The Library of Congress will open a new gallery focused on the lives of Indigenous groups who lived in the Americas prior to European colonization.
The gallery will feature the personal collection of Floridian businessman and philanthropist Jay I. Kislak, who will donate nearly 4,000 artifacts, rare books, maps and artwork from numerous indigenous groups over the course of his lifetime. The exhibit will be called “Voices of the Early Americas: The Jay I. Kislak Collection” and will contain artifacts that date back to 1,000 B.C.E., according to a Nov. 1 press release from the Library. It is expected to open at the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building in 2024.
In 1984, Kislak founded the Jay I. Kislak Foundation in order to conserve and study material from the early Americas. The foundation made a $10 million donation that will fund the creation of the gallery and a permanent endowment for future updates and maintenance.
Curators will display the items in Kislak’s collection alongside items from other collections in the Library to comprehensively present the stories of the Americas prior to 1492.
Leah Knobel, public affairs specialist at the Library, said the installation will detail the ways Indigenous groups in the Americas preserved their cultures and identities.
“The Library hopes to provide a fuller narrative and chronology of the early Americas, giving voice to the pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas,” Knobel wrote to The Hoya. “‘Voices of the Early Americas’ aims to show how complicated this story is, how Native Americans cultures were violently conquered, sometimes enslaved, and how vibrant they are today.”
One of the primary focuses of the exhibit is revealing lesser-known truths about the lives and cultures of Native Americans before and after European colonization, according to the press release.
“There are a series of treasures that will be displayed, not just pre-Columbian archaeological objects. From that realm there will be things like a carved Maya panel from La Corona representing a ball player, many examples of classic Maya ceramics and some of the oldest pieces in the collection from the Olmecs. From the contact period, which includes the first encounters of Native cultures, we will be displaying Columbus’ Book of Privileges and very rare Indigenous manuscripts like the Codex Quetzalecatzin.
Mark Giordano, a geography professor and the vice dean for undergraduate affairs in the Walsh School of Foreign Service, said much of U.S. history is taught from a Western European perspective, and that this new gallery could help repair an often-flawed understanding of history.
Giordano said exhibits like the gallery will promote a more holistic understanding of Native American and Indigenous history, especially for those who may not be experts on the subject.
“If the artifacts are presented well, it helps us understand history in a much broader way,” Giordano wrote to The Hoya. “At the School of Foreign Service, our focus is obviously international relations. But even so, almost no one knows that the first treaty the U.S. signed was with the Delaware. It wasn’t with a European state. Once you understand that, you start to think differently about what it means to be a nation and where we are today.”
Knobel said the new gallery is part of the Library’s larger effort to broaden the scope of the information it provides to the American public.
“The Library is pursuing a multiyear plan to build a “Library for You,” transforming the experience of its nearly 2 million annual visitors, sharing more of its treasures with the public and showing how Library collections connect with visitors’ own creativity and research,” Knobel wrote. “This gallery builds on the Library’s mission to engage, inspire and inform the American people with a universal and enduring source of knowledge and creativity.”