives Division contain verse; all of these are Indian, and they date from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.

Modern Indian Literature

Before 1950 few libraries in the United States had extensive material in the modern Indic languages. Since that time the library has acquired Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati, Tamil, and Marathi publications. The collecting policy is selective. There are approximately 600 volumes related to Hindic languages and literature, and some 1,400 volumes related to the modern languages of India, Pakistan, and Ceylon. The great backlog of materials acquired under the PL-480 Program must also be taken into consideration: this amounts to more than 14,000 pieces for India and Pakistan, many of them literary in nature.

Of note is a small group of holograph poems in English by Sir Rabindranath Tagore, including a 65-page typescript of "Gitanjali" with corrections in the hand of W. B. Yeats, in the Berg Collection.


Altaic Literatures

The collection policy is representative for literatures in the Altaic languages. Materials received before 1940 are maintained in the Slavonic Division, for the most part designated by the "n.c." classmark (materials preserved but not separately cataloged); materials received since that time are administered by the Oriental Division.

In 1965 it was estimated that the library held 810 books and pamphlets and 24 magazines published before 1946 in Kazakh, Uzbek, Kirghiz, Turkoman, Karakalpak, and Uigur.1 These rare publications range from Uzbek Muslim poetry to Kazakh Communist Party reports, and from material on education among the Kirghiz to the planning and utilization of the Turkistanian cotton crop. The larger part of the material in the collection is printed in the simplified Arabic script, although material currently received is in modified Cyrillic scripts.

Armenian Literature

This is considered one of the best collections of Armenian literature in the United States, and

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contains some 720 volumes. Material is acquired on a representative basis. The periodical holdings are strong; there are runs of Gotchnag (New York, 1910- ) and Hayrenik (Boston, 1901- ), and literary and popular journals from Armenia as well as the daily newspaper, Sovetakar Hayasdan. Some 100 items by Armenians in the United States represent the remarkable literary production of a small ethnic group; other holdings emphasize Bibles and saints' lives.

Chinese, Japanese, and Korean Literatures

The library's collection of the literatures of China, Japan, and Korea are not exceptionally strong. The literature of each nation is acquired on a representative basis. Material published before 1912 has generally not been acquired, and a great percentage of the material published since 1912, especially in Japan, is scientific and technical.

Two literary periodicals are currently received from the People's Republic of China, Renmin wenxue and Ju ben; from Nationalist China comes Sinica. Approximately 900 books in Chinese literature include 250 volumes of poetry and some 640 volumes of fiction, drama, and essays. There are editions of major works in Chinese, with many translations into English and other European languages. Collected works and standard texts are not a feature of the holdings.

Japanese literature is represented by some 200 volumes of poetry and 760 of fiction, drama, and essays. Among Japanese literary periodicals currently received is Ashibi. Editions of individual works are more often found than collected editions; there are a great number of translations into English and other European languages. Drama, and especially the Noh drama, is well represented.

The extensive collection of manuscripts and printed books from Japan in the Spencer Collection adds strength in this area. Some 350 printed books range from the Ise monogatari of 1608, considered the earliest Japanese story book printed from movable wooden type, to early nineteenth-century first editions of the novels of Bakin. There are a number of editions of the Genji monogatari emaki by Lady Murasaki (the earliest dated 1650) as well as novels, plays, and ghost stories. There is an equally rich collection of some 235 Japanese manuscripts, a large number of which are literary. Of great interest is the Matsukase murasame emaki (Love-drama of Matsukase and Murasame), one of the earliest Noh scrolls in existence, dated 1520, a 1554 manuscript of Genji monogatari emaki, and the original manuscript of Bakin's Mukashi gatari shichiya no kura, which was published in 1810.

The collection of Korean literature is currently growing at a rapid pace. Modern collected editions of both classic and modern authors are a feature of this group of approximately 260 volumes.

Manchu Literature

The collecting policy in this instance is exhaustive. As little material is available, the holdings are small but adequate, and predominantly historical. Included are editions of the Manchu Shih and the regulations for the Eight Banners or divisions of the Imperial Army. The Oriental Division holds 52 reels of microfilm from the Tenri collection of the Manchu books in Manchu characters, consisting of dictionaries, grammars, and readers, in all numbering some 43,000 pages. A small group of manuscripts are in the Manuscripts and Archives Division; these are official texts and decrees of the Ch'ing dynasty, the oldest dated 1661.2

Georgian Literature

Although the collecting policy is representative in the Georgian language, the holdings were minimal before 1950. The collection has since grown to some 300 volumes, with particular strength in the fields of linguistics and belles-lettres, although scientific material is also collected. Georgian émigré literature is acquired when available. Editions of Shot'ha Rusthaveli's epic The Knight in the Tiger Skin, both in the original and in translation, are a feature of the resources. Additional materials in Georgian received in the 1920s and 1930s are found in the "n.c." classmark (material preserved but not separately cataloged) in the Slavonic Division.

Persian Literature

Three aspects of Persian literature are collected comprehensively: Avestan and Pahlevi works (which are predominantly liturgical rather than literary); Persian poetry, from the time of Firdaus[imacr ]; and works relating to the Rubaíyát of Omar Khayy[amacr ]m. Other literary works are acquired on a representative basis. There is an approximate total of 840 volumes in the collection.

Persian poetry in the Oriental Division commences with the classical writers such as Firdaus[imacr ], Rum[imacr ], Sa'di, and H[amacr ]fiz. In the Oriental Division catalog there are some 50 entries devoted to Firdaus[imacr ]; 50 for H[amacr ]fiz; 25 for Rum[imacr ]; and 70 for Sa'di. These entries represent the collected and individual works of the poets in Persian, numerous translations into European languages, critical works, and articles in periodicals. Thirteen manuscripts of the works of these poets in the Manuscripts and Archives Division date from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. A group of 24 illustrated manuscripts in the Spencer Collection includes a 1614 copy of the Sh[amacr ]hn[amacr ]m[amacr ]h (Book of Kings); another Sh[amacr ]hn[amacr ]m[amacr ]h is a 1550 translation into Turkish with more than 100 miniatures.3

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayy[amacr ]m is present in some 150 volumes, for the most part translations into English and other European languages. In the Berg Collection are copies of the first 4 editions of the Edward Fitzgerald translation, and also copies of his earlier translation of J[amacr ]m[imacr ]'s Salámán and Absál (1856).

Southeast Asian Literatures

The resources in the literatures of various southeast Asian nations are not strong. Such materials

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are acquired on a representative basis. Participation in the PL-480 Program since 1964 brought Indonesian materials to the library for several years. Critical materials in the Western languages are relatively abundant, particularly in periodical format.

Six Burmese, forty-nine Thai, and three Indonesian manuscripts in the Spencer Collection are for the most part religious in nature.

Spanish and English are represented in the collection of Philippine literature, in addition to works in the native languages. Works by and about José Rizal y Alonso include Noli me tángere (Berlin, 1887) and Mi último pensamiento (Hong Kong, 1897).

Turkish Literature

Turkish literature is acquired on a representative basis. General literature, including translations of the Bible, is perhaps the strongest category with some 200 volumes; poetry and drama are represented by 120 volumes; there are 120 volumes of fables, among which editions of the fables of Nasr-al-Din are the most numerous. Translations of Turkish literature into the Western European languages are not plentiful in the collections. The shortage of qualified catalogers has produced a backlog of Turkish literature not presently available to the public.