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Keynote Presentations and Collections Display at the 13th Annual International Mongolian Studies Conference at the Library of Congress February 15, 2019

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(The following is a post by Susan Meinheit, Tibetan and Mongolian Reference Specialist, Asian Division.)

Mongolian Ambassador to the United States Otgonbayar Yondon. Photo: Tien Doan.

This year, the Asian Division welcomed over 70 Mongolian scholars to the Library of Congress for the keynote session of the 13th Annual International Mongolian Studies Conference. The conference is a two-day event hosted by the Mongolian Cultural Association, based in Falls Church, VA, and the Embassy of Mongolia in Washington, D.C., and includes a visit to the Library for the keynote talk and Mongolian collections display.

This year the conference was held on February 15 and 16 at Clarewood University in Reston, Va, with the keynote presentations on February 15.  Dr. Eugene Flanagan, Director for General and International Collections, welcomed the scholars. His Excellency Otgonbayar Yondon, Ambassador of Mongolia to the U.S., offered introductory remarks, including his research on the history of Mongolian foreign relations at the end of World War I and leading up to the role of early American visitors, such as American paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews in the 1920s.

President and founder of the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs Dr. Bolortsetseg Minjin. Photo: Tien Doan.

This year’s keynote talk was “Lessons Learned from the Repatriation of Mongolian Dinosaurs,” by Dr. Bolortsetseg Minjin, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, who focuses on the protection of fossils in her native country, Mongolia. A recorded version of the keynote talk has been released as a Library of Congress webcast.

Bolortsetseg is president and founder of the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs, which promotes fieldwork and educational programs for both graduate students and children in Mongolia. She also helped establish the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs in Ulaanbaatar. Her talk described the role she played in 2012 in stopping the sale of an illegally collected skeleton of Tyrannosaur baatar from Mongolia, and its eventual return to Mongolia where crowds of thousands lined up to see Mongolia’s first “dinosaur celebrity.” This led to increased attention on the importance of protecting Mongolia’s cultural heritage and developing programs for the promotion of paleontology.

Books and maps about Mongolia on display for visitors in the Asian Reading Room following the keynote talk. Photo credit: Qi Qiu.

Following the presentations, visitors came to the Library of Congress’ Asian Reading Room to view a special display from the Mongolian collection, “Paleontology and Cultural Heritage of Mongolia’s Gobi.” Susan Meinheit, Tibetan and Mongolian Reference Specialist, provided an introduction to the display. It featured works by and about early paleontologists, including Roy Chapman Andrews (1884 – 1960), who discovered the first dinosaur eggs in 1922 in the Gobi Desert, where most of the dinosaur fossils have been found. Andrews’ epic work, “New Conquest of Central Asia,” includes fold-outs showing his caravan of Ford automobiles travelling through the desert and detailed accounts of his adventures. The display also included works on the cultural heritage of the Gobi and its history, archaeology, monasteries, legends, literature, folk songs, and wildlife.

Selected titles in the display included: “Dundgov’aimagt khilsen arkhaeologiin sudalgaa” (Survey and bio-archaeology in the Middle Gobi); “Gov’ nutgiin turleg” (Folksongs of the Gobi); “Goviin baavgal – Mazaalai”  (Gobi Bear – Mazaalai); “Ȯmnȯgovʹ Aĭmgiĭn tukhaĭ, u̇gėl gu̇rvėliĭn mȯrȯȯr, khadny bichėės su̇g zurag…” (Stunning Gobi: about South Gobi Province, dinosaur findings, petroglyph, nature, wildlife, Mongolian lifestyle, events…); “Dinosaurs of the Flaming Cliffs; and “Khanbogdyn tuukh, soelyn ov” (History and cultural heritage of Khanbogd County, South Gobi Province).

The display also featured two illustrated maps about Mongolian dinosaurs from the Geography and Map Division: “Distribution Map of Mongolian Dinosaurs,” issued in Ulaanbaatar by the Cartographic Enterprise of the State Administration of Geodesy and Cartography, 1996 and “BNMAU-yn paleontologiin zurag” (a government issued map on paleontology intended middle school students), published in Ulaanbaatar, 1984.

The glass display cases showcased two rare items from the Mongolian collection. This is a manuscript copy of “The Story of the Paper Bird,” a popular Buddhist play written in 1825 by Danzanravjaa, the famous 5th Gobi Noyon Khutugt or “Lama of the Gobi.”

“The Story of the Paper Bird” (Tagiin jimiig todorkhoilogch tsaasan shubuunii ulger). This is a 19th-century manuscript copy of Danzanravjaa’s famous collection of aphorisms, written in 1825. Known as the “Lama of the Gobi,” Danzanravjaa (1803–1856) was the fifth incarnation of the Gobi Noyon Khutagt and a poet, composer, Buddhist scholar, and painter. He founded several important monasteries in the Gobi, as well as a public library, museum, and theatre, where his own plays were performed. Mongolian rare book collection, Asian Division.

Buddhist traditions were also represented by this 19th-century xylograph (wood engraving) of “Prayers for White Tara” in a reduced size for easy carrying through remote areas.  It was acquired by anthropologist Berthold Laufer (1874-1934) who collected Tibetan and Mongolian books for the John Crerar Library of Chicago, which were transferred to the Library of Congress in 1917.

“Prayers for White Tara” (Cayan dar-a eke orosiba).
This special text was acquired in 1917 with over seventy other works transferred from the Crerar Library in Chicago. They were originally acquired by anthropologist Berthold Laufer, and each contains his handwritten notes. It is an example of the so-called “pocket books” popular at the end of the 18th century to be carried when traveling in remote areas. Prayers to Tara, a female Buddha, are well known by Buddhists throughout Tibet and Mongolia. Mongolian rare book collection, Asian Division.

Printed works in Mongolian are accessible to registered readers in the Asian Reading Room. Manuscripts and other rare books are accessible only by prior appointment, which can be arranged by contacting reference staff through the Asian Division’s Ask-a-Librarian.

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