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Vol.24, No. 01 Sept. 4, 1998

Gift to the Libraries Will Continue Preservation of Yiddish Oral History Tapes


Gift Honors Memory of Weinreichs: Leading Scholars of Jewish Language and Culture

The Lucius N. Littauer Foundation has awarded Columbia a grant of $50,000 for preservation of the University's Language and Culture Archive of Ashkenazic Jewry (LCAAJ).

The grant was made in memory of the renowned scholars Max Weinreich, for years the force behind the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and his son, Uriel Weinreich, the researcher whose pioneering work on the Language and Culture Atlas of Ashkenazic Jewry generated the materials that constitute the Archive.

The Littauer grant will help finance Columbia Libraries' ongoing work to preserve and to make available to everyone this enormous and unique collection of taped interviews and field notes accumulated during a 13-year period. The funds will be used by the Columbia Computer Music Center, known internationally for its work in audio preservation, where the LCAAJ's 2,600 reels of aging and fragile tape is being transferred to analog and digital formats.

The Atlas project was started in 1959 by Uriel Weinreich to capture the vanishing legacy of the Yiddish language and culture. He continued to work on it until his death in 1967 at the age of 41. The project was then propelled to its completion in 1972 by Marvin Herzog, who donated the archive to Columbia in 1995 when he was the Atran Professor Emeritus of Yiddish Studies at the University.

The Archive of the Atlas project comprises 5,755 hours of taped interviews and 100,000 pages of accompanying linguistic field notes. The interviews range from two to 15 hours in length, and were based on a list that ran 3,000 questions long. Some of the people interviewed are among the last to speak Yiddish as their primary language. The data were collected from 603 areas in Eastern and Central Europe. These were selected to reflect the distribution of the Yiddish-speaking population before World War II.

The importance of preserving this irreplaceable archive has also recently been recognized with contributions to Columbia Libraries by the Atran Foundation, Inc.; the Morris J. & Betty Kaplun Foundation Inc.; and the Solow Foundation.