National Library of Scotland. Tsvetelina Haralampieva.


Author: Tsvetelina Haralampieva

Editor: Mariya Prokopova-Gochova






The National Library of Scotland (NLS) is situated in the Old Town of Edinburgh on George IV Bridge. It is Scotland's largest library and one of the major research libraries in Europe. Its collections range from rare historical documents to online journals, covering every subject. NLS is specialised in Scotland's knowledge, history and culture. Before the National Library of Scotland, there was the Library of the Faculty of Advocates founded in the early 1680s and opened in 1689. Under the 1710 Copyright Act it was given the legal right to claim a copy of every book published in Britain. In the following centuries, the Library added books and manuscripts to the collections by purchase as well as legal deposit. This created a national library in all but name.

By the 1920s, the upkeep of such a major collection was too much for a private body. Therefore, the National Library of Scotland was formally constituted by an Act of Parliament in 1925. With the financial support of Sir Alexander Grant a new library building was built on George IV Bridge. Government funding was also secured which matched Sir Alexander's donation. Construction of the new building was started in 1938, interrupted by the Second World War, and completed in 1956. By the 1970s, room for the ever-expanding collections was running out, and it was obvious that other premises were needed. The Causewayside Building opened in the south-side of Edinburgh in two phases, in 1989 and in 1995. It provided the much-needed additional working space and storage facilities.

Since 1999, the Library has been answerable to the Scottish Parliament and funded by the Scottish Government. It remains one of only six legal deposit libraries in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and is governed by a board of trustees. 

Writing about Caucasus in the 19th century, there was no doubt that I would find a lot of books in the NLS which would help me get a notion of the western point of view concerning the Russian colonization of Caucasus. I can divide the bibliography I managed to collect in two parts: historical sources and modern publications. 

The historical sources are mainly connected with the impressions of foreign travelers who visited Caucasus in the 19th century. The opportunity to read them from the first released copies of their books was more than wonderful. Titles like: “Journal of a residence in Circassia during the years 1837, 1838, and 1839” (Bell, 1840), “Travels and Adventures in the Persian Provinces and the Southern Banks of the Caspian Sea” (Fraser, 1826), “Notes of a nine years' residence in Russia, from 1844 to 1853: with notices of the tzars Nicholas I and Alexander II” (Harrison, 1855), “Travels in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia and Turkey” (Jones,1827), “Travels in the Caucasus and Georgia: performed in the years 1807 and 1808, by command of the Russian government”(Klaproth, 1814), “Travels in Russia, the Krimea, the Caucasus, and Georgia” (Lyall, 1825), “The Caucasus and its people, with a brief history of their wars, and a sketch of the achievements of the renowned chief Schamyl” (Moser,1856), “The Russian Shores of the Black Sea” (Oliphant, 1853), “Turkey, Russia, the Black Sea, and Circassia” (Spencer, 1855) and many others can give you more detailed information about the Russian colonization of the region, the process itself, as well as useful information about the governors, the tsars and their rule. There are detailed pictures of the Caucasus as geography, nature, and people. 

Plenty of contemporary research works about Caucasus in the 19th century can also be found in the catalogue of the NLS. Their authors are not only western and American scientists but also Armenian, Turkish, Azerbaijani. With regard to the theoretical meaning of “colonization” and “colonialism”, starting with the definition of the terms and finishing with concrete examples concerning Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, USA, etc. an enormous quantity of books is available. I should remark that Russia is never among them, though all the western authors I had the possibility to read speak about “colonization of Caucasus”. I suppose this is due to the specific character of Russian colonization which those authors couldn’t compare to other typical examples.

A great number of articles published in popular western scientific journals like “Central Asian Survey”, “Oxford Slavonic Papers”, “Canadian Slavonic Papers”, “Slavic and East European Review”, “The Journal of Modern History”, “The Journal of Economic History”, “The English Historical Review”, etc. expands the base of the modern bibliography. By using the Internet in the NLS, a free access to JSTOR increases the possibility of finding interesting and useful articles. Downloading is free.

The NLS also offers places for refreshment. Situated on the ground floor across the main corridor is the café servery, which allows visitors to taste typical British homemade cakes and a fine selection of teas while having a break.  Near the café there is a small shop where you can buy not only products with the logo of the NLS and books, but also very interesting historical gifts such as historical documents reproduced on paper or on digital media. Among them is the last letter of Mary Queen of Scots written on 8th February 1587, only six hours before her execution on the block at Fotheringhay Castle. The letter is addressed to Henry III of France, brother of her first husband. Another interesting document is the Order for the Massacre of Glencoe (1692) sent to Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, instructing him to kill the MacDonalds of Glencoe. He was to spare none below the age of seventy. The resulting massacre is remembered not just for its premeditated brutality but for its violation of an unwritten code of conduct: the perpetrators of the deed had enjoyed the hospitality of their victims for twelve days before turning on them. 

The Discovery Area in the NLS is the place where snapshots of the library’s collections and services are presented to the visitors.  It is the place where different exhibitions are held. At present, visitors can enjoy the exhibition “Beyond Macbeth: Shakespeare in Scottish collections” which tells the stories behind Edinburgh's two world-class Shakespeare collections. The exhibition explores the lives of a small group who helped bring together collections of William Shakespeare's plays and other works about the playwright. Their lives and activities also reveal something of the changing response to Shakespeare in Scotland over the centuries. Access to the exhibitions is free and doesn’t require prior booking. They are opened daily with the exception of official holidays. 

Close to the NLS going down the South Bridge we reach our next stop – the National Archives of Scotland …



© 2012-2021 VIA EVRASIA All rights reserved. site by: Св. Мирчева almanach "via evrasia", issn 1314-6645