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About the African and Middle Eastern Division

From left: 18th century Middle East book binding; The Washington Haggadah; Kente Cloth
From left: 18th century Middle East book binding; The Washington Haggadah; Kente Cloth
   The African and Middle Eastern Division (AMED) was created in 1978 as part
  of a general Library of Congress reorganization. For AMED it combined three sections -- African, Hebraic, and Near East, which cover 77 countries and regions from Southern Africa to the Maghreb and from the Middle East to Central Asia.

The Division is led by chief, Mary-Jane Deeb (2005-) who took office after Beverly Gray (1994-2005 ) retired, and who coordinates and directs the component sections. Each section plays a vital role in the Library's acquisitions program; offers expert reference and bibliographic services to the Congress and researchers in this country and abroad; develops projects, special events, and publications; and cooperates and participates with other institutions and scholarly and professional associations in the US and abroad.

Although proposed earlier, it was not until 1960, with national academic and government interest mounting about sub-Saharan Africa, that the African Section was established, administered initially by the General Reference and Bibliography Division. The section focuses on virtually all topics relating to sub-Saharan Africa. The Hebraic Section began operation in 1914 as part of the Division of Semitic and Oriental Literature, and concentrates on Jewish culture, Israel, the Hebrew language, Biblical studies, and the ancient Near East. Its founding may be traced to Jacob Schiff's gift in 1912 of about 10,000 Hebraica books and pamphlets from the collection of a well-known bibliographer and bookseller.

In 1945, the Near East Section was created as part of the Orientalia Division to serve as a focal point of the Library's programs for this pivotal area. It covers North Africa, the Arab world, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Islam. Volumes about Africa and the Middle East were in one of the first major purchases by the Library of Congress, the 1815 acquisition of the Thomas Jefferson library; the subject and linguistic range of which greatly influenced future Library acquisitions policy. Although sporadic receipts of publications from and about the region were reported in annual reports of the Librarian of Congress, there was limited systematic acquisition effort on this part of the world prior to World War II.

Today, AMED is recognized as a major world resource center for Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. The Hebraic and Near East sections have custody of material in the non-Roman-alphabet languages of the region. Included in these collections are books, periodicals, newspapers, microforms, and rarities including cuneiform tablets, manuscripts, incunabula (works printed before 1501) and other early African and Middle Eastern publications; in 2008, together they number over 650,000 volumes. The Hebraic Section collections contain more than 180,000 volumes in Hebrew and related languages, including Yiddish, Ladino, Syriac, and the languages of Ethiopia. Materials in more than 35 languages are held by the Near East Section, the major holdings of which are Arabic (the largest, with more than 250,000 volumes), Persian, Turkish, Central Asian (non-Cyrillic only), Armenian, and Georgian. While the African Section has no formal custodial responsibilities, it maintains a pamphlet collection of about 20,000 items.To enhance further holdings already strong in the fields of history, literature, economics, linguistics, art, religion and philosophical studies, division curators participate in acquiring materials of research value via purchase, copyright, exchange, and gift. Noteworthy grants and gifts have also served to strengthen these collections. For example, in 1960, a grant from the Carnegie Corporation provided initial support for the African Section, including staff travel to many African countries to obtain publications for the collections. A gift of two Deinard collections, the last received in 1921, and which total nearly 20,000 volumes,substantially increased the Hebraica collections. Generous gifts from Mr. And Mrs. Arthur Dadian in the 1990s created an endowment of now $783,000, to develop and maintain the Library's Armenian holdings.In the spring of 1997, the Division moved from the John Adams Building to its present location in the Thomas Jefferson Building.
The new AMED reading room houses a 10,000 volume reference collection and a rotating display of current events journals,
 arranged and maintained by each of the three sections. Researchers may consult specialists who readily provide in-depth reference assistance in identifying materials in their custodial collection as well as related sources about Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Central Asia in Roman script and in other formats or specializations found in the Library of Congress general collections and in other units such as the Geography and Map Division, the Manuscript Division, the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and the Law Library.In the several display cases in its imposing reading room, the Division mounts small exhibits. Major exhibits featuring AMED collections have been mounted in the Library's galleries. "From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America," was prepared to mark the 350th anniversary of the first Jewish settlement in America, and a version of this exhibit later traveled to several North American cities and is available for viewing on the web at

