Afghanistan’s geography shaped its modern history. A landlocked country in Central Asia on the ancient trade routes connecting East Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East served as the crossroads of various cultures. Afghanistan had been exposed to thousands of years of invasions and migrations from every direction. Alexander the Great entered the area in 330 BCE. In the modern era, the country served as a buffer state between British India and Russia, losing some of its territories to both imperialist powers. Afghanistan was able to maintain its independence throughout its history. Afghanistan fought three wars with the British during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The Taliban took over the country in 1996, and eventually they were overthrown by the NATO forces, led by the United States in 2001.
The UNO Criss Library Archives & Special Collections holds the Arthur Paul Afghanistan Collection, one of the largest collections of Afghan primary and secondary materials outside of the country. It contains over 20,000 titles in more than 20 languages including Dari, Pashto, and English.
The Arthur Paul Afghanistan Collection is comprehensive in scope. The library seeks to acquire materials pertaining to all aspects of Afghan life and culture, from prehistory to the present. Although the majority of the collection consists of history and literature, it also includes materials on economics, education, folklore, law, agriculture, language, architecture, music, geography, and geology. Items date from 18th Century to the present and include books, periodicals, microforms, maps, documents, newspapers, dissertations, organizational documents, and personal papers. Most of the collection consists of materials in English, and the two official languages of Afghanistan, Pashto and Dari (Afghan Persian).
In addition, there are publications in many other languages, including German, French, and Russian. Among the important items in the collection are the various publications of the Afghan resistance groups or "mujahideen" based in Pakistan during the 1980’s, reports of the U.S. Department of State relating to Afghanistan and Kabul Radio Pashto News Monitoring Service. In 1982, the Library created the Afghan Oral History Project, which resulted in more than 46 hours of interviews describing the political situation and the personal experiences of many individuals since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.