Guide to the Research Collections



Oriental Division holdings number 62,000 volumes. 270 manuscripts in the division are supplemented by more than 1,600 scrolls, manuscripts, tablets, and inscriptions in Oriental languages in the Manuscripts and Archives Division and the Spencer Collection, and a number of manuscripts, journals, and commercial papers in English and Western. European languages in the Manuscripts and Archives Division.

The division collects grammars, dictionaries, and the literature of the Orient, in both original texts and translation, in more than 100 languages. It also collects works on Oriental archaeology and religions. The Orient is defined as the countries of Asia (except Siberia), Ceylon, the islands of Japan, the Malay Archipelago, the Near East, and other areas in which Oriental alphabets, characters, and syllabaries are used. History and description of the Orient are collected when in Oriental languages; otherwise these subjects are the responsibility of the General Research and Humanities Division. Law, with the single exception of Moslem law, is not generally acquired. The division has, in addition, traditionally acquired works in the languages of North Africa, Ethiopia, and those African languages which now

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use or once used the Arabic script, such as Fulah, Haussa, Somali, Swahili, etc. Some of the non-Indo-European languages of the Soviet Union (with the exception of Finno-Ugrian) are the collecting responsibility of the Oriental Division: Turko-Tataric, Tungus-Manju, and the Mongolic languages, collectively known as the Altaic languages; a quantity of Turkic material collected before World War II is in the Slavonic Division. The Armenian holdings are very strong, and there is a unique collection in the Georgian language.

Material on Oriental archaeology, including works on Egypt, Assyria, the Hittites, and other areas of remote antiquity, is collected by the division; but classical and Byzantine archaeology are the collecting responsibility of the Art and Architecture Division and the General Research and Humanities Division.

The scope of the Oriental Division presents conflicts between the subject and language approach to collecting. Although the Oriental Division is, generally speaking, a humanities division, certain areas in the humanities lie beyond its interest: Oriental government documents are held by the Economic and Public Affairs Division; Oriental patents are found in the Patents Collection; Oriental art is the collecting responsibility of the Art and Architecture Division. In such cases, partial guidance can be found in the Oriental Division catalog. The division of responsibility between the Oriental Division and the Slavonic Division is not always clear in regard to some of the Central Asian languages; nor between it and the Jewish Division in regard to Semitic languages; the Oriental Division collects all the Semitic languages except Hebrew. The Aramaic texts are also divided between these two divisions, with Biblical and Palestinian Aramaic in the Jewish Division, and the others in the Oriental Division. Although these distinctions determine the location of volumes, the reader will find duplicate sets of cards, or at least cross-references, in all divisional catalogs where confusion in subject or language areas might occur.


When the Oriental Division was formed in 1897, it was one of the smaller, less developed collections in the library; it is now one of the leading resources for Eastern studies. Although the tremendous growth of published materials in the older civilized nations of Asia and the scope of the division preclude comprehensiveness in any single area, the holdings include many unique materials. The following table of the Oriental collections shows that holdings have approximately doubled in size with each quarter century.

1867 Astor Library3,321 volumes
1911 New York Public Library15,000

Early interest in Orientalia is evident from Joseph Cogswell's 1854 report on the Astor Library: "[The] greater part of those [families and branches of languages] of Asia and Africa, are represented in the collection. It contains the best works on the Egyptian hieroglyphics, the cuneiform inscriptions, and the other curious records of the ancient nations of the East, which recent discoveries have brought to light." Cogswell mentions two works in the collection never printed for sale, "Seven Seas: a Dictionary and Grammar of the Persian Language" in seven volumes and "Sabda Kalpa Druma of the Rajah Radhakant Deb," a Sanskrit dictionary.1 A gift of $10,000 from John Jacob Astor in 1878 was used in part to add important titles in this field.2

The Lenox Library did not collect Oriental works extensively, but its librarian, Wilberforce Eames, made a large collection of Chinese literature for his private library. In 1909 he sold to the library about half of his collection, "consisting mostly of the Chinese classics, original texts, and commentaries thereupon, largely examplars from the library of the noted Professor James Legge."3

The first chief of the Oriental Division, Dr. Richard Gottheil, a professor of Semitic languages at Columbia University and an editor of Syriac texts, was interested in Arabica. Through the generosity of Jacob M. Schiff during the years from 1900 to 1915, the acquisition of classic Arabic literature and Islamic materials made the division one of the outstanding centers in the country at that time. The income from a $25,000 fund established by Schiff permitted the purchase of 250 Arabic manuscripts in 1934.

