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Modern Greek Collection Policy

We acquire monographs and serials published in Greece and Cyprus. Material is selected in the humanities and social sciences subject areas to serve the research needs of academic researchers and anybody with an interest in these countries. Some of the material acquired is available for loan or document supply through the Library's Document Supply service.

The Modern Greek collections

The Library has one of the world's finest collections of Greek and Cyprus imprints, as well as of material about these countries published elsewhere, covering all periods of their history and all aspects of their rich and varied heritage.

Printing came late to Greece as the country was under Ottoman rule until 1829. Books in Greek were previously published in other printing centres in Europe such as Venice, Florence, Rome, Paris, and London. The vast majority of these were in classical Greek and consisted of editions of the Bible or of the works of classical writers and the Church Fathers with a small proportion in the vernacular. Greek independence was won after an 8-year war which stirred considerable philhellenic feeling among European liberals. In the years leading up to the Greek War of Independence large numbers of patriotic propaganda works were published in Paris, Vienna, and the Balkans. The first presses were brought to Greece during the Greek War of Independence for the printing of the official Government Gazette and the Constitution of the new nation. The Library 's copy of the first issue of the Constitution (1822) is believed to have belonged to Lord Byron as the binding bears his initials. The newly-formed Kingdom of Greece was later expanded by the annexation of the Ionian Islands (in 1864), Thessaly and part of Epirus (1881), Crete (1911), and parts of Macedonia and Thrace (1912).

The British Museum Library's already strong holdings of pre-19th century books in Greek were greatly enriched in 1835 by the purchase of 627 Greek printed books in one of the sales of the collection of Frederick North, 5th Earl of Guilford (large numbers of manuscripts, including Greek manuscripts, had already been acquired in the main auction of the collection, in December 1830). Guilford was a great devotee of Greek and Italian culture. By 1844 the British Museum was buying recent Modern Greek books through Adolph Asher, its agent in Berlin.

The Library's holdings of material published in the Ionian Islands and Cyprus, two former British dominions, are of exceptional richness and importance. All works published while they were under British rule were acquired through Colonial Deposit regulations. The Ionian Islands were a British protectorate between 1815 and 1864 having previously been under Venetian and French rule. Ionian imprints are particularly rich and interesting as they reflect the culture of the different rulers of these islands since the dissolution of the Byzantine Empire. The first literary academy (the Accademia degli Assicurati) in Corfu was founded in 1656 and the foundation of an Ionian University was promoted by the Earl of Guilford who became its first Chancellor when the university was inaugurated in 1824.

Collection development policy

The Modern Greek Section seeks to acquire monographs and serials published in Greece and Cyprus. Material is selected in the humanities and social sciences subject areas to serve the research needs of academic researchers and also, more generally, those of anybody with an interest in these countries. When available, English language editions of works are preferred.

The following subjects are collected extensively:

Greek and Cypriot archaeology and antiquities; Ancient Greek history and literature (translations of classical texts are acquired only if accompanied by substantial critical commentaries or if there is no other translation in the British Library collections); Byzantine and Modern Greek studies; Classical and Byzantine art and architecture, Modern Greek and Cypriot art and folk art; Modern Greek language and dialects; Modern Greek literature;Ancient Greek and Byzantine history; Modern history especially works on the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829), Second World War and the Civil War, the Greek dictatorship (1967-74), the Macedonian question; the history and politics of other Balkan countries and their relations with Greece, relations between Greece and Turkey, and Cyprus history; books on politics and international studies are acquired when their subject is the role of Greece in the Balkans, the Mediterranean, as a member of the European Union, and its relations to Turkey. Works on the Cyprus question; Social history and folklore; library history (especially catalogues of library collections in Greece and Cyprus); ancient and modern Greek theatre and cinema; Greek and Cypriot folk music; the history of education in Greece and Cyprus and its role during the Ottoman rule; English culture and civilization.

Works in the social sciences, including economics and economic history, sociology and education are acquired selectively and preference is given to works related to Greece and Cyprus.

Theology and religious studies are also acquired selectively, preference being given to those examining Greek Orthodox Church history and dogma.

The following types of material are generally excluded: science and technology, practical books, especially manuals; low level treatment of any subject; children's books (unless they are reworkings of folk tales or include illustrations of merit); general theology.

Primary texts of Modern Greek literature are acquired selectively.

Modern Greek material elsewhere in the British Library

The above statement applies to material primarily made available through the Humanities Reading Rooms in St Pancras. Other Modern Greek material is held by the Manuscript Collections. Newspapers are held at British Library Newspapers Library. Official and government publications are held at the Social Policy Information Service, Social sciences and scientific serials and conference proceedings are held at the Document Supply service. Scientific monographs are held by Science Technology & Business. Recorded sound is held by the National Sound Archive. Other Modern Greek material is held in the Map, Music and Philatelic Collections.

Collection strengths

The Library has a comprehensive collection of the publications of the Academy of Athens and its various Research Centres, the Institute for Balkan Studies, the Archaeological Society of Athens, and the Cyprus Department of Antiquities.

Other areas of strength include: the Greek War of Independence (1821-1829); the Civil War (1946-1949) and the political history of post-War Greece; Modern Greek literature-there are excellent collections of works by /on all the major authors notably Nikos Kazantzakis, Constantine Cavafy, Giannes Ritsos, and the two Nobel prize winners George Seferis and Odysseus Elytes.

Material printed in two former British dominions, the Ionian Islands (1814-1864) and Cyprus (1878-1960). The collection of printed books from the library of the Earl of Guilford is one of the lesser-known treasures in the Library. The Library also has possibly the best collection in the world of Cypriot folk poetry (the work of the poietarides), acquired during the colonial period (1878-1960) and a unique collection of anti-British propaganda pamphlets distributed clandestinely during the 'troubles' in 1955-59.


Modern Greek Section
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7573 / 7531 / 7696
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7784