4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

Destruction / Loss of Information Timeline


8,000 BCE – 1,000 BCE

One of the Earliest Surviving Works of Narrative Relief Sculpture, Looted in the Iraq War Circa 3,200 BCE – 3,000 BCE

A side-view of the Warka Vase, before the invasion of Iraq. (View Larger)

The Warka Vase, also called the Uruk Vase, a carved alabaster stone vessel, is one of the earliest surviving works of narrative relief sculpture. It was found in the temple complex of the Sumerian goddess Inanna in the ruins of the ancient city of Uruk, located in the modern Al Muthanna Governorate, in southern Iraq.

"The vase was discovered as a collection of fragments by German Assyriologists in their sixth excavation season at Uruk in 1933/1934. The find was recorded as find number W14873 in the expedition's field book under an entry dated 2 January 1934, which read "Großes Gefäß aus Alabaster, ca. 96 cm hoch mit Flachrelief" ("large container of alabaster, circa 96 cm high with flat-reliefs"). The vase, which showed signs of being repaired in antiquity, stood 3 feet, ¼ inches (1 m) tall. Other sources cite it as having been a slightly taller 106cm, with an upper diameter of 36cm. . . .

"The vase has three registers - or tiers - of carving. The bottom register depicts the vegetation in the Tigris and Euphrates delta, such as the natural reeds and cultivated grain. Above this vegetation is a procession of animals, such as oxen and sheep presented in a strict profile view. The procession continues in the second register with nude males carrying bowls and jars of sacrificial elements, such as fruit and grain. The top register is a full scene, rather than a continuous pattern. In this register, the procession ends at the temple area. Inanna, one of the chief goddesses of Mesopotamia and later known as Ishtar in the Akkadian pantheon, stands, signified by two bundles of reeds behind her. She is being offered a bowl of fruit and grain by a nude figure. A figure in ceremonial clothing - presumably a chieftain/priest - stands nearby with the procession approaching him from behind.

A comparison of the Warka Vase before (left) and after (right) it sustained damage as a result of the invasion of Iraq. (View Larger)

"The Warka Vase was one of the thousands of artifacts which were looted from the National Museum of Iraq during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. In April 2003 it was forcibly wrenched from the case where it was mounted, snapping at the base (the foot of the vase remaining attached to the base of the smashed display case. The vase was later returned during an amnesty to the Iraq Museum on June 12, 2003 by three unidentified men in their early twenties, driving a red Toyota vehicle. As reported by a correspondent for The Times newspaper, “ As they struggled to lift a large object wrapped in a blanket out of the boot, the American guards on the gate raised their weapons. For a moment, a priceless 5,000-year-old vase thought to have been lost in looting after the fall of Baghdad seemed about to meet its end. But one of the men peeled back the blanket to reveal carved alabaster pieces that were clearly something extraordinary. Three feet high and weighing 600lb intact, this was the Sacred Vase of Warka, regarded by experts as one of the most precious of all the treasures taken during looting that shocked the world in the chaos following the fall of Baghdad. Broken in antiquity and stuck together, it was once again in pieces.

"Soon after the vase's return, broken into 14 pieces, it was announced that the vase would be restored. A pair of comparison photographs, released by the Oriental Institute, Chicago, showed significant damage (as of the day of return, 12 June 2003) to the top and bottom of the vessel.

"The current condition of the Warka Vase (museum number IM19606) is not known. In June 2007, The Guardian newspaper reported that widespread looting of antiquities is ongoing in Iraq and that the director of the Iraq Museum, Donny George, fled in August 2006 after receiving death threats. The museum's entrances have been bricked up, the building surrounded by concrete walls, and the museum's staff do not have access" (Wikipedia article on Warka Vase, accessed 07-11-2009).

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The Abu Salbikh Tablet Lost in the Iraq War Circa 2,500 BCE

The Instructions of Shuruppak, one of the earliest surviving literary works, is a Sumerian "wisdom" text. This was a genre of literature common in the Ancient Near East intended to teach proper piety, inculcate virtue and preserve community standing.

The text was set in great antiquity by its incipit: "In those days, in those far remote times, in those nights, in those faraway nights, in those years, in those far remote years." The precepts were placed in the mouth of a king "Shuruppak, son of Ubara-Tutu." Ubara-Tutu was the last king of Sumer before the universal deluge.

The oldest known copy of the Instructions of Shuruppak is the Abu Salabikh Tablet found at Abu Salabikh, near near the site of ancient Nippur in Central Babylonia (now southern Iraq). Abu Salabikh marks the site of a small Sumerian city of the mid third millennium BCE. It was excavated by an American expedition from the Oriental Institute of Chicago in 1963 and 1965, and was a British concern for the British School of Archaeology in Iraq (1975–89), after which excavations were suspended with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

"The city, built on a rectilinear plan in Early Uruk times, revealed a small but important repertory of cuneiform texts on some 500 tablets, of which the originals were stored in the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, and were largely lost when the museum was looted in the early stages of the Second Iraq War; fortunately they had been carefully published."

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1,000 BCE – 300 BCE

The Oldest Known Work on Military Strategy Circa 550 BCE

The Yinqueshan bamboo strips, the earliest manuscript of Sun Tzu's 'Art of War,' on exhibition in a Chinese museum. (View Larger)

About 550 BCE it is believed that the Chinese general and military strategist Sun Wu ( 孙武, 孫武, Sūn Wǔ), style name Changqing (長卿), better known as Sun Tzu (孙子, 孫子, Sūn Zǐ]) wrote The Art of War (孫子兵法; Sūn Zǐ Bīng Fǎ). Later called one of the Seven Military Classics of ancient China, The Art of War is the oldest and most influential work on military strategy.

"Sun Tzu suggested the importance of positioning in strategy and that position is affected both by objective conditions in the physical environment and the subjective opinions of competitive actors in that environment. He thought that strategy was not planning in the sense of working through an established list, but rather that it requires quick and appropriate responses to changing conditions. Planning works in a controlled environment, but in a changing environment, competing plans collide, creating unexpected situations" (Wikipedia article on The Art of War, accessed 01-30-2010).

Sun Tzu's work was first published in a European language in the French translation of French Jesuit in China Jean Joseph Marie Amiot as Art militaire des Chinois, ou recueil d'ancients traités sur la guerre ... on y a joint dix préceptes addressés aux troupes parl'Empereur Young-Techeng (Paris, 1772). That edition was illustrated with 33 plates. The text was first translated into English by British officer Everard Ferguson Calthrop in 1905, and by Andrew Giles in 1910. Since then there have been many different English translations. In French translation the work probably influenced Napoleon. Since then it has continued to influence military and political leaders of many nationalities, and its precepts have also been applied to business and managerial strategies.

Because of the destruction of information that took place in 213 BCE at the instigation of the Qin Emperor, the earliest known manuscript of Sun Tzu's text consists of 13 fragments of chapters among the 4942 bamboo strips known as the Yinqueshan Han Slips, which were discovered in April 1972 in Yinqueshan Tombs no. 1 and 2 at the foot of Yinqueshan (Sliver Sparrow Mountain) southeast of the city of Linyi in the province of Shandong, China. Each bamboo strip is about 28 centimeters long, 0.7 centimeter wide and 0.2 centimeter thick. The characters on the bamboo slips were written in lishu, a clerical script from the Han Dynasty.

"The time of burial for both tombs had been dated to about 140 BC/134 BC and 118 BC, the texts having been written on the bamboo slips before then. After restoration and arrangement, the slips were organised into a sequential order of nine groups and 154 sections. The first group included 13 fragment chapters from Sunzi's The Art of War, and 5 undetermined chapters; the second group were the 16 chapters of Sun Bin's Art of War, which had been missing for at least 1,400 years; the third included the 7 original and lost chapters from the Six Strategies (before this significant find only the titles of the lost chapters were known); the fourth and fifth included 5 chapters from the Wei Liaozi and 16 chapters from the Yanzi; the rest of the groups included anonymous writings" (Wikipedia article on Yinqueshan Han Slips, accessed 01-30-2010).

(This entry was last revised on 06-13-2015.)

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Disappearance of the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments 535 BCE

Having taken 4 months to walk from Babylon to Jerusalem, the Jews began construction of the Second Temple. Missing from the Second Temple was the Ark of the Covenant which, according to legend, contained the Ten Commandments. The loss eventually resulted in extensive speculations concerning the Ark's disappearance and archaeological efforts to locate the Ark. Some of these efforts were caricatured in: 

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The Gauls Sack Rome and Destroy Most Records 390 BCE – 387 BCE

A statue of Brennus by an unknown French artist. (View Larger)

Around 390 to 387 BCE the Gauls, under their chieftain Brennus or Brennos, defeated Roman armies in the Battle of the Allia and sacked Rome. With the exception of the Capitoline Hill, the Gauls plundered the city and destroyed nearly all records.

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300 BCE – 30 CE

The Royal Library of Alexandria: The Largest Collection of Recorded Information in the Ancient World Circa 300 BCE

The Royal Library of Alexandria, associated with the Museum or Mouseion at Alexandria (Μουσεῖον τῆς Ἀλεξανδρείας), was probably founded around 300 BCE under the reign of Ptolemy I Soter or Ptolemy II. Though it was the largest library in the ancient world, and the repository of so much Greek literature that was eventually passed down to us, and also so much that was eventually lost, the number of papyrus rolls preserved at Alexandria at its peak, or any other time, is unknown. At its peak, the number of rolls that it might have held has been estimated by numerous scholars, without any reliable evidence, from as many as 400,000 to 700,000 to as few as 40,000, or even less. A typical papyrus roll probably contained a text about the length of one book of Homer.

Writing in 2002, American classical scholar Roger Bagnall argued that very high numbers of rolls traditionally estimated by scholars to have been held by the Royal Library of Alexandria, such as 400,000 to 700,000 rolls, may reflect modern expectations rather than the extent of written literature that may have been produced by ancient Greek writers: 

"The computer databank of ancient Greek literature, the Thesurus Linguae Graecae, contains about 450 authors of whom at least a few words survive in quotation and whose lives are thought to have begun by the late fourth century. No doubt there were authors extant in the early Hellenistic period of whom not a line survives today, but we cannot estimate their numbers. Of most of these 450, we have literally a few sentences. There are another 175 known whose lives are placed, or whose births are placed in the third century B. C. Most of these authors probably wrote what by modern standards was a modest amount—a few book-rolls full, perhaps. Even the most voluminous authors of the group, like the Athenian dramatists, probably filled nor more than a hundred rolls or so. If the average writer filled 50 rolls, our known authors to the end of the third century would have produced 31,250 rolls. . . .

"To look at matters another way, just, 2,871,000 words of Greek are preserved for all authors known to have lived at least in part in the fourth century or earlier. Adding the third and second centuries brings the total to 3,773,000 words (or about 12,600 pages of 300 words each). At an average of 15,000 words per roll, this corpus would require a mere 251 rolls. Even at an average of 10,000 words per roll the figure would be only 377 rolls. It was estimated by one eminent ancient historian that the original bulk of historical writings in ancient Greece amounted to something like forty times what has survived. If so, our estimate would run to an original body of 10,000 to 15,000 rolls. This may be too low, but is it likely that it is too low by a factor of thirty or forty, and that only one word in 1,500 or 2,000 has survived? . . . (Roger S. Bagnall, "Alexandria: Library of Dreams," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 146 (2002) 348-62, quoting from 352-53).

Traditionally the Alexandrian Library is thought to have been based upon the library of Aristotle. By tradition it is also believed, without concrete evidence, that the much of the collection of rolls was acquired by order of Ptolemy III, who supposedly required all visitors to Alexandria to surrender rolls in their possession. These writings were then copied by official scribes, the originals were put into the Library, and the copies were delivered to the previous owners.

The Alexandrian Library was associated with a school and a museum. Scholars at Alexandria were responsible for the editing and standardization for many earlier Greek texts. One of the best-known of these editors was Aristophanes of Byzantium, a director of the library, whose work on the text of the Iliad may be preserved in the Venetus A manuscript, but who was also known for editing authors such as Pindar and Hesiod.

Though it is known that portions of the Alexandrian Library survived for several centuries, the various accounts of the library's eventual destruction are contradictory. The Wikipedia article on the Library of Alexandria outlined four possible scenarios for its destruction:

  1. Julius Caesar's fire in The Alexandrian War, in 48 BCE
  2. The attack of Aurelian in the Third century CE
  3. The decree of Theophilus in 391 CE. (Destruction of pagan literature by early Christians.)
  4. The Muslim conquest in 642 CE, or thereafter.

♦ Other factors in the eventual destruction of the contents of the Alexandrian Library might have included the decay of the papyrus rolls as a result of the climate. Most of the papyrus rolls and fragments that survived after the Alexandrian Library did so in the dry sands of the Egyptian desert. Papyrus rolls do not keep well either in dampness or in salty sea air, to which they were likely exposed in the library located in the port of Alexandria. Thus, independently of the selected library destruction scenario, because of decay of the storage medium, or as a result of fires, rodent damage, natural catastrophes, or neglect, it is probable that significant portions of the information in the Alexandrian library were lost before the library was physically destroyed.

Whatever the circumstances and timing of the physical destruction of the Library, it is evident that by the eighth century the Alexandrian Library was no longer a significant institution. 

(This entry was last revised on March 22, 2014.)

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Destroying Most Records of the Past Along with 460, or More, Scholars 213 BCE – 206 BCE

Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang.

Following the advice of his chief adviser Li Si, Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China, ordered most previously existing books to be burned in order to avoid scholars' comparison of his reign with the past. Records which were allowed to escape destruction were:

"books on astrology, agriculture, medicine, divination, and the history of the Qin state. Owning the Book of Songs or the Classic of History was to be punished especially severely. According to the later Records of the Grand Historian, the following year Qin Shi Huang had some 460 scholars buried alive for owning the forbidden books. The emperor's oldest son Fusu criticised him for this act. The emperor's own library still had copies of the forbidden books, but most of these were destroyed later when Xiang Yu burned the palaces of Xianyang in 206 BCE (Wikipedia article on Qin Shi Huang, accessed 01-30-2010).

The Wikipedia article, Burning of books and burying of scholars, presents a different account, quoting the Records of the Grand Historian in footnotes, both in Chinese and English translation:

"According to the Records of the Grand Historian, after Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, unified China in 221 BCE, his chancellor Li Si suggested suppressing the freedom of speech, unifying all thoughts and political opinions. This was justified by accusations that the intelligentsia sang false praise and raised dissent through libel.

"Beginning in 213 BCE, all classic works of the Hundred Schools of Thought — except those from Li Ssu's own school of philosophy known as legalism — were subject to book burning.

"Qin Shi Huang burned the other histories out of fear that they undermined his legitimacy, and wrote his own history books. Afterwards, Li Ssu took his place in this area.

"Li Ssu proposed that all histories in the imperial archives except those written by the Qin historians be burned; that the Classic of Poetry, the Classic of History, and works by scholars of different schools be handed in to the local authorities for burning; that anyone discussing these two particular books be executed; that those using ancient examples to satirize contemporary politics be put to death, along with their families; that authorities who failed to report cases that came to their attention were equally guilty; and that those who had not burned the listed books within 30 days of the decree were to be banished to the north as convicts working on building the Great Wall. The only books to be spared in the destruction were books on medicine, agriculture and prophecy.   

"After being deceived by two alchemists while seeking prolonged life, Qin Shi Huang ordered more than 460 alchemists in the capital to be buried alive in the second year of the proscription, though an account given by Wei Hong in the 2nd century added another 700 to the figure. As some of them were also Confucius scholars Fusu counselled that, with the country newly unified, and enemies still not pacified, such a harsh measure imposed on those who respect Confucius would cause instability. However, he was unable to change his father's mind, and instead was sent to guard the frontier in a de facto exile.

"The quick fall of the Qin Dynasty was attributed to this proscription. Confucianism was revived in the Han Dynasty that followed, and became the official ideology of the Chinese imperial state. Many of the other schools had disappeared" (Wikipedia article on Burning of books and burying of scholars, accessed 01-30-2010).

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The Earliest Bibliographical Classification System Circa 53 BCE – 23 CE

The Seven Epitomes is thought to have been compiled by the Chinese astronomer, historian and editor Liu Xin (Liu Hsin) during the Xin Dynasty, circa 53 BCE to 23 CE. A by-product of a collation project commissioned by the Emperor Ch'eng Ti of the Han Dynasty, it was the catalogue of all collated books housed in the libraries of the Inner Court at the time, initiated under the supervision of Liu Xiang (Liu Hsiang). These had been recovered after the burning of the books under the rule of the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang in 213-206 BCE.

Although the original classification system no longer survives, Chinese bibliographers believe that the majority of its entries, in a much abridged form, and its original classification structure, have been preserved in the “Bibliographic Treatise” of the History of the [Former] Han Dynasty (Han shu “yi wen zhi”, compiled about a hundred years later. Scholars estimate that there were more than six hundred annotated entries in the Seven Epitomes arranged according to a carefully designed classification system. The title of the catalogue seems to suggest that the system consisted of seven epitomes (classes). However, the “Treatise” included only six classes (without “Ji lüe” or the Collective Epitome). Since the Seven Epitomes is no longer extant, scholars have not been able to reach a consensus regarding the nature and content of Ji lüe. One speculation that has been widely accepted is that Ji lüe was the collection of brief summaries now seen at the end of each of the six main classes and their divisions. Nevertheless, no one disputes that the classification in the Seven Epitomes was a six-fold scheme.

"There are six classes and divisions in the Seven Epitomes:

"1. Liu yi lüe (Epitome of the Six Arts) consisted of nine divisions, including one for each of the Six Classics (Odes, Documents, Rites, Music, Changes, and Spring and Autumn Annals), Analects of Confucius, Book of Filial Piety, and philology.

"2. Zhu zi lüe (Epitome of the Masters) consisted of ten divisions, including nine major affi liations of thought commonly known during the Warring States and an added affi liation of Novelists. "

3. Shi fu lüe (Epitome of Lyrics and Rhapsodies) consisted of fi ve divisions, including three styles of poetry and two other genres. "

4. Bing shu lüe (Epitome of Military Texts) consisted of four divisions (tactics, terrain, yin/yang, and military skills).

"5. Shu shu lüe (Epitome of Numbers and Divination) consisted of six divisions, including astronomy, chronology, fi ve phases correlative elements, divination, miscellaneous fortune-telling, and geomancy).

"6. Fang ji lüe (Epitome of Formulae and Techniques) consisted of four divisions, including medical classics, pharmacology, sexology, and longevity"  (Hurl-Li Lee, "Origins of the Main Classes in the First Chinese Bibliographic Classification" https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/hurli/www/Chinese/Lee_ISKO2008.pdf, accessed 01-11-2011).

Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien, "A History of Bibliographic Classification in China," The Library Quarterly XXII (1952)  307-324.

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30 CE – 500 CE

Destruction of the Second Temple 66 CE – 73 CE

The first Jewish-Roman War (66-73 CE) (The Great Revolt, המרד הגדול‎, ha-Mered Ha-GadolPrimum Iudæorum Romani Bellum), ended with destruction of the Second Temple, which stood on Temple Mount, and the fall of Jerusalem. Legions under Titus beseiged and destroyed Jerusalem, looted and burned Herod's Temple and Jewish strongholds (notably Masada in 73), and enslaved or massacred a large part of the Jewish population. This contributed to the numbers and geography of the Jewish Diaspora, as many Jews were scattered after losing their state, or sold into slavery through the empire.

"Estimates of the death toll range from 600,000 to 1,300,000 Jews: there was 'no room for crosses and no crosses for the bodies'. Over 100,000 died during the siege, and almost 100,000 were taken to Rome as slaves. Many fled to areas around the Mediterranean. The Romans hunted down and slaughtered entire clans, such as descendants of the House of David. On one occasion, Titus condemned 2,500 Jews to fight with wild beasts in the amphitheater of Caesarea in celebration of his brother Domitian's birthday" (Wikipedia article on the First Jewish-Roman War, accessed 11-24-2008).

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The Transition from the Roll to the Codex Resulted in Both Survival and Destruction of Information Circa 200 CE – 400 CE

"The break between Antiquity and the Middle Ages is mitigated by two significant factors that account for the literature which survived. First, the Christian foundations of medieval European civilization were already being built in late Antiquity out of the literary materials of Roman education, while the public book trade still flourished. Western Christianity, we sometimes forget, was first of all a Roman religion, the official faith of the empire in Antiquity. When the primarily monastic Latin Roman Church set forth to convert the pagan North under the direction of Pope Gregory I and his successors, it was able to carry along with its faith the civilization, including the books, of late Antiquity.

"Along with the change in faith, a second change in late Antiquity contributed materially to the survival of ancient literature into the Middle Ages: the transposition of the bulk of ancient literature from the traditional papyrus roll to the recently adopted parchment codex occurred during the relatively stable circumstances of the Late Empire, between roughly AD 200 and 400, so that, in effect, ancient civilization had entrusted Roman literature to a much more durable vessel than the papyrus roll in which to make the transition to the Middle Ages. Ironically, it has proved to be the moments of major change in physical form—which one might expect to have increased the texts' chances of survival—that have seen the greatest volume of physical loss: the changes from roll to codex, from tribal scripts to Caroline minuscule, and from script to print; for once a body of literature is consigned to a new physical form, what remains in the old form, now redundant, is discarded" (R. Rouse," The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns  [ed] The Legacy of Rome. A New Appraisal [1992] 42-43).

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The Forma Urbis Romae, Monumental Stone Map of Ancient Rome 203 CE – 211 CE

A reconstruction of a portion of the Forma Urbis Romae, showing a section of the Theater of Pompey. (View Larger)

The Forma Urbis Romae, or Severan Marble Plan, a huge map of ancient Rome, was created under emperor Septimius Severus between 203 and 211 CE, and originally measured 18.10 meters (60ft) high by 13 meters (43ft) wide, carved in 150 marble slabs mounted on an interior wall of the Templum Pacis. Only about 10-15% of the map survives, broken into 1,186 pieces. Of these, 712 fragments have been catalogued, many composed of several pieces, but in 1996 less than 50 of the fragments had been positively identified and located. What is left of the map is preserved in the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Capitoline Museums.

