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Celebrating the Library’s 220th Anniversary with Open Access Digital Gifts from the International Collections

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(The following post is by Anchi Hoh, Acting Assistant Chief, African and Middle Eastern Division; Jonathan Loar, South Asia Reference Librarian, Asian Division; Taru Spiegel, Reference Specialist, European Division; Kaydee McCann, Humanities Editor, HLAS, Hispanic Division; and Catalina Gómez, Reference Librarian, Hispanic Division.)

As we honor the Library’s 220th anniversary this week, we’d like to share some of the digital collections and projects that are available to you while the Library of Congress is closed to the public. The divisions that constitute the 4 Corners of the World blog—African & Middle Eastern, Asian, European, and Hispanic—hope that these resources inform, inspire, and engage the passions of researchers, students, and lifelong learners around the world.

African & Middle Eastern Division

Currently one may find 15 major digital collections pertinent to the fields of African & Middle Eastern studies. These collections fall into three categories: digitized manuscripts and rare materials housed in the African & Middle Eastern Division (AMED), the digital conversion of historically microfilmed manuscripts and rare materials from other great libraries, and web archives.

The Armenian Rarities Collection contains digitized versions of several dozen rare books and manuscripts. [Armenian Lectionary fragments], 17th century. African and Middle Eastern Division.
The Armenian Rarities Collection contains digitized versions of several dozen rare books and manuscripts. (Armenian Lectionary fragments, 17th century). African and Middle Eastern Division. AMED holds a treasure trove of manuscripts and rare materials, covering a broad range of subject matters and in various Middle Eastern languages (Hebrew, Arabic, Armenian, Persian, Turkish, etc.). To date, five collections have been launched as part of the Library’s digital collections. Since Easter has just passed, here we highlight an image of a 17th-century Armenian lectionary fragment, “The Resurrection.” The five digitized collections are:

The Persian Rare Materials Collection has grown to include about 300 manuscripts, lithographs, and early imprints. “Shāhnāmah.” [1842]. African and Middle Eastern Division.



In cooperation with the Researcher and Reference Services (RRS) and the European Divisions, AMED launched three digitally converted microfilm collections of manuscripts and rare books housed at great monasteries and libraries on Mt. Athos of Greece, Mt. Sinai of Egypt, and in Jerusalem. From 1940 to the early 1950s, the Library of Congress collaborated with these monasteries to microfilm their select illuminations and rare materials. Topics range from religious and secular matters to Byzantine music and letters, written in Greek, Syriac, Georgian, Coptic, Armenian, Arabic, Ottoman Turkish, Ethiopic, Old Church Slavonic, etc. These collections are: Manuscripts from the Monasteries of Mt. Athos; Manuscripts in St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai; and Manuscripts in the Libraries of the Greek and Armenian Patriarchates in Jerusalem.

In a sustained effort to capture websites dealing with a wide range of subjects concerning African and Middle Eastern studies, AMED has, either independently or in partnerships with other divisions, launched more than seven web archives. Several of them focus on political events or movements in the regions, such as the Crisis in Darfur in 2006, Egypt’s political and democratic experiences in 2008, and Political Islam Web Archive. Recently a series of archives of government, institution and political party websites have been launched as important research resources pertaining to the regions.  These archives cover the governments and/or institutions of Afghanistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Tajikistan, African countries, and Middle East/North Africa.

Asian Division

The seven Asian collections (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Tibetan) have released a number of new digital collections in recent years. Two of the larger collections are pictured in this blog: the Chinese Rare Book Digital Collection and the Japanese Censorship Collection. The South Asian Literary Recordings Project contains about 800 recordings from 90 authors in 22 languages. This is an excellent resource for hearing prominent authors reading excerpts of their works aloud, and it holds great value for teachers and students engaged in the study of South Asian languages.

The Chinese Rare Book Digital Collection now has almost 1,700 items of the Asian Division’s most valuable Chinese rare books with unique editions. This image is from a seventeenth-century illustrated work on agricultural life. “Yu zhi Geng zhi quan tu” 御製耕織全圖 (“Pictures of tilling and weaving made by the emperor’s order”). [China: Nei fu], Qing Kangxi 35 nian [1696]. Asian Division.
The Japanese Censorship Collection is an online archive comprising more than one thousand marked-up copies of government-censored monographs and galley proofs from prewar Japan. The full collection is available onsite, but about 260 titles are freely available online. “Kodan mumegoyomi” 講談梅こよみ (“Storyteller’s version of ‘The plum-blossom calendar’”). Ōsaka-shi: Nakagawa Gyokuseido, Meiji 41 [1908]. Asian Division.
Several Tibetan thangka paintings are digitally available: thangka of Tsong-kha-pa Blo-bzang-grags-pa (mid-19th century), Tibetan astrology thangka known as Srid pa ho or Srid pa ho phyogs srung (19th century), and thangka depicting the Tibetan wheel of life (20th century). Additionally, the Library has digitized an 18th-century thangka depicting the transmission of a Sanskrit text, the “Avadānakalpalatā,” which narrates the stories of the Buddha’s former births. This thangka was donated to the Asian Division by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in July 2010. Another item of high research value is the 2000-year-old birch bark scroll from the ancient Buddhist region of Gandhara, which was digitized and made available online in July 2019.