From the beginning, Egyptology has been a strong subject area, but it is not now collected in the great depth which marked earlier acquisition policies. The Arabic and Near Eastern collections were also very strong until the 1930s, but since 1950 the collecting emphasis to some extent has swung to the Far East; in 1966 materials relating to Japan formed the fastest growing area. Armenian and Georgian resources are small but represent strong and rapidly developing fields.

The PL-480 Project was established in 1962 for India, Pakistan, and the United Arab Republic; in 1964 Indonesia and Israel were added for several years and in 1966 Nepal. The Library of Congress administers appropriations granted under the provisions of Public Law 480 (The Agricultural Trade and Development and Assistance Act of 1954, as amended); these funds are used to purchase foreign currencies to finance an acquisition and distribution program for books and booklike materials for participating United States libraries. The New York Public Library receives comprehensive sets of government publications at the national and state levels, every commercially published monograph of research value, and a wide selection of commercially published serials from India, Pakistan, and the United Arab Republic; newspapers were received in the early stages of the program from India alone but were not retained. Institutional publications are received from India; this type of material from other

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countries is acquired by the library on international exchange outside the program. By far the largest volume of material has been received from India--approximately 45 percent of the yearly total received (36,000 pieces out of a total of 80,000 at the end of 1964). Not all of the material has been cataloged; in 1966 approximately 20,000 pieces were in a deferred category. However, accession lists and catalog cards prepared by the Library of Congress for the material bear code numbers by means of which materials may be located.

The distribution of materials in the Oriental Division by area shows that the collection of Arabica is numerically the strongest, with the Indian, Ancient Near Eastern, Japanese, and Chinese collections following in that order. The subject groupings are based on those given in the introduction to the division's published Dictionary Catalog; figure totals are based on a later census and certain categories (Africana, Ethiopica, and Korea) have been added.

General Oriental studies6,500 volumes
Ancient Near East (Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc.)7,900
Africana (in languages using Arabic script)200
Language, literature and civilization of:
Central Asia250
Southeast Asia1,300


Arabic Catalog

A card catalog arranged alphabetically by title, in Arabic characters, of the Arabic books in the division (active, 4,200 cards). The books represented by these cards are also entered in the regular catalog of the division, but under author and subject rather than title.

Bibliographie Papyrologique Index

Issued by the Fondation Égyptologique Reine Elisabeth, Brussels, this is a card index to published materials in the field of papyrology (active, 5,500 cards). It begins with the year 1938, and is an alphabetical listing by main entry, useful not only for Oriental materials but also as a catalog of studies in Greek and Latin papyrology.

Chinese Author Information Cards

Published by the Oriental Society of Hanover, Massachusetts, these cards give a condensed biography and list of works of Chinese authors of all periods (1 card drawer). The text is in Chinese, although authors' names are given in Wade-Giles transliteration. The cards are filed by name of author.

Chinese Catalog

A card catalog of the Chinese books in the division arranged by number of strokes in the first Chinese character of the main entry (active, 2,400 cards). The cards are filed, within the total stroke number, alphabetically according to the romanized form of the main entry (Wade-Giles system). The titles are indicated in Chinese characters and in transliteration; at one time an English translation of the title was also given, but this has been discontinued.

Illustration Catalog

A card catalog, arranged alphabetically by subject, of the illustrations of interest to the division located in books and pamphlets shelved in the division and in other parts of the library (inactive, 6,000 cards).

Persia Bibliography

An unfinished bibliography on cards, arranged alphabetically by author, of material in the Oriental Division and elsewhere in the library relating to Persia (inactive, 3,000 cards).

Persian Art Index

An unfinished bibliography on cards, arranged alphabetically by author, of material on Persian art found in the library's collections (inactive, 500 cards).

Portrait Index

An index on cards, arranged alphabetically by subject, to portraits of interest in the Oriental Division in books and pamplets shelved in the division and elsewhere (inactive, 1,100 cards).

PL-480 Materials Catalog

A card index by main entry of the material received from Oriental countries under the PL-480 program (active, 30,000 cards). Each card bears a code number which is marked on the materials as a finding aid.

The card catalog of the Oriental Division has been published in book form in 16 volumes by G.K. Hall & Company (Boston, 1960).



The representation of Oriental journals and society publications is outstanding. For the most part, the files are complete, and include those of the American Oriental Society, the International Congress of Orientalists, the Koninklijk Bataviaasch Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen, the Royal Asiatic Society, the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft, etc. Other important titles are Asiatic Review, Journal asiatique, and, among recently published materials, Monumenta Serica and Monumenta Nipponica. Periodical and society publications in special fields are equally notable, such as those of the Egypt Exploration Society, the Service des Antiquités de l'Egypte, Revue d'Assyriologie et d'archéologie orientale, Zeitschrift für Assyriologie, Calcutta Review, the publications of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, the present Bihar and Orissa Research Society, and the Asiatic Society of Japan. Of more recent date are Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, and Journal of Near Eastern Studies, available in the Oriental Division in substantially complete runs.

