January 10, 2013  

Afghan President Hamid Karzai Receives Digitized Cultural Treasures in State Department Ceremony

Library of Congress, World Digital Library, Carnegie Corporation of New York Make Possible “Virtual Repatriation.”  In a ceremony at the U.S. Department of State with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – joined by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and Carnegie Corporation of New York President Vartan Gregorian -- announced the gift of a collection of digitized treasures from the holdings of the Library of Congress relating to the culture and history of Afghanistan to libraries and universities in Afghanistan.  Digitization of the Afghan collection is part of an ongoing project of the World Digital Library, a cooperative global initiative led by the Library of Congress. Under the project, items of historical and cultural significance from some 77 countries are being digitized. The World Digital Library has received $4 million in support of this work from Carnegie Corporation of New York.  Click for photos.

The Library of Congress will add Afghan treasures to the WDL as well as provide copies of these treasures to Afghan institutions. These include the Kabul Library, the American University of Afghanistan, Badakhsan University, Balkh University, Bamiyan University, Herat University, Kabul University, Kandahar University, and Nangarhar University.

calligraphy afghan 1

Calligraphy by Mas'ud al-Tabib from the early 17th century.  This calligraphic fragment includes a quatrain, or ruba'i, praising vision as the most keen of the human senses. The text is written in black nasta'liq script on a beige paper decorated with gold paint. The text panel is framed by two borders in beige and gold and pasted to a blue paper decorated with gold flower and vine motifs. Beginning with an invocation to God as the Glorified (huwa al-mu'izz), the verses read:
Dil jaya gham u dida makan-i gawhar ast / Ya'ni gawhar-i vasl-i tu dar chasm tar ast / Dar dil gham u dar dida khayal-i tu dar ast / Zan ruy za dil dida am abadtar ast.
English translation: The heart is a place of sadness and the eye is the site of essence / That means the essence of your arrival is in the wet eye / In the heart (is) sadness and in the eye is the imagining of you / Because my eye is more refined than my heart. The poet describes his crying ("wet eye") upon seeing his beloved, attempting to show that visual imagination is more sensible and responsive than the heart. In the lower left corner, the writer (al-katib) Mas'ud al-Tabib has signed his name, along with his diminutive epithets "the weak, the smallest of servants" (al-da'if aqall al-'ibad). The calligrapher's full name was Rukn al-Din Mas'ud al-Tabib, and he was known as a master of the nasta'liq style. One other calligraphic sample by Rukn al-Din Mas'ud al-Tabib is held in the collections of the Library of Congress.
calligraphy afghan 2
Calligraphy created by an unknown author c. 1900. This calligraphic fragment includes four lines in Persian wishing its owner good fortune and happiness on the occasion of 'id. Initiated by a praise to God, the Glorified (huwa al-'aziz), the verses read: Ay nashat-i 'id az nam-i shuma-st / Rahat-i giti za aram-i shuma-st / Qulqul-i mina-st ta dur-i sipihr / Bada-yi iqbal dar jam-i shuma-st.
English translation: Oh, the joy of 'id is from your name / The comfort of the world is from your peacefulness / The bubbling of the sky reaches the celestial spheres / The wine of chance is in your glass.  Although the name of the calligrapher and the date of the composition are not specified, Pari Beygum Sahib may be identified as the wife of Amanullah Khan, the last amir (prince or king) of the Barakzay Dynasty (r. 1919-29), the ruling family of the independent kingdom of Afghanistan from 1839-1926. She was a former lady-in-waiting (pari) to the ruler's mother before becoming his royal consort (beygum). She died during childbirth in Kabul in 1912. This calligraphic specimen may have been executed for her on the occasion of 'id in Kabul sometime around 1900.

The collection presented includes manuscripts, rare books, maps, and photographs. It is the first part of what will be many thousands of items from and about Afghanistan and neighboring countries with which it has interacted over the centuries.

The project is an example of the “virtual repatriation” that is made possible by digital technologies and that is one of the key objectives of the WDL.  “Making cultural treasures of global value available to all the people of the world is one of the greatest gifts the digital age has given us,” Billington said. “The World Digital Library has made it possible for people of all cultures to look at the gems of each other’s learning and art in any of seven languages, and this vehicle of understanding is available 24 hours a day.”

“As Secretary Clinton prepares to leave her post after an extraordinarily successful tenure at the helm of the State Department, it is fitting that one of her last official acts on behalf of The United States is this important gesture of our country’s goodwill and friendship toward the Afghan people,” said Vartan Gregorian, President of Carnegie Corporation.  “Providing the Kabul Library and major Afghan universities with digital copies of the Library of Congress’s collection of materials on Afghanistan and neighboring regions, which includes hundreds of thousands of items, is, in a sense, carrying out a virtual repatriation of Afghanistan’s cultural patrimony.”

“These digitized manuscripts serve as the living expression not only of Afghanistan’s history but also the heritage of its people. With this treasure trove of knowledge, Afghans will be able to travel through the record of their civilization, its triumphs and failures, and experience its legacy of intellectual, scientific and artistic achievements. We hope this compendium of knowledge will serve as a guide to the Afghan people as they continue their efforts to reconstruct their country and secure its future. I would like to salute the legacy of Hillary Clinton, our great Secretary of State; James  Billington, our devoted Librarian of Congress; and  Zahir Tanin, Afghanistan's Ambassador to the United Nations, for his assistance in our effort, said Gregorian."

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 155 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats.  The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its website at www.loc.gov.

The World Digital Library (www.wdl.org) is a website, accessible from anywhere in the world, which presents in digital form documents of cultural significance, free of charge, about all countries and cultures. The concept was first proposed by the Librarian of Congress and the site was launched in 2009. WDL partners currently include more than 160 libraries, museums and archives from 77 countries, makes available online the world’s historic treasures. The WDL now features items in 91 languages and about all 194 United Nations member states.  Resources available on the site – which presents its information in a user’s choice of seven languages – include manuscripts, maps, rare books, sound recordings, films, prints and photographs.

Carnegie Corporation of New York was created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding. In keeping with this mandate, the corporation’s work focuses on the issues that Andrew Carnegie considered of paramount importance: international peace, the advancement of education and knowledge, and the strength of our democracy.