To learn more about the Asian collections, both the Asian Reading Room website and the following recently published research guides will provide more information on resources available at the Library of Congress:

European Division

Meeting of Frontiers”  is a multi-media digital library in English and Russian. It focuses on the respective histories of the Russian expansion eastward to the Pacific, and the American expansion westward. The history continues with the resulting Russian-American meeting in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. These expansion frontiers had many parallels, both in the freedom and opportunity that they offered and in the conflict and hardship they produced—for settlers and for native peoples. The website is an example of Russian-American cultural cooperation.

The “Prokudin-Gorskii” early color photographs in the “Meeting of Frontiers” collection may also be found in the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division. Young women by a traditional wooden house offering berries to visitors. Western Russia. 1909. Prints & Photographs Division.

The “Meeting of Frontiers” digital collections are divided into: “Books and Other Printed Materials,” “Manuscripts,” “Maps,” “Mixed Format Collections,” “Sheet Music,” “Motion Pictures and Recorded Sound,” “Exhibitions,” and the rich body of “Photographs and Prints.”

The European Reading Room should be the starting point for readers and researchers interested in the European collections of the Library of Congress. (Spain, Portugal, and the British Isles are covered by other reading rooms.) A number of digital resources such as digitized publications and finding aids may be found at the Reading Room website.

The domed ceiling in the European Reading Room (“Pavilion of the Elements”) shows Apollo surrounded by the elements Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, as well as signs of the zodiac. Prints & Photographs Division.

European materials are found in the Library of Congress general collection, as well as in the specialized collections, i.e., Geography & Map; Manuscripts; Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound; Prints & Photographs; Rare Book & Special Collections; Music, and the Law Library, as well as the American Folklife Center. Additional information may be found in:

Hispanic Division

Two key projects in the Hispanic Division are the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape (AHLOT) and the Handbook of Latin American Studies (HLAS). AHLOT is a collection curated by the Library’s Hispanic Division of original audio recordings of 20th- and 21st-century Luso-Hispanic poets and writers reading from their works. With recorded authors from all over Latin America, the Iberian Peninsula, the Caribbean, and other regions with Hispanic and Portuguese heritage populations, this archive has close to 800 recordings, a portion of which are available for online streaming. The collection includes sessions with renowned literary figures like Gabriel García Márquez, Pablo Neruda, Gabriela MistralJorge Luis Borges, and Isabel Allende. The majority of the recordings are in Spanish and Portuguese, but the archive also includes sessions in English, French, Catalan, Basque, Dutch, Haitian Creole, and indigenous languages like Náhuatl, Zapotec, Quechua, and Aymara. Today, curators in the Hispanic Reading Room continue to capture voices of contemporary authors for the collection.

The Hispanic Division’s Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape is a collection of audio recordings of Luso-Hispanic poets and writers reading from their works. 270 out of the collection’s 800 recordings are available for online streaming. Photo: Chilean Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda recording for the AHLOT in the Library of Congress’ Recording Lab, 1966. Hispanic Division.

HLAS is a selective annotated bibliography of books, articles, conference papers, book chapters, maps and atlases, and electronic resources (blogs, websites, online videos, etc.) dealing with Latin America. The Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress has edited and compiled the multidisciplinary Handbook since 1935. Today the Handbook’s 130 Contributing Editors—scholars based in the U.S. and abroad—review and provide annotations for over 2,000 works per year from the major social science and humanities disciplines. At present, the open-access HLAS database includes over 250,000 entries for works in more than 20 languages. Consult HLAS to find materials on archaeological sites, international trade, climate change, cross-border musical traditions, ethnohistorical studies, and much more.

The Handbook of Latin American Studies (HLAS) is a gateway to the Library’s Latin American collections. Search HLAS for descriptions of books, articles, conference papers and more with links to related web content. Hispanic Division.

You can learn more about Hispanic Division collections through the Biblioteca podcast, the Mexico Country Guide (more guides coming soon!), and our previous blogposts. If these resources spark your curiosity, you may want to explore the guides and finding aids prepared by the Hispanic Division to locate photographs, maps, music, manuscripts, and other materials related to Latin America, Spain, Portugal, and Latinx communities.

Interested in something hands on? Help us transcribe Spanish, Catalan, and Latin legal documents via the Herencia crowdsourcing campaign.

Perhaps you’d prefer a virtual tour? While the LC exhibit spaces are closed, you can wander through our online exhibits to learn about precontact Indigenous American cultures, find out what Mark Twain thought about the War of 1898, or see images of soldaderas (women soldiers) in the Mexican Revolution, among many other fascinating objects and images.

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