Bringing historical and cultural riches from Afghanistan — and beyond — “to all people, wherever in the world they might be”
Gorgeously illuminated manuscripts, rare books, historical documents, sacred texts, photographic albums, vintage maps, architectural studies, lithographic books and prints, popular journals and magazines, and many other often unique materials (some never before published) — these have been drawn from the collections of the Library of Congress and other great world libraries for inclusion in the Afghanistan Project, a major initiative of the World Digital Library (WDL). Led by the Library of Congress and supported by Carnegie Corporation of New York with grants in honor of the foundation’s 2011 Centennial, this project constitutes a major gesture and commitment to “virtually repatriating” Afghanistan’s patrimony. But in fact the project includes not only items originating in Afghanistan proper, but also materials from the broader Islamic and Persianate cultural region of neighboring countries that share a common heritage and/or related language and ethnicity: Iran, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and others. With such massive (and culturally significant) endeavors, there is always the question of what should make it into the digitization pipeline. Fittingly, one “amazing source” in the selection process for the Afghanistan Project was the bibliography of The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1880–1946, the classic study by Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden has said that one of her goals as Librarian is “to open up the riches of the Library of Congress to all people, wherever in the world they might be.” With the Afghanistan Project, the World Digital Library (wdl.org) has succeeded splendidly in that endeavor. Here follows a selection of treasures that capture the histories, achievements, and spirit of people — or peoples — for future generations.
All items reproduced in “Virtual Treasures” are from the collections of the Library of Congress and are reproduced courtesy of the Library and the World Digital Library (WDL). For detailed bibliographic citations and complete descriptions of each item featured in this story, visit the Library of Congress Afghanistan Project. Captions for this story have been adapted from texts at the WDL, whose mission is to make available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from all countries and cultures.