Dr Maria Ivanova, Lecturer at the McGill University, shares notes about her stay at the Library as part of the programme for researchers of Belarus.
In July 2019, I had the pleasure and honor to be a visiting scholar at The Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library in London. While the Library collections are vast and encompassing many research areas, it is undoubtedly a major research hub for intellectual historians of early modernity.
Being a scholar of the philosophical and religious thought of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, I knew that it is among the best places to conduct my research on Skaryna. Not only do the collections include a rich variety of Skaryna’s newest facsimile editions, but they also comprise an impressive array of Skaryniana, which would have taken months to access in many other libraries elsewhere.
What I personally found invaluable, was easy access to Belarusian emigré periodicals, as well as 1920-1930s works which for a long time have been less known to a wider academic community.
Guy Picarda’s research on the Kabbalistic tradition in Skaryna’s works was one of the important highlights of my stay. I was also able to get acquainted in more detail with the works of Fr Aliaksandr Nadsan, whose legacy lives on in the Library.
A renowned researcher of early printed books and multi-faceted scholar of Belarusian intellectual thought, he authored a number of publications on Skaryna and the first Slavonic primers, which I studied at length during my residence. Among unexpected but ever so pleasant discoveries in the collection were the early printed books that were published in Vilna in the 1620-s — a reedition of the Statutes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the 1623 New Testament and Psalter.
While I am familiar with many of the Vilna Brotherhood editions, these two have been under my radar so far, and it was with great joy that I welcomed the new research tracks following the study of these books. These discoveries helped me shape my vision of continuity in the development of the aesthetical vision in the book culture of the Grand Duchy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The Library is also a vibrant community of academics coming from different backgrounds and with various research foci. Conversations with other visitors and readers are another key strength of the Library and have greatly enriched my vision of Belarus’ history and the development of the Belarusian language. Being in London also helped to take advantage of the access to other repositories, such as the British Library and Lambeth Palace Library.
Yet, most importantly, I cannot say enough about the wonderful premises of the Library, with easy access to all the materials I needed. I was grateful to have found myself in an environment conducive to quiet study and uninterrupted thinking. The Library was a perfect place not only to immerse myself in extensive reading, but also to focus on my writing.
I would like to express my gratitude to the members of the Board of Trustees for their generous assistance and advice, as well as for sharing their passion for and dedication to the field of Belarusian studies, which was inspirational and served as a catalyst for my further research projects.
Dr Karalina Matskevich offered invaluable information regarding the recent discoveries in Skaryniana. Fr Siarhej Stasievich relentlessly provided me with research materials, helped in navigating the archives, and answered all my numerous questions regarding the history of the Basilian order. Mr Pavel Shevtsov acquainted me with the treasures of the Museum. Mr Aliaksandr Herasimenka navigated me through all the application and paperwork steps.
I also enjoyed regular exchange of ideas with other visitors and would like to thank them as well for sharing their knowledge and expertise. All this facilitated my research immensely and made my stay a truly fruitful experience.
The programme for researchers of Belarus is open for everyone and covers 24h access to our library in London, overnight stay and an opportunity to consult the librarians.