From the mundane to the spectacular—from laundry lists to grand works of art—the Amherst Center for Russian Culture highlights nearly every aspect of modern Russian culture, with a particular emphasis on emigration in the 20th century.

History and Overview

The Amherst Center for Russian Culture (ACRC) was founded in 1991 by Amherst College alumnus Thomas P. Whitney, class of 1937, a diplomat, journalist, translator, author and collector of Russian manuscripts, rare books, journals, newspapers and art for over 30 years. The ACRC’s operating costs come from Mr. Whitney’s initial endowment and are supplemented by funds donated by generous alumni and friends of Amherst College.

Since 1998 the Center has been located on the second floor of Webster Hall, adjacent to the Amherst College Russian Department. The Center includes a two-floor reading room and an art gallery. Manuscripts (and some books) are largely stored in the Center’s storage facility, located in the basement of Webster Hall.

In 2000 Whitney made an additional gift to Amherst College: his extensive holdings of twentieth-century Russian art. Intended to join the already functioning ACRC (with its substantial library of books on the subject as well as a gallery built to display some portion of these holdings), the art collection is curated and administered by the College’s Mead Art Museum, where it is permanently housed.

Mission and Collection Development

The centerpiece of the ACRC is Whitney’s collection of largely, but by no means exclusively, émigré Russian materials. His intention was that the ACRC preserve and document the Russian heritage contained in these materials and also build the collection along the lines of his specific interests: 20th century Russian literature (especially poetry), history and culture. Recent acquisitions have focused most heavily on the “third and fourth waves” of Russian emigration (beginning in 1970) and include more materials from Russia and the former Soviet Union than had been previously represented in Whitney’s library.

While the collection was envisaged to serve as a rich source of information for domestic and international scholars in the field of Russian studies, Whitney was mindful of the undergraduate setting of the ACRC and hoped that future activities, including new acquisitions, would take into consideration the pedagogical needs of Amherst College and its surrounding four institutions (Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges, and UMass-Amherst) of higher learning. All collections of printed materials are processed and made available to enhance the ACRC’s mission to serve the scholarly and research disciplines—of literature, history, art, political science and religion—related to Russia and the former Soviet Union.

The Whitney Gift

Amherst College acquired in 1991 what has generally been considered the West’s largest private holding of rare Russian books, manuscripts, newspapers and periodicals. Also included are galley proofs, memos, photographs, menus, wallets, leaflets, broadsides, diaries and other personal effects of every conceivable kind. Formerly housed in a three-story converted 19th-century barn in Washington, Connecticut, Whitney’s collection took almost fifty years to assemble and represents the breadth and depth of Russian cultural achievement in modern times.

In all, the materials donated by Whitney cover nearly every aspect of modern Russian culture, with a particular emphasis on emigration, and can be categorized into every subject area of the humanities. The language used throughout the collection is for the most part Russian; however, documents written in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Chinese and English are also represented.

Portrait of Stanley Rabinowitz

Related Reading

Professor Stanley Rabinowitz recalls how an unexpected phone call led to Amherst acquiring what is generally considered the West’s largest private collection of rare Russian books and materials.

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