Special events and outreach activities have long been part of the Division's agenda. It hosts numerous library organizations and programs. The Africana Librarians Council of the African Studies Association has held several of its semiannual meetings at the Library, as have the Middle East Librarian Association, the Association of Jewish Libraries and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies.

The Division also holds a number of cultural and scholarly programs and conferences every year. Among the many programs organized by the Near East section in 2007 was the 13th Annual Vardanants Day Armenian Lecture on “U.S. and Armenian Foreign Relations: A Conversation with the First Five U.S. Ambassadors to Armenia;” and an international symposium on Alisher Novo’i, the national Uzbek poet, and his influence on Central Asian cultures and nations. In 2008 the Near East section planned and hosted a major conference on “Education, Health and Socio-Economic Developments in Iraq Today,” that brought together numerous organizations working in Iraq that contributed their reports to the Library’s collections on Iraq. The Hebraic section holds regular lecture series on topics related to its collections including the annual Myron M. Weinstein Memorial Lectures on the Hebraic Book, which in 2007 included a presentation by Zachary M. Baker entitled “A Bibliographer Encounters the Muses: Reflections on the Yiddish Theater and its Legacy,” and in 2008 a lecture by Marsha M. Rozenblit, Harvey M. Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History at the University of Maryland, on “Traditional Judaism or Reform? The Case of the Mannheimer Prayer Book in Nineteenth-Century Vienna.” The section also includes Ethiopia, and in 2007, it held a yearlong set of lectures, music programs, films and other cultural activities on the occasion of the new Ethiopian Millennium. The African section hosts numerous programs as well, and in 2007 it held an all day symposium on the occasion of the 160th anniversary of the independence of Liberia entitled “Liberian-United States Relations: Past, Present and Future,” at which Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. participated, and in 2008 it hosted  Steve McDonald of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars who gave a presentation on “Training Leaders for Peace Building in Burundi.”

Another role of the Division is to facilitate projects that enhance access to the collections. In 2006, the Near East section completed a two year project to digitize, annotate and mount on the Library of Congress’ website 355 Arabic, Persian and Ottoman calligraphy sheets that date from the 9th to the 19th centuries and that had never been available to the public before. An online presentation of 38 Sumerian cuneiform clay tablets, cones and brick fragments dating back more than 4,000 years, and held by the Hebraic section, can now be accessed by researchers inside and outside the Library. Manuscripts from Timbuktu, never seen in the West before, were identified by African section staff, digitized and annotated, and are now accessible on the Library’s website.   The publications issued under the auspices of the Division form a widely acclaimed body of material. The African Section has compiled more than 40 publications ranging from official publications of African nations to short subject guides on contemporary issues such as Abuja: The New Federal Capital of Nigeria. Titles prepared in the Near East Section include The Holy Koran at the Library of Congress and American Dissertations on the Arab World. The catalog of the highly successful exhibit initiated by the Hebraic Section in 2004, appears as From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America.

The African and Middle Eastern Division continues to exert a vital influence in the development of area studies librarianship. Its
specialists represent the Library at key cooperative area studies programs in which it is an institutional member, such as the
 Cooperative Africana Project, and the Middle East Microform Project. Division staff is recognized for scholarly publications; serve as officers in area studies organizations; and attend and participate in national and international meetings on their areas of expertise. Additionally, a contribution of significance by AMED is its training of young scholars and future librarians through briefings, presentations, internships and volunteer positions, and mentoring to promising candidates, thus guaranteeing the future success in the study of these vital areas in world culture.

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  November 15, 2010
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