Polish in the University and in the UL : the July 2017 Slavonic items of the month

This week has seen the very welcome news that the pilot Polish Studies Programme, launched in 2014, has succeeded in attracting funding which will ensure that Polish will remain in the University academic programme in perpetuity.  To celebrate this wonderful development, the July 2017 Slavonic blog post looks at Polish holdings in the University Library.

The UL holds over 25,000 volumes in Polish.  The period covered by the Polish-language collections stretches over a span of more than 450 years from the mid-16th century to the current day.  Books printed before 1800 are the smallest component, but they include some extremely important and rare items.  The earliest book in Polish in the University Library is the first printed translation of the Bible into Polish, which was produced in 1561 in Kraków.  The second translation, printed in 1563, is rarer than the first; all but 20 or so copies were destroyed.  The University Library is fortunate enough to have two copies each of these first two editions (Young.55 and BSS.232.B61; Young.56 and BSS.232.B63).

Images from the Young.55 copy of the 1561 Polish Bible.

The UL also contains earlier books printed in Poland but in other languages.  Nearly 100 years older than the first Polish Bible, the oldest item in the collections printed in Poland dates back to 1474-1475, mere decades after European printing first emerged.  The book, written in Latin and thought to be published in Chełmno, is by the French theologian Jean Charlier de Gerson, and discusses monastic propriety (Inc.5.E.15.11[1116]).

Theological works and translations of the Bible make up a major component of pre-20th century Polish-language holdings in the University Library (nearly 100 full or partial Bible translations into Polish from the 19th century are held), but increasing variety in kinds of material is found as the centuries progress.   From the 18th century, for example, the Library holds a complete set of the first edition of Kasper Niesiecki’s major genealogical work Korona Polska przy złotey [złotej] wolności (1728-1743; S586.a.72.1-4), a 1780 grammar book for first-year school children (7760.d.76), and a political calendar for 1792 (T506:5.e.6.6).

The University Library’s 19th- and 20th-century Polish holdings show an increased emphasis on Polish history and literature, an emphasis still seen in the Library’s purchases today.  When Polish was suspended as a tripos subject in the early 2000s, it retained a presence in the Department of Slavonic Studies as a language offered in less formal language classes.  Accordingly, Polish purchasing slowed down to a certain degree in the UL but the Slavonic team always aimed to buy the most important material needed for at least minimal maintenance of our excellent Polish holdings.  The presence of a Polish native speaker in the team has been crucial to the success of our work in that period and since.  Since the return of Polish Studies, even as the initial pilot, we have started to spend much more significant proportions of the shared Slavonic budget on Polish.  We aim to ensure that the Polish collections expand as much as possible, building on existing strengths and responding to current academic research and buying major reference works and key academic texts for future readers.

Recent Polish arrivals

We also endeavour to ensure that major literary authors are well represented.  Works by and about the late Nobel Prize winners Wisława Szymborska and Czesław Miłosz, for example, number scores and span across decades, with new titles continuing to be added.  We follow the Nike prize and aim always to buy at least the winner of the literary prize.  In terms of history purchases, the Library acquires books relating to all periods of Polish history and also to certain specific subjects, with Polish Jewish history a particularly strong focus of our collections and ongoing acquisitions.

Among other subjects that the University Library buys Polish-language books on are the Polish language, music, art, archaeology, and social sciences.

A 1930s map of Warsaw Maps.c.273.93.3)

The lion’s share of Polish or Poland-related material is held either in the Rare Books department or in the main Library collection.  However, there are two other specialised departments which deserve to be mentioned: Manuscripts and Maps.  The former holds, for example, at GBR/0012/MS Add.8920, two sets of rules written at the very beginning of the 17th century which make up a handbook for Polish Catholic seminarians: a set of provincial scholastic rules (Poznan, 1604), and regulations for students at Braunsberg (Branievo), drawn up in 1608.  A Polish example from the more modern side of the Manuscript Department’s holdings is the archive of the entomologist David Keilin (Manuscripts/MS Add.7953), who died in 1963.  Keilin was educated in Poland, and many of his papers (which fill 31 boxes) are in Polish.

The earliest major map of Poland held by the University Library is that included in the famous atlas ‘A prospect of the most famous parts of the world’ produced by John Speed in 1631.  Maps of Poland are collected to the present day, from tourist maps to major national and academic productions.

Mel Bach

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s