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Currently the Oriental Division receives well over 1,000 periodical titles from Oriental countries--among them 110 titles from mainland China (both scientific and popular); 144 Chinese language periodicals from outside mainland China; 300 Japanese titles; 250 Arabic titles (mostly PL-480 material); and 150 Korean titles. A substantial representation of Indian, Pakistani, and Indonesian commercially published serials and institutional publications are received (mostly in the PL-480 program). Large newspaper holdings are administered by the division, rather than the Newspaper Collection. Current issues of the more general periodicals on Asian subjects, as for example Journal of Asian Studies, are held in the Periodicals Section.

As in other fields, journal articles of special interest are indexed in the catalogs. References to contributions in Oriental studies appear in both the Public Catalog and the Oriental Division catalog. In addition, the Oriental Division adds reference cards for periodical matter of particular interest to its collections or work.

Printed Collections

Printed collections of materials are principally of two sorts--printings or reprintings of Oriental classics, and monographs (frequently magnificently illustrated quartos or folios) by scholars on various subjects. Of the former are the Yale Oriental Series, the E.J.W. Gibb Memorial Series, the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal's Bibliotheca Indica, the publications of the Musée Guimet and the École des Langues Orientales Vivantes, the Bibliothèque Elzévirienne, Sacred Books of the East, Kashmir Series of Texts and Studies, the publications of the Oriental Translation Fund, Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, and others. Collections of scholarly monographs include the publications of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Egypt Exploration Society, the British School of Archeology in Egypt, etc. These series are fully analyzed in the division's catalog.

Subject Resources

Materials on Egypt, both ancient and modern, include such pioneer works as the studies conducted during Napoleon's expedition and published by the Commission des Monuments d'Egypte, the researches of Lepsius, and the mass of publications that have appeared during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. There is a fine set of Egyptian archaeological maps in the Map Division. PL-480 additions have strengthened the area since 1962.4

Another strong group relates to the Arabs, their history, customs, and language. There are extensive periodical resources and an unusual representation of grammars and dictionaries. There is a very full collection of editions of the Arabian Nights. Historical resources of unusual richness include archaeological works and other works published in Arabic. Islamic (Muhammadan) law is well represented.

The materials on India in the Oriental Division are also rich. All aspects of Indian life are well covered, particularly Indian law. Modern government publications, including materials reprinted from Indian archives, are located in the Economic and Public Affairs Division. PL-480 additions since 1962 have enriched the Indic holdings in all areas.

Linguistics is an outstanding feature of the Oriental Division's resources. The representation of standard dictionaries and treatises of the principal Oriental tongues is noteworthy, and the library has long made special efforts to collect both critical writings and such printed examples of minor languages as can be found. In the latter field it unquestionably excels.

History, always a major strength of the library's collections, is fully represented for the Oriental countries. Historical materials in Oriental languages are retained in the Oriental Division, while those in Western languages are administered by the General Research and Humanities Division. The Oriental Division holds such special items as Chinese dynastic histories in Chinese and pamphlets issued by the Taiping rebels, discussed more fully in the chapter on Asian history.

All Oriental religions are well covered--Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. The collection of Korans in native languages and in translation is extensive.


Oriental Division

Although the Oriental Division does not have special facilities for the storage of manuscripts, 268 bound manuscripts are found on the general book shelves. The great majority of these are Arabic, with several Persian and Turkish items. Included are treatises on religion, medicine, law, and the sciences, ranging from the twelfth to the nineteenth centuries. With the exception of occasional diagrams, they are not illuminated. The earliest and perhaps the most precious manuscript is the "Al-mujmal fi al-lughat," by Ibn Faris, the first part of an Arabic dictionary copied in Medina in 1172.5

Chinese items housed in the Oriental Division include 12 manuscript concordances or indexes of Chinese characters and phrases used by James Legge in his translation of The Chinese Classics (Hong Kong and London, 1861-72). There are also certain texts prepared by the Chinese scholar Wang T'ao for Legge's use in the same work.6

Manuscripts and Archives Division

The Manuscripts and Archives Division holds more than 1,000 manuscripts, tablets, and stone

