A Brief Account of the Slavic and East European Collections

The Slavic and East European Collections at Cornell University Library cover a wide range of materials, from famous works of literature to obscure academic working papers.  The collections have been systematically built for over a century, beginning with the gifts of Andrew Dickson White, Cornell's first president, and Eugene Schuyler, both of whom were American diplomats in Russia in the late nineteenth century.
Andrew White's private library in 1881.
During World War II, Cornell became a major center for US Army training programs, and the Slavic and East European Collections expanded and took on greater significance.  In the 1960s and 1970s, Cornell saw the creation of a Department of Russian Literature and a Committee on Soviet Studies, which fostered interdisciplinary cooperation throughout Cornell's departments and paved the way for the creation of the Slavic and East European Studies graduate programs and undergraduate major.  At about the same time, the Library received generous funding from the Ford Foundation, which allowed for the purchase of a number of retrospective materials from the Soviet Union.  The developments of the 1960s and '70s were largely responsible for the evolution of the Slavic and East European Collections' broad-based, diverse nature.  Cornell University has established a tradition of a strong, interdisciplinary approach to area studies, and Cornell University Library, as one of the nation's largest academic research libraries, has had to develop its collections accordingly.

The Slavic and East European Collections contains over 300,000 volumes, both in vernacular languages of the area and in Western European languages.  East European-language holdings are about 56% Russian, 13% Polish, 8% Czech and Slovak, 10% Serbian, Croatian, and Serbo-Croatian, 5% Ukrainian and Belorussian.  The remaining 8% consists of Bulgarian, Hungarian, Romanian, and other Eastern European languages.  The overall collection grows by more than 10,000 items per year.

Cornell's holdings are strongest in Russian language and literature and emigre literature, closely followed by Slavic linguistics, Russian history, and Russian and East European economics.  Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Czech and Slovak materials are well represented.  Area language materials addresss a wide range of subjects, from economics and ethnography to child development and city planning.

Slavic humanities and social science materials are integrated into Olin Library.  There, a Slavic Studies seminar room houses a core reference collection on current issues of about 100 journals on literature, linguistics, history, government, and economics.  Materials on Russian music are housed in the Music Libarary, and materials on architecture and city and regional planning are housed in the Fine Arts Library.  The Fine Arts Library has one of the country's strongest Russian architecture collections, as well as an extensive slide collection.  Early Russian architecture was a keen interest of A.D. White, and an important strength in the personal collection he gave to the Library.  Nikolai A. Troitsky, a Russian architect who emigrated to the US after World War II and served as Cornell's Slavic librarian in the 1960s, greatly augmented the Russian architecture collection.

Another remarkable individual whose efforts enriched Cornell's collections was Alexis Babine, who came to Cornell from Russia to study history in the 1890s.  Babine worked his way though Cornell by working in the Library, organizing the fledgling Russian holdings.  Later he served as first Slavic librarian at the Library of Congress, building collections to enhance Slavic studies research for the nation.

Our list of individuals is incomplete without Vladimir Nabokov, who taught Russian literatrue at Cornell in the 1950s.  His research and teaching needs, authority in his field and fame as a novelist all inspired significant improvement in Cornell's Russian literature collections, as well as the creation in 1963 of the Russian Literature department.

Of late, academic research interest in the political, social, and economic affairs and transitions of this region has increased, and the Library has incresed its holdings of needed social science materials.  Groundwork for this type of research at Cornell was laid by the Committee on the Soviet Studies of the 1970s, which fostered interdisciplinary research and by the Slavic and East European Program established in the late 1980s.  In 1989, a new major in Russian and East European Studies was inaugaurated.

Two new archival collections respond to these emerging research interests.  The first collection, developed by a sociology faculty member, documents Hungary's democratic transition with a range of materials including two sets of interviews with key political figures in Hungary, conducted before and after the establishment of parliamentary democracy.  After transcription and analysis are complete, a copy of the primary material and the analysis will be deposited in the Hungarian National Archives. Polish affairs are represented by a second collection comprising over 2,500 volumes published by the Polish resistance from 1970 to the present as well as leaflets, flyers, and posters of the Solidarity trade union's multiple factions.  These contemporary collections take their place in Cornell's Archives among traditional collections such as the Denisoff Family papers, documents and letters from 1715-1985 from this prominent Don Cossack family.  Those records include documents signed by Prince Potemkin, Catherine the Great, and Field Marshal Suvorov.

With these archival collections, currently published research mterials in all formats, and solid historical collections, the Slavic and East European Studies collections support the research and teaching needs of Cornell's interdisciplinary academic community.  Following their needs, the Slavic and Eastern European Bibliographer is committed to maintaining and developing a collection which is as strong as it is diverse.