{ subscribe_url:'//loc.gov/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/geography-and-maps.php', }

Mesoamerican Artifacts from the Jay I. Kislak Collection Now Online

The Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Archaeology and History of the Early Americas contains important archaeological artifacts, rare books, manuscripts, maps, and graphic works of art, which survey the earliest history of the lands that would become known as the Americas. In 2004 Jay I. Kislak, a businessman, philanthropist, military aviator, and collector, donated his collection to the Library of Congress. The collection is now described comprehensively in a new, online finding aid. In addition, a new digital collection, features digital representations of selected items, including over 300 archaeological artifacts. These resources will improve the public’s ability to discover and learn more about this significant historical collection.

View of the Digital Collection Landing Page for the Kislak Collection

The Kislak collection includes many three-dimensional objects of pre-Columbian date, documenting the indigenous peoples of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Pre-Columbian artifacts from more than twenty indigenous cultures, including the Nahua, the Nuudzahui, the lowland and highland Maya, the Taino, the Olmec, the Wari, the Inca, and many others, give a overview of the arts of indigenous cultures in the period before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Artifacts like the Tortuguero Box and the dynastic codex-style vase with sixty hieroglyphs, contain important texts, written with Mayan hieroglyphs, the only complete writing system originating in the Americas.

Codex-Style Vase with Sixty Hieroglyphs from the Classic Maya Period, 300-700 CE. Kislak Collection, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The Kislak manuscript and rare book collection contains almost one thousand historically significant texts. These texts in the hands of Philip II, King of Spain, the conquistadors Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro, Bartolomé de Las Casas and others, give unique insights into the earliest interactions between the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Europeans during the early years of the sixteenth century.

These manuscripts, along with rare books, maps and graphic materials, such as the earliest dictionary of the indigenous language of Nahuatl, the Vocabulario en lengua castellana y mexicana (1571) by Alonso de Molina, and the Historia de Nueva-Espana, printed in Mexico City in 1770, by Francisco Antonio Lorenzana y Butron, as well as early printed archaeological tracts like the Descripcion Historica y Cronologica de las Dos Piedras (1792) by Antonio de Léon y Gama, make the Kislak Collection one of the most comprehensive collections of historical materials relating to the period immediately after the arrival in the Americas of Europeans found in private hands at the time of its donation to the Library of Congress.

Bartolomé de las Casas statement of opinion to Charles V. Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections, Library of Congress.

Graphic materials contained in the collection include three important watercolor paintings of scenes from the Popol Vuh, a text recounting the Maya creation by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera, a series of eight large paintings of the conquest and the defeat of Montezuma II, the Aztec emperor of Mexico, by an unknown artist, and early photography of archaeological sites by Désiré Charnay. Important maps like those of Baptista Boazio illustrating the voyages of Sir Francis Drake and the Carta marina navigatoria Portugallen navigations atque tocius cogniti orbis terre marisque, 1516, by the mapmaker Martin Waldseemüller, are significant historical artifacts that round out the collection’s holdings.

Jay I. Kislak (1922–2018) was one of the truly great collectors of early American history and archaeology in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. His trail through the world of Mesoamerican art, archaeology, and history led him to travel all over Central and South America and was a path that crossed many borders and boundaries—of geography, of language, and of time. At Jay’s ninety-fifth birthday party, which I attended on the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid, and on which he had served as an aviator in the Second World War, he spoke to the assembled group of family and friends about his deep love for the Library of Congress and how he knew that the collection had found its ideal setting. He once wrote about how happy he was that his passion would now be in a place where scholars and the general public could come see and learn from the stories it had to tell. As he hoped, through his donation to the Library, his passion for collecting and the objects that held a lifetime of fascination for him will live on where they can be a source of knowledge and inspiration for everyone.

“Eastern Branch of the Potomac River” or “Anacostia River”? A Cartographic Curiosity…

One of the joys involved in answering reference questions submitted to the Geography and Map Division is that some questions (the fun ones!) frequently involve extensive research in the Library’s cartographic holdings. Staff of the Geography and Map Division are also fortunate to be able to consult photocopies of maps from other institutions, early photographs […]

That’s Just Hysterical: The Lindgren Brothers’ Tourist Maps

This is a guest post by Kelly Bilz, Librarian-in-Residence in the Geography and Map Division. If you’re buying a souvenir map, would you rather it be “historical,” or “hysterical”? The Lindgren Brothers aimed for the latter in their set of maps of American landmarks. With their distinct style—a yellow background, a blue (or sometimes red) border, and […]

A Place for Drying Fish Nets

  By the 1890s the eyes of the western imperial powers were turning eastwards, especially towards Manchuria. Why had Manchuria become such a hot property? As any real estate agent will say, it’s “location, location, and location.” For Russia, its imperial gaze followed the ambitions of Tsar Nicholas II and Finance Minister Sergei Witte, who […]

GIS Day on November 18th: Mapping the Pandemic

You are invited to join the Library of Congress in celebrating GIS Day on Wednesday, November 18th from 1-4pm EST, with an afternoon of engaging talks and discussions on the theme of “Mapping the Pandemic Cases, Traces, and Mutations.” This presentation will premiere with closed captions on both the Library’s YouTube site and on the Library […]

Verba Incognita: A Guide to Deciphering Latin on Maps

This is a guest post by Kelly Bilz, Librarian-in-Residence in the Geography and Map Division. Even though Latin had fallen out of vernacular use after the fall of Rome (and began to evolve into the modern Romance languages), it lived on in its written form, becoming the lingua franca, so to speak, of scholarship. In […]

The Exotic Animals of the Americas

European colonists were fascinated with the wildlife of the Western Hemisphere. They described fauna native to the Americas in memoirs, travel journals and poetry. Pictures of the unfamiliar animals were often printed on maps. In this post I will discuss four colonial era maps that were decorated with illustrations of animals. The two maps of […]

Go East, Young Jew, Go East

(The title of this post is a satirical  improvisation on a quote attributed to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune,  when expressing his views towards the westward expansion of the United States.) Somewhere between China’s Heilongjiang Province (Manchuria) and the Russian Far East, nestled in a southern crook of Siberia’s Amur River, lies […]