Press contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189
Public contact: (202) 707-8000
View the exhibition online.

June 11, 2001

Library of Congress Opens New Exhibition of World Treasures

The Library of Congress has opened a new gallery permanently dedicated to its international collections. The rotating exhibition, "World Treasures of the Library of Congress," draws upon the Library's foreign collections to explore a series of universal themes. The first theme, Beginnings, presents a broad range of materials that relate to the origins of civilizations and cultures.

The exhibition addresses the following questions, common to human history around the world:

  • What is the origin of the universe?
  • How can we explain the universe?
  • How do we record experience?

The exhibition is on view indefinitely in the Northwest Gallery of the Thomas Jefferson Building. Hours are Monday - Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In announcing the new exhibition, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, "This exhibition will afford the Library an opportunity to show visitors materials from every corner of the globe. For 200 years, the Library of Congress has been collecting items in nearly every language and format, a tradition begun by Thomas Jefferson. Now the visitor to Washington and our Web site will be able to enjoy the international collections of the world's largest library."

The exhibition is divided into three sections: Creating; Explaining and Ordering; and Recording the Experience. Creating presents materials under five headings: "Creation Accounts and Depictions," " First Human Beings," "Positing a State of Nature," "Societal Beginnings," and "Order Through Law." Explaining and Ordering is divided into two parts: "The Heavens," with items depicting different views of the universe, explanations of the heavens, and various ways of ordering time; and "Earth," showcasing different views of earth, early maps, the spiritual world, early science, and children's stories. The third section, Recording the Experience, examines the various ways humanity has recorded and preserved the past, in oral, written and printed form.

Materials will be drawn from the full array of Library collections, including books, manuscripts, prints, photographs, music, film, audio recordings, and some three-dimensional artifacts. Specific examples include:

Sacred images and writings: The Three-Deity Mandala of Auspicious Beginnings, Tibet (1983). This mandala (a symbol of the universe in the Hindu and Buddhist religions) depicts three Bodhisattvas, enlightened beings who are revered in Mahayana Buddhism. These particular Bodhisattvas are especially important in the Tibetan tradition and are often shown together to represent the power, wisdom, and compassion of the Buddhas. Also included in this section are an example of Persian calligraphy and an early Korean printed book on life of the Buddha.

Musical compositions: Franz Josef Haydn's Die Schoepfung (The Creation), the first edition of the orchestral score, 1799, a work the composer regarded as his masterpiece. Other musical works include Duke Ellington's "In the Beginning, God," 1965.

Artistic depictions: An etching by Albrecht Drer (1471-1528) depicting Adam and Eve, one of the best-known images of the biblical first humans, as well as a powerful and provocative image of creation by William Blake.

Folk tales: Ronald King and Roy Fisher's Anansi Company: A Collection of Thirteen Hand-made Wire and Card Rod-puppets Animated in Colour and Verse (1992). This example of book art from Africa incorporates text with a three-dimensional puppet figure of Anansi the Spider, a popular character in Ghanaian folk literature, to tell tales that incorporate key beliefs of the culture. Anansi is the source of Brer Rabbit in African American folklore. This section also includes Qauqau: A San Folk Story from Botswana, a creation account of the San people.

Maps of earth: The first printed geography book, Ptolemy's Geographica (1480s); a "T & O" circular representation map with Jerusalem in the center; and Nansenbushu Bankoku Shoka no Zu (Map of the Universe), a world map by Japanese Buddhist scholar-priest Hotan (1710).

Maps of heavens: Petrus Apianus's Astronomicum caesareum (1540) (Emperor's Astronomy), dedicated to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. This volume elegantly depicts the cosmos and heavens according to the then 1400-year-old Ptolemaic system, which maintained that the sun revolved around the earth. By means of hand-colored maps and movable paper parts (volvelles), Apianus laid out the mechanics of a universe that was earth- and human-centered. Within three years of Apianus's book, this view was challenged by Copernicus's assertion that the earth revolved around the sun, making this elaborate publication outdated. Additional maps of the heavens include a Sanskrit Purana, or Hindu mythological text, the Naradapurana (1923), showing Vishnu, god of preservation, resting between world cycles; a Persian celestial globe, ca. 1650; al-Sufi's Suwar al-Kawakib (Treatise on the Fixed Stars); and a Burmese cosmology from the 19th century.

Laws: The Magna charta cum statutis angliae, a 14th century miniature illuminated manuscript of the Magna Carta, the basis of English common law. The Magna Carta established the principle that no one, not even the king, is above the law. The principles of individual liberty it confirmed influenced later political thinkers, such as Thomas Jefferson. Also in this section: Coustumes de Normandie, a very rare early French illustrated law book; and the Huejotzingo Codex of 1531. Written in the pictorial language of the Nuhua, a native people, the Huejotzingo Codex is the Nuhuas' legal testimony against representatives of the Spanish colonial government in Mexico, just 10 years after the Spanish conquest.

Early writing and printing: A cuneiform tablet from 2400 B.C., the oldest specimen of writing at the Library of Congress. Other items include Dharani prayer charms from 8th century Japan, considered to be the world's second oldest example of printing; "oracle bones," from 1500 to1027 B.C. recording important events of Chinese culture and specimens of early Chinese inscriptions made with movable type used in Korea 200 years before Gutenberg.

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with nearly 121 million items, more than half of which are in languages other than English. Some 460 languages are represented in the collections. For example, the Library holds the largest collection of Russian- language materials outside of Russia, and the Library's Asian Division collection of some 2 million items represents the largest group of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean materials outside of Asia, as well as one of the largest Tibetan collections in the world. The Iberian, Latin American, and Caribbean collections, comprising more than 10 million items, are the largest and most complete in the world.

Since 1962, the Library of Congress has maintained offices abroad to acquire, catalog, and preserve library and research materials from countries where such materials are essentially unavailable through conventional acquisition methods. Overseas offices in New Delhi (India), Cairo (Egypt), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Jakarta (Indonesia), Nairobi (Kenya), and Islamabad (Pakistan) collectively acquire materials from more than 60 countries, both for the Library of Congress as well as other U.S. libraries participating in the Cooperative Acquisitions Program.

This exhibition was made possible by the generous support of the Document Company Xerox, which also supports the Library's companion exhibition, "American Treasures," in the Southwest Gallery of the Jefferson Building.

Please note: Thomas Jefferson's original library will remain on view in the Northwest Pavilion, adjacent to "World Treasures," through summer 2001. The reconstitution of Jefferson's personal library was a special bicentennial project of the Library of Congress. It is the first time these books have ever been on public display. As Jefferson's library was the foundation on which the Library's extraordinary foreign language collections have been built, these two exhibitions are complementary. Although future plans call for the Jefferson library to be re-installed in a location where it will be available to visitors and researchers alike, this exhibition provides a special opportunity to see Jefferson's library in this unique context.

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PR 01-028
6-11-01 Revised
ISSN 0731-3527

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