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The Georgian Collections of the Library of Congress, Part II: The 20th and 21st Centuries

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High above Tbilisi, the Fortress of Narikala with the Church of St. Nicholas flies the flag of the recently independent Republic of Georgia. (Photo, 2004, Levon Avdoyan)

The history of Georgia and the growth of the Georgian language and ancillary collections at the Library of Congress is the tale of three republics. The first independent Republic of Georgia was established in 1918 following the end of World War I and the dissolution of the Russian Empire. That Republic’s fall to the Bolsheviks in 1921, and the establishment of a Georgian Soviet Socialists Republic sent a small but active diaspora of Georgians to Europe and beyond. The third republic, the contemporary Republic of Georgia, proclaimed its independence in 1991 following the fall of the Soviet Union. As the Library of Congress appointed its first Georgian Area Specialist in 1992, it is clear that the Georgian collections grew as the new state developed.

To commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Iranian national epic, the “Shāhnāmah” [the Epic of Kings] by Firdawsi, Tbiilisi State University published this two-volume Georgian language translation replete with exquisite illustrations in 1934.
Materials from the first two republics, and various Georgian diaspora homes, entered the collections by chance and along with materials acquired from the USSR. Many of the pre-1992 collections reflect Soviet Academic literary, artistic, cultural and historical scholarship. These still-relevant studies were published both in Georgian and in Russian. From the Georgians in the diaspora in New York, for instance, came literary and political materials, such as The Voice of Free Georgia (1952-1957) that reflected the yearning for the homeland.

Detail from the extensive finding aid to the Georgian Archive microfilm collection. The items are of vital importance not only to Georgianists but also to those studying the entire Caucasus following World War I and the establishment of the Soviet Union.

It was obvious, in 1992, that the Library was seeking and creating new ways of acquiring materials from all the post-Soviet Republics, just as these republics were seeking to create independent institutions for their countries and peoples. Fortunately, during the Summer of 1995, Nino Chkhenkeli, a young librarian from Tbilisi here in the United States on a Freedom Support Act Fellowship, interned in the Near East Section of the Library of Congress. During that internship she made a complete survey of the Georgian language collection, about 2,000 items, and noted both its strengths and its obvious omissions. After her return to Georgia, she was hired by the United States Information Service at the US Embassy in Tbilisi and this in turn led to a number of successful projects in partnership with Georgian institutions and the Library of Congress. As a result there was a spurt in Georgian acquisitions, and the establishment of an approval plan with a vendor who collected materials from both Georgia and the Republic of Armenia.

In November of 2003, a peaceful pro-Western movement, now known as “The Rose Revolution” occurred in Georgia. That movement eventually led to the removal of Eduard Shevardnadze from the presidency and the elevation of Mikheil Saakashvili to that office. Fortuitously for the Library of Congress, Acquisitions Specialist Paul Crego, already in Tbilisi at that time, gathered examples for our collections from the Georgian newspapers’ coverage of that event.

In 1999, Paul Crego joined the Library of Congress, first as the Georgian and Armenian language cataloger and later as their acquisitions specialist. His appointment and his frequent trips to Georgia for his historical research, and my own acquisitions trips to Georgia accelerated the growth of our Georgian collections.

Another example of our efforts should suffice. When I visited Tbilisi in 2004, the United States Embassy arranged for me to meet with staff from the Ministry of Culture to discuss the microfilmed collection of the Georgian Archives. These records, dating between 1914 and 1958, focused on the activities of the government of the independent Georgian Republic and the Georgian government in exile after the Soviet occupation. The original papers had been deposited at Harvard University, but were returned to Georgia after its independence was proclaimed in 1991. Harvard had filmed these important records and we, at the Library of Congress, sought permission to have them duplicated for our own collections. Permission was readily given by the Georgian Ministry of Culture and we now have the microfilmed collection ready for consultation by our researchers.

Georgian cinema has long been internationally known and respected. Independence has led not only to the rebirth of that cinematic tradition but also to the restoration of films from the past. Here we see a restored, multi-media edition of a 1953-54 documentary titled “Akaki’s Journey in Racha-Lechnumi.” The film concerns the much beloved Georgian poet, Akaki Tsereteli. [Near East Section, Georgian Cage]
We estimate that the items in the Georgian language collections alone have increased by at least five times. They document the growth of Georgia’s democratic structure, its religious awakening, its literature-both old and experimentally new-its creative bursts of energy in the arts and culture, its development of democratic institutions, and its interactions and relationships with its minorities, the surrounding states, and the international communities.

There has also been an enormous growth of materials in the general collections of the Library of Congress as the world seeks knowledge of not only Georgia but the remaining states once governed by the Soviet Unions.

Such a rapid survey can do little to illustrate the breadth of our collections on this ancient land and people who have not burst onto the modern stage. Feel free to explore the Georgian collections by searching the Library’s online catalog. If you are searching for Georgian language materials, remember to use our system of transliteration.

If you would like to ask a librarian about the collections relating to Georgia, we have an Ask a Librarian service available for you to use.

(To read part I of this series, click here.)

Georgian cuisine is now being celebrated internationally, and this new-found reputation has resulted in multiple cookbooks both in Georgian and in many other languages. This relatively new publication is devoted to the many styles of the iconic and delicious Xačapuri—cheese bread.

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