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Painted illustration depicts the emperor, his crown prince and the royal family celebrating a joyous, nighttime Indian festival on the banks of a river with fireworks, music and feasting.
Detail of a page from the illuminated Shāhjahān‘nāmah, one of the most Library's premier holdings in Persian.

Library Treasures: New Gallery Shows Off Premier Holdings

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This piece is adapted from articles in the May-June issue of the Library of Congress Magazine.

The Library preserves collective memories representing entire societies as well as intimate records of of important moment and rites of passage in individual lives.

This June, the Library will open “Collecting Memories: Treasures from the Library of Congress,” an exhibition that explores the ways cultures preserve memory. The exhibition is the first in the Library’s new David M. Rubenstein Treasures Gallery.

Rubenstein — a co-executive chairman of the Carlyle Group and chair of the James Madison Council, the Library’s philanthropic support group — announced the project four years ago with a $10 million gift to help create the Library’s first permanent treasures gallery.

Since then, Rubenstein has inspired support from a number of other donors, including the Annenberg Foundation, AARP and many members of the council. Together, these donors helped the Library exceed its promise to Congress to raise $20 million toward a greatly reimagined visitor experience for the nearly 2 million people who visit the Jefferson Building each year.

“Collecting Memories,” the opening exhibit, juxtaposes recordings, moving images, scrolls, diaries, manuscripts, photos, maps, books and more to explore how cultures memorialize the past, assemble knowledge of the known world, create collective histories, recall the events of the day or recount a life.

The goal of the Treasures Gallery is to share the rarest, most interesting or significant items drawn from the more than 178 million items (and counting) in the world’s largest library.

Here is Abraham Lincoln’s reading copy of the Gettysburg Address, neatly handwritten on a browned sheet of Executive Mansion stationery. There are the original, stark designs created by Maya Lin for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Comic book panels drawn for the Spider-Man origin story. Oscar Hammerstein’s working drafts of lyrics for “Do-Re-Mi” from “The Sound of Music” — in early versions, “sew” is not a needle pulling thread but something farmers do with wheat. Clay tablets used by students thousands of years ago.  The diary (in Arabic) of Omar Ibn Said, a native of West Africa, who was captured in 1807 and brought to South Carolina as a slave, the only such memoir known to exist. Sigmund Freud’s diaries and notebooks, one with “to remember is to relive” emblazoned in Italian across the front.

Over the next few weeks, we’re showcasing some of the fascinating items featured in the exhibition to give you an online preview. Much of this material can be found in “Collecting Memories: Treasures from the Library of Congress,” the exhibition’s companion volume, and in the May-June issue of the Library of Congress Magazine.

“Such things collectively tell the story of all of us: our shared culture, our shared history,” writes Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, in a short essay in the magazine.

Rubenstein, when announcing his initial gift: “I am honored to be a part of this important project to enhance the visitor experience and present the Library’s countless treasures in new and creative ways.”

Want to get started? How about a book depicting, in part, the life of the man who built the Taj Mahal?

This is the Pādishāh‘nāmah, also referred to as the Shāhjahān‘nāmah, one of the most beautiful Persian-language books in the Library. It chronicles the reign of Shah Jahan from 1627 to 1658 in Mughal-era India.

The work contains three parts, the first of which was written during the life of Shah Jahan, the monarch best known today for building the Taj Mahal mausoleum, a monument dedicated to immortalizing his love for his queen, Mumtaz Mahal.

The manuscript highlights the esteemed place the Indian Mughal court accorded Persian language and aesthetics in its literary and artistic traditions, bookmaking and in recording history.

The illustration above depicts the emperor, his crown prince and the royal family celebrating a joyous, nighttime Indian festival on the banks of a river with fireworks, music and feasting.

—Hirad Dinavari, a reference specialist in the African and Middle Eastern Division, contributed the account of the Pādishāh‘nāmah.

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