The Department of Manuscripts and Early Printed Books is one of the largest national repository of written culture treasures.
For more than a century before the Department has assembled a collection of nearly 31 thousand written sources such as Greek papyruses dating to the 1st millennium AD, the first birch bark charters discovered in Novgorod in 1951-1953, the rarest collection of Greek manuscripts of the 6th-17th centuries, Slavic manuscripts of the 11th-20th centuries including the earliest parchment Codices, “Illuminated Annalistic corpus” of Ivan the Terrible, “Menology” by Metropolitan Makary, large collection of illuminated manuscripts of the of 17th-19th centuries and also printed Cyrillic books of the late 15th-20th centuries, charters of the highest church hierarchs of the 17th century and monastic scrolls.
The collection of manuscripts and early printed books was started just from the date of Museum’s establishment. In 1912, following the approval of a relevant resolution, the collection was transformed into a separate department which was opened for public in 1914. At the time, the Department collection contained manuscripts and Cyrillic-printed books predominantly belonging to the traditional bookish culture of pre-Peter era and Old Belief traditions. The modern literary works (diplomatic, official, economic and legal documents accompanied by personal archives, memoirs, correspondence and autographs) were transferred to another department – the Archive, nowadays the Department of Written Sources (DWS).
V.N. Shchepkin, one of the founders of the Russian paleographic school, was the first curator of the Manuscripts Department (MG). He built the foundation for comprehensive studies of the bookish culture objects. His colleagues and followers included prominent scientists, such as N.P. Popov, Academician M.N. Speransky, V.F. Rzhiga and M.V. Shchepkina. The leading national codicologists, T.V. Dianova and L.M. Kostyukhina have worked with the Department until very recently. A series of brilliant researchers in books did not only turn the SHM Manuscripts Department into the richest repository in the world, but also made it into a really scientific codicologic laboratory. Research activities are carried out by Department fellows in various fields: paleography and codicology of Slavic manuscripts of the 11th-17th centuries, filigranology, history of ornament art and illumination of Greek and Slavic Codices, the first stages of Slavic and Old Russian script, church and divine service history, Old Belief history, printing history of Moscow, Ukraine and Lithuania in the 16th-17th centuries.
A database of the card-catalogue of the Department collections was created and opened for access by visitors of the reference room thanks to efforts of management of the Museum and personnel of the manuscript department. It simplifies essentially to define materials for scientific and collection activities.
At this stage, the database is corrected and complemented with new entries. In future it is planned to include in the database the information of all available, published and handwritten scientific works on the manuscript department’s collections. Another computer database of filigrees is developed as part of the joint efforts undertaken by the Department specialists and their colleagues from IIP RAS, Austrian AS and the Royal Library of Holland.
In 2001, after the sustained SHM building repair and numerous migrations, the Manuscripts Department settled in its former premises. Since late 2003, the Department’s reference room was re-opened, and it accepts researchers from many countries of the world.