History & Overview of the Bakhmeteff Archive


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The Bakhmeteff Archive, the second largest depository of Russian émigré materials outside Russia, was officially founded in 1951.

Initial financing was obtained from the Rockefeller Foundation. The Archive was added to the budget of the Columbia University Library shortly afterwards. It received a substantial part of its operating costs from the Humanities Fund, established and supported by Boris Bakhmeteff, a Russian intellectual of wide-ranging interests and a professor at Columbia School of Engineering. In 1975, after Bakhmeteff's death and subsequent transfer of the remainder of the Humanities Fund assets to Columbia University, the Archive was named in his honor.

Mission & Collection Development Policy

The main goal of the Bakhmeteff Archive of Russian and East European History and Culture is to preserve and document the Russian and East European émigré heritage, as well as to serve the general curricular needs of the students and faculty of Columbia University.   The Archive also plays a significant role as a rich source of information for scholars from the United States and abroad studying subjects related to the Russian diaspora and Eastern European émigré communities. 

The Bakhmeteff Archive became part of the Columbia University Libraries in 1951.  By 1986, it had grown to become the second largest depository in the world (after the Hoover Institution) of Russian émigré holdings.  A printed catalog of the holdings, Russia in the Twentieth Century: The Catalog of the Bakhmeteff Archive of Russian and East European History and Culture, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University, was published in June 1987 by G. K. Hall. 

Ranging widely in subject matter from art history and literature to organizational history and politics, the approximately 1,500 collections of the Bakhmeteff Archive allow scholars from the former socialist block to discover aspects of pre-Soviet and émigré life that had not been known at all in their home countries.

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The Archive’s greatest collecting strength is in the manuscript and visual materials of prominent figures in politics, literature, art, and religion from the “first wave” of Russian emigration (1880-1940). 

The Bakhmeteff holdings also include many collections from the “second wave” (1945-1970) of  Russian emigration.  It includes papers of prominent figures in politics and culture, as well as memoirs and personal papers of “ordinary witnesses of the epoch”.

Materials from the “third and fourth waves” of Russian emigration (1970-until now) are also collected.  Besides original materials, the Archive collects relevant newspapers, journals, leaflets, and posters (legal and illegal), brochures of a political character, photographs, drawings (including caricatures and cartoons), and many other materials of historical significance.

The collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s and the rejection of the socialist model of economic development in Eastern Europe have changed the international scene.  Participants in the current rewriting of history are drawing heavily on the unknown legacy of their predecessors.  To satisfy this growing demand for information, more Eastern European collections were acquired for the Bakhmeteff Archive.

In recent years, a special effort has been made to acquire more materials related to subject areas, where the Archive is already strong:

  • Russian and East European émigré literature, philosophy, art, and science;
  • Émigré benevolent and professional organizations;
  • Americans in Russia;            
  • American views of Russia and Eastern Europe;
  • American-Russian diplomatic relations.

The Bakhmeteff Archive has specialized in these areas of Slavic scholarship for more than five decades and will continue to do so in the future.  All collected materials should be processed and made available to enhance the Bakhmeteff’s Archive mission to serve the scholarly disciplines of political science, literature, history, and art, related to twentieth century Russia and Eastern Europe.

To learn more about the collections go to the Bahkmeteff Archive Collections page.

The Bakhmeteff Archive operates as a part of Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Requests for permission to publish the materials from the Archive should be sent to the Bakhmeteff Administrative Committee, now chaired by Professor Richard Wortman.