The Library of the Institute of History of the University of Warsaw

is the largest collection of historical resources in Poland. It holds academic items as well as source material on all historical periods, from antiquity to the modern era. New acquisitions of both Polish and foreign items are made frequently, keeping the Library state of the art. So equipped, the Library serves as an invaluable resource for both teaching and research.The Library was formally established together with the Institute itself in 1930. Its origins however reach back to 1915, when the University of Warsaw was re-opened. Thanks to the efforts of Marceli Handelsman, who was to become later the head of the Institute, a History Seminar was launched as a part of the University’s revival. The Seminar taught five courses, which in 1919 were converted into academic chairs. In 1916, the combined library holdings of these five chairs counted 929 items, originating from three collections: selected specialist resources of the former university in Warsaw operating under Russian auspices; general resources (double copies) of the University Library; and double copies offered by Societas Scientiarum Varsaviensis. By the time the Institute was established in 1930, the holdings encompassed 6865 items. The collection continued to expand and the Library held nearly 12 000 items when World War II broke out. Almost half of this collection vanished in the chaos of the war. After the war, the reconstruction of the library began with the acquisition of the private library of Marceli Handelsman, the founder of the Institute. Handelsman himself perished in a German concentration camp in 1945, but his collection survived. The Library also acquired a section of the collection of professor Oskar Halecki. In 1950, the Central Museums and Historical Monuments Authority deposited a collection of photocopied documents in the Library. In 1951, the holdings were estimated at 40 000 items.

Lektorium 40-50

Reading room in the 1950s

During the cold war period, when Poland was isolated from the academic community in the West, the Library obtained a number of books and journals as gifts from scholars and institutions abroad with whom it maintained a strong connection. In the 1990s, the Library secured a valuable addition of resources from the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum in London. Soon afterwards the Library also incorporated the private collection of professor Iza Bieżuńska-Małowist, as well as a part of the collection of professor Aleksander Gieysztor.
At present, the holdings of the Library of the Institute of History of the University of Warsaw amount to 220 000 items, including 1100 old master prints, over 3200 cartographic items, and also 14 000 photographs and photocopies, 650 microfilms, and almost 200 stamps and seals in the source materials and teaching materials collections.
The collection of old master prints is the most valuable part of the special collections. It holds 1003 works in 1105 volumes dating from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. These holdings previously belonged in part to the Library before 1939 (including 48 volumes that were originally a part of the collection of Michał Dołęga, chambellan to the king Stanisław August Poniatowski).
A copy of
Decisiones by Johann von Köppen (1531-1611) may have been a part of that collection. It was published in Jena in 1663. The copy is inscribed on the title page with the name of the holder, who was later to become the king: Stanissław Poniatowski stolnik W(ielkiego) X(ięstwa) L(itewskiego) 22 Maj: 1762 a(nno)
Nota SAPa
The book likely belonged to the oldest part of the collection of the future king. It offers an interesting glimpse into his interests, including an interest in law.
Other valuable items in the Library holdings include the only copy in Poland of the beautiful book of engravings
Theatrum artis scribendi by Jodocus Hondius (Amsterdam 1594), a rare copy of the cartographic atlas Theatrum orbis terrarum by Abraham Ortelius (Antwerp 1579) with 93 coloured maps, and one of the two only known copies of the plan of Warsaw dated 1762, drafted by Ricaut de Tirregaille.
Also in the Library holdings is a copy of
The History of the Royal Society of London for the Improving of Natural Knowledge by Thomas Sprat (London 1667). It is one of two copies of this work held in Poland. Its title page bears a hand-written dedication from Henri Oldenburg to Johannes Hevelius, making the book an illustration of the European community of scholars in the seventeenth century and reflecting Poland’s participation in this community.
HeweliuszAt present, efforts continue to ensure that the Library maintains its strong position. Its resources are being updated, supplemented and processed every day. Plans are in place to increase the storage space available to the Library. Comprehensive resource maintenance plans are also being made. In line with the needs of the academic community, the Library is also actively involved in transforming its catalogues into a digital form.