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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.

William Hacke: A Pirate’s Cartographer

William Hacke was one of the most prolific manuscript chart makers for his time. According to the Oxford  Dictionary of National Biography Hacke produced over 300 navigational charts from 1682 to 1702. In this post I will briefly discuss his career and his role in the pardon of the notorious pirate Bartholomew Sharp. William Hacke was […]

For Love, War, and Tribute: Featherwork in the Early Americas

This is the second in series of guests posts by Giselle Aviles, the 2019 Archaeological Research Associate in the Geography and Map Division, where she is delving into the treasures of the William and Inger Ginsberg Collection of Pre-Columbian Textiles and the Jay I. Kislak Collection of the History and Archaeology of the Early Americas. […]

Introducing Library of Congress Story Maps!

The Library of Congress staff is excited to launch Story Maps, interactive and immersive web applications that tell the incredible stories of the Library’s collections! Story Maps, created within a Geographic Information Systems (GIS)-based software platform created by Esri, combine text, images, multimedia, and interactive maps to create engaging online narrative experiences. Under a program […]

Historical Maps of Korea

I love watching the Olympic Games, both summer and winter! So with the Winter Olympics starting this week in P’yongch’ang, I decided to dive into our collections to learn more about historic maps of Korea, encompassing what is now North and South Korea. As I began browsing our digitized collections, I was first struck by […]

The Codex Quetzalecatzin comes to the Library of Congress

Writing is a strange invention. One might suppose that its emergence could not fail to bring profound changes in the conditions of human existence…                                                                           –Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques Time and money are spent in collecting the remains […]

New Paper on Philip Lee Phillips, the “King of Maps” for the Library of Congress

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Celebrating Waldseemuller’s Carta Marina at 500: A Conference at the Library of Congress

Conference Celebrating the 500th Anniversary of Martin Waldseemüller’s 1516 Carta Marina. Keynote address by award winning author and historian of science Dava Sobel. A two-day conference hosted by the Geography and Map Division at the Library of Congress will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Waldseemüller’s Carta Marina, one of the great masterpieces of Renaissance […]

The Map Collection of Neil Sheehan, Reporter of the Pentagon Papers

Today’s post is from Ryan Moore, a Cartographic Specialist in the Geography and Map Division. Cornelius Mahoney “Neil” Sheehan (1936- ) is a journalist best known for his reporting on the Pentagon Papers, a secret Department of Defense study of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Sheehan, when working as a reporter for The New York […]