UCA’s commitment to cultural preservation inspires donation of unique collection from Prof. Vasiliy Kisunko’s library
The University of Central Asia (UCA) received nearly 600 books from the collection of the late Vasiliy Kisunko, a Russian art historian and professor. The collection includes books on culture, history, politics and political economy published by Soviet historians between 1960 and 1980.
The collection’s geographic focus is “the East,” as defined during that time period to include the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia and China. “Perhaps what is most interesting about this collection is its historiographical significance,” said Gregory Kisunko, Vasily’s son, “These books explain history through the eyes of historians during the Soviet period. People don’t write like that anymore.”
The man behind this unique collection was a mathematician turned art historian, and a bibliophile, whose love of books resulted in a sprawling collection that eventually threatened to overtake what Gregory describes as a “regular-sized Moscow apartment.”
|Vasiliy Kisunko, a Russian art historian and professor
Vasiliy Kisunko was born on 7 October 1940 in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). Vasily’s father, a radio physicist, relocated the family to Moscow. When he began university, he followed his father’s footsteps pursuing the path of science and mathematics. “As my grandfather was a radio physicist, it was only natural for my father to pursue a career in either math or the sciences,” said Gregory. After receiving his first degree from the Department of Mathematics and Mechanics at Moscow State University, Vasiliy went on to complete graduate work at Moscow’s Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Science.
But Vasiliy’s true passion was the arts. After working in the sciences, Vasiliy completed a PhD in art history and embarked on what would become a multi-faceted, rich career as a researcher, teacher and art critic.. Gregory sees this fearless move as characteristic of a man who was not afraid to embrace his many interests. “He loved teaching his students, but early in his life he did a lot of work as an art critic. Of course, he always enjoyed the research. It would be difficult and unfair to say that there was one period in time, or even one art-related subject that he was most passionate about.
He studied and lectured about everything he was interested in, from the Renaissance and Italian art to the translation of poetry to cinema. ‘Renaissance Man’ would be the most appropriate definition for my father.” For the last two decades of his life, Vasiliy lectured as a Professor of Art History at the Moscow Conservatory, where he also served as the Chair of Art History, and at the Moscow Institute for Cinematography.
The one constant in Vasiliy’s life was his ever-growing book collection. “My father started collecting books as a teenager, and like his intellectual pursuits, his collection wasn’t limited to one specific subject,” Gregory remembers. Over the years, Vasiliy collected tens of thousands of contemporary works on a wide range of subjects, including history, literature and art. The collection also included over 10,000 audio records. When Vasiliy Kisunko passed away in 2010, he had amassed a collection of over 35,000 volumes.
“What is amazing and very important to know about my father, is that practically all his books were used by him for research – most of them have his bookmarks (he was very much against writing notes in the books); and that he kept the full “catalogue” of his library in his head”, said Gregory. Following his death, his wife, Irina Vasil'yevna, a professor of archaeography (the study, collection and archiving of historical written sources) at Moscow State University, began donating parts of the collection to various institutions in Russia and abroad.
As a result of her and Gregory’s efforts, UCA and six Russian institutions will house sections of Mr. Kisunko’s collection. Gregory credits UCA’s mission as the decisive factor in his mother’s decision to donate. “As an archaeographer, what appealed to my mother was the cultural preservation side of UCA’s mission, and that UCA cares about the preservation of books. At UCA’s library, the books will be safe and can be used by future readers and researchers - for my mother, this is incredibly important.”
|Nearly 600 books donated by Vasiliy Kisunko are available in UCA’s Library in Bishkek
The Kisunko family hopes that this collection serves a greater purpose as both a resource for researchers and a piece of history in and of itself. “In 20 years, the collection will undoubtedly be of significant historical value. My mother and I both hope that it serves as an important reminder for the region to not become ambivalent to the history of the greater world, nor to the significant contributions made to the historical record by writers from that time period.”
UCA’s mission is to promote the social and economic development of Central Asia, while at the same time helping the different peoples of the region to preserve and draw upon their rich cultural traditions and heritages as assets for the future. The custodians of traditional knowledge are aging and this knowledge is under threat from several forces including scarce resources, migration and external influences. UCA is committed to preserving this unique and diverse cultural heritage through research, documenting, archiving and supporting the work of regional scholars. UCA’s Cultural Heritage Book Series promotes understanding across cultures and generations by supporting Central Asian scholars conduct original and high-quality research and publish and disseminate their work to regional and international audiences. For more information: www.ucentralasia.org/Resources/Item/234