When the Cambridge University Libraries Decolonisation Working Group was set up in September 2020, its members agreed that the group’s terms of reference should include the following: “We recognise that while the primary colonial legacy in Cambridge libraries relates to the British Empire, Cambridge also holds material relating to other colonial powers, past and present, and this is also part of our decolonisation focus.” The wording came about because I was keen to ensure that non-British colonial legacies should not be overlooked when we hold such extensive collections from all around the world.
The Library of Congress authority name heading for Kyïv, previously listed as Kiev.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is a devastating reminder of these other colonial legacies. Putin has openly compared his “military operation” against Ukraine to Peter I’s wars of expansion (or, more specifically, wars of reclamation, in Putin’s narrative). In the library context, decolonisation work to address the colonial past and its violent embracing in the present involves many areas of library activities. This post provides just a few initial suggestions, and I hope that future posts will pick up specific defined and achievable projects that come out of these. Continue reading →
This month, I wanted to draw attention to a growing open access resource called Prozhito which provides diaries written by the great and the good and the ordinary. At the time of writing, Prozhito (“Lived”, the passive past participle) contains diaries in Russian by 5755 authors, in Ukrainian by 104, and in Belarusian by 58.
A volunteer-led initiative which started in 2014, Prozhito has since 2019 been a joint project with the European University in St Petersburg. The latter’s English-language summary of the project is here. The Russian-language Prozhito “About” page is here.
Having initially wanted our lockdown-era posts to focus on e-available material only, I am now going one step yet further away myself by writing about books held by the UL neither electronically nor physically… This post instead looks at Slavonic translations of British detective fiction I have picked up for myself over the years. Getting used to reading in another language can take time, and I for one found that worrying about the plot as well as the words really held me up. What I came to discover was that reading a familiar detective novel translated into the language took the pressure off, and it’s a trick I have stuck to ever since. Continue reading →
Earlier this month, the National Library of Belarus (NLB) held a conference to celebrate the history of Belarusian printing, marking the 500th anniversary of Frantsysk Skaryna’s publication of the Psalter – one of many Belarusian initiatives to celebrate Skaryna’s legacy. Both the UL and Trinity College have contributed to another of NLB’s projects, to draw together as comprehensive as possible a database of scanned copies of all original Skaryna material. Cambridge has provided digital copies of:
a fragment of Skaryna’s 1518 First Book of Kings (1 Samuel); exactly the same fragment is held by both Trinity and the UL (the latter at F151.c.7.10)
The 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Svetlana Aleksievich’s books bring together the narratives of witnesses to some of recent history’s most disturbing events. The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster was the subject of her book Chernobyl’skaia molitva (Chernobyl prayer; C203.d.7984 (in Russian) and 429:4.c.95.5 (in English). This post looks at Aleksievich’s book and others on Chernobyl.
Chernobyl, in capital letters (ЧЕРНОБЫЛЬ), shown in a 1969 map of Ukraine (Maps.276.96.23). The nuclear town of Pryp’iat’, famously evacuated after the 1986 disaster, would only be established in 1970.
Svetlana Aleksievich’s name had been discussed in terms of Nobel recognition for some time, and the 2015 prize was awarded to her “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”. In Chernobyl’skaia molitva, Aleksievich writes “this book is not about Chernobyl, but about the world of Chernobyl. Thousands of pages have already been written and hundreds of thousands of metres of film recorded about the event itself. What I am concerned with is what would be called “missed” history … I write and collect the feelings, thoughts, and words of everyday life … Chernobyl [for my subjects] is not a metaphor or a symbol: it is their home.” This is her approach to all her work; her documentary prose provides a stark and compelling picture of events through its use of the voices of the ordinary people caught up in them, the “polyphonic” quality which won her the Nobel prize. War has featured prominently in her writing so far, with women’s and children’s accounts of the Second World War and soldiers’ experiences of the Soviet-Afghan war accounting for three of her books. These are among the nine books the University Library currently has by her; these are mainly in Russian (Aleksievich is a Russophone Belarusian writer*), but the number in English will doubtless rise thanks to her Nobel fame. Continue reading →