Boston Encyclopedia Archive Receives UNESCO Recognition

December 1, 2023

The archive of the Lithuanian Encyclopedia, also known as the Boston Encyclopedia, has been recognized as an object of documentary heritage of national significance and entered into the Lithuanian National Register of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Memory of the World Program (Registration No. 83). The archive of the Encyclopedia is housed in the Lithuanian American Cultural Archives in Putnam, Connecticut, USA.

The thirty-seven-volume encyclopedia, published in Boston in 1953-1987, is an exceptional phenomenon in the history of encyclopedias. It is the only known encyclopedia of its size and scope in the world, published in an ethnic language in the diaspora. In addition to the information typical of a general encyclopedia, it contains information about Lithuania and Lithuanians, mainly about the Lithuanian diaspora: its people, organizations, and their activities. 

The Lithuanian Encyclopedia is the only known encyclopedia of its size and scope in the world, published in an ethnic language in the diaspora.

The initiator and publisher, Juozas Kapočius, managed to gather a large number of editors and contributors (about 80 people). He published all the volumes of the encyclopedia at his Lithuanian Encyclopedia Publishing House in Boston. The entire set was published with funds raised from the sale of the print run. Many members of the Lithuanian diaspora supported the publication by writing articles, providing information, illustrations and other materials. Almost every family in the diaspora had a set of the encyclopedia in their home. 

In his introduction to the first volume, Prof. Vaclovas Biržiška, the chief editor of the first four volumes, compared the encyclopedia to a weapon that would help Lithuanians to defeat the Iron Curtain that separated Lithuania from the cultured world. 

The fifteenth volume, devoted exclusively to Lithuania, was particularly important and popular among the Lithuanian diaspora. It secretly reached Lithuania. As a response to the Boston Encyclopedia, a three-volume Concise Lithuanian Soviet Encyclopedia was published in Soviet Lithuania in 1966-1971. 

The Lithuanian Encyclopedia fulfilled its mission to the full. It has been used as a basis for the creation and publication of other Lithuanian encyclopedias, such as the Universal Lithuanian Encyclopedia. 

The archive of the Lithuanian Encyclopedia in Putnam consists of 327 folders (21 boxes). The archive contains manuscripts of articles, edited manuscripts, questionnaires, illustrations, letters from editors and co-authors on the preparation of the publication, approval copies of several volumes, etc.

Six new objects were added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Program. Photo credit by M. Aleksa.

Ramūnas Kondratas,