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.
Later this week, on 19 and 20 April, the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre and the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, will hold an international conference in Cambridge on The People’s Art School and Unovis in Vitebsk. Vitebsk, in present-day Belarus, was the home of an extraordinary avant-garde art school at which Marc Chagall (the town’s most famous son), Kazimir Malevich, and El Lissitsky taught. Many of the artists at the school joined the art union UNOVIS, set up by Malevich. Unovis stands for Utverditeli novogo iskusstva (Champions of the New Art).
Among the early Soviet treasures in Catherine Cooke’s collection in the University Library is a small and fragile Unovis publication dating from January 1921 and described as the union’s second publication or edition. On its cover is Malevich’s famous Black Square, with the words “Let the overthrow of the old world of arts be traced out on the palms of your hands” written above it. The booklet has four sections in it (NB the links below are to Russian Wikipedia entries for the authors):
On its back cover, the booklet ends with an exhortation: “Comrades! Get ready for the all-Russian spring exhibition of ‘Unovis’ in Moscow”.
Lithographed on poor-quality paper, the booklet is a rather miraculous survivor. According to the WorldCat and COPAC union catalogues, Cambridge is unique amongst major Western collections in having a copy. The title can be accessed through the Rare Books Reading Room. Its classmark is CCC.54.464.
A few spaces remain at the conference this week. For those interested in attending, please see this page for joining details.
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)
Belarus has a small but steady presence in the University Library, with over 1800 items published in Belarus held here already and a dozen or so more added every year. The primary language is Russian, with Belarusian a sizeable minority. This post looks at the language divide in our holdings and at some recent acquisitions.
Covers of books in the library of P.F. Hlebka contained in the recently acquired bibliography of his collection (C210.c.2092)
Of the books produced in Belarus held by the University Library, fewer are in Belarusian (750) than in Russian (950). To a certain extent, this is a reflection of the Library’s collection development policy which focuses on material in languages taught in the University. Russian is the main Slavonic language to be taught in Cambridge, and Belarusian is not taught, although Belarus and its culture and history do feature postgraduate and post-doctoral research. The division of languages in our Belarusian holdings is also, however, to a degree representative of language use in Belarus itself.