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inscriptions in Oriental languages. Among items of note are an Egyptian stone inscription and papyrus fragments, and 624 Sumerian and Babylonian clay and stone tablets from the collection of Wilberforce Eames.7 The 26 Arabic manuscripts include copies of the Koran in old Cufic characters dating from the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries, and an illustrated treatise on the human body dated 1278. Among other manuscripts are 37 texts in Pali of the Tripitakas in Burmese script on palm leaves. 3 Batak soothsayer books on bark or bamboo, and 15 Persian manuscripts, most of them dating from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Eight Ethiopic manuscripts on vellum, some illustrated, represent amulets and psalters, for the most part of the eighteenth century. Among the 4 Chinese manuscripts is an eighteenth-century copy of sections 15,951 to 15,958 of the Yung Lo Ta Tien of the Ming dynasty, the last full copy of which was destroyed in the burning of the Summer Palace near Peking in 1860 at the order of Lord Elgin. A small group of 3 Manchu manuscripts are of some interest, especially a scroll dated 1661 in Manchu and Chinese containing an imperial decree bestowing honors on the mother of a Manchu officer of the second heredity rank.8

Relevant manuscripts in English consist of sea journals and logs, correspondence, and commercial papers of firms or persons engaged in trade or travel between the United States and the Far East. The manuscripts range in date from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries. Additional materials furnish sources for the study of diplomatic relations of the United States and Eastern powers. Some of the collections of this nature are discussed below; others are scattered in groups of documents and papers in the division.9

Among the papers presented to the library by Mrs. Thomas F. Burgess in 1939 are two series of letters written from Persia and the Near East during the years 1827 to 1855 by the brothers Charles and Edward Burgess. These letters provide a history of the adventures and fortunes of Westerners in the Orient.10

The letters of the Hon. Townsend Harris, presented by Mrs. Thomas A. Janvier in 1921, were written to her and her mother Mrs. Sandwith Brinker during Harris's sojourn in Japan as the first United States Consul-General, later the first United States Minister during the period 1856 to 1862. The letters do not refer to diplomatic affairs, but to the country, the customs of the people, and incidents of his daily life.11

The John Redman Coxe Lewis journal and log-book of the corvette USS Macedonian gives a day-by-day account of the expedition of Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan in 1854, with descriptions of Japan and its people.12 The diary of C. Blue, kept during the author's tour of duty on the U.S. sloop of war Vandalia (1853-56), describes Commodore Perry's reception in Japan and incidents in Shanghai during the Taiping Rebellion. A scroll of watercolor sketches by a Japanese artist of the scene on the first day after Perry's arrival at Uraga is in the Spencer Collection. It was the gift of Dr. Frank P. O'Brien.13

The Constable-Pierrepont papers (1774-1890) and the papers of Fogg Brothers of Boston (1840-1926) contain documents related to trade with the Orient.

The George C. Foulk papers, consisting of about 1,000 pieces, relate to Korea during the period from 1884 to 1887.14 The collection was supplemented in 1924 by a gift of 44 volumes and more than 300 separate pieces from Dr. Horace Newton Allen, former minister to Korea, including his personal and official diaries for the period 1884 to 1905, and correspondence, commissions, account books, files of Korean newspapers, and translations.15 In the gift is a collection of Korean poems dated from 1665 to 1745, illustrated with drawings by a native artist.16

In 1965, Mrs. A. Hawkins of Daytona Beach gave 3 boxes of material relating to the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean business of the mercantile firm of Frazar & Company, and to Everett Frazar's activity as Consul-General to the Kingdom of Korea in the United States and member of the American Asiatic Society. The period covered is 1883 to 1948.

Manuscripts pertaining to the Philippines are found in the Obadiah Rich collection. They consist of transcripts, dated about 1800, of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century accounts of voyages to the Philippines, together with historical and descriptive material. Other collections of the division contain an eighteenth-century Spanish naval log book, and papers relating to the attack on the Philippines by the United States and the War of Independence of 1898 and 1899. Also noteworthy are transcripts of the Acts of the Junta de Censura de Imprenta dating from 1866 to 1875.

Spencer Collection

The Spencer Collection's Oriental manuscripts, which number about 600, were collected principally for their illustrative and calligraphic value. These manuscripts are treated in greater detail in the discussion of the Spencer Collection and pertinent subject areas. Outstanding among them are

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the Persian manuscripts, including the sumptuously illustrated Shahn[amacr ]meh of Firdausi made for Shah Abbas I in 1614;17 the "Aja-ib al-Makhluquat" [The wonders of the world] by Kazw[imacr ]n[imacr ], completed some time after 1370. Turkish manuscripts include a Shahn[amacr ]meh translated into Turkish, perhaps the only complete copy of the Turkish translation in existence.18 Japanese manuscripts and scrolls number 235, with such items as the "Iwaya No Soshi" [The princess in the cave, or the stepmother] consisting of 70 full-page miniatures dating from about 1540. The Catalogue of Japanese Illustrated Books and Manuscripts in the Spencer Collection of The New York Public Library, compiled by Shigeo Sorimachi, was published in Tokyo in 1968. It is in Japanese, with titles translated into English.