10 March 2023
Digital Shevchenkiana – a Joint English-Ukrainian Project
Do not forget, with good intent
Speak quietly of me
(Taras Shevchenko, ‘Testament’, translated by Vera Rich)
Every year, on 9-10 March, ‘Shevchenko’s Days’ (Shevchenkivs’ki dni) are celebrated in Ukraine. The national poet, founder of modern Ukrainian literature and famous artist Taras Shevchenko was born on 9 March 1814. On 10 March 1861 he died at the age of 47 after more than 10 years in exile as a private in the Russian military garrison in Orsk (near the Ural Mountains) and then in Kazakhstan. The Tsar added to his sentence: ‘Under the strictest surveillance, without the right to write or paint’. But Shevchenko’s talent went beyond such restrictions. His poems had an immense impact on Ukrainian society and became a vital source of the consolidation of the Ukrainian nation.
As a result of a joint project between the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP), administered by the British Library, and the Taras Shevchenko National Museum in Kyiv (Ukraine), the British Library holds copies of a digital collection of Shevchenkiana (works by, about, or relating to Shevchenko). It includes books, serials and archival materials dating from the 19th to the early 20th century (about 60,000 images). The collection, which is called ‘Saving the original lifetime archive of the well-known Ukrainian poet, artist and thinker, T. H. Shevchenko’, is available via the EAP website and can be searched via the British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.
Shevchenkiana includes not only the publications of the poet’s own works, including those from his own lifetime, but also literary journals and almanacs, where his poems were published (Lastovka, 1841; Molodyk, 1843; Khata, 1860; Osnova, 1861–1862, etc.). There are also publications about Shevchenko, books by writers and poets of his time, translations of his works and archival materials.
Shevchenko lifetime editions: Hamaliia (ref: EAP657/2/1/7); and Kateryna (ref: EAP657/2/1/8)
Of special value among the editions published in Shevchenko’s lifetime are those containing his personal autographs. For instance, on the title page of the poem ‘Naimychka’ (1860) the poet made an inscription: ‘To Orlovs’ky from T. Shevchenko’. We can assume that it is Volodymyr Orlovsky, a Ukrainian artist famous for his landscape painting (1842–1914). In December 1860, Shevchenko wrote about Orlovsky’s daily visits to him in a letter and expressed the hope that he would have a promising future. Shevchenko not only gave drawing lessons to his young compatriot, but he also provided him with a letter of recommendation to the Saint Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts.
Or another autograph written in pencil on the cover of Psalmy Davydovi to a Serhii Syl’vestrovych whom T. Shevchenko calls ‘Dear compatriot’.
Shevchenko editions with his autographs: Naimychka (ref: EAP657/2/1/6); Psalmy Davydovi (ref: EAP657/2/1/6).
The digitised collection also includes issues of the famous Ukrainian literary journal Osnova (published January 1861–October 1862). Osnova united Ukrainian writers and scholars who wrote fiction, poems, works on history, bibliography, literary criticism, etc. The journal had a noticeable impact on Ukrainian cultural and literary life. Over 70 poems by Shevchenko appeared in it. Novels and poems by well-known Ukrainian writers such as Panteleimon Kulish, Leonid Hlibov, Oleksa Storozhenko, Oleksandr Konys’ky, Hanna Barvinok, Marko Vovchok and others were also published in this journal as well as scholarly research. For instance, Mykola Kostomarov, an outstanding historiographer and historian, contributed scholarly articles and discussed contemporary issues of Ukrainian history. It is important to note that the British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue provides an analytical description of all novels, articles and cycles of poems printed in Osnova and other serials.
Osnova, 1861, July-September (ref. EAP657/2/1/19); Khata [almanach], 1860 (ref. EAP657/2/1/13)
The collection also includes some digitised editions of translations of Shevchenko’s works, among them translations into Polish by Antony Gorzałczyński (1862). In the preface to the book Gorzałczyński wrote that Shevchenko’s poetry is a huge lute, composed of a million strings of folk feelings. It contains crying, laughter, pain, groaning, and even mad despair - everything has its own strings and chords. Few of Shevchenko’s contemporaries understood the scale of his legacy so deeply as Gorzałczyński.
Antony Gorzałczyński, Przekłady pisarzów małorossyjskich. T. 1: Taras Szewczenko (z portretem). (Kyiv, 1862). (ref. EAP657/2/3/4)
In ‘Publications of Shevchenko era’, which is another part of this e-collection, there are digitised books by the Ukrainian writers Panteleimon Kulish, Marko Vovchok, Mykhailo Hrushevs’ky, Osyp Bodians’ky, and others, as well as ‘Notes of the Shevchenko Scientific Society’ in Lviv, primers and reading books for children, and other publications characteristic of that era.
An important part of the collection are archival materials which include documents, letters, and manuscripts relating to Shevchenko. Among them: ‘Case of the arrest of A. Navrotsky, V. Belozersky and T. Shevchenko’ (1847), after which Shevchenko spent more than 10 years in exile (ref. EAP657/1/10); ‘Case of the Ukrainian Slavic Association’ (1847) (ref. EAP657/1/14); and ‘Case of the despatch of the private Taras Shevchenko to Ural’sk city’ (1857) with correspondence about the release of Shevchenko from exile (ref. EAP657/1/7).
‘Case of the arrest of A. Navrotsky, V. Belozersky and T. Shevchenko’ (28 Mar 1847–04 Aug 1847) (ref. EAP657/1/10)
Now, after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, when the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine reports 1322 cases of damage or destruction of cultural objects and buildings, including 508 libraries, international projects to digitise Ukrainian cultural heritage are gaining special importance. This work provides an opportunity for the long-term preservation of collections, at least in digital form, and provides access to them for readers.
Nadiia Strishenets, Leading researcher at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine and British Academy Fellow
Volodymyr Orlovsʹkyĭ (1842–1914), Mykola Pymonenko (1862–1912), (Khmelnytskyi, 2006.): LF.31.a.3570