Pictures From Home: An Introduction to Czech Illustrated Monographs in the Czech Heritage Collections at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln

Jean Dickinson, University of Nebraska, Lincoln

People unfamiliar with Nebraska often do not know of the rich cultural heritage and remarkable history brought to the young state by immigrating Czechs in the 1800-1900s. Czech pioneers arrived, with more and more family and friends, to take the many opportunities to own their own land and farms, and for the freedom of a new country that needed agriculture and railroad workers on its wild plains. The Homestead Act of 1863, by which a settler could take 160 acres for a $14 filing fee, and then own it after living on it for five years, brought many Czech families to Nebraska. The nation-building job of laying down the railroads also attracted Czechs to the state. At one time, 1/5 of all the Czechs in the United States made their homes in the southeast corner of Nebraska. It might be said that one of the largest ethnic or diverse populations in Nebraska is the Czech one, even today. Because of these pioneers' love of both their Czech homeland and their newly adopted home in Nebraska, they created and kept many invaluable documents, books, newspapers and materials that we have been able to save in our libraries and archives and that help to display the richness of our state's Czech folklore, culture, and language.

Since the late 1960s, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has collected and cared for one of the largest collections of Czech materials in the United States. Joseph G. Svoboda, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archivist from 1968-1993, was the catalyst in developing and maintaining the Czech Heritage Collections. The contents of the Collections are: 19th and 20th century books, periodicals, almanacs, newspapers, manuscripts, pamphlets, photographs, oral histories, and ephemera, and they cover all subject areas, especially agriculture, political papers, art, literature and theater. The Czech Heritage Collections are composed of about 9,000 monographs, and about 450 linear feet of papers, records, pamphlets, and newspapers. Only about 5% of these historic books have been cataloged and are available to researchers so far.

To make an illustrative comparison, the Czech fraternal society, S.P.J.S.T. (Slovanska Podporujici Jednota Statu Texas) Museum and Archives in Texas has about 23,000 books, only 40% of which have been cataloged. This archives has collected with basically the same goals in mind as those of the University of Nebraska--to preserve Czech heritage and history, and to gather pioneer materials. Both our Nebraska collection and the S.P.J.S.T. collection have long been operating under the disadvantage of not having a librarian with the training and understanding to organize and bring the outstanding items in the collections to light. There may have been someone who knew some Czech, but who was not a librarian, so not much progress has been made. But now that Nebraska has a Slavic librarian, we expect our collection to soon make its way into the scholarly sphere.

As the newly-arrived Slavic cataloger at the Libraries, I have begun working with and discovering the treasures of our Czech materials, and I propose a slide presentation dealing with some of my beginning researches into these unique Collections. The slides will concentrate on some examples I have chosen from the illustrated books in the Collection.