"Created at a scale of approximately 1 to 240, the map was detailed enough to show the floor plans of nearly every temple, bath, and insula in the central Roman city. The boundaries of the plan were decided based on the available space on the marble, instead of by geographical or political borders as modern maps usually are.

"The Plan was gradually destroyed during the Middle Ages, with the marble stones being used as building materials or for making lime. In 1562, the young antiquarian sculptor Giovanni Antonio Dosio excavated fragments of the Forma Urbis from a site near the Church of SS. Cosma e Damiano, under the direction of the humanist condottiere Torquato Conti, who had purchased excavation rights from the canons of the church. Conti made a gift of the recovered fragments to Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, who entrusted them to his librarian Onofrio Panvinio and his antiquarian Fulvio Orsini. Little interest seems to have been elicited by the marble shards" (Wikipedia article on Forma Urbis Romae, accessed 12-23-2009).

♦ In 1999 Marc Levoy and members of his team at Stanford University began the Digital Forma Urbis Romae Project as a way of solving the jigsaw puzzle of the 1,186 marble fragments and 87 fragments known only from Renaissance drawings:

"First, we digitized the shape and surface of every known fragment of the Severan Marble Plan using laser range scanners and digital color cameras; the raw data collected consists of 8 billion polygons and 6 thousand color images, occupying 40 gigabytes. These range and color data have been assembled into a set of 3D computer models and high-resolution photographs - one for each of the 1,186 marble fragments. Second, this data has served in the development of fragment matching algorithms; to date, these have resulted in over a dozen highly probable, new matches. Third, we have gathered the Project's 3D models and color photographs into a relational database and supported them with archaeological documentation and an up-to-date scholarly apparatus for each fragment. This database is intended to be a public, web-based, research and study tool for scholars, students and interested members of the general public alike. Fourth, these digital and archaeological data, and their availability in a hypertext format, have the potential to broaden the scope and type of research done on this ancient map by facilitating a range of typological, representational and urbanistic analyses of the map, some of which are proposed here. In these several ways, we hope that this Project will contribute to new ways of imaging Rome" (http://graphics.stanford.edu/papers/forma-williams/, accessed 12-23-2009).

Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed., An Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology I (1996)  451.

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The Diocletianic Persecution of Christians February 24, 303 CE – 311 CE


On February 24, 303 CE Roman Emperor Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus, commonly known as Diocletian, ordered the publication of his first "Edict against the Christians." This edict ordered the destruction of Christian scriptures and places of worship across the Empire, and prohibited Christians from assembling for worship.

This was the beginning of The Diocletianic Persecution which extended from 303 to 311— the Roman empire's "last, largest, and bloodiest official persecution of Christianity.".

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The Decline of Literacy in the Byzantine Empire 330 CE – 1453

"The Byzantine empire is often thought of as an age of decline. Such a view does not do justice to its distinctive qualities as the home of a new style of art and as a civilising influence in eastern Europe. But there is a sense in which it was obviously inferior to the empire that had once controlled the whole Mediterranean area. In economic terms it was not able to provide for the inhabitants of its towns and villages the standard of living and amenities that had been enjoyed by the vast majority of the citizens of the Roman empire. We may infer that one of the direct consequences of the decline in standards was a reduction the number of people able to acquire an education. Although there is some evidence, principally from lives of saints, that elementary education was widely available, the impression must remain that literacy was less widespread and the average level of culture less high than had been the case in the ancient world. It is hard to imagine, for instance, a Byzantine province producing evidence of readers with such diverse and learned interests as those provded by the finds of papyri from the country districts of Greco-Roman Egypt. From the reduced economic circumstances of the Byzantine empire it would be tempting to infer that the prospects for the survival of ancient Greek literature were poor, and that there would be little chance of it being the object of scholarly study. Certainly a great deal was lost, and it is impossible to deny that the Byzantines failed to save many texts that had come down to them. Publishing and the book trade in general were so much less well organised than they had been in antiquity that the use of these terms in a Byzantine context is scarcely legitimate. Photius in the ninth century, to name only the most obvious example, read many texts that ceased to be copied soon after. But although some blame must attach to the Byzantines, care should be taken not to allocate them too large a share of the responsibility. At least some of the texts read by Photius will have been lost in 1204 when Constantinople was destroyed by the Fourth Crusade, and there were almost certainly many other books that Photius had not been able to read because even the resources of the richer society of antiquity had failed to guarantee production in sufficient numbers of copies for them to survive the hazards of war and accidental destruction.

"In view of their limited resources the Byzantines made a creditable effort to preseve a high standard of literary culture. As will become clear, they achieved what may be their greatest success at a time of economic and political decline in the late thirteen and early fourteenth centuries. By at all times they maintained, even if only in a small section of their society, an intense interest in liteature. One might suggest that though their cultural activies were confined to the few by economic circumstances, the intensity of activity was greater than at almost any time in antiquity itself. The Byzantines struggled against great odds to uphold their ideals, and these can be seen in various distinctive features of their society. The government required of its chief functionaries a good grounding in classical literature, and they attempted to display their culture in the documents drafted for public circulation by the excellence of their prose style and sometimes even by literary allusions. The government's expectations of candidates for employment in the top ranks of the civil service are made clear by an order of the emperor Constantius and his junior colleague Julian in 360 (Theodosian Code 14.1.1): 'No person shall obtain a post of the first rank unless it shall be proved that he excels in long practice of liberal studies, and that he is so polished in literary matters that words flow from his pen faultlessly.' Although this order may soon have been forgotten and does not appear to have been renewed by later emperors, in practice successive governments behaved as if it were still in force. . . ." (Wilson, Scholars of Byzantium [1983] 1-2).

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The Imperial Library of Constantinople, About Which Very Little is Known Circa 357 CE – 1453

About 357 CE the Byzantine emperor Constantius II, son of Constantine I, aware of the deterioration of early texts written on papyrus rolls, began the formation of the Imperial Library of Constantinople by having the Judeo-Christian scriptures copied from papyrus onto the more permanent medium of parchment or vellum. The person in charge of the library under Constantius II is thought to have been Themestios, who directed a team of scribes and librarians that copied the texts on papyrus rolls onto parchment or papyrus codices. It is probable that this library preserved selected texts that survived the burning of the Library of Alexandria, though the historical accounts of the destruction of the Alexandrian Library are contradictory.

Some authorities have conjectured that the Imperial Library of Constantinople might have eventually grown to about 100,000 manuscript volumes, presumably bookrolls and codices; however, so little is actually known about the Imperial Library that it is impossible to estimate how many volumes it might have housed at any time. It is also possible that the conjectured number as high as 100,000 volumes is more reflective of the quantity of information preserved in modern times than the much more limited production and survival of information in the ancient world in general and Byzantium in particular.

"The first indication of an imperial library in Constantinople comes from Themistius, who in an oration delivered in 357 congratulates the emperor on having undertaken to reconstitute and collect in Constantinople the literary heritage of ancient hellenism by having the works of ancient authors, including minor ones, transcribed by a cadre of professional scribes working at imperial expense (Or.4.59-61). Such a scriptorium and such a task presuppose a library, and the library, if not established by Constantius, owed its character and early development to him. Subsequently, according to Zosimus (Hist. nov. 3.11.3) the emperor Julian (361-63) lent his patronage to the library and enlarged its holdings with his own. The Theodosian code (14.9.2) informs us that in 372 the emperor Valens ordered the employment of seven copyists (antiquarii)--four for Greek and three for Latin texts--and some assistants to maintain and repair the books of the imperial library. Thus we know that the library housed both Greek and Latin texts, but not necessarily in separate libraries, as was the practice in Rome" (Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church. A History of Early Christian Texts [1995] 168).

"The twelfth-century epitomist Joannes Zonaras relays an old and possibly accurate estimate that in 475 when the [Imperial] library [of Constantinople] was damaged by fire it contained 120,000 volumes, which suggests that the library grew steadily during the first century after its founding" (Gamble, op.cit. 169).

Remarkably little is known concerning any Byzantine libraries, but it has been assumed that the Imperial Library in Constantinople preserved many of the Greek texts that have come down to us, and it has been suggested by some scholars that in the eighth century Charlemagne was able to obtain copies of classical texts from the Imperial Library, though it is much more likely that books at Aachen were copied from those in monastery libraries under Charlemagne's rule. We may never know for certain what connections the library in Aachen might have made with the Imperial Library in Constantinople as only a handful of actual codices that can definitely be traced to the Imperial Library have survived, and those are in Europe rather than in Turkey. In May 2014 the best paper I could find on Byzantine libraries was Nigel G. Wilson, "The Libraries of the Byzantine World," Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 8 (1967) 53-80. From this I quote passages:

"To discuss so large a subject as the libraries of the Byzantine world within the limits of a single paper may seem unduly ambitious. The chronological and geographical range of the topic is enormous. But despite the great advance of Byzantine studies in this century the amount of primary source material on this subject remains modest, one might well say disappointing, since the references are normally brief and difficult to interpret with any confidence. A short but reasonably comprehensive survey is not out of the question, especially if the scope of the essay is restricted in two ways. Unfortunately a chronological limitation is imposed by the nature of the sources: comparatively little is known of the earlier periods of the empire, and in consequence nearly all my material relates to the ninth century or later. The second restriction is that my concern will be the libraries of institutions, mostly monasteries, rather than those of private individuals; there were of course collectors who had the means to build up substantial private libraries, but the cost of collecting on this scale ensured that it was a hobby reserved for a few rich men, and with the one notable exception of Arethas the details of their activities cannot be traced." (Wilson, op. cit., p. 53)

Among the many historical problems regarding the Imperial Library of Constantinople, we have no way of estimating how many volumes it might have contained:

"There is no means of telling how many books the emperor's library contained. Even if the mediaeval sources gave any figures they would have to be treated with reserve, as numerals are singularly subject to corruption in manuscript tradition, and in addition it is a well-known fact that the majority of people find it impossible to give accurate estimates of large numbers. Obviously it was a large library by the standards of the day, since it had to satisfy the demands of the imperial family and probably the civil service officials employed in the palace." (Wilson, op. cit., p. 55)

Another aspect was that the Imperial Library is known to have been significantly destroyed in the Fourth Crusade of 1204 when Norman crusaders, attempting to form a Latin Empire, sacked Constantinople, almost completely destroying the city. They burned the Imperial Library, probably nearly destroying its collections. The 1204 sack of Constantinople has been described as one of the most profitable and disgraceful sacks of a city in history. It is believed that crusaders may have sold some rare Byzantine manuscripts to Italian buyers. 

As a result of the sack of Constantinople the Byzantine capital was moved to Nicaea, and about the year 1222 Emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes or Ducas Vatatzes reestablished the Byzantine Imperial Library in that city. From Nicaea the Byzantines began a campaign to recapture Constantinople from the Normans, and in 1261 the Byzantine Emperor of NicaeaMichael VIII Palaiologos, succeded in reconquering Constantinople, and reestablished the Imperial Library in a wing of the Great Palace of Constantinople. Inevitably, in the forced move of those books which were not destroyed or looted in 1204 to Nicaea, and in the efforts toward reconstruction before and after the move back to Constantinople, contents of the library which had not been destroyed through fire or attrition, may have suffered further losses. Another factor contributing to our very limited knowledge of the contents of the Imperial Library was its final destruction or dismemberment in the seige of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 that brought the Roman Empire to an end. 

Of books known to have been once in the Imperial Library of Constantinople, only a handful have survived:

"It appears that Andronicus III gave a copy of one of Galen's works to Robert I of Anjou, which was used as a basis for a Latin translation by Niccolò of Reggio (floruit ca. 1308-45); the evidence for this is that a manuscript of Niccolò's version (Paris, Nouv.acq.lat. 1365) has a colophon dated 1336 which mentions the gift. As certain works ascribed to Galen survive only in the Latin versions by Niccolò, it is tempting to speculate that these too reached the West through a gift of the emperor. Finally we can point to a small gift made to a collector of the Renaissance, Giovanni Aurispa, who ways that the emperor gave him copies of Xenophon's De re equestri and Procopius' Wars; this took place about 1420.

"It is also a reasonable inference that a few luxuriously produced volumes with portraits of individual emperors were intended for their use and became part of the imperial library. Examples are Parisinus gr. 510, a ninth century copy of Gregory of Nazianzus, and two books prepared for Basil II, the so-called Monologion (MS Vat. gr. 1613) and the Psalter (MS Ven.gr. 17). But these are standard texts and tell us nothing significant about the library. It is good that such masterpieces of illumination and calligraphy have survived, but if they had not, it would not have been rash to assume that the emperors had fine copies of such works. . . .

"The only other book surviving from the library seems to be Parisinus gr. 1115, a collection of theology written in 1276, which has the note, "deposited in the royal library" (εναπετεθη εν τη βασιλικη βιβλιοθηκη). . . ." (Wilson, op. cit., pp. 56-57). 

(This entry was last revised on 03-15-2015.)

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Early Christians May Have Destroyed What Remained of the Alexandrian Library Because of its Pagan Contents 391 CE

One theory suggests that in 391 CE what remained of the Alexandrian Library was held in the Serapeum of Alexandria, a temple built by Ptolemy III and dedicated to Serapis, the syncretic Hellenistic-Egyptian god who was made the protector of Alexandria.

According to the the monk historian and theologian Tyrannius Rufinus and the historian of the Christian church Salminius Hermias Sozomenus (Σωζομενός Sozomen), Theophilus of Alexandria, Patriarch of Alexandria, discovered a hidden pagan temple. He and his followers mockingly displayed the pagan artifacts to the public which offended the pagans enough to provoke an attack on the Christians. The Christian faction counter-attacked, forcing the pagans to retreat to the Serapeum, which at that time may have housed what remained of the Alexandrian Library.  In response to this conflict the emperor sent Theophilus a letter ordering that the offending pagans be pardoned, but giving permission to destroy the temple and its pagan contents. According to church historian Socrates Scholasticus or Socrates of Constantinople, the emperor granted permission to destroy the temple in response to heavy solicitation by Theophilus.

“ 'Seizing this opportunity, Theophilus exerted himself to the utmost ... he caused the Mithraeum to be cleaned out... Then he destroyed the Serapeum... and he had the phalli of Priapus carried through the midst of the forum. ... the heathen temples... were therefore razed to the ground, and the images of their gods molten into pots and other convenient utensils for the use of the Alexandrian church'  —Socrates Scholasticus, The Ecclesiastical History" (Wikipedia article on Theophilus of Alexandria, accessed 11-28-2010).

♦ A papyrus fragment from an illustrated Greek chronicle written in Alexandria circa 450 CE has survived, depicting Theophilus standing triumphantly on top of the Serapeum, providing a near contemporary portrait of Theophilus in the context of these events. _________________________________________________________

In 2009 Spanish film director Alejandro Amenábar released the historical fiction film Agora based on elements of these historical events, and the life of the female neoplatonic philosopher and mathematician Hypatia (portrayed by Rachel Weisz), who was the daughter of the last known mathematician associated with Alexandria, Theon of Alexandria (portrayed by Michael Lonsdale). In my opinion this is among the few historical films to include discussion of serious, if watered-down scientific and philosophical ideas along with all the action sequences. The drama seems relatively objective, presenting the tragedy of the deaths of Hypatia and Theon, and the loss of the Alexandrian Library against unbiased and unflattering portrayals of the conflicts between pagans and Christians, and the conflicts between Christians and Jews.

From the standpoint of book history, the film seems reasonably accurate, with the exception of two details: in one scene a Christian is shown preaching from a papyrus roll. More than likely this would have been a codex; in another scene a Christian preacher is appropriately shown with an open codex written in what resembles the correct Greek majuscule. The other probably inaccurate detail is the way that the rolls are shelved in the Serapeum. Instead of pigeon hole shelves which would probably have been historically accurate, the rolls are displayed in shelves with diagonal cross-pieces rather like those used in some wine cellars. The film was a critical success but commercial flop in the U.S.; it was financially successful in Europe, and released on DVD in 2010

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Fragments of a Fifth or Sixth Century Codex Circa 450 CE – 550

Fragment 26v of the Cotton Genesis, depicting Abraham. (View Larger)

The Cotton Genesis, a luxury manuscript with many illuminations, is one of the oldest surviving illustrated biblical codices. However, most of the manuscript was destroyed in the Cotton library fire in 1731, leaving only eighteen charred, shrunken scraps of vellum, preserved in the British Library. It is thought that the manuscript originally extended to more than 440 pages with approximately 340 miniature paintings that were framed and inserted into the text column.

"The miniatures were executed in late antique style comparable to Catacomb frescoes. Herbert Kessler and Kurt Weitzmann argue that the manuscript was produced in Alexandria, as it exhibits stylistic similarities to other Alexandrian works such as the Charioteer Papyrus.

"The Cotton Genesis appears to have been used in the 1220s to design 110 mosaic scenes in the atrium of St Mark's Basilica in Venice, after it was brought to Venice following the sack of Constantinople in 1204. The manuscript arrived in England, and was acquired by Sir Robert Cotton [Robert Bruce Cotton] in the 17th century." (Wikipedia article on Cotton Genesis, accessed 11-26-2008).

Regarding what some of the missing or fragmentary images might have looked like see Marion Wenzel, "Deciphering the Cotton Genesis Miniatures: Preliminary Observations Concerning the Use of Colour"(1987). In February 2014 this paper was available from the British Library website at this link.

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The Church Assumes Role of Educator and Civil Service for the Tribal Kingdoms Circa 450 CE – 650

"The end of classical civilization in the West—roughly between AD 450 and 650, with regard to transmission of texts—is not so much the story of a violent physical destruction of the Roman empire as was once thought, but rather a matter of the barbarization of Roman civilization over 200 years or so, as the army, the government officials, the business classes, and the very population assumed the styles and customs first of the Ostrogoths and then of the Lombards. In the course of time, the forum, the bath and the temple fell into disuse and decay, their traditional roles in civic life forgotten as the public city-state was replaced by the private tribal kingdom. As Roman civilization faded, the Roman education of public school and private tutor slowly diminished; the body of literature that was the common property of the educated in Antiquity ceased to have an audience, and as the market for books disappeared the public stationers vanished. In Gaul, centurions like Martin (c.316-97) became saints, senators like Sidonius (c. 423-80) became bishops, and some patricians disenchanted with society, like Benedict (c. 480-550), removed themselves and formed communities with their fellows that lived according to a rule. Order and stability, once the obligation of the state, became the Church's responsibility. Literacy, necessary both to the teaching of a religion dependent on Scripture and to the function of the Church as administrative heir to the Roman state, became the near monopoly of the Church, which acted in effect as the civil service of the tribal kingdoms for the next 500 years" (R. Rouse, "The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns (ed) The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal (1992) 43).

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The First Residential University 450 CE – 1193

Historical sources not cited by the website of the proposed new Nālandā University in Rajgir, near Nalanda, Bihar, India, indicate that the university was founded in the fifth century and endured almost continuously from the fifth to the twelfth century. It may have had as many as 2,000 teachers and 10,000 students. The Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim and scholar Xuanzang spent nearly 15 years there, studying and teaching. He left detailed accounts of the university in the 7th century. Another Tang Dynasty Buddhist monk Yijing left information about other kingdoms lying on the route between China and Nālandā university. He was responsible for the translation of a large number of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into Chinese.

According to the Wikipedia article on the university, notable scholars who studied at Nalanda included Emperor Ashoka, HarshavardhanaVasubandhuDharmapalaSuvishnuAsangaSilabhadraDharmakirtiShantarakshitaNagarjunaAryadevaPadmasambhava (the reputed founder of Buddhism in Tibet), Xuanzang and Hwui Li.

"The Nalanda ruins reveal through their architectural components the holistic nature of knowledge that was sought and imparted at this University.... The profound knowledge of the Nalanda teachers attracted scholars from places as distant as China, Korea, Japan, Tibet, Mongolia, Turkey, Sri Lanka and South East Asia. These scholars have left records about the ambience, architecture and learning of this unique university. The most detailed accounts have come from Chinese scholars and the best known of these is Xuan Zang who carried back many hundred scriptures which were later translated into Chinese" (http://nalandauniv.edu.in/abt-history.html, accessed 01-12-2014).

"According to records of history, Nalanda University was destroyed three times by invaders, but only rebuilt twice. The first time was by the Huns under Mihirakula during the reign of Skandagupta (455–467 AD). But Skanda's successors promptly undertook the restoration, improving it with even grander buildings, and endowed it with enough resources to let the university sustain itself in the longer term.

"The second destruction came with an assault by the Gaudas in the early 7th century. This time, the Hindu king Harshavardhana (606–648 AD) restored the Buddhist university.

"In 1193, the Nalanda University was sacked by Bakhtiyar Khilji, a Muslim Turk; this event is seen by scholars as a late milestone in the decline of Buddhism in India. The Persian historian Minhaj-i-Siraj, in his chronicle the Tabaquat-I-Nasiri, reported that thousands of monks were burned alive and thousands beheaded as Khilji tried his best to uproot Buddhism" (Wikipedia article Nalanda University, accessed 01-12-2014).

Classes at the new Nalanda University were scheduled to begin in 2014.

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The Second Sack of Rome 455 CE

Karl Briullov's interpretation of Geiseric's sack of 455. (View Larger)

In 1455 Vandal king Geiseric sailed his powerful fleet from Carthage up the Tiber to sack Rome.

"The sack of 455 is generally seen by historians as being more thorough than the Visigothic sack of 410, because the Vandals plundered Rome for fourteen days whereas the Visigoths spent only three days in the city" (Wikipedia article on the Sack of Rome [455], accessed 11-22-2008).

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500 CE – 600

The Deterioration of Libraries, Publishing and Educational Institutions in Italy by the Sixth Century 534

"In classical times the publication of a book had followed a rather exclusive pattern. A new work could be offered by the author to some friend or sponsor, or it could be publicaly read, or in some cases deposited in a public library. Thereafter, whoever wished to become the owner of a copy had to hire a scribe, give orders to a literate slave, or copy it himself from a borrowed example. This system led to each sample having a highly individual nature, to the point that when Pliny lamented the negligence of copyists who had departed from the exactitude of the prototype of the illustratrated treatise by Crateuas he suggested that the new copies should be amended by going back to a specialised medical garden for a new start. The prescription was against the formation of a tranmission from model to copies; in fact each copy would have been an independent original work.

"Prior to the existence of efficient copyists, public libraries had fulfilled the need to go back to the prototype, providing editors with a number of examples by which to control their new edition.

"In 534, Securus Melior Felix, a school master who practiced his trade on the Forum Traiani, amended Martianus Capella's Nuptiae Mercurrii et Philologiae with the help of his disciple Deuterius but unfortunately checking his work, as he states, against very defective examples. The proximity of his working place to the famous Bibliotheca Ulpia had been of little help in this case. Already at the time when the Historia Augusta was composed, many books from that library had been transferred to the baths of Diocletian. The contents of the Ulpian library had become legendary. One of the authors of the Historia, writing under the pseudonym of Flavius Volpiscus Syracusanus, mentions an ivory book, of which he even gives the class-number in the library's shelves.

"In the fourth century, the catalogue of the regions [Libellus de regionibus urbis Romae] gives the number of twenty-eight libraries in Rome. Many were still extant in the sixth century before the Gothic wars, although in what condition we do not know. Almost all the public libraries of Rome were attached to a temple and they must have suffered from the measures taken by Theodosius against pagan worship after the defeat of Eugenius. A library is a collection of fragile material, particularly if the majority of its books are made of papyrus and therefore require constant care. We may presume that the closing of the temples was one of the causes of the loss of many texts by classic authors.

"It has been suggested that the collections of books in the villas of Campania were transferred to the newly founded monasteries. There is no evidence for this supposition, nor it seems was there any intention to keep an eye on things reputedly pagan and at least distracting. Maintaining a library is expensive and there were not the conditions for imposing an extra expenditure on a monastery. It is certain that the long campaign of Justinian against the Goths inflicted a terrible blow to all the cultural structures of the ancient capital and of many municipal towns. We have a very authoritative witness for this disaster in Cassiodorus.

"In his introduction to the Institutiones, Cassiodorus tells us how in the same year 534 when Securus Melior Felix was editing Martianus Capella, he had tried with the help of Pope Agapitus to build a library and a school for Christian studies in Rome, on the model of that of Nisibis [Nusaybin]. This would be a new institution which would rival the public teaching of secular lterature. However, due to the wars and troubles which 'had devastated the kingdom of Italy', the project fell through" (Bertelli, "The Production and Distribution of Books in Late Antiquity," IN: Hodges & Bowden (eds) The Sixth Century: Production, Distribution and Demand [1998] 52-54).

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The Dark Ages for Study of the Classics on the European Continent Circa 550 – 750

"Although few ages are so dark that they are not penetrated by a few shafts of light, the period from roughly 550 to 750 was one of almost unrelieved gloom for the Latin classics on the continent; they virtually ceased being copied. Among the mass of patristical, biblical, and liturgical manuscripts that survive from this period there are precious few texts of classical authors; from the the sixth century we have scraps of two Juvenal manuscripts, remnants of one of the Elder and one of the Younger Pliny, but at least two of these belong to the early part of the century; from the seventh century we have a fragment of Lucan; from the early eighth century nothing.

"The fate that often overtook the handsome books of antiquity is dismally illustrated by the surviving palimpsests—manuscripts in which the original texts have been washed off to make way for works which at the time were in greater demand. Many texts that had escaped destruction in the crumbling empire of the West perished within the walls of the monastery; some of them may have been too tattered when they arrived to be of practical use, and there was no respect for rags, however venerable. The peak period for this operation was the seventh and early eighth centuries, and although palimpsests survive from many centres, the bulk of them have come from the Irish foundations of Luxeuil and Bobbio. Texts perished, not because pagan authors were under attack, but because no one was interested in reading them, and parchment was too precious to carry an obsolete text; Christian works, heretical or superfluous, also went to the wall, while the ancient grammarians, of particular interest to the Irish, often have the upper hand. But the toll of classical authors was very heavy; amongst those palimpsested we find Plautus and Terence, Cicero and Livy, the Elder and Young Pliny, Sallust and Seneca, Vergil and Ovid, Lucan, Juvenal and Persius, Gellius and Fronto. Fronto survives in three palimpsests, fated always to be the underdog. Among the texts that have survived solely in this mutilated form are some of outstanding interest such as the De republica of Cicero (Vat. lat 5757. . . ) written in uncials of the fourth or fifth century and covered at Bobbio in the seventh with Augustine on the Psalms, a fifth-century copy of De amicitia and De vita patris of Seneca (Vat. Pal. lat. 24) which succumbed in the late sixth or early seventh century to the Old Testament, and a fifth-century codex of Sallust's Historia (Orléans 192 + Vat. Reg. lat. 12838 + Berlin lat. 4º 364) which, in France and probably at Fleury, was supplanted at the turn of the seventh century by Jerome. Other important palimpsests are the Ambrosian Plautus (Ambros. S.P. 9/13-20), olim G. 82 sup.) and the Verona Livy (Verona XL (38)), both of the fifth century" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed [1991] 85-86).

(This entry was last revised on 03-22-2014.)

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Perhaps the First Library in Japan Circa 550 – 645

"The first extant notice of a collection of books in Japan, naturally Chinese books, dates from the sixth century. According to an early Heian genealogical compilation, Shinsen shojiroku, there was a Chinese Buddhist monk called Zhicong living in the 'capital' in the reign of the emperor Kimmei (r. 539-71) who had brought with him from China 164 rolls of Buddhist and secular works, including pharmacological studies and medical books which showed the places on the body to be used for acupuncture or moxibustion. The date is not impossibly early, particularly since the owner was an immigrant, and the precision is striking, but the source is a late one and it is wise to be cautious. Ono Noriiaki dates book-collecting from the seventh century, citing the account in Nihon shoki of Sogo no Iruka's insurrection in 645 which ended with the burning of his books. Ono also notes that the Horyu Gakumonji, a temple emponymously devoted to learning, must also have had a library at this time, although nonting is known of it" (Peter Kornicki, The Book in Japan: A Cultural History from the Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century [2001] 364-5).

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The Monastery and Library at Luxeuil is Founded and Subsequently Sacked, Several Times 585 – 590

Saint Columbanus.

Between 585 and 590 the monk St. Columbanus from Bangor in Ireland founded an abbey on the ruins of a Gallo-Roman settlement at Luxeuil. His name was Columban in Irish, meaning "white dove;" he should not be confused with St. Columba, who founded the monastary on the island of Iona.

Columban (Columbanus) brought manuscripts from Ireland to found the abbey library at Luxeuil. Because of the treasures it held, this Celtish monastery was sacked by Vandals in 731, and after it was rebuilt it was devastated by Normans in the ninth century, and was sacked several times thereafter.

"The output of this house over the sixth to eighth centuries furnishes not only the msost advanced writing of the period but manuscripts of the highest liturgical importance. The finest of these are constructed and articulated with originality and care. They effectively illustrate the momentous change that was to end the long period during which Latin Uncial was the dominant script for such books" (Morison, Politics and Script. . . . Barker ed. [1972] 112).

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700 – 800

The First State Libraries in Japan 702

"It is in the eighth century that we have the first firm evidence [in Japan] of collections of books maintained by the state, by religious institutions and by private individuals. The lawcodes promulgated in 702 established the first state library, the Zushoryo, which was supervised by a government ministry [in Nara] and was largely modelled on the Bi shu sheng of Tang China. It was responsible for collecting and conserving both Buddhist and Confucian books and, unlike the Bi shu sheng, was required to complile official histories. For these purposes it had a staff of 4 papermakers, 10 brushmakers, 4 inkmakers and 20 copyists, for collecting was partly dependent on the copying of texts held elsewhere. It consumed huge quantities of paper, drawn by the tenth century from 42 of the 66 provinces, and appears to have become increasingly absorbed in sutra-copying. The statutes contained in the Engishiki include a number of regulations relating to the  Zushoryo, such as a requirement that the books be aired regularly, which shows that it also functioned as a repository of books. Precisely what books is unclear, although a ruling in 728 refers to both secular and Buddhist works as well as screens and paintings, and by 757 the Zushoryo had its own catalogue. The same source stipulates that permission was needed if somebody wished to borrow more than one item at a time, but doubtless the right to borrow was restricted. In 833 some of the buildings were burnt down and in 1027 its treasures were destroyed by fire. It may have been revived as there is a record of another fire in 1042, but it then disappears from the record until the Meiji government established a new Zushoryo in 1884" (Peter Kornicki, The Book in Japan: A Cultural History from the Beginnings to the Nineteenth Century [2001] 365).

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The Stockholm Codex Aureus, Looted Twice by Vikings Circa 750

Folio 11 of the Codex Aureus, inscribed in Old English. (View Larger)

The Stockholm Codex Aureus (also known as the "Codex Aureus of Canterbury") was produced in the mid-eighth century in Southumbria, probably in Canterbury, England.

"The codex is richly decorated, with vellum leaves that alternately are dyed and undyed, the purple-dyed leaves written with gold, silver, and white pigment, the undyed ones with black ink and red pigment. The style is a blend of that of Insular art . . . and Continental art of the period.

"In the ninth century it was stolen by the Vikings and Aldormen Aelfred had to pay a ransom to get it back.  Above and below the Latin text of the Gospel of St. Matthew is an added inscription in Old English recording how, a hundred years later, the manuscript was ransomed from a Viking army who had stolen it on one of their raids in Kent by Alfred, ealdorman of Surrey, and his wife Wærburh and given to Christ Church, Canterbury" (Wikipedia article on Stockholm Codex Aureus, accessed 06-25-2009).

The Old English inscription on folio 11 reads in translation:

 + In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I, Earl Alfred, and my wife Werburg procured this book from the heathen invading army with our own money; the purchase was made with pure gold. And we did that for the love of God and for the benefit of our souls, and because neither of us wanted these holy works to remain any longer in heathen hands. And now we wish to present them to Christ Church to God's praise and glory and honour, and as thanksgiving for his sufferings, and for the use of the religious community which glorifies God daily in Christ Church; in order that they should be read aloud every month for Alfred and for Werburg and for Alhthryth, for the eternal salvation of their souls, as long as God decrees that Christianity should survive in that place. And also I, Earl Alfred, and Werburg beg and entreat in the name of Almighty God and of all his saints that no man should be so presumptuous as to give away or remove these holy works from Christ Church as long as Christianity survives there.



Alhthryth their daughter

The manuscript remained at Canterbury until the 16th century when it travelled to Spain. In 1690 it was bought for the Swedish Royal Collection, It is preserved in the National Library of Sweden, Kungliga biblioteket, Stockholm (MS A. 135).

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Vikings Sack the Monastery and Library of Lindisfarne in the First Viking Raid on Britain June 8, 793

The ruins of Lindisfarne Abbey. (View Larger)

In the first Viking raid on Britain, on June 8, 793Vikings, sacked the monastery of Lindisfarne, a center of learning famous across the continent, built on a tidal island off the northeast coast of England, including its library among their spoils.

"Monks were killed in the [Lindisfarne] abbey, thrown into the sea to drown or carried away as slaves along with the church treasures. Three Viking ships had beached in Portland Bay four years earlier, but that incursion may have been a trading expedition that went wrong rather than a piratical raid. Lindisfarne was different. The Viking devastation of Northumbria's Holy Island shocked and alerted the royal Courts of Europe. 'Never before has such an atrocity been seen,' declared the Northumbrian scholar Alcuin of York. More than any other single event, the attack on Lindisfarne cast a shadow on the perception of the Vikings for the next twelve centuries. Not until the 1890s did scholars outside Scandinavia begin seriously to reassess the achievements of the Vikings, recognizing their artistry, the technological skills and the seamanship" (quoted from the Wikipedia article on the Viking Age, accessed 11-22-2008).

"Monasteries were a favoured target due to the riches which were contained in them. Jarrow was invaded in 794 and Iona in 795, 802 and 806. After repeated raids by the Norsemen, the monks of Lindisfarne fled the monastery in AD 875, taking the venerated relics of Saint Cuthbert with them for safekeeping" (http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/vikings_5.htm, accessed 11-22-2008).

(This entry was last revised on 12-23-2016.)

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800 – 900

Adoption of the Carolingian Minuscule Brought the Destruction of Many Late Roman Manuscripts 800 – 830

Example of Carolingian minuscule script.

"As a vehicle in which to disseminate its written work the Carolingian court discarded the ligatured, flowing chancery scripts that it had inherited from late Antiquity via the Merovingians in favour of a revived late-patristic half-uncial script, modified to produce the form we call Carolingian minuscule. The speed with which the script was adopted across the empire, between 800 and 830, can only be explained by the smallness of the ruling class of abbots and bishops who were responsible for its propagation. The literature of the past—the bulk of it still, at this date, in manuscripts produced by the Roman book trade—was recopied wholesale in the new script. By the end of the ninth century the Carolingians had produced a remarkable number of manuscripts, over 6,700 of which survive. Unfortunately, every manuscript copied in the legible new script rendered its exemplar superfluous. The movement that insured the survival of ancient literature also entailed the physical destruction of many late Roman manuscripts. Altogether, only some 1,865 Latin manuscripts survive, wholly or in part from all the centuries before AD 800" (Rouse, "The Transmission of the Texts," Jenkyns [ed] The Legacy of Rome: A New Appraisal [1992] 47).

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The First Byzantine Encylopedia Circa 850

An icon depicting St. Photius. (View Larger)

About 850 CE Byzantine Patriarch Photios I (Photius) of Constantinople wrote the Bibliotheca or Myriobiblon, dedicated to his brother Tarasius and composed of 280 reviews of books which he had read. Photios did not supply the title, and what he wrote was not meant to be used as a reference work, but it was widely used as such in the 9th century, and is generally seen as the first Byzantine work that could be called an encyclopedia. The works Photius noted are mainly Christian and pagan authors from the 5th century BCE to his own time. Almost half the books mentioned no longer survive.

According to Reynolds and Wilson,

"one of his [Photius's] duties was to take part in a diplomatic mission—the date is uncertain, but it may have been 855—with the task of negotiating an exchange of prisoners of war with the Arab government. Before going on a long and dangerous journey Photius wrote, as an offering and consolation to his brother Tarasius, a summary of books that he had read over a long period of time, omitting some standard texts that Tarasius might been have been expected to know. The resulting work, known as the Bibliotheca (this title is not due to its author), is a fascinating production, in which Photius shows himself the inventor of the book-review. In 280 sections which vary in length from a single sentence to many pages Photius summarizes and comments on a wide selection of pagan and Christian texts (the proportions are nearly equal, and 122 deal with secular texts). He claims to have compiled it from memory, but it is generally regarded as a revised version of the notes he had made in the course of his reading in the last twenty years. it is not arranged according to any plan. Photius claims that the order of the authors reviewed is that in which they occurred to him, and he had not the time to be more systematic. The text exhibits lacunae and duplicates. Its oddly unfinished state makes one wonder if the embassy did not actually take place, so that Photius never bothered to finish his work once the original reason for composing it had disappeared. Its value to the modern scholar is that it summarizes many books that are now lost: that applies for example to some twenty of the thirty-three historians he discusses. . . " (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed [1991] 62-63).

"To Photios we are indebted for almost all we possess of Ctesias, Memnon, Conon, the lost books of Diodorus Siculus, and the lost writings of Arrian. Theology and ecclesiastical history are also very fully represented, but poetry and ancient philosophy are almost entirely ignored. It seems that he did not think it necessary to deal with those authors with whom every well-educated man would naturally be familiar. The literary criticisms, generally distinguished by keen and independent judgment, and the excerpts vary considerably in length. The numerous biographical notes are probably taken from the work of Hesychius of Miletus" (Wikipedia article on Photios I of Constantinople).

Librarian, editor and scholar David Hoeschel (Höschel, Hoeschelius) edited Photios's text, and issued the first printed edition (editio princeps) of Photios's Bibliotheca in 1601 from the press he founded at Augsburg with the German humanist, historian, publisher Markus Welser, "Ad insigne pinus."

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The Codex Spirensis, of which Only a Single Leaf of the Original Survives Circa 860 – 920

The Codex Spirensis, an illuminated manuscript written in the middle Rhine area of Germany in the late ninth or early tenth century, and discovered at the Cathedral Library at Speyer in the fifteenth century, no longer survives except for a single leaf (Thompson 11). Because of the copies made of this codex in the fifteenth century, the codex preserved thirteen different texts, of which perhaps the most significant were the Notitia Dignitatum, Dicuil's De mensura orbis terrae, and the Anonymous, De rebus bellicis

The four primary copies of the Codex Spirensis are:

(C). The copy made for the bibliophile Pietro Donato, bishop of Padua, in January 1436, while Donato was presiding over the Council of Basel. Now at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

(P) A copy in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Cod. Paris. lat. 9661).

(V) A copy written in 1484 and first found at Speyer where it was copied in 1529 for Cardinal Bernhard von Cles (Clesius), Archbishop of Trento, who visited the city that year. The manuscript can later be traced to Salzburg, and at the beginning of the nineteenth century to Vienna (Cod. Vindob.lat. 303). As a result of the peace settlement of Europe in 1919 it was transferred from Austria to Italy, and is now at Trento.

(M) A copy made in June 1550 for the Elector Palatine of the Rhine Otto Heinrich. This had been offered to the prince instead of the original. In 1552 the prince acquired the original Codex Spirensis, and it remained in his family collection until disappearing mysteriously. It is now preserved at the Munich Staatsbibliothek.

Thompson, A Roman Reformer and Inventor. Being a New Text of the Treatise De Rebus Bellicis with a translation and introduction (1952) 6-12.

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Vikings Destroy the Library of York Cathedral 867


In 867 Danish Vikings destroyed the library of the Cathedral of York. This library had been considerably augmented by the efforts of Alcuin, and had become even more famous after Alcuin's time. In following centuries this church and its area passed into the hands of numerous invaders. York Cathedral was destroyed by the Danes in 1075.

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900 – 1000

The Earliest Surviving Manuscript of the Complete Hebrew Bible Circa 930

The Book of Judges, chapters 1:15 to 2:1, from the Aleppo Codex. (View Larger)

The Aleppo Codex,  the earliest extant manuscript of the complete Hebrew Bible, was written by a scribe named Salomon about 930 CE.  It was proofread, vocalized and edited by Aaron ben Moses ben Asher who lived in Tiberias. Asher was the last of an important family of masoretes, or textual scholars of the Bible, who preserved and handed down the commonly accepted version of the Hebrew Bible from generation to generation. Since the twelfth century, when Maimonides considered it the most authoritative source of the text, the Aleppo Codex has been considered the most authoritative source for the Hebrew Bible.

For more than a thousand years, the manuscript was preserved in its entirety in important Jewish communities in the Near East: Tiberias, Jerusalem, Egypt, and in the city of Aleppo in Syria. However, in 1947, after the United Nations Resolution establishing the State of Israel, the manuscript was damaged in riots that broke out in Syria. At first people thought that it had been completely destroyed, and approximately one-third of the Aleppo Codex, including all of the Torah is missing.  However, it turned out that most of the manuscript had been saved and kept in a secret hiding place. In 1958, the Aleppo Codex was smuggled out of Syria to Jerusalem and delivered to the President of the State of Israel, Yitzhaq Ben Zvi. It is preserved in Jerusalem in the Shrine of the Book.

Friedman, The Aleppo Codex. A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible (2012).

See also: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/magazine/the-aleppo-codex-mystery.html?hp

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The Earliest Universal Bibliography 988 – 990

From 988 to 990 Muhammad ib Ishaq (Abu al Faraj) called Ibn Abi al-Nadiim (Abi Ya'qub Ishaq al-Warraq al-Baghdadi), a bookseller, stationer and "court companion" of Baghdad, published Al- Fihrist, an annotated index of the books of all nations extant in the Arabic language and script.

The English translator of al-Nadim's work, Bayard Dodge, suggests that Al-Nadim, working in his father's bookshop, "wished to assemble a catalogue to show customers and to help in the procuring and copying of manuscripts to be sold to scholars and book collectors" (Dodge p. xxiii).  This was the earliest universal bibliography.

"It is reasonable to believe that when al-Nadim died the original copy of his manuscript was placed in the royal library at Baghdad, while other copies made by scribes about the time of his death were assigned to his family bookstore, where some of them were probably sold to customers who came to purchase interesting books. Farmer says: ' Yagut (d. 626/1299) averred that he used a copy of the Fihrist in the handwriting of al-Nadim himself. The lexicographer al-Saghani (650/1252) made a similar claim. Either of these autograph copies may have been in the Caliph's library, which was destroyed utterly in the sacking of Baghdad in 656/1258)' "(Dodge p. xxii).

This work did not appear in print until an edition of the Arabic text was issued by orientalist Gustav Flügel in Leipzig, 1871-72.

The text was first edited from the earliest manuscripts and translated into English by Bayard Dodge as The Fihrist of al-Nadim. A Tenth-Century Survey of Muslim Culture, 2 vols., New York, 1970. For the translation of part one Dodge used MS 3315 in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin:

"We know nothing about the history of the manuscript until it was placed in the library of the great mosque at 'Akka, when the notorious Ahmad Pasha-al-Jazzar was ruler there at the time of Napoleon Bonaparte. After the fall of Ahmad Pasha, the manuscript was evidently stolen from the mosque. It was probably at this time that it became divided, as the Beatty Manuscript includes on the first half of Al-Fihrist. In the course of time the dealer Yahudah sold his first half to Sir Chester Beatty, who placed it in his library at Dublin" (Dodge p. xxviii).

For the translation of part two Dodge used MS 1934 which "forms part of the Shahid 'Ali Pasha collection which is now cared for in the library adjacent to the Sulaymaniyah (Süleymaniye) Mosque at Istanbul. In the library catalogue it is described as 'Suleymaniye G. Kutuphanesi kismi Shetit Ali Pasha 1934" (Dodge p. xxx).

Dodge indicated that he believed that each separate portion represents half of the same manuscript made shortly after the death of al-Nadim.

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1000 – 1100

The Earliest Surviving Book Written in the Americas Circa 1050 – 1150

Page 74 of the Dresden Codex, depicting a great flood, flowing from the mouth of a celestial dragon. This represents the Central American notion of apocolypse. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving book written in the Americas is the Dresden Codex, a Mayan codex written about 1150 by the Yucatecan Maya in Chichén ItzaYucatan, Mexico. It is the most complete of the four surviving codices written in the Americas before the Spanish conquest.

The codex was made from Amatl paper ("kopó", fig-bark that has been flattened and covered with a lime paste), doubled in folds in an accordion-like form of folding-screen texts. The bark paper was coated with fine stucco or gesso and is eight inches high by eleven feet long.

The Dresden Codex was written by eight different scribes. Each had a particular writing style, glyphs and subject matter. On its 74 pages it incorporates  "images painted with extraordinary clarity using very fine brushes. The basic colors used from vegetable dyes for the codex were red, black and the so-called Mayan blue."

"The Dresden Codex contains astronomical tables of outstanding accuracy. Contained in the codex are almanacs, astronomical and astrological tables, and religious references.The specific god references have to do with a 260 day ritual count divided up in several ways.The Dresden Codex contains predictions for agriculture favorable timing. It has information on rainy seasons, floods, illness and medicine. It also seems to show conjunctions of constellations, planets and the Moon. It is most famous for its Venus table." (quotations from the Wikipedia article Dresden Codex, accessed 11-30-2008).

The history of the survival of the manuscript is only partly known. It is believed that in 1519 it was sent by the conquistador Hernán Cortés as a tribute to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who was also King Charles I of Spain. Charles had appointed Cortés governor and captain general of the newly conquered Mexican territory. In 1739 Johann Christian Götze, Director of the Royal Library at Dresden, purchased the codex from a private owner in Vienna. Götze gave it to the Royal Library in Dresden in 1744.

During the bombing of Dresden in World War II, and the resulting fire storms, the Dresden Codex was heavily water damaged. Twelve pages of the codex were harmed and other parts of the codex were destroyed. However, the codex was meticulously restored after this damage. It is preserved in the Buchmuseum of the Sächsische Landesbibliothek, Dresden. In February 2014 a high-resolution digital facsimile of the codex was available from that library at this link.

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Destruction of the 200,000 Volume Palace Library at Cairo 1068

The sacking of Cairo in 1068 resulted in the destruction of its 200,000 volume Palace Library.

Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World, 4th ed. [1999] 80.

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Origins of the First Crusade March – November 1095

Henri Gourgouillon's vision of Pope Urban II, located at le Place de la Victoire in Clermont-Ferrand, France. (View Larger)

In March 1095 Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos (Alexius I Comnenus, Ἀλέξιος Α' Κομνηνός) sent his ambassador to the Pope, asking for help defending his empire against the Muslim Seljuk Turks. Responding to the emperor's request, in November of that year Pope Urban II delivered a sermon at the Council of Clermont that was characterized as "the most effective single speech in European history." He motivated the attending nobility and the people to wrestle the Holy Land from the hands of the Seljuk Turks. One the tools he used to motivate was his declaration that he remitted all penance incurred by who had confessed their sins in the Sacrament of Penance, considering participation in the crusade equivalent to a complete penance. This is the earliest record of a plenary indulgence.

Urban II's speech led to the First Crusade. Crusader armies marched on Jerusalem, sacking several cities on their way. In 1099 they took Jerusalem and massacred the population. As a result of the First Crusade, several small Crusader states were created, notably the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

(This entry was last revised on 03-19-2014.)

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1100 – 1200

Written and Illuminated by the Nun Herrad of Landsberg 1167 – 1185

Plate 8 of the Englehardt facsimile of the Hortus delicarum. In the centermost circle, Philosophy rests upon a queenly throne, holding a banner that says 'All wisdom comes from God, only the wise can do what they want.' Directly below sit Socrates and Plato, at abutting desks. In the surrounding orbs stand the Seven Liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. (View Larger)

The Hortus deliciarum (Garden of Delights), a medieval manuscript compiled by and illuminated by the nun, Herrad of Landsberg, at the Hohenburg Abbey in Alsace from 1167 to 1185, was an illuminated encyclopedia, written as a pedagogical tool for young novices at the convent.

"Most of the manuscript was not original, but was a compendium of 12th century knowledge. The manuscript contained poems, illustrations, and music, and drew from texts by classical and Arab writers. Interspersed with writings from other sources were poems by Herrad, addressed to the nuns, almost all of which were set to music. The most famous portion of the manuscript is the illustrations, of which there were 336, which symbolised various themes, including theosophical, philosophical, and literary themes."

Having been preserved for centuries at the Hohenburg Abbey, the Hortus Deliciarum passed into the municipal Library of Strasbourg about the time of the French Revolution. There the minatures were copied in 1818 by Christian Moritz (or Maurice) Engelhardt; the text was copied and published by Straub and Keller, 1879-1899. Thus, although the original perished in the burning of the Library of Strasbourg during the Siege of Strasbourg in the Franco-Prussian War, we can still appreciate the artistic and literary value of Herrad's work.

"Hortus deliciarum is one of the first sources of polyphony originating from a nunnery. The manuscript contained at least 20 song texts, all of which were originally notated with music. Those which can be recognized now are from the conductus repertory, and are mainly note against note in texture. The notation was in semi-quadratic neumes with pairs of four-line staves.Two songs survive with music intact: Primus parens hominum, a monophonic song, and a two part work, Sol oritur occasus" (Wikipedia article on Hortus deliciarum, accessed 12-25-2008).

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Norman Crusaders Take Manuscripts as Spoils of War 1175

In 1175 Norman Crusaders overan the Greek peninsula and took manuscripts as spoils of war. "When Michael Acominatus became Archibshop of Athens in 1275 he noted that the city had no libraries at all, and that his two chests of books constituted the largest collection of literature in the city" (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 75).

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Massacre of the Jewish Community of York, England Reflected in the Survival of a Single Hebrew Manuscript March 16, 1190

Clifford's Tower. (View Larger)

"The site of Clifford's Tower, the keep of York's medieval castle, still bears witness to the most horrifying event in the history of English Jewry. On the night of 16 March 1190, the feast of Shabbat ha-Gadol, the small Jewish community of York was gathered together for protection inside the tower. Rather than perish at the hands of the violent mob that awaited them outside, many of the Jews took their own lives; others died in the flames they had lit, and those who finally surrendered were massacred and murdered. "Understandably, this appalling event has become the most notorious example of antisemitism in medieval England. Yet, it was by no means an isolated incident, but rather the culmination of a tide of violent feeling which swept the country in the early part of 1190" (Clifford's Tower and the Jews of Medieval York [English Heritage, 1995], quoted by http://ddickerson.igc.org/cliffords-tower.html, accessed 02-11-2009).

The Valmadonna English Pentateuch, the supreme treasure of the Valmadonna Trust Library, was written during the first half of 1489. It is the only extant Hebrew book that can be dated to before the expulsion of the Jews by Edward I (Longshanks) in 1290.  "The survival of this manuscript is remarkably fortuitous, as it was completed by its scribe on the eve of a tumultuous period in the history of English Jewry. At the coronation of Richard I in September 1189, a riot began which resulted in an attack on the Jewish community of London and the murder of many of its members. Similar assaults were launched on Jews throughout England during the following year, culminating in a massacre at York in spring 1190. A contemporary chronicler, Ephraim of Bonn, reported that 'The mob which killed the Jews of York then looted the houses of the slain, took away gold and silver and the beautiful books they wrote, more precious than gold . . . and brought them to Cologne and to other places, where they sold them to the Jews.' Ironically, then, the Valmadonna English Pentateuch may have been saved for posterity largely as a result of its having been plundered" (Sotheby's brochure on the Valadonna Trust Library, accessed 02-13-2009).

See also an article in The New York Times online published on February 11, 2009 concerning the offering en bloc of the Valmadonna Trust Library of about 13,000 volumes collected over his lifetime by Jack V. Lunzer: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/12/books/12hebr.html.

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1200 – 1300

Private Libraries in the Muslim World, Destroyed or Plundered by Crusaders Circa 1200

"So numerous were the private libraries [in the Muslim world] that one writer has estimated that, as of 1200, there were more books in private hands in the Moslem world than in all libraries, public and private, of western Europe." (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 81.)

"Not the least important in the destruction of Islamic libraries were the depredations of the Christian crusaders from the 11th to the 13th centuries. In Syria, Palestine, and parts of North Africa, the Christians destroyed libraries as enthusiastically as had the barbarians in Italy a few hundred years earlier. When Spain was reconquered from the Arabs, the great Islamic libraries at Seville, Cordoba, and Granada were destroyed or carried away by their retreating owners." (Harris 84).

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The Greatest Destruction of Muslim Libraries 1218 – 1220

A bust of Genghis Khan. (View Larger)

"The greatest destruction [of Muslim libraries] resulted from the raids of the Mongols in the 13th century. From the mountains and steppes of central Asia came the hordes of Genghis Khan, conquering and destroying everything before them. In the first great sweep to the Caspian Sea and northern Persia, the cities of Bokhara [Bukhara], Samarkand, and Merv [and their libraries] were destroyed along with many smaller towns. . . . (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 84-85).

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Pope Gregory IX Orders the Seizure and Burning of Jewish Books June 9 – June 20, 1239

In response to a denunciation of "blasphemies" in the Talmud by Nicholas Donin, a Jewish convert to Christianity, On June 9, 1239 Pope Gregory IX ordered the archbishops of France, England, Spain and Portugal to seize all Jewish books and examine them. In his letter of June 20, 1239 Gregory ordered the churchmen of Paris to burn the confiscated works if they were found to contain "objectionable" content.

Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World. A Source Book: 315-1791, rev. ed. (1999) 163.

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Copies of the Talmud are Seized in France June 3, 1240

A portrait of Louis IX.

Responding to the 1239 order of Pope Gregory IX, Louis IX of France ordered the seizure of copies of the Talmud in France. Louis was the only European ruler to follow the Pope's order.

Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World. A Source Book: 315-1791, rev. ed. (1999) 163

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Louis IX Orders the Burning of 12,000 Manuscripts of the Talmud June 1242

In 1242 French King Louis IX (St. Louis), who characterized himself as "lieutenant of God on Earth," conducted two crusades. In order to finance his first crusade he ordered the expulsion from France of all Jews engaged in usury, and the confiscation of their property, for use in his crusade.

Louis also ordered, in response to the 1239 decree of Pope Gregory IX, the burning in Paris of 24 cartloads or roughly 12,000 manuscript copies, of the Talmud and other Jewish books.

To understand the magnitude of this destruction one must bear in mind the unbelievable labor involved in copying out a single manuscript copy of the Talmud, the Hebrew text of which extended to about 2,000,000 words. It is also very probable that manuscripts included in this destruction dated back for many centuries and included priceless information.

Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World. A Source Book:315-1791, rev. ed. (1999) page 163 states that the burning of Talmuds in Paris probably occurred again in 1244.

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The Vatican Archives Follow the Movements of the Pope 1245 – 1783

". . .during the Middle Ages, particularly after Innocent IV (1243-1254), the popes moved around a great deal. In 1245, Innocent IV is known to have taken a part of the archives with him to the Council of Lyon, after which the records remained for a while stored in the monastery at Cluny. Benedict XI (1303-1304) had the archives placed in Perugia. Clement V (1305-1314) then had the archives placed in Assisi where they remained until 1339, when Benedict XII (1334-1342) had them sent to Avignon.

"The archives remained in Avignon during the time of the Great Schism. Once the difficulties were resolved, Martin V (1427-1431) had the records transported by boat and wagon to Rome, where they were temporarily housed in S. Maria Sopra Minerva then established in his family palace (Colonna) in central Rome. Though important historical records were returned to Rome at this time, including the Vatican Registers, the Avignon material, the paper registers known as the Avignon Registers, were not incorporated into the ASV until 1783" (Blouin, Jr., Vatican Archives: An Inventory and Guide. . . [1998] xviii).

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So Many Books were Thrown into the Tigris River that they Formed a Bridge that Would Support a Man on Horseback 1258

Hulagu Khan with his wife, Dokuz Kathun. (View Larger)

In 1258 Mongols under the command of Hulagu Khan sacked Baghdad, destroying the House of Wisdom, the leading library in the leading intellectual center of the Arab world.

The House of Wisdom, founded in the eighth century, contained countless precious documents accumulated over five hundred years. Survivors said so many books were thrown into the river that the waters of the Tigris ran black with ink; others said the waters were red from blood.

"In one week, libraries and their treasures that had been accumulated over hundreds of years were burned or otherwise destroyed. So many books were thrown into the Tigris River, according to one writer, that they formed a bridge that would support a man on horseback" (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 85).

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Survival of the Works of Archimedes was Dependent upon Three Manuscripts, Only One of Which Survived to the Present 1269 – 1544

In contrast to Euclid's Elements, which were written at the Royal Library of Alexandria, and widely disseminated, the writings of the Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer Archimedes were not widely known in antiquity. Survival of their texts was due to interest in Archimedes' writings at the Byzantine capital of Constantinople from the sixth through the tenth centuries.

"It is true that before that time individual works of Archimedes were obviously studied at Alexandria, since Archimedes was often quoted by three eminent mathematicians of Alexandria: Hero, Pappus, and Theon. But it is with the activity of Eutocius of Ascalon, who was born toward the end of the fifth century and studied at Alexandria, that the textual history of a collected edition of Archimedes properly begins. Eutocius composed commentaries on three of Archimedes' works: On the Sphere and the Cylinder, On the Measurement of the Circle, and On the Equilibrium of Planes. These were no doubt the most popular of Archimedes' works at that time. . . . The works of Archimedes and the commentaries of Eutocius were studied and taught by Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, Justinian's architects of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. It was apparently Isidore who was responsible for the first collected edition of at least the three works commented on by Eutocius as well as the commentaries. Later Byzantine authors seem gradually to have added other works to this first collected edition until the ninth century when the educational reformer Leon of Thessalonica produced the compilation represented by Greek manuscript A (adopting the designation used by the editor, J. L. Heiberg).  Manuscript A contained all of the Greek works now known excepting On Floating Bodies, On the Method, Stomachion, and The Cattle Problem. This was one of the two manuscripts available to William of Moerbeke when he made his Latin translations in 1269.  It was the source, directly or indirectly, of all of the Renaissance copies of Archimedes. A second Byzantine manuscript, designated as B, included only the mechanical works: On the Equilibrium of Planes, On the Quadrature of the Parabola and On Floating Bodies (and possibly On Spirals).  It too was available to Moerbeke. But it disappears after an early fourteenth-century reference. Finally we can mention a third Byzantine manuscript, C, a palimpsest whose Archimedean parts are in a hand of the tenth century. It was not available to the Latin West in the Middle Ages, or indeed in modern times until its identification by Heiberg in 1906 at Constantinople (where it had been brought from Jerusalem)" (Marshall Clagett, "Archimedes," Dictionary of Scientific Biography I [1970] 223).

Transmission of Archimedes' writings to the west was largely dependent upon the translation into Latin of most of the Archimedean texts in manuscripts A and B by the Flemish Dominican William of Moerbeke (Willem van Moerbeke) in 1269.  These manuscripts had passed into the Pope's library from the collection of the Norman kings of the Two Sicilies.  Moerbeke's translations of the two manuscripts were not without errors, but they presented the texts in an understandable way. The holograph of Moerbeke's translation survives in the Vatican Library (MS Vat. Ottob. lat. 1850). It was not widely copied. Manuscripts A and B no longer survive.

"In the fifteenth century, knowledge of Archimedes in Europe began to expand. A new latin translation was made by James of Cremona in about 1450 by order of Pope Nicholas V. Since this translation was made exclusively from manuscript A, the translation failed to include On Floating Bodies, but it did include the two treatises in A omitted by Moerbeke, namely The Sand Reckoner and Eutocius' Commentary on the Measurement of the Circle. It appears that this new translation was made with an eye on Moerbeke's translation. . . . There are at least nine extant manuscripts of this translation, one of which was corrrected by Regiomontanus and brought to Germany about 1468. . . . Greek manuscript A itself was copied a number of times. Cardinal Bessarion had one copy prepared between 1449 and 1468 (MS E). Another (MS D) was made from A when it was in the possession fo the well-kinown humanist George [Giorgio] Valla. The fate of A and its various copies has been traced skillfully by J. L. Heiberg in his edition of Archimedes' Opera. The last known use of manuscript A occurred in 1544, after which time it seems to have disappeared.  The first printed Archimedean materials were in fact merely latin excerpts that appeared in George Valla's De expetendis et fugiendis rebus opus (Venice, 1501) and were based on his reading of manuscript A. But the earliest actual printed texts of Archimedes were the Moerbeke translations of On the Measurement of the Circle and On the Quadrature of the Parabola (Teragonismus, id est circuli quadratura etc.) published from the Madrid manuscript by L.[uca] Gaurico (Venice, 1503). In 1543 also at Venice N.[iccolo] Tartaglia republished the same two translations directly from Gaurico's work, and in addition, from the same Madrid manuscript, the Moerbeke translations of On the Equilbrium of Planes and Book I of On Floating Bodes (leaving the erroneous impression that he had made these translations from a Greek manuscript, which he had not since he merely repeated the texts of the Madrid manuscript, with virtually all their errors.) . . . The key event, however, in the further spread of Archimedes was the aforementioned editio princeps of the Greek text with the accompanying Latin translation of James of Cremona at Basel in 1544. . . ." Clagett, op. cit., 228-229).

For the editio princeps the editor Thomas Gechauff, called Venatorius (d. 1551), was able to use the above-mentioned manuscript of James of Cremona's (Jacopo da Cremona's) Latin translation corrected by Regiomontanus, which included the commentaries of Eutocius of Ascalon. For the Greek text Gechauff used a manuscript which had been acquired in Rome by humanist Willibald Pirckheimer, and is preserved today today in Nuremberg City Library.

Existence of a reliable Greek and Latin edition made the texts available to a wider range of scholars, exerting a strong influence on mathematics and physics in the sixteenth century. "One of the imortant effects of that influence can be seen in Kepler's Astronomia nova, in which Archimedes's so-called 'exhaustion procedure' was applied to the measurement of time elapsed between any two points in Mars's orbit" (Hook & Norman, Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine [1991] no. 61).

♦ After disappearing into a European private collection in the early twentieth century, the third key record of Archimedes' texts discussed above, the tenth century Byzantine manuscript C, known as the Archimedes Palimpsest, re-appeared at a Christie's auction in New York on October 28, 1998, where it was purchased by an anonymous private collector in the United States. Since then it has been made widely available to scholars, and has been the subject of much research.

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1400 – 1450

Medieval Mappa Mundi, Stolen during an Auction 1411 – 1419

The De Virga world map. (View Larger

The De Virga world map, drawn by Albertinus de Virga, contained a mention in small letters:

"A. 141.. Albertin diuirga me fecit in vinexia"
"Made by Albertinius de Virga in Venice in 141.."

(the last number of the date is erased by a fold in the map)

The map was "discovered" in a second-hand bookshop in 1911 in Srebrenica, Bosnia by Albert Figdor, a map collector, and it was analysed by Franz Von Weiser of the Austrian State University in Vienna. Authenticated photographs were taken at the time, which are preserved in the British Library. Regrettably the original map was stolen during an auction in 1932, and has never been recovered.  It may have been a source for the Venetian Fra Mauro map (circa 1450), with which it is generally consistent.

"The map is oriented to the North, with a wind rose centered in Central Asia, possibly the observatory of astronomer, mathematician and sultan, Ulugh Begh, in the Mongol city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan, or the western shore of the Caspian sea. The wind rose divides the map in eight sectors.

"The map is colored: the seas are left white, although the Red Sea is colored in red. Continental land is colored in yellow, and several colors are used for islands. The mountains are in brown, the lakes are in blue, and rivers are in brown.

"The extension shows a calendar with depictions of the signs of the zodiac and a table to calculate lunar positions"  (Wikipedia article on De Virga world map, accessed 01-12-2009).

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The Aztec Emperor Itzcoatl Orders the Burning of All Historical Codices Circa 1430

According to the Florentine Codex, Itzcoatl, fourth emperor the Aztecs (4th Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan), who ruled from 1427 or 1428 to 1440, ordered the burning of all pictographic codices, in which the early history of the Aztecs was recorded. This allowed the early Aztec state to develop a state-sanctioned history and mythos that venerated Huitzilopochtli. a Mesoamerican deity of war, sun, human sacrifice and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan.

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1450 – 1500

"Herbarium Apulei", the First Printed Herbal with Illustrations and Probably the First Series of Illustrations on a Scientific Subject Circa 1481 – 1482

Detail of page from Herbarium apulei with illustration of herb.  Please click to view entire image.

The first printed herbal with illustrations was an illustrated edition of the Herbarium Apulei by Apuleius Platonicus or Pseudo-Apuleius, originally compiled circa 400 CE or earlier, and issued in Rome by the printer and diplomat Johannes Philippus de Lignamine in 1481 or 1482. The earliest surviving manuscript of this text dates from the sixth century.

In his dedicatory letter Lignamine stated that he based his edition on a manuscript found in the Abbey of Monte Cassino. In the 1930s F.W.T. Hunger identified a 9th century manuscript as Lignamine's source (codex Casinensis 97 saec.IX). This he published in facsimile as The Herbal of Pseudo-Apuleius (1935). Regrettably the manuscript was destroyed in the bombardment of Monte Casino in 1944. 

The first printed edition of Herbarium Apulei contains in addition to its text, a title within a woodcut wreath and 131 woodcuts of plants, including repeats.  It gives a multitude of prescriptions, and to make the work more useful, lists synonyms for each plant in Greek, Persian, Egyptian, and other languages, illustrating each with a stylized woodcut. These are the earliest series of printed botanical illustrations, and probably the first formal series of illustrations on a scientific subject, though they were preceded by the technological woodcuts in Valturio's De re militari, 1472.  As a practical and instructive reinforcement of the value of particular plants snakes, scorpions, and other venomous animals are depicted in the woodcuts of plants that provide relevant antedotes.

Lignamine sought patronage of his editions through the rich and powerful. As a result, two variant issues of the first edition exist with no priority established:

• one with a dedicatory letter to Cardinal Francesco Gonzaga

• another with a dedication to Giuliano della Rovere, future Pope Julius II.

Blunt & Raphael, The Illustrated Herbal (1979) 113-14. Christie's, N.Y., Important Botanical Books from a Former Private Collection, 24 June 2009, lot 15. ISTC No. ih00058000.

In February 2013 a digital facsimile of the issue with the dedication to Cardinal Gonzaga was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

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"A Horse, A Horse, My Kingdom for a Horse." August 1485

In August 1485 Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field, 20 miles north of Leicester. Richard, who was characterized by Shakespeare as a hunchback, was perhaps the most reviled king in the history of England.

In the sixteenth century Tudor historian John Rouse identified Richard's burial place as a corner of the chapel in the Greyfriars priory in Leicester. However, during the Reformation the church was demolished and its exact location was eventually forgotten.

In 2012 Richard's bones were located when archaeologists from the University of Leicester used ground-penetrating radar on the site of the former priory and discovered that it was not underneath a 19th-century bank where it was presumed to be, but under a parking lot across the street. Excavation began in August, and the remains were located within days of the start of digging. 

On February 4, 2013 archaeologist Richard Buckley of the University of Leicester reported that DNA testing confirmed that the bones were those of Richard III. Finding a DNA match among Richard's descendents after so many generations was extremely difficult.

"Despite this, a team of enthusiasts and historians traced the likely area - and, crucially, also found a 17th-generation descendant of Richard's sister with whose DNA they could compare any remains recovered.  

"Genealogical research eventually led to a Canadian woman called Joy Ibsen. She died several years ago but her son, Michael, who now works in London, provided a sample.  

"The researchers were fortunate as, while the DNA they were looking for was in all Joy Ibsen's offspring, it is only handed down through the female line and her only daughter has no children. The line was about to stop.  

"But the University of Leicester's experts had other problems.  

"Dr Turi King, project geneticist, said there had been concern DNA in the bones would be too degraded: "The question was could we get a sample of DNA to work with, and I am extremely pleased to tell you that we could."  

"She added: "There is a DNA match between the maternal DNA of the descendants of the family of Richard III and the skeletal remains we found at the Greyfriars dig" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-21063882, accessed 02-04-2013).

The bones showed signs of severe scholiosis, which would account for Richard's hunched-over appearance. Although around 5ft 8in tall (1.7m), the condition meant King Richard III would have stood significantly shorter, and his right shoulder may have been higher than the left. The skeleton had suffered 10 injuries, including eight to the skull, and other "humiliation" wounds. The individual had unusually slender, almost feminine, build for a man - in keeping with contemporaneous accounts. Radiocarbon dating reveals that the individual had a high protein diet - including significant amounts of seafood - meaning he was likely to be of high status.

The decision was made to rebury Richard III's remains in Leicester's Anglican cathedral, which is about 100 yards from where Richard's remains were found.

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1500 – 1550

Maximilian I Orders the Confiscation of Jewish Books, but Eventually Rescinds the Order August 19, 1509 – June 6, 1510

   Maximilain I, who greatly extended the House of Habsburg around the turn of the 16th century, decreed in 1509 the confiscation of Jewish books as a method of encouraging Jewish conversion to Christianity; however, he reversed his decision in 1510 and the texts were returned.      (View Larger)

Influenced by Johannes Pfefferkorn, a German-Jewish Catholic theologian and writer, who had converted from Judaism, and who devoted his career to preaching and writing against Jews and attempting to convert them to Christianity, Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, ordered Jews to deliver to Pfefferkorn all books opposing Christianity. He also ordered the destruction of any Hebrew book except the Hebrew Bible. Previously Maximilian had expelled the Jews from Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola. The justification for confiscating their books was that depriving the Jews of their religious texts would be the first step in their conversion.

"Pfefferkorn began the work of confiscation at Frankfort-on-the-Main, or possibly Magdeburg; thence he went to Worms, Mainz, Bingen, Lorch, Lahnstein, and Deutz.

"Through the help of the Elector and Archbishop of Mainz, Uriel von Gemmingen, the Jews asked the emperor to appoint a commission to investigate Pfefferkorn's accusations. A new imperial mandate of 10 November 1509, gave the direction of the whole affair to Uriel von Gemmingen, with orders to secure opinions from the Universities of Mainz, Cologne, Erfurt, and Heidelberg, from the inquisitor Jakob Hochstraten of Cologne, from the priest Victor von Carben, and from Johann Reuchlin. Pfefferkorn, in order to vindicate his action and to gain still further the good will of the emperor, wrote In Lob und Eer dem allerdurchleuchtigsten grossmechtigsten Fürsten und Herrn Maximilian (Cologne, 1510). In April he was again at Frankfort, and with the delegate of the Elector of Mainz and Professor Hermann Ortlieb, he undertook a new confiscation.

"Hochstraten and the Universities of Mainz and Cologne decided in October 1510 against the Jewish books. Reuchlin declared that only those books obviously offensive (as the Nizachon and Toldoth Jeschu) would be destroyed. The elector sent all the answers received at the end of October to the emperor through Pfefferkorn. Reuchlin reported in favor of the Jews, and on May 23, 1510, the emperor suspended his edict of 10 November 1509, and the books were returned to the Jews on June 6" (Wikipedia article on Johannes Pfefferkorn, accessed 12-10-2008).

Not satisfied with the Emperor's decision, between 1511 and 1521 Pfefferkorn engaged Reuchlin in a pamphlet war on the topic, reflective of the battle between Dominicans and the humanists, and outlined in the Wikipedia article cited above.

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Troups Loyal to Charles V Sack Rome, Marking the End of the High Renaissance May 6, 1527 – February 1528

On May 6, 1527 an army of Spanish Catholics and Lutherans beholden to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and led by Charles III, [Duke of Bourbon] marched into Rome. For eight days these unpaid troops looted and pillaged the city, inflicting especially harsh treatment on priests, monks and nuns, forcing the Pope to flee the Vatican, and destroying art and smashing statuary. During the occupation of the city more than 2000 bodies were disposed of in the Tiber River, and another 10,000 were buried in Rome and its environs.

"In the meantime, [Pope] Clement remained a prisoner in Castel Sant'Angelo. Francesco Maria della Rovere and Michele Antonio of Saluzzo arrived with troops on 1 June in Monterosi, north of the city. Their cautious behaviour prevented them from obtaining an easy victory against the now totally undisciplined Imperial troops. On 6 June, Clement VII surrendered, and agreed to pay a ransom of 400,000 ducati in exchange for his life; conditions included the cession of Parma, Piacenza, Civitavecchia and Modena to the Holy Roman Empire (however, only the latter could be occupied in fact). At the same time Venice took advantage of his situation to capture Cervia and Ravenna, while Sigismondo Malatesta returned in Rimini.

"Emperor Charles V was greatly embarrassed and powerless to stop his troops, by the fact that they had struck decisively against Pope Clement VII and imprisoned him. Some may argue that Charles was partially responsible for the sack of Rome, because he expressed his desire for a private audience with Pope Clement VII and his men took action into their own hands. Clement VII was to spend the rest of his life trying to steer clear of conflict with Charles V, avoiding decisions that could displease him" (Wikipedia article on Sack of Rome (1527), accessed 02-03-2013).

Eventually, many of the invaders succumbed to the plague that swept through Rome in the summer of 1527; however, the occupation continued until February 1528.

More significantly, Charles V's invasion challenged the authority of the Catholic Church and marked a considerable advance for Protestantism. As Martin Luther wrote, "Christ reigns in such a way that the Emperor who persecutes Luther for the Pope is forced to destroy the Pope for Luther" (LW 49:169). In 1533, Clement had to make the delicate decision about whether to grant King Henry VIII of England an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon in a manner the Church could sanction. His decision was as significant for of Protestant advancement as was the sack of Rome.  

Keenly aware that Catherine was the aunt of Charles V, who had a decided interest in Henry's petition, Clement denied the request, which caused Henry to withdraw from the Roman Catholic Church. The Church soon excommunicated him, leading to the formation of the Protestant Church of England. Without the sack of Rome, and without Clement finding it necessary to consider how Charles V would react to his decision about the annulment, the pope might well have acceded to Henry's request, which would have had a profound effect on the course of European history

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Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries Brings Destruction and Dispersal of Libraries 1536 – 1541

 In 1536, King Henry VIII formally disbands all monasteries in his realm and seizes their property, including thousands of books and manuscripts, most of which were subsequently lost or destroyed.  (View Larger)

In a formal process called Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII disbanded monastic communities in England, Wales and Ireland and confiscated their property. Henry was given the authority to do this by the Act of Supremacy, passed by Parliament in 1534, which made him Supreme Head of the Church in England, and by the First Suppression Act (1536) and the Second Suppression Act (1539).

"Along with the destruction of the monasteries, some of them many hundreds of years old, the related destruction of the monastic libraries was perhaps the greatest cultural loss caused by the English Reformation. Worcester Priory (now Worcester Cathedral) had 600 books at the time of the dissolution. Only six of them are known to have survived intact to the present day. At the abbey of the Augustinian Friars at York, a library of 646 volumes was destroyed, leaving only three known survivors. Some books were destroyed for their precious bindings, others were sold off by the cartload. The antiquarian John Leland was commissioned by the King to rescue items of particular interest (especially manuscript sources of Old English history), and other collections were made by private individuals; notably Matthew Parker. Nevertheless much was lost, especially manuscript books of English church music, none of which had then been printed.

A great nombre of them whych purchased those supertycyous mansyons, resrved of those lybrarye bokes, some to serve theyr jakes, some to scoure candelstyckes, and some to rubbe their bootes. Some they solde to the grossers and soapsellers.                   — John Bale, 1549"

(Wikipedia article on Dissolution of the Monasteries, accessed 11-25-2008)

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Paganino & Alessandro Paganini Issue the First Printed Edition of the Qur'an in Arabic, of Which One Copy Survived August 9, 1537 – August 9, 1538

Between August 9, 1537 and August 9, 1538 Venetian printers Paganino and Alessandro Paganini produced the first printed edition of the Qur'an (Koran) in Arabic. The edition was probably intended for export to the Ottoman Empire. For centuries this entire edition was thought to be lost, and the rumor was that the Pope had the complete print run burned.

Possibly the most daring and pioneering enterprise in sixteenth-century Venetian printing, this edition was mentioned by a handful of contemporary witnesses, and was reported as wholly destroyed as early as 1620. The reasons suggested for its destruction ranged from its suppression by the Pope ("Pontifex Romanus exemplaria ad unum omnia impressa suppressit") to the ridiculous (divine intervention would prevent its printing), but without any copies to study, and without any reference in a bibliography or library catalogue, the mysterious edition was regarded as a ghost.  

In 1987 professor Angela Nuovo found a single copy in the library of the Franciscan Friars of Isola di San Michele, in Venice. The copy contains a note of ownership of Teseo Ambrogio degli Albonesi, who died soon after 1540, and the stamp of Arcangelo Mancasula, Vicar of the Holy Office (Holy Inquisition) of Cremona, applied a few years later. Albonesi, an orientalist from Pavia, is the only person known to have handled the first printed edition of the Qu'ran in Arabic, and he referred to it in his Introductio in Chaldaicam linguam, Syriacam atque Armenicam (Pavia, 1539). Nuovo, "A Lost Arabic Koran Rediscovered," The Library (1990) Sixth Series XII, No. 4, 273-292.

Later study of the single copy by experts in Arabic showed that the edition contains a remarkably large number of errors, which would have made it totally unacceptable to Muslims:

"The other factor that makes the Koran printed by Paganini intolerable is the huge number of errors. We have seen that a single imprecision could cost the scribe his head, yet here we have a volume with scarcely a single page printed correctly. 'There is not a word without errors,' Elsheikh emphasizes, 'the disctinction between the similar forms of the Arbaic language is completely ignored. The compositor does not recognize the letters of the alphabet.' A compositor who must have copied the words from an unknown original, which must necessarily have been error-free.

"Angela Nuovo points ou that the elevated technical investment [to create an Arabic type font] was not matched by a careful checking of the text, and she reports the opinions of some Arabists, that the text is riddled with errors typically made by Jews who speak Arabic. The Paganinis. therefore, evidently looked for compositors and proofreaders among the flourishing world of Hebrew publishing at the time rather than in the long-established Muslim community in Venice. Elsheik does not agree.' That hypothesis just doesn't hold up. In Venice there were all the Arabs you could want. The city is full of beautiful mansucript versions of the Koran. And so?  The 1538 Koran doesn't only contain errors that we might call orthographical (for example, a letter that should be written with three dots is written with two),— there are errors that amount to outright blasphemy, such as the omission of the name of God. 'Certainly, there was a lack of copyists and writers,' Angela Nuovo declares, 'unlike what happened for the Greeks close to Aldus Manutius; in this case they had to make do with what they had" (Magno, Bound in Venice. The Serene Republic and the Dawn of the Book [2013] 99-100).

(This entry was last revised on 09-25-2015.) 

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1550 – 1600

Michael Servetus: Medical Discovery, Heresy, and Martyrdom 1553

Engraved portrait of Michael Servetus.

Engraved Portrait of John Calvin, 16th century.

In 1563 Spanish theologian, physician, cartographer, and humanist Michael Servetus (Miguel Servet, Miguel Serveto), having exchanged unfriendly correspondence with John Calvin concerning theological disputes, published secretly in Vienne, France, his book entitled Christianismi restitutio.

This work on the reform of Christianity developed a nontrinitarian Christology which Calvin and the Catholic church considered heretical.  On pp. 168-73 the book also contained the first printed description of the lesser or pulmonary circulation of the blood. The lesser circulation had previously been discovered by Ibn-Al-Nafis in his commentary on the anatomy of the Canon of Avicenna published in manuscript in 1268, but this was not rediscovered until the 20th century. (Re Ibn-Al-Nafis see J. Norman (ed) Morton's Medical Bibliography 5th ed. [1991] no. 753.)

"On 16 February 1553, Servetus, while in Vienne, was denounced as a heretic by Guillaume Trie, a rich merchant who had taken refuge in Geneva and was a very good friend of Calvin, in a letter sent to a cousin, Antoine Arneys, living in Lyon. On behalf of the French inquisitor Matthieu Ory, Servetus as well as Arnollet, the printer of Christianismi Restitutio, were questioned, but they denied all charges and were released for lack of evidence. Arneys was asked by Ory to write back to Trie, demanding proof. On March 26, 1553, the letters sent by Servetus to Calvin and some manuscript pages of Christianismi Restitutio were forwarded to Lyon by Trie. On April 4, 1553 Servetus was arrested by the Roman Catholic authorities, and imprisoned in Vienne. He escaped from prison three days later. On June 17, he was convicted of heresy by the French inquisition, 'thanks to the 17 letters sent by Jehan Calvin, preacher in Geneva, 'and sentenced to be burned with his books. An effigy and his books were burned in his absence" (Wikipedia article on Michael Servetus, accessed 02-05-2009).

Numerous accounts of Servetus' execution state that he was burned along with the entire edition of his book. Even if that was not the case virtually the entire printing of 1000 copies was destroyed, as only three copies of the original edition survive— Richard Mead's copy in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, a copy in the Austrian National Library, Vienna, and a copy lacking the title page and the first 16pp., said to be John Calvin's personal copy, in the library of William Hunter at the University Library, Edinburgh.   (J. Norman (ed). Morton's Medical Bibliography 5th ed. [1991] no. 754.)

♦ Though Servetus escaped execution with his books, he was arrested in Geneva a few months later after having attended one of Calvin's sermons, and was sent to trial. On October 24, 1553 Servetus was sentenced to death by burning for denying the Trinity and infant baptism. When Calvin requested that Servetus be executed by decapitation rather than fire, Farel, in a letter of September 8, chided Calvin for undue leniency, and the Geneva Council refused his request. On October 27 Servetus was burned at the stake just outside Geneva with what was believed to be the last copy of his Christianisimi restitutio chained to his leg. Historians record his last words as: "Jesus, Son of the Eternal God, have mercy on me" (Adapted from the Wikipedia article on Michael Servetus).

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Gaspar de Leão Issues the Earliest Surviving Books Printed in India from Movable Type July 2, 1561 – April 10, 1563

The earliest book printed in India, of which a copy survived, is Compendio spritual da vida Christãa by Gaspar de Leão, the first Archbishop of Goa, completed in Goa by printers João Quinquencio and João de Endem on July 2, 1561. This is known from a copy in the New York Public Library.

The second book known to have been printed in India, of which copies survive, is Colóquios dos simples e drogas he cousas mediçinais de India e assi dalgũas frutas achadas nella onde se tratam algũas cousas tocantes a medicina, pratica, e outras cousas boas pera saber (Conversations on the simples, drugs and materia medica of India and also on some fruits found there, in which some matters relevant to medicine, practice, and other matters good to know are discussed) by the Portuguese Jewish physician, naturalist and pioneer of tropical medicine, Garcia de Orta. Garcia de Orta sailed for India in 1534 as Chief Physician aboard the armada of the Viceroy Martim Afonso de Sousa. He worked and carried out his research at Goa, where he died in 1568. His book was first printed by João de Endem at his press in St. John's College, Goa, and completed on April 10, 1563.

Rhodes, The Spread of Printing. Eastern Hemisphere. India. . . . (1969) 12-13. Re documented printing in Goa which preceded Gaspar de Leão's book, but which did not survive, see Rhodes, 11-12.

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Bishop Diego de Landa Orders Destruction of the Maya Codices July 12, 1562

After hearing of Roman Catholic Maya who continued to practice "idol worship," on July 12, 1562 Bishop Diego de Landa ordered an Inquisition in Mani, Yucatan, ending with the ceremony called auto de fe.

"During the ceremony a disputed number of Maya codices (or books; Landa admits to 27, other sources claim '99 times as many') and approximately 5,000 Maya cult images were burned. The actions of Landa passed into the Black Legend of the Spanish in the Americas" (Wikipedia article on Diego de Landa, accessed 11-30-2008).

"Such codices were primary written records of Maya civilization, together with the many inscriptions on stone monuments and stelae which survive to the present day. However, their range of subject matter in all likelihood embraced more topics than those recorded in stone and buildings, and was more like what is found on painted ceramics (the so-called 'ceramic codex'). Alonso de Zorita wrote that in 1540 he saw numerous such books in the Guatemalan highlands which 'recorded their history for more than eight hundred years back, and which were interpreted for me by very ancient Indians' (Zorita 1963, 271-2). Fr. Bartolomé de las Casas lamented that when found, such books were destroyed: 'These books were seen by our clergy, and even I saw part of those which were burned by the monks, apparently because they thought [they] might harm the Indians in matters concerning religion, since at that time they were at the beginning of their conversion.' The last codices destroyed were those of Tayasal, Guatemala in 1697. . . " (Wikipedia article on Maya Codices, accessed 11-30-2008).

Probably because they were sent out of Mexico before the inquisitorial destruction, three codices and possibly a fragment of a fourth, survived. These are:

  • The Madrid Codex, also known as the Tro-Cortesianus Codex;
  • The Dresden Codex;
  • The Paris Codex, also known as the Peresianus Codex;
  • The Grolier Codex, also known as the Grolier Fragment"
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Sir Robert Bruce Cotton Forms One of the Most Important Private Collections of Manuscripts Ever Collected in England 1588 – 1631

In 1588 English politician Sir Robert Bruce Cotton began collecting original manuscripts, an activity which he continued until his death in 1631. One of the foundations of the British Museum since 1753, and hence of the British Library, Cotton's library of 958 manuscripts has been called the most important collection of manuscripts ever assembled in Britain by a private individual. Competing for this designation would, of course, be Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker's library at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Parker, who began collecting in 1568, preceded Cotton in his collecting by a generation. The Sir Thomas Phillipps library, though formed in the nineteenth century and dispersed, was many times larger than either Cotton's or Parker's libraries, and also needs to be considered for the designation. 

Among Cotton's many treasures were the Lindisfarne Gospels, two of the contemporary exemplifications of Magna Carta, and the only surviving manuscript of Beowulf.  The first published catalogue of the Cottonian Library was Thomas Smith's Catalogus Librorum Manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Cottonianae, a substantial folio volume including a life of Robert Cotton and a history of the library published in Oxford in 1696. 

On October 23, 1731 Cotton's library suffered very significant damage in a fire where it was stored at Ashburnham House in London. Of its 958 manuscripts 114 were "lost, burnt or intirely spoiled" and another 98 damaged enough to be considered defective. The Wikipedia article on Ashburnham House states  

"a contemporary records the librarian, Dr. Bentley, leaping from a window with the priceless Codex Alexandrinus under one arm. The manuscript of Beowulf was damaged, and reported in 'The Gentleman's Magazine.' "  

An expert committee was formed to investigate the cause of the fire and assess the damage. This resulted in A Report from the Committee appointed to view the Cottonian Library and such of the Publick Records of this Kingdom as they think proper and to Report to the House the Condition thereof together with what they shall judge fit to be done for the better Reception Preservation and more convenient Use of the same (London, 1732). David Casley (1681/2-1754), deputy librarian of both the Royal and Cottonian collections, and a member of this committee, compiled the list of damaged and destroyed Cotton manuscripts, which was printed in an appendix to the committee's report. Casley described a number of manuscripts as "burnt to a crust." The Committee was also "empowered to investigate the state of the public records as a whole. They found that for the most part they were 'in great Confusion and Disorder' and much in need of care and attention" (Miller, That Noble Cabinet, 36).

The 1732 report also contained an appendix consisting of "A Narrative of the Fire. . . and of the Methods used for preserving and recovering the Manuscripts of the Royal and Cottonian libraries,"  compiled by the Reverend William Whiston the younger, the clerk in charge of the records kept in the Chapter House at Westminster, another notorious firetrap. Almost immediately after the fire attempts at restoration or stabilization of some of the damaged manuscripts was undertaken, mostly by inexperienced workers under the supervision of members of the committee, using whatever methods were available, and thus potentially damaging as much as preserving what remained.  

In April 1837, palaeographer Frederic Madden, Assistant Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum, was shown a garret of the old museum building which contained a large number of burnt and damaged fragments and vellum codices. Madden immediately identified these as part of the Cottonan Library. During his tenure as Keeper of MSS, Madden undertook extensive conservation work on the Cottonian manuscripts, often in the face of opposition from the Museum’s board, who deemed the enterprise prohibitively expensive.

In collaboration with the bookbinder Henry Gough, Madden developed a conservation strategy that restored even the most badly damaged fragments and manuscripts to a usable state. Vellum sheets were cleaned and flattened and mounted in paper frames. Where possible, they were rebound in their original codices. Madden also carried out conservation work on the rest of the Cottonian Library. By 1845 the conservation work was largely complete, though Madden was to suffer one more setback when a fire broke out in the Museum bindery, destroying some additional manuscripts in the Cottonian Library.  The process of restoring and conserving these precious manuscripts, which continues to this day, was studied extensively by Andrew Prescott in " 'Their Present Miserable State of Cremation' : the Restoration of the Cotton Library," Sir Robert Cotton as Collector" Essays on an Early Stuart Courtier and His Legacy, edited by C. J. Wright (1997) 391-454. This paper, and its 357 footnotes, was available online in April 2012.

"The Cottonian Library was the richest private collection of manuscripts ever amassed; of secular libraries it outranked the Royal library, the collections of the Inns of Court and the College of Arms; Cotton's house near the Palace of Westminster became the meeting-place of the Society of Antiquaries and of all the eminent scholars of England; it was eventually donated to the nation by Cotton's grandson and now resides at the British Library.

"The physical arrangement of Cotton's Library continues to be reflected in citations to manuscripts once in his possession. His library was housed in a room 26 feet (7.9 m) long by six feet wide filled with bookpresses, each with the bust of a figure from classical antiquity on top. Counterclockwise, these are catalogued as Julius (i.e., Julius Caesar), Augustus, Cleopatra, Faustina, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. (Domitian had only one shelf, perhaps because it was over the door.) Manuscripts are now designated by library, bookpress, and number: for example, the manuscript of Beowulf is designated Cotton Vitellius A.xv, and the manuscript of Pearl is Cotton Nero A.x" (Wikipedia article on Sir Robert Cotton, accessed 11-22-2008).

The most useful version of Smith's 1696 catalogue of Cotton's library, published in somewhat reduced format, was the offset reprint done from Sir Robert Harley's copy, annotated by his librarian Humfrey Wanley, together with documents relating to the fire of 1731. This annotated edition included translations into English of the Latin essays on the life of Robert Cotton and the history of the library. Edited by C.G.C. Tite, it was published in 1984. See also Tite, The Early Records of Sir Robert Cotton's Library. Formation, Cataloguing, Use (2003). 

Sharpe, Sir Robert Cotton 1586-1631. History and Politics in Early Modern England (1979).

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Publication of the Bills of Mortality": the Beginning of the Collection of Medical Statistics 1592 – 1593

The collection, recording, and publishing of medical statistics in the form of Bills of Mortality began in England as a result of the epidemic of plague in 1592-93.

"The epidemic of plague, which reached its height in the year 1593, began to be felt in London in the autumn of 1592, and is said to have caused 2000 deaths before the end of the year. On the 7th September, soldiers from the north on their way to Southampton to embark for foreign parts had to pass round London 'to avoid the infection which is much spread abroad' in the city. On the 16th September, the spoil of a great Spanish carrack at Dartmouth could be brough no farther than Greenwich, on account of the contagion in London; no one to go from London to Dartmouth to buy the goods. It was an ominous sign that the infection lasted through the winter; even in mid winter people were leaving London: 'the plague is so sore that none of worth stay about these places.' On the 6th April 1593, one William Cecil who had been kept in the Fleet prison by the queen's command, writes that 'the place where he lies is a congregation of the unwholesome smells of the town, and season contagious, so many have died of the plague.' From a memorial of 1595, it appears that the neighbourhood of Fleet Ditch had been the most infected part of the whole city and liberties in 1593; 'in the last great plague more died about there than in three parishes besides.' The epidemic does not appear to have reached its height until summer. . . .

"Of that London epidemic a weekly record was kept by the Company of Parish Clerks, and published by them beginning with the weekly bill of 21st December, 1592. The clerk of the Company of Parish Clerks, writing in 1665, had the annual bill for 1593 before him, with the plague-deaths and other deaths in each of 109 parishes in alphabetical order, and the christenings as well. For the next two years, 1594 and 1595, he appears to have had before him not only the annual bills but also a complete set of the weekly bills of burials and christenings according to parishes. The same documents were used by Graunt in 1662, and had doubtless been used by John Stow at the time when they were published. The originals are all lost, and only a few totals extracted from them remain on record. . . .

"The London plague of 1592-93 called forth two known publications, an anonymous 'Good Councell against the Plague, showing sundry preservatives. . . to avoyde the infection lately begun in some places of this Cittie' (London, 1592), and the Defensative' of Simon Kellwaye (April, 1593). The dates of these two books show that the alarm had really begun in the end of 1592 and the early months of 1593" (Creighton, A History of Epidemics in Britain[1891] 352-53).

The earliest surviving copy of the Bills of Mortality is:

True bill of the vvhole number that hath died At London : printed by I.R[oberts]. for Iohn Trundle, and are to be sold at his shop in Barbican, neere Long lane end, [1603]

1 sheet ([1] p.) ;c1⁰. STC (2nd ed.), 16743 1-3.


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1600 – 1650

Introduction of Book Burning by the Hangman 1634

The British government began to employ the hangman in book burnings.

"By 1640 his presence had become a familiar aspect of a scene of street theatre designed to frighten onlookers. The locations selected for these ritual mock executions by fire were invariably large open public spaces in the Cities of London and Westminster and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge; Cheapside, Smithfield, Paul’s churchyard and the Old Exchange in London, the New Palace at Westminster and the Market Place in Southwark. In a country where the bodies of heretics were no longer consigned to the flames but the Pope and other prominent Catholics were still burned in effigy, these book burnings were akin to a Protestant Auto da Fé by proxy.

"Burning books was an effective way of destroying particular printed texts, but not of eradicating them. The Roman Inquisition burned thousands of copies of Trattato Utilissimo Del Beneficio Di Giesu Christo Crocifisso (1541), yet it remains extant. In the same way it appears that at least one example survives of every book, pamphlet, broadsheet and newsbook ordered to be burned in England between 1640 and 1660. Indeed, there is evidence that book burning sometimes stimulated demand for condemned works by arousing the curiosity of collectors. As Daniel Defoe was to remark, he had heard a bookseller in the reign of James II say that 'if he would have a book sell, he would have it burnt by the hands of the common hangman' " (A. Hessayon, "Incendiary texts: book burning in England, c.1640 – c.1660", Cromohs, 12 (2007): 1-25; accessed 11-23-2008).

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Stephen Dayes Establishes the First Printing Press in North America: No Copies of the First Two Imprints Exist 1639

Stephen Daye established the first printing press in North America at Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1639. Daye's first publications were a broadside entitled The Oath of a Freeman, and Peirce's Almanack for 1639. Of these two printings, no authentic copies are known.

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Sixty Printed Books and Three Newsbooks Are Ordered to be Burned 1640 – 1660

Excluding corrupt translations of the Bible imported from the United Provinces, Catholic primers, missals and a liturgical devotion to the Virgin Mary, sixty identified printed books, pamphlets and broadsheets, and three newsbooks were ordered to be burned by civil, military and ecclesiastical authorities in England between 1640 and 1660.

"In addition, Parliament ordered a number of letters, notably those maligning its military commanders, to be burned. Capuchin vestments and utensils belonging to the alters and chapel of Somerset house and ‘superstitious’ pictorial representations of God the Father, Christ the Son, the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary were also ordered to be burned.  English book burning reached its height in 1642 when 13 books and pamphlets were consigned to the flames. Yet with the exception of a significant peak of 9 titles in 1646, during the remainder of the period no more than 5 books and pamphlets were ordered to be burned in a single year. Indeed, as significant as the occurrence of authorised book burning is its absence in 1649, 1653, 1657, 1658 and 1659." (Hessayon, "Incendiary texts: book burning in England, c.1640 – c.1660", Cromohs, 12 (2007) 1-25.  http://www.cromohs.unifi.it/12_2007/hessayon_incendtexts.html, accessed 01-04-2010).

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1650 – 1700

The Great Fire of London September 2 – September 5, 1666

From September 2 to September 5, 1666 The Great Fire of London swept through the central parts of the city.

"The fire gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman City Wall. It threatened, but did not reach, the aristocratic district of Westminster (the modern West End), Charles II's Palace of Whitehall, and most of the suburban slums. It consumed 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St. Paul's Cathedral, and most of the buildings of the City authorities. It is estimated that it destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the City's ca. 80,000 inhabitants. The death toll from the fire is unknown and is traditionally thought to have been small, as only six verified deaths were recorded. This reasoning has recently been challenged on the grounds that the deaths of poor and middle-class people were not recorded anywhere, and that the heat of the fire may have cremated many victims, leaving no recognizable remains."

"The social and economic problems created by the disaster were overwhelming; significant scapegoating occurred for some time after the fire. Evacuation from London and resettlement elsewhere were strongly encouraged by Charles II, who feared a London rebellion amongst the dispossessed refugees. Despite numerous radical proposals, London was reconstructed on essentially the same street plan used before the fire" (Wikipedia article on Great Fire of London, accessed 06-11-2009).

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"On the Burning of a Library": A Work of Self-Consolation 1670

As a result of the burning of his home and the destruction of his library, which included numerous unpublished manuscripts on a wide range of subjects, in 1670 Danish physician and anatomist, Thomas Bartholin, published in Copenhagen (København) De bibliothecae incendio, a work of self-consolation. In this work Bartholin recounted examples in history of other library losses through fire, and catalogued and summarized the vast amount of his intellectual work that was "lost to Vulcan." He also consoled himself with a bibliographical list of his works that had already been published in print, and thus had their content protected from catastrophic loss from fire:

"Books are not so readily exposed to destruction if they have multiplied themselves by the aid of type so that they may be read in more than a thousand copies dispersed throughout the earth, unless this universe which we inhabit be subjected to common ruin or flames spread themselves to all corners of the earth. It is by the benefit of divine art that I am as yet able to collect or seek again from friends or from booksellers my other works which were previously published. If judgment in this matter had been left in the hands of Vulcan, I should be bereft even of this small portion of my books. Unless it is burdensome to the reader, I shall subjoin a catalogue of my personal library constructed from works hitherto published in my name or dedicated to me, which Vulcan consumed with the rest, but with less harm to me since they are available elsewhere." (p. 32).

Bartholin then listed 129 printed works either written and published by him or dedicated to him.  At the end of De bibliothecae incendio Bartholin expressed gratitude that he survived the fire even if his "brain-children" were sacrified, and thanks the king, Christian V, for his support after this tragedy. By this time Bartholin was regarded as the leading physician in Denmark, and because of this tragic accident the king of Denmark freed Bartholin's estate of all taxes and appointed Bartholin his personal physician, with handsome compensation.

♦ Bartholin's work reflects a scholarly perspective very different from our time, and also exhibits what would have to be called credulity, especially with the following reference to Homer written in gold on a dragon's intestine—a story which, according to Bartholin, was repeated by several authorities:

"The library of Constantinople, founded by Theodosius the younger in 473, and a rival to that of Ptolemy [i.e. the Library of Alexandria], in the reign of the Emperor Zeno was consumed by a fire instigated by the leader of the image-breakers, the [later] Emperor Leo the Isaurian. Earlier, in the time of Basilicus Tyrannus, the same library had perished in flames aroused by the plebs in their hatred of Basilicus [Basiliscus], and among the books was the intestine of a dragon twenty feet long on which the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer had been written in letters of gold. But Claudius Clemens in his Bibliothecae Instructio considers that it had been snatched from the conflagration, because when Leo the Isaurian, struck by a mad fury against the sacred images, burned whatsoever volumes had been restored of the thirty-three thousand of the library, Constantinus, Cedrenus, Zonaras and Glycas testify that the intestine was still there, unless perchance, in a kind of veneration a new one had been fashioned in imitation of the former intestine which had perished in the first fire. According to the Annals of Constantinus Manassus [Manasses], translated by Lewenclavius, in which the fire is well described, I am disposed to consider the one instigated by Leo III, the Isaurian, as the first." (p.7.)

Bartholin, On the Burning of His Library and On Medical Travel, translated by C. D. O'Malley (1961) 7, 32. (Bracketed insertions and hyperlinks are my additions.)

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1700 – 1750

John Newberry Issues the First Printed Book Specifically for the Amusement of Children: No Copies of the First Edition Survive June 18, 1744

In 1744 printer and publisher John Newbery of London announced the availability of A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, intended for the Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly with Two Letters from Jack the Giant Killer by M. F. Thwaite and John Newbery. The first edition appears to be known only from an advertisement in the Penny London Morning Advertiser published on June 18, 1744. If copies were issued at that time they appear to have been read out of existence.

This small book, of which very few copies of early editions survived, is generally considered the first book for children in the modern sense. It consists of simple rhymes for each of the letters of the alphabet. To market the book to the children of the day the book could be purchased alone for 6d., or with a ball (for boys) or a pincushion (for girls) at a cost of 8d. 

The book includes a woodcut of stoolball and a rhyme entitled "Base-Ball." This is the first known instance of the word baseball in print. In the book "Base-Ball" refers to the game Rounders, which had been played in England since Tudor times.

The book was very popular in England, and was first published in Colonial America in 1762. 

♦ A facsimile of the edition printed in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1787 by Isaiah Thomas is available the Library of Congress website. In 1966 Oxford University Press issued a facsimile of the earliest known complete copy of an edition— that of London, 1767, preserved in the British Library. The facsimile included an introductory essay and biibliography by M. F. Thwaite, and an index to the introduction and bibliography. Thwaite wrote in his introduction, p. 3:

"The world of the day probably had little idea that this small work was in any way notable, or that it marked a new era in literature for the young. But there was one word in the advertisement which might have struck them an unusual. It was a word which was to open up new realms to young minds. To avow 'amusement' as a principal end in a book for boys and girls indicated that a revolution had taken place. In the past children's books had been reluctant to admit this feature, but in this new century of reason it was to be demonstrated that pleasure should be an important element, even though still firmly leashed to the old purposes of morality and instuction. Newbery was therefore only expressing the new spirit abroad. Before 1700 books for the young had been dominated by religious teaching, moral lessons or scholastic purpose. Now amusement was to be an equally desirable aim. And no one in those formative years of children's book-making was to follow it so well or to carry it so far as John Newbery."

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1750 – 1800

Joseph Priestley & Edward Nairne Invent the Rubber Eraser? April 15, 1770

On April 15, 1770 Joseph Priestley described a vegetable gum which has the ability to rub out pencil marks: "I have seen a substance excellently adapted to the purpose of wiping from paper the mark of black lead pencil." He called the substance "rubber."

Also in 1770 Edward Nairne, an English engineer, is credited with developing the first widely-marketed rubber eraser for an inventions competition. He reportedly sold natural rubber erasers for the high price of 3 shillings per half-inch cube.  This was the first practical application of rubber in Europe.

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The Siku Quanshu: Probably the Most Ambitious Editorial Enterprise before the Wikipedia 1773 – 1782

The Siku Quanshu, variously translated as the Imperial Collection of Four, Emperor's Four Treasuries, Complete Library in Four Branches of Literature, or Complete Library of the Four Treasuries, and issued from 1773 to 1782, was the largest collection of books in Chinese history and, before the Wikipedia, probably the most ambitious editorial enterprise in the history of the world.

"During the height of the Qing Dynasty, the Qianlong Emperor commissioned the Siku quanshu, to demonstrate that the Qing could surpass the Ming Dynasty's 1403 Yongle Encyclopedia, which was the world's largest encyclopedia at the time.

"The editorial board included 361 scholars, with Ji Yun (紀昀) and Lu Xixiong (陸錫熊) as chief editors. They began compilation in 1773 and completed it in 1782. The editors collected and annotated over 10,000 manuscripts from the imperial collections and other libraries, destroyed some 3,000 titles, or works, that were considered to be anti-Manchu, and selected 3,461 titles, or works, for inclusion into the Siku quanshu. They were bound in 36,381 volumes (册) with more than 79,000 chapters (卷), comprising about 2.3 million pages, and approximately 800 million Chinese characters.

"Scribes copied every word by hand. 'The copyists (of whom there were 3,826) were not paid in cash but rewarded with official posts after they had transcribed a given number of words within a set time.' Four copies for the emperor were placed in specially constructed libraries in the Forbidden City, Old Summer Palace, Shenyang, and Wenjin Chamber, Chengde. Three additional copies for the public were deposited in Siku quanshu libraries in Hangzhou, Zhenjiang, and Yangzhou. All seven libraries also received copies of the 1725 imperial encyclopedia Gujin tushu jicheng.

"The Siku quanshu copies kept in Zhenjiang and Yangzhou were destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion. In 1860 during the Second Opium War an Anglo-French expedition force burned most of the copy kept at the Old Summer Palace. The four remaining copies suffered some damage during World War II. Today, the four remaining copies are kept at the National Library of China in Beijing, the National Palace Museum in Taipei, the Gansu Library in Lanzhou, and the Zhejiang Library in Hangzhou.  On the first month of the 37th year of Qianlong, the emperor issued an Imperial decree for Qing Empire, demanding the people to hand in their private book collections, in order for the compilation of Siku Quanshu. Due to the Manchu Empire's previous notorious record of Literary Inquisition such as in the case of Treason by the Book, the Chinese were too scared to hand in books, in the fear of subsequent persecution.

On October of that year, seeing that hardly any Chinese handed in books, Qianlong issued more Imperial Decrees, stressing the points (1) Books will be returned to owners once the compilation is finished. (2) Book owners would not be persecuted even if their books do contain Bad words. In less than three months after the issue of the decree, four to five thousands of different types of books were handed in.

"Apart from reassuring the book owners that they will be free from persecution, Qianlong made false promises and rewards to Chinese book owners, such as he would perform personal calligraphy on their books. By this time 10,000 types of books were handed in.

"Using the emperor initiated movement as a form of elite political contention among themselves, the Han Chinese literati of the society gave the emperor full cooperation and participation, thus helping Qianlong to fullfill his dream of establishing cultural superiority over all past emperors.

Qianlong's intention was very clear, he wanted his Siku Quanshu compilers to create a library of classical culture that contained no anti-Manchu elements, resulting in an empire-wide movement of house-to-house searches for "evil books, tracts, poetry, and plays". The movement was directed and led by Qianlong himself; the "evil texts" that were discovered were to be sent to Peking and burned, and the respective books owners, sometimes the whole families, were either sentenced to death, or exiled to remote land " (Wikipedia article on Siku Quanshu, accessed 10-26-2009).

♦ In 2004 300 sets of an edition of the Siku Quanshu were printed on handmade paper and hand-bound in 1,184 volumes.

♦ In February 2014 a digital version of the Siku Quanshu was available online from Eastview Information Services at this link.

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Henri Grégoire Proposes a National Bibliography of France 1793 – 1794

French Catholic priest and revolutionary leader Henri Grégoire (Abbé Grégoire) published Instruction Publique. Rapport sur la bibliographie, delivered at the Convention nationale, seance du 22 Germinal, l'a 2 de la République. I have two different typeset versions of this pamphlet in my library, both of which consist of 16pp.  That with the colophon: DE L'IMPRIMERIE NATIONALE on the last leaf would appear to be first.

Grégoire believed that a French national bibliography would furnish material for :

1) a new history of France

2) a dictionary of pseudonymous and anonymous literature

3) a new geneological table of human knowledge

4) paleography of the French language, "which will be from now on the language of liberty."

By exchanging duplicates of rare and very expensive volumes, including specifically incunabula printed on vellum, the Bibliothèque nationale could be completed. (p. 11)

Abbé Grégoire hoped that the French government would sponsor this project, which it did not.  Had it done so, this would have been the first government-sponsored national bibliography.

Grégoire also condemned the recent destruction of libraries during the Revolutionary violence, and celebrated the arrival in Paris of a copy of Titus Livius, Historiae Romanae decades, edited by Joannes Andrea Bussi, bishop of Aleria. Venice: Vindelinus de Spira, 1470.  ISTC No.: il00238000. To Grégoire the copy was notable not only because of its rarity but because during a seige a bullet broke through its covers and margins without damaging the text (Grégoire p. 11).

An English translation of Grégoire's work was published in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin Bache in 1794: National Convention. Report on the means of compleating and distributing the National Library Made in the name of the Committee of Public Instruction, the 22d germinal, second year of the Republic. (April 11, 1794.) 

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1800 – 1850

The Library of Congress is Destroyed During the War of 1812 August 25, 1814

During the War of 1812 British Troops set fire to the U.S. Capitol building, burning, among other things, the Library of Congress, which then contained 3,000 volumes.

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1850 – 1875

Fire Destroys Two-Thirds of the Library of Congress December 24, 1851

A fire in the Library of Congress on December 24, 1851 destroyed 35,000 books—about two-thirds of the Library's 55,000 book collection, including two-thirds of Thomas Jefferson's library. This was the largest fire in the history of the Library of Congress

"Congress responded quickly and generously: in 1852 a total of $168,700 was appropriated to restore the Library's rooms in the Capitol and to replace the lost books. But the books were to be replaced only, with no particular intention of supplementing or expanding the collection. This policy reflected the conservative philosophy of Librarian of Congress John Silva Meehan and Sen. James A. Pearce of Maryland, the chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library, who favored keeping a strict limit on the Library's activities" (Jefferson's Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress, accessed 10-09-2009).

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Isaiah Deck Describes the Production of Mummy Paper in Nineteenth Century America 1855

In 1855  Anglo-American physician, geologist, archaeologist and explorer Isaiah Deck (the younger) published  “On a Supply of Paper Material from the Mummy Pits of Egypt,” Transactions of the American Institute of the City of New-York, for the year 1854. (Albany, 1855) 83-93.

"On an earlier copper prospecting trip to Jamaica, Deck had evaluated other sources for paper including aloe, plantain, banana and dagger-grass, but none were acceptable. Thus, already preoccupied with paper and paper sources, Deck set out on a trip to Egypt in 1847 to search for Cleopatra’s lost emerald mines. Deck’s father, also named Isaiah, had known Giovanni Belzoni, a famous Italian robber of Egyptian tombs; Deck the younger thus inherited from his father some Egyptian artifacts, including a piece of linen from a mummy.

"While searching for the lost mines, Deck couldn’t help but notice the plethora of mummies and mummy parts that turned up in communal burial sites called 'mummy pits.' He wrote, 'So numerous are they in some localities out of the usual beaten tracks of most travelers, that after the periodical storms whole areas may be seen stripped of sand, and leaving fragments and limbs exposed in such plenty and variety.' Deck did some calculations: assume two thousand years of widespread embalming, an average life span of thirty-three years and a stable population of eight million. This would leave you with about five hundred million mummies. Add to that the number of mummified animals including cats, bulls and crocodiles, and the number drastically rises. Deck also states, 'it is by no means rare to find above 30 lbs. weight of linen wrappings on mummies…A princess from the late Mr. Pettigrew’s collection was swathed in 40 thicknesses, producing 42 yards of the finest texture.' Deck further calculated that the average consumption of paper in America is about 15 lbs. per person per year. This meant that the supply from Egyptian mummies would be able to keep up with the American demand for about 14 years, by which point a substitute supply source or material would likely have been discovered, rendering the need for rags unnecessary" (Wikipedia article on Mummy Paper, accessed 01-10-2013).

Confirmation that American paper was actually made from rags or papyrus taken from mummies is scarce. One proof is a broadside preserved in Brown University Libraries entitled Hymn for the bi-centennial anniversary of the settlement of Norwich, Conn published in connection with the Bi-Centennial Celebration of Norwich, CT, September 7-8, 1859. At the foot of this broadside we read:

"Chelsea Manufacturing Company. This paper is made by the Chelsea Manufacturing Company, Greeneville, Conn. The largest paper manufactory in the world. The material of which it is made, was brought from Egypt. It was taken from the ancient tombs where it had been used in embalming mummies. A part of the process of manufacturing is exhibited in the procession. The daily production of the Company's mills is about 14,000 pounds."

Wolfe & Singerman, Mummies in Nineteenth Century America. Mummies as Artifacts (2009).

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"Boston as the Eagle and Wild Goose See It": the First Clear Photographic Aerial View of a City October 13, 1860

In collaboration with balloon navigator Samuel A. King on King's hot-air balloon, the "Queen of the Air," on October 13, 1860 American photographer James Wallace Black photographed Boston from a tethered balloon at 1,200 feet, producing 8 plates of glass negatives, 10 1/16 x 7 15/16 in. One good print resulted, which Black titled "Boston as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It." This was the first clear aerial image of a city.  The original photograph is preserved in the Boston Public Library. This photograph is especially significant because much of the area photographed was destroyed in the Great Boston Fire of 1872.

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Benjamin Tilghman Invents the Sulfite Pulping Process for Manufacturing Paper from Wood Pulp 1866

In 1866 American soldier, chemist and inventor Benjamin Chew Tilghman developed the sulfite pulping process for the manufacture of paper from wood pulp, receiving the US patent on the use of calcium bisulfite, Ca(HSO3)2, to pulp wood in 1867. The first mill using this process was built in Bergvik, Sweden in 1874. It used magnesium as the counter ion and was based on work by Swedish chemical engineer Carl Daniel Ekman.

"The soda process was for many years the only practical process for pulping of straw, wood, and similar fibrous materials. However, in 1866, 1867, and 1869 the American chemist Benjamin Chew Tilghman of Philadelphia was granted British and American patents on a new process of pulping of wood or other vegetable fibrous substances. This process involved essentially the heating, under pressure, of lignified fibrous material with an aqueous solution of sulfurous acid, with or without the addition of sulfite of an alkali such as calcium sulfite or bisulfite. These patents were the results of extensive experiments conducted by Benjamin Chew Tilghman in cooperation with his younger brother Richard Albert at the pulp and paper mills of W. W. Harding and Sons in Manayunk near Philadelphia" (Phillips, Benjamin Chew Tilghman, and the Origin of the Sulfite Process for the Delignification of WoodJ. Chem. Educ., 1943, 20 (9), p. 444, DOI: 10.1021/ed020p444).

Throughout the 19th century it was increasingly necessary to find workable substitutes for scarce linen rags, the supply of which could not possibly keep up with the growing demands for paper. While the production of paper from wood pulp enabled greatly increased production, the bleaching agents used in this new process reduced the longevity of paper. The pulping, bleaching, and sizing processes generated hydrochloric and sulfuric acids, which over time resulted in brittleness and deterioration of paper, and the possible loss of information.

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Anthony Comstock Founds the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and Lobbies for Passage of the "Comstock Law" 1873 – 1950

In 1873 United States Postal Inspector and politician Anthony Comstock founded the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, an organization dedicated to supervising public morality. Later that year Comstock successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Comstock Law, which made illegal the delivery or transportation of "obscene, lewd, or lascivious" material, as well as the distribution of any methods of, or information pertaining to, birth control, or any information about venereal disease. 

"George Bernard Shaw used the term "comstockery", meaning 'censorship because of perceived obscenity or immorality', after Comstock alerted the New York City police to the content of Shaw's play Mrs. Warren's Profession. Shaw remarked that 'Comstockery is the world's standing joke at the expense of the United States. Europe likes to hear of such things. It confirms the deep-seated conviction of the Old World that America is a provincial place, a second-rate country-town civilization after all.' Comstock thought of Shaw as an 'Irish smut dealer.' The term 'comstockery' was actually first coined in an editorial in The New York Times in 1895" (Wikipedia article on Anthony Comstock, accessed 01-12-2014).

The specific mission of the NYSSV was to monitor compliance with state laws and work with the courts and district attorneys in bringing offenders to justice. While the organization is best remembered for its opposition to literary works, it also closely monitored newsstands, which sold the popular magazines of the day. When I wrote this entry in January 2014 the Wikipedia article listed numerous "noteworthy actions"— mainly attempts to suppress literary or theatrical works undertaken by the NYSSV between 1900 and its closure in 1950. As far as I know, all of the suppressed works were eventually published in spite of the organization and the Comstock law(s).

Relevant to censorship, the circular symbol of the society graphically depicted a policeman arresting an offender on the left, and a top-hatted man burning books on the right.

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1875 – 1900

One of the Most Dramatic Problems in the Preservation of Media 1889 – 1955

In 1889 inventor and entrepreneur George Eastman of Rochester, New York used Cellulose Nitrate as a base for photographic roll film. Cellulose nitrate was used for photographic and professional 35mm motion picture film until the 1950s, eventually creating one of the most dramatic problems in the preservation of media.

"It is highly inflammable and also decomposes to a dangerous condition with age. When new, nitrate film could be ignited with the heat of a cigarette; partially decomposed, it can ignite spontaneously at temperatures as low as 120 F (49C). Nitrate film burns rapidly, fuelled by its own oxygen, and releases toxic fumes.

"Decomposition: There are five stages in the decomposition of nitrate film:

"(i) Amber discolouration with fading of picture.
"(ii) The emulsion becomes adhesive and films stick together; film becomes brittle.
"(iii) The film contains gas bubbles and gives off a noxious odour
"(iv) The film is soft, welded to adjacent film and frequently covered with a viscous froth
"(v) The film mass degenerates into a brownish acrid powder.

"Film in the first and second stages can be copied, as may parts of films at the third stage of decomposition. Film at the fourth or fifth stages is useless and should be immediately destroyed by your local fire brigade because of the dangers of spontaneous combustion and chemical attack on other films. Contact your local environmental health officer about this.

"It has been estimated that the majority of nitrate film will have decomposed to an uncopiable state by the year 2000, though archives are now deep-freezing film."

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1900 – 1910

The Beginnings of Modern Spaceflight Theory May 1903 – 1914

In 1903 Russian schoolteacher and scientist Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky (Tsiolkovskii) (Константи́н Эдуа́рдович Циолко́вский) published from Saint Petersburg "Issledovanie mirovykh prostrantsv’ reaktivnymi priborami" ["Exploration of Space Using Reactive Devices"] in Научное Обозрьніе [Nauchnoe Obozrenie (Science review)] no. 5, May 1903, followed by part 2: "Issledovanie mirovykh prostrantsv’ reaktivnymi priborami" in Въстникъ Воздухоплаванія [Vestnik’ Vozdukhoplavania] / Revue de navigation aérienne (1911-12), numbers 19, 20, 21, 22, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, followed by part 3: Issledovanie mirovykh prostrantsv’ reaktivnymi priborami privately issued by Tsiolkovsky as a pamphlet in Kaluga in 1914.

These papers represented the beginnings of the modern era of spaceflight theory, preceding the earliest publications of Robert Goddard (1919) and Robert Esnault-Pelterie (1913). "Tsiolkovsky had grasped the principle of reaction flight as early as 1883, and his 'Exploration of Space Using Reactive Devices' (1903) contains the first mathematical exposition of the reaction principle operating in space. In ‘Issledovanie mirovykh prostranstv reaktivnymi priborami’ . . . Tsiolkovsky set forth his theory of the motion of rockets, established the possibility of space travel by means of rockets, and adduced the fundamental flight formulas” (Dictionary of Scientific Biography).

“Tsiolkovsky not only solved theoretically such age-old questions as how to escape from the Earth’s atmosphere and gravitational field, but he also described several rockets. The first, conceived in 1903, was to be powered by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen—a very modern propellant combination . . . [Tsiolkovsky] made another discovery—the multistage rocket, which he called the ‘rocket train.’ Actually, this concept was not as new as Tsiolkovsky, who discovered it independently, thought; firework makers had used the principle for at least 200 years. But Tsiolkovsky was the first to analyze the idea in a sophisticated manner. The multistage technique, he concluded, was the only feasible means by which a space vehicle could attain the velocity necessary to escape from the Earth’s gravitational hold” (Von Braun & Ordway, History of Rocketry and Space Travel [1975] 42).

Tsiolkovsky’s “Issledovanie mirovykh prostrantsv’ reaktivnymi priborami” was published in three parts, issued irregularly over a period of 13 years. Both the first and second parts were published as journal articles, the second part appearing over ten numbers of the Vestnik’ Vozdukhoplavania between 1911 and 1912. The third part, published by Tsiolkovsky, was intended as a supplement to the first two parts, which even then had become very difficult to find: In a note printed on the inside front cover of the 1914 pamphlet, Tsiolkovsky stated that the earlier works were unobtainable, and that he himself had only one copy.  According to historian of rocketry Frank Winter, most copies of Tsiolkovsky's 1903 paper were suppressed, as  “the May 1903 issue of Nauchnoe Obozrenie also contained a politically revolutionary piece that led to the confiscation of almost all issues by the authorities” (Winter, "Planning for Spaceflight: 1880s to 1930s," in Blueprint for Space, ed Ordway and Liebermann [1992] 104-05.)

The significance of Tsiolkovsky's work in rocketry and space travel was greatest in Russia where it inspired the early development of rocketry and aerospace research independent of American and European workers. Tsiolkovsky's writings were also known to German rocketry researchers by the 1920s.

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A New Version of Babbage's Analytical Engine, Lost 1908 – 1914

IN 1908 Irish accountant Percy Ludgate, working in Dublin, designed a general purpose programable computer about which he published "On a proposed analytical engine," Scientific Proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society, n.s., 12 (1909-10) 77-91. This described "the result of about six years' work, undertaken . . . with the object of designing machinery capable of performing calculations, however, intricate or laborious, without the immediate guidance of the human intellect" (p. 77).

Ludgate's efforts followed about eighty years after Babbage began designing his Analytical Engine, and although Ludgate knew nothing of Babbage's work until after he had completed the first design of his own machine, he was "greatly assisted in the more advanced stages of the problem by, and [received] valuable suggestions from, the writings of that accomplished scholar" (p. 78).

Ludgate was the only person to attempt to build a general purpose programable computer between Babbage and Howard Aiken, whose Harvard Mark I became operational in the early 1940s. Ludgate's machine, as designed, was much smaller than Babbage's, handling 192 variables of 20 figures each compared to Babbage's 1000 variables of 50 figures each, and using "shuttles" to store the variables instead of Babbage's bulkier columns of wheels.  Ludgate was never able to obtain funding to build his machine and he died at the early age of 39. His drawings of his machine were lost; the only records are in his 1909-10 paper, and in a very brief account embedded in Ludgate's report on automatic calculating machines published in the 1914 Handbook of the Napier Tercentenary Celebration (also issued as Modern Instruments and Methods of Calculation). Randell, Origins of Digital Computers (3d ed.) 73-87 reprints the text. Norman, From Gutenberg to the Internet (2005) Reading 6.3 reprints Ludgate's 1914 article.

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1910 – 1920

Destruction of the University Library at Leuven August 25, 1914

On August 25, 1914, as they plundered the city of Leuven, the invading German Army destroyed the library of the Catholic University of Leuven, the oldest and most prominent university in Belgium, founded in 1425 by Pope Martin V.

Along with the historic libary building about 300,000 books, and an untold number of manuscripts were lost, including irreplaceable medieval and renaissance treasures. The destruction of this library was part of brutal retaliations by the Germans for the extensive activity of "francs-tireurs" against the occupying forces.

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1930 – 1940

Hitler Seizes Power in Germany and the Nazis Begin Purging Germany of Jews & Jewish Culture, Eventually Burning 100,000,000 Books and Killing About 20 Million People April 6, 1933 – 1945

The ultra-nationalism and antisemitism of German middle-class, secular student organizations had been intense and vocal for decades prior to the rise of Nazism. After World War I, most students opposed the Weimar Republic (1919–1933) and found in National Socialism a suitable vehicle for their political discontent and hostility. After Adolf Hitler seized power on January 30, 1933 German university students became the vanguard of the Nazi movement, and many filled the ranks of various Nazi formations.

Following Hitler's plans, in 1933 Nazi Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels began the synchronization of culture, to bring the arts in Germany in line with Nazi goals. The German government purged cultural organizations of Jews and others alleged to be politically or artistically suspect. On April 6, 1933, the German Student Association's Main Office for Press and Propaganda proclaimed a nationwide “Action against the Un-German Spirit,” to climax in a literary purge or “cleansing” (Säuberung) by fire. Local chapters were to supply the press with releases and commission articles, sponsor well-known Nazi figures to speak at public gatherings, and negotiate for radio broadcast time. On April 8 the students association drafted its twelve "theses"—deliberately evocative of Martin Luther—declarations and requisites of a "pure" national language and culture. Placards publicized the theses, which attacked “Jewish intellectualism,” asserted the need to “purify” the German language and literature, and demanded that universities be centers of German nationalism. The students described the “action” as a response to a worldwide Jewish “smear campaign” against Germany and an affirmation of traditional German values.

On the night of May 10, 1933, in most university towns in Germany, nationalist students marched in torchlight parades "against the un-German spirit." The scripted rituals called for high Nazi officials, professors, rectors, and student leaders to address the participants and spectators. At the meeting places, students threw "un-German" books into the bonfires with great joyous ceremony, band-playing, songs, "fire oaths", and incantations. The students burned upwards of 25,000 volumes of "un-German" books, "presaging an era of state censorship and control of culture." The book burning of May 10 was based on meticulously compiled "black lists" were collected in the spring of 1933 by the Berlin librarian Dr. Wolfgang Herrmann

The formation of the Reichsschrifttumskammer on November 1, 1933 began not only targeted management and monitoring of authors, publishers and booksellers, but expansion of the Herrmann list. By decree of April 25, 1935, the  Reichsschrifttumskammer received the order, "[to compile] a list of such books and records that jeopardize Nazi culture. A first, undisclosed draft was prepared before the end of 1935. Ultimately, the "list of harmful and undesirable writings" consisted of more than 4500 entries, often the entire work of an author or the entire back list of a publisher.

 "Not all book burnings took place on May 10, as the German Student Association had planned. Some were postponed a few days because of rain. Others, based on local chapter preference, took place on June 21, the summer solstice, a traditional date of celebration. Nonetheless, in 34 university towns across Germany the "Action against the Un-German Spirit" was a success, enlisting widespread newspaper coverage. And in some places, notably Berlin, radio broadcasts brought the speeches, songs, and ceremonial incantations "live" to countless German listeners" (United States Holocaust Museum website).

On the night of November 9, 1938—called Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass—92 Jews were murdered, and 25,000–30,000 were arrested and deported to concentration camps. More than 200 Synagogues were destroyed along with tens of thousands of Jewish businesses and homes. This marked the beginning of the Holocaust.

On December 31, 1938 the Reichsministerium fur Volksaufklaerung und Progaganda published the Liste des schädlichen und unerwünschten SchrifttumsThis list of "damaging and undesirable writing" included authors, living and dead, whose works were banned from the Reich because of their Jewish descent, pacifist or communist views, or suspicion thereof.

Between 1933 and 1945, Nazi Germany systematically destroyed an estimated 100 million books throughout occupied Europe, an act inextricably bound up with the murder of 6 million Jews, and millions of other people they considered undesirable. By burning and looting libraries and censoring "un-German" publications, the Nazis aimed to eradicate all traces of Jewish culture along with the Jewish people themselves. 

In March 2011 I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. You cannot grasp the scale of the Holocaust until you visit Birkenau, especially— a giant factory of death capable of processing 20,000 people per day. The impact of the Holocaust was still reverberating in my head in April 2011 when I wrote this database entry. Needing to understand more, I read Richard Rhodes' book, Masters of Death, from which the horrifying wider scope of the Holocaust, unfolded in my consciousness, and from which I quote: 

“The notorious gas chambers and crematoria of the death camps have come to typify the Holocaust, but in fact they were exceptional. The primary means of mass murder the Nazis deployed during the Second World War was firearms and lethal privation. Shooting was not less efficient than gassing, as many historians have assumed. It was hard on the shooters’ nerves, and the gas vans and chambers alleviated the burden. But shooting began earlier, continued throughout the war and produced far more victims if Slavs are counted, as they must be, as well as Jews. ‘The Nazi regime was the most genocidal the world has ever seen,’ writes sociologist Michael Mann. ’During its short twelve years (overwhelmingly its last four) it killed approximately twenty million unarmed persons. . . . Jews comprised only a third of the victims and their mass murder occurred well into the sequence. . . . Slavs, defined as Untermenschenwere the most numerous victims—3 million Poles, 7 million Soviet citizens and 3.3 million Soviet POWs.’ Even among Jewish victims, Daniel Goldhagen estimates, ‘somewhere between 40 and 50 percent’ were killed ‘by means other than gassing, and more Germans were involved in these killings in a greater variety of contexts than in those carried out in the gas chambers’ ” (Richard RhodesMasters of Death. The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust [2002] 156-157).

In tracing and documenting the crimes committed by the SS summarized in these statistics Rhodes did not intend in any way to diminish the incredible losses suffered by the Jews, nor to blur the particular focus of the Nazis' Final Solution on the Jews. His exploration of SS crimes exposed a scope of criminality that was wider, almost beyond comprehension.

 Rose (ed.), The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation (2000).

 (Information adapted from the United States Holocaust Museum website).

(This entry was last revised on 01-17-2015.)

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The Only Known Complete Inventory of Art Labeled "Degenerate" by the Nazis 1937 – 1942

At the end of January 2014 the Victoria & Albert Museum in London made available online the only known copy of a complete inventory of Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) confiscated by the Nazi regime from public institutions in Germany, mostly during 1937 and 1938. The 2-volume typed list of more than 16,000 artworks was produced by the Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda (Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda) circa 1941-42. It seems that the inventory was compiled as a final record after the sales and disposals of the confiscated art had been completed in the summer of 1941. The two volumes provide crucial information concerning provenance, exhibition history, and disposition of each artwork. 

"The inventory consists of 482 pages (including blank pages and a missing page), split into two volumes. The entries are organised alphabetically by city, institution and artist's name. Volume 1 covers the cities Aachen to Görlitz, while Volume 2 covers Göttingen to Zwickau.

"Each page gives the name of the city and museum at the top, followed by two groups of columns containing information about each artwork. The first columns provide a running number, the artist’s surname, the inventory number and a short title. The remaining columns provide additional details, and were evidently added later. The contents include information about the medium and the buyer or dealer (if any), a code indicating the exhibition history or fate of the work, and any payments made in foreign currency and/or Reichsmarks" (http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/e/entartete-kunst/, accessed 02-02-2014).

In February 2014 the first volume of the Nazi Degenerate Art Inventory, with an Introduction by Douglas Dodds and Heike Zech, was available at this link; the second volume was available at this link.

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1940 – 1950

The Nazis Destroy the National Library of Serbia April 6, 1941

In the German bombing attack on Belgrade on April 6, 1941 4000 people were killed, and more than 8000 buildings were destroyed, including the National Library of Serbia

"This building was built in 1832 and was the only national library attacked on purpose and destroyed in WWII. The entire fund, of 350,000 books, including invaluable medieval manuscripts, was destroyed. The library also housed collections of Ottoman manuscripts, more than 200 old printed books dating from 15th to 17th centuries, old maps, engravings, works of arts and newspapers, including all the books printed in Serbia and neighbouring countries from 1832 on. The fate of Serbia, i.e. the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, had been decided upon with a putsch and protests of 27 March 1941 against the Trilateral Pact, signed by the then government two days before. The protests infuriated Hitler, who, on the same day, decided that, besides Greece, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia should also be destroyed as a state" (Radio Srbija: http://glassrbije.org/E/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=10494&Itemid=32 , accessed 04-06-2010).

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Repeated Dispersal and Eventual Burning of the Greatest Library in Poland October 1944

During the Warsaw Uprisingin October 1944 the German army destroyed the Załuski Library, the first Polish public library, and the largest library in Poland. "Only 1800 manuscripts and 30,000 printed materials survived."

The Zaluski Library was built in Warsaw from 1747 to 1795 by bishops Józef Andrzej Załuski and his brother, Andrzej Stanisław Załuski. After the Kościuszko Uprising, the Russian troops acting on orders from Czarina Catherine II looted the library and dispatched them to St. Petersburg, where it became a nucleus of the Imperial Public Library, now the National Library of Russia.

"Parts of the collections were damaged or destroyed during the plunder of the library and the subsequent transport. According to the historian Joachim Lelewel, the Zaluskis' books, 'could be bought at Grodno by the basket'."

"The collection was subsequently dispersed among several Russian libraries. Some parts of the Zaluski collection came back to Poland on three separate dates: 1842, 1863.In the 1920s, in the aftermath of the Polish-Soviet War and the Treaty of Riga the Soviet Union government returned around 50,000 items from the collection to Poland" (Wikipedia article on the Zaluski Library, accessed 12-02-2008).

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Bombing of Dresden Destroys Books and Manuscripts February – March 1945

With the onset of World War II, the most precious holdings of the Sächsische Landesbibliothek at Dresden were dispersed to eighteen castles and offices. As a result they largely survived the bombing raids of February and March 1945 on this major industrial center by the British and American Air Forces.

However, the raids destroyed the former library buildings and virtually the whole historic center of Dresden— with losses of about 200,000 volumes of twentieth-century manuscript and printed holdings. The losses included  irreplaceable musical manuscripts, including the major corpus of Tomasso Albinoni's unpublished music, though Georg Philipp Telemann's manuscripts were preserved. After the war, some 250,000 books from the library were taken to Russia.

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Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is Published 1949

In 1949 English author Eric Arthur Blair, writing under his pseudonym, George Orwell, published the dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four in London. The story followed the life of Winston Smith, an apparently minor civil servant whose job was to falsify records and political literature, and thus perpetuate propaganda. Becoming disillusioned with this system and his meagre existence, Smith began a futile rebellion against the system. Orwell's novel became famous for its satirical portrayal of surveillance, and of society's increasing encroachment on the rights of the individual. Since its publication the terms Big Brother and Orwellian became widely used in popular speech.

"Nineteen Eighty-Four's impact upon the English language is extensive; many of its concepts: Big Brother, Room 101 (the worst place in the world), the Thought Police, the memory hole (oblivion), doublethink (simultaneously holding and believing two contradictory beliefs), and Newspeak (ideological language), are common usages for denoting and connoting overarching, totalitarian authority; Doublespeak is an elaboration of doublethink; the adjective "Orwellian" denotes that which is characteristic and reminiscent of George Orwell's writings, specifically 1984. The practice of appending the suffixes "-speak" and "-think" (groupthink, mediaspeak) to denote unthinking conformity. Many other works, in various forms of media, have taken themes from Nineteen Eighty-four" (Wikipedia article on Nineteen Eighty-Four).

As an aside, I remember reading Nineteen Eighty-Four in school in the 1950s. During the Cold War it, along with Orwell's Animal Farm, were required reading in many schools.  When I first read Nineteen Eighty Four I found much of it scary, but it seemed like it was set in the distant future. Later, when 1984 rolled around, I reread the novel and thought how "unlikely" it would be that Orwellian ideas would propagate in our free society. In 2013 with the disclosures by Eric Snowden of extensive secret electronic surveillance of Americans by the U.S. National Security Agency, Orwellian ideas did not seem so far-fetched, even in America.

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1950 – 1960

Ray Bradbury's Early Dystopian View of Books: "Fahrenheit 451" 1953 – November 2011

Having written the entire book on a pay typewriter in the basement of UCLA's Powell Library, in 1953 Ray Bradbury published the dystopian science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, named after the temperature at which books are supposed to combust spontaneously. Besides the regular trade edition, the publisher, Ballantine Books, issued a limited edition of 200 copies signed by Bradbury and bound in white boards made of "Johns-Manville Quinterra," a fire-proof asbestos material.

"The novel presents a future American society in which the masses are hedonistic, and critical thought through reading is outlawed. The central character, Guy Montag, is employed is a 'fireman' (which, in this future, means 'book burner'). The number '451' refers to the temperature (in Fahrenheit) at which the books burn when the 'Firemen' burn them 'For the good of humanity'. Written in the early years of the Cold War, the novel is a critique of what Bradbury saw as an increasingly dysfunctional American society.

Bradbury's original intention in writing Fahrenheit 451 was to show his great love for books and libraries. "He has often referred to Montag as an allusion to himself" (Wikipedia article on Fahrenheit 451).

François Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard wrote a screenplay based on the novel, and Truffault directed a film, released in 1966, entitled Fahrenheit 451, starring Julie Christie and Oskar Werner. The film was re-issued on DVD by Universal Studios in 2003.

♦ After publically opposing ebooks for several years, telling The New York Times in 2009 that "that the Internet is a big distraction," in November 2011, at the age of 91, Bradbury authorized an ebook edition of Fahrenheit 451, and several other of his best-selling books. By this date Fahrenheit 451 had sold more than 10 million copies in print, and had been translated into many languages. Also by this date, ebooks comprised 20% of the fiction book market in the U.S. 

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1970 – 1980

Book Burning and Personal Book Collecting by Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet 1973 – 1990

During the Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet numerous book burnings were conducted by the Junta Militar de Gobierno to destroy information they considered subversive. Burned books including leftist literature and other material that were incompatible with the junta's ideology, as part of a campaign to "extirpate the Marxist cancer" of the prior democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende.

"Following the coup, the military began raids to find potential opponents of the regimes, who were then held and some of them executed at the Estadio Nacional and other places. In addition to this, during the raids the military gathered and burned large numbers of books: not just Marxist literature, but also general sociological literature, newspapers and magazines.In addition to this, such books were withdrawn from the shelves of bookstores and libraries.

"The book burning attracted international protests: the American Library Association condemned them, arguing that it is "a despicable form of suppression" which "violates the fundamental rights of the people of Chile".

"Sporadic book burning occurred throughout the junta's regime which lasted until 1990. On November 28, 1986, the customs authorities seized almost 15,000 copies of Gabriel García Márquez's book Clandestine in Chile, which were later burned by military authorities in Valparaíso. Together with them, copies of a book of essays by Venezuelan presidential candidate Teodoro Petkoff were also burned" (Wikipedia article on Book burnings in Chile, accessed 01-12-2014).

What directed my attention to this was an article by Simon Romero published in The New York Times on January 9, 2014, entitled "A Chilean Dictator's Secret Book Collection: Heavy on Napoleon, Light on Fiction." This described the private library of around 50,000 volumes secretly collected by Augusto Pinochet during his dictatorship. It seems that the dictator, under whose regime 3,000 people disappeared and nearly 40,000 were tortured, collected one of the largest and most significant libraries in South America, using government funds. The story of Pinochet's library was told in La secreta vida literaria de Augusto Pinochet by Juan Cristóbal Peña published in 2013. Both the article and book present psychological speculations as to why the dictator, who was no scholar, collected such a large library.

An image of Chilean soldiers burning leftist literature during the Pinochet regime in 1973 is available at this link.

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1980 – 1990

The Digital Domesday Project--Doomed to Early Digital Obsolescence 1984 – 1986

From 1984 to 1986 Acorn Computers Ltd, Philips, Logica and the BBC (with some funding from the European Commission's ESPRIT program) marked the 900th anniversary of the original Domesday Book—an 11th century census of England—with the multimedia BBC Domesday Project. This publication is frequently cited as an example of digital obsolescence.

The Project "included a new 'survey' of the United Kingdom, in which people, mostly school children, wrote about geography, history or social issues in their local area or just about their daily lives. This was linked with maps, and many colour photos, statistical data, video and 'virtual walks'. Over 1 million people participated in the project. The project also incorporated professionally-prepared video footage, virtual reality tours of major landmarks and other prepared datasets such as the 1981 census.

"The project was stored on adapted laserdiscs in the LaserVision Read Only Memory (LV-ROM) format, which contained not only analog video and still pictures, but also digital data, with 300 MB of storage space on each side of the disc. The discs were mastered, produced, and tested by Philips at their Eindhoven headquarters factory. Viewing the discs required an Acorn BBC Master expanded with an SCSI controller and an additional coprocessor controlled a Philips VP415 "Domesday Player", a specially-produced laserdisc player. The user interface consisted of the BBC Master's keyboard and a trackball (known at the time as a trackerball). The software for the project was written in BCPL (a precursor to C), to make cross platform porting easier, although BCPL never attained the popularity that its early promise suggested it might.

In 2002, there were great fears that the discs would become unreadable as computers capable of reading the format had become rare (and drives capable of accessing the discs even more rare). Aside from the difficulty of emulating the original code, a major issue was that the still images had been stored on the laserdisc as single-frame analogue video, which were overlaid by the computer system's graphical interface. The project had begun years before JPEG image compression and before truecolour computer video cards had become widely available.

"However, the BBC later announced that the CAMiLEON project (a partnership between the University of Leeds and University of Michigan) had developed a system capable of accessing the discs using emulation techniques. CAMiLEON copied the video footage from one of the extant Domesday laserdiscs. Another team, working for the UK National Archives (who hold the original Domesday Book) tracked down the original 1-inch videotape masters of the project. These were digitised and archived to Digital Betacam.

"A version of one of the discs was created that runs on a Windows PC. This version was reverse-engineered from an original Domesday Community disc and incorporates images from the videotape masters. It was initially available only via a terminal at the National Archives headquarters in Kew, Surrey but has been available since July 2004 on the web.

"The head of the Domesday Project, Mike Tibbets, has criticized the bodies to which the archive material was originally entrusted" (Wikipedia article on BBC Domesday Project, accessed 12-21-2008).

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"Slow Fires: On the Preservation of the Human Record" 1987

In 1987 American filmaker Terry Sanders, the American Film Foundation, and the Council on Library and Information Resources, issued Slow Fires: On the Preservation of the Human Record, a film narrated by Robert McNeil. The AFF characterized the film as:

"The unforgettable story of the deterioration and destruction of our world’s intellectual heritage and the global crisis in preserving library materials. . . .

"Millions of pages of paper in books, photographs, drawings and maps are disintegrating and turning to dust. This remarkable film provides a comprehensive assessment of the worldwide situation, demonstrates methods of restoration and preservation and suggests ways to prevent new documents from facing ultimate destruction".

In December 2013 the film could be purchased from the American Film Foundation's website on DVD, in 33 and 58 minute versions.

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Probably the Worst Library Fire in History February 14, 1988

On February 14, 1988 fire broke out in the newspaper room on the third floor of the Academy of Sciences Library in Leningrad.

"By the time it was extinguished the following afternoon, it had destroyed 400,000 books of the 12 million housed in the building; two to three million more were damaged by heat and smoke; and over one million were damp or wet from the firemen's hoses. The extent of the damage made it the worst library fire in history. (The Los Angeles Public Library fire by comparison, also destroyed 400,000 books, but damaged only a half million by heat and smoke.)

"Many of the lost volumes were part of the Baer Collection of foreign scientific works: an early estimate gives 300,000, a later one 190,000, as the number lost. The rest were Russian books, many of then early scientific and medical books from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries." (The Abbey Newsletter Volume XII, number 2 [1988].)

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1990 – 2000

Destruction of the National Library of Bosnia & Herzegovina August 25, 1992 – May 9, 2014

On August 25, 1992, Serbian shelling during the Siege of Sarajevo completely destroyed the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina (NUBBiH) (BosnianCroatian, and SerbianNacionalna i univerzitetska biblioteka Bosne i Hercegovine) in Sarajevo, the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Before the attack the library held 1.5 million volumes and over 155,000 rare books and manuscripts. Among the losses were were about 700 manuscripts and incunabula, and a unique collection of Bosnian serial publications. Many of the rare volumes reflected the multicultural life of the region under the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires. In May 2014 an image of the destroyed building, showing the ashes of over 1 million books, was available at this link.

The building, known in Sarajevo as "Vijecnica" (city hall), opened in 1896. Facing the Miljacka river and hills from which the Serb artillery set it ablaze, it stood out in the city's old Turkish quarter with its dark orange and yellow horizontal stripes and Islamic-style arches. After the years of restoration, the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina was re-opened on May 9, 2014 to mark the centenary of the start of World War I, triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria just after he left a reception there in June 1914. 

Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne in Vienna, attended a reception at Vijecnica on June 28, 1914 after surviving a failed assassination attempt. Just after leaving, he and his wife were shot dead in their open car by Serb assassin Gavrilo Princip. The assasination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand lit the fuse for World War I, during which more than 10 million soldiers died, and the map of Europe was redrawn, ending Vienna's empire and creating the new state of Yugoslavia. That multinational state began to fall apart in 1991. War among the Serb, Croat and Muslim populations in Bosnia and Herzegovina began in 1992 and lasted until late 1995.

The restored Vijecnica will house the national and university libraries, the city council and a museum documenting its own history. 

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2000 – 2005

Over 500,000 Egyptian Papyri Survive 2002

In spite of the immense loss of information over the centuries, in 2002 there were about 45,000 Egyptian papyri, including fragments, in six institutional libraries and museums in the United States. (Athena Review, 2, no. 2). The main U.S. holders of papyri were Duke University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan, Columbia, Yale, and Princeton. It was estimated that there are about 500,000 unpublished papyri preserved elsewhere. Other major institutional collections of papyri were the University of Heidelberg, University of Oxford, University of Lecce, and the University of Copenhagen.

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Looting of the National Museum of Iraq April 6 – April 12, 2003

The National Museum of Iraq

Mushin Hasan, the deputy director of the National Museum of Iraq, sits on artifacts detroyed following the looting in April 2003

Between April 6 and April 12, 2003 The National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad lost an estimated 15,000 artifacts, including priceless relics of Mesopotamian civilization. The relics were stolen by looters in the days after Baghdad fell to U.S. forces in the Iraq War. Of the objects looted, about 5,000 were still missing in 2003, 4,000 were returned and 6,000 were recovered, according to Lawrence Rothfield, author of Antiquities Under Siege: Cultural Heritage Protection After the Iraq War (2008).

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2005 – 2010

The EPA Begins to Close its Scientific Libraries November 20, 2006

The Environmental Protection Agency seal

The Boston Globe reported on November 20, 2006 that the The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had begun to close its nationwide network of scientific libraries, effectively preventing EPA scientists and the public from accessing vast amounts of data and information on issues from toxicology to pollution. Several libraries were already dismantled, with their contents either destroyed or shipped to repositories where they were uncataloged and inaccessible.

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Demanding that the U.S. EPA Desist from Destroying its Libraries November 30, 2006

Stephen Johnson

On November 30, 2006 ranking members of congressional committees wrote to Stephen Johnson, Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, demanding that the agency desist from destroying its libraries:

"Over the past 36 years, EPA's libraries have accumulated a vast and invaluable trove of public health and environmental information, including at least 504,000 books and reports, 3,500 journal titles, 25,000 maps, and 3.6 million information objects on microfilm, according to the report issued in 2004: Business Case for Information Services: EPA's Regional Libraries and Centers prepared for the Agency by Stratus Consulting. Each one of EPA's libraries also had information experts who helped EPA staff and the public access and use the Agency's library collection and information held in other library collections outside of the Agency. It now appears that EPA officials are dismantling what is likely one of our country's most comprehensive and accessible collections of environmental materials.
The press has reported on the concerns over the library reorganization plan voiced by EPA professional staff of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), 16 local union Presidents representing EPA employees, and the American Library Association. In response to our request of September 19, 2006, (attached), the Government Accountability Office has initiated an investigation of EPA's plan to close its libraries. Eighteen Senators sent a letter on November 3, 2006, to leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee asking them
to direct EPA "to restore and maintain public access and onsite library collections and services at EPA's headquarters, regional, laboratory and specialized program libraries while the Agency solicits and considers public input on its plan to drastically cut its library budget and services"
(attached). Yet, despite the lack of Congressional approval and the concerns expressed over this plan, your Agency continues to move forward with dismantling the EPA libraries. It is imperative that the valuable government information maintained by EPA's libraries
be preserved. We ask that you please confirm in writing by no later than Monday, December 4, 2006, that the destruction or disposition of all library holdings immediately ceased upon the Agency's receipt of this letter and that all records of library holdings and dispersed materials are being maintained."

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The World's Oldest Oil Paintings Restored After Taliban Dynamite February 19, 2008

"The oldest known oil painting, dating from 650 A.D., has been found in caves in Afghanistan's Bamiyan Valley, according to a team of Japanese, European and U.S. scientists.

"The discovery reverses a common perception that the oil painting, considered a typically Western art, originated in Europe, where the earliest examples date to the early 12th century A.D.

"Famous for its 1,500-year-old massive Buddha statues, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, the Bamiyan Valley features several caves painted with Buddhist images.

"Damaged by the severe natural environment and Taliban dynamite, the cave murals have been restored and studied by the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo, as a UNESCO/Japanese Fund-in-Trust project.

"Since most of the paintings have been lost, looted or deteriorated, we are trying to conserve the intact portions and also try to understand the constituent materials and painting techniques," Yoko Taniguchi, a researcher at the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo, told Discovery News.

" 'It was during such analysis that we discovered oily and resinous components in a group of wall paintings.'

"Painted in the mid-7th century A.D., the murals have varying artistic influences and show scenes with knotty-haired Buddhas in vermilion robes sitting cross-legged amid palm leaves and mythical creatures.

"Most likely, the paintings are the work of artists who traveled on the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China, across Central Asia's desert to the West" (http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/02/19/oldest-oil-painting.html, accessed 07-11-2009).

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The Largest Municipal Archive in Germany Collapses During Underground Construction March 3, 2009

On March 3, 2009 the building containing the Historic Archive of the City of Cologne (Historisches Archiv der Stadt Köln) collapsed in a pile of rubble. The building was apparently constructed in 1971.

"Fortunately, staffers, researchers, and onsite construction workers inside the building were alarmed by strange noises and left immediately before the structure collapsed earlier today. However, at the time of this writing, three [people who were in buildings adjacent to the archives are still missing.

"At present, the cause of the building's collapse is unknown. A new subway line is being built under the street in front of the facility, but the section of the tunnel adjacent to the building is apparently complete. The building may also have had structural problems.

"Until today, the repository in Cologne was the largest municipal archives in Germany. It held 500,000 photographs and 65,000 documents dating back to 922, including manuscripts by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and materials relating to 20th-century writer Heinrich Böll. Government officials have promised to help salvage the archives' records, but street-level and aerial photographs of the building's remains suggest that many of the records are beyond recovery" (http://larchivista.blogspot.com/2009/03/collapse-of-historic-archive-of-city-of.html).

As of March 4, 2009 it was thought that two people from an adjacent building were missing; the Historic Archive of the City of Cologne was successfully evacuated before the building collapsed.

News stories were referenced at http://archiv.twoday.net/stories/5558898/. 

In December 2013 a detailed story in Spiegel Online International was available at this link.

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'Material Degradomics" or, The Sniff Test for a Book's Physical State September 17, 2009

In a paper entitled "Material Degradomics: On the Smell of Old Books", published in the journal Analytical Chemistry in September 2009, Matija Strlic at University College London, and associates at the Tate art museum (U.K.), the University of Ljubljana, and Morana RTD in Ivančna Gorica, (both in Slovenia) introduced a new method for linking a book’s physical state to its corresponding VOC emissions pattern. The goal was to “diagnose” decomposing historical documents noninvasively as a step toward protecting them.

“Ordinarily, traditional analytical methods are used to test paper samples that have been ripped out,” Strlic says. “The advantage of our method is that it’s nondestructive" (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/ac902143z?cookieSet=1).

"The test is based on detecting the levels of volatile organic compounds. These are released by paper as it ages and produce the familiar 'old book smell'.

"The international research team, led by Matija Strlic from University College London's Centre for Sustainable Heritage, describes that smell as 'a combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness'. 

" 'This unmistakable smell is as much part of the book as its contents,' they wrote in the journal article. Dr Strlic told BBC News that the idea for new test came from observing museum conservators as they worked.

" 'I often noticed that conservators smelled paper during their assessment,' he recalled.  'I thought, if there was a way we could smell paper and tell how degraded it is from the compounds it emits, that would be great.'

"The test does just that. It pinpoints ingredients contained within the blend of volatile compounds emanating from the paper.

"That mixture, the researchers say, 'is dependent on the original composition of the... paper substrate, applied media, and binding' " (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8355888.stm)

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2010 – 2012

An App the Promotes the Value of Impermanence 2011 – 2013

Photos and messages sent through an app called Snapchat, developed in Venice Beach, California, vanish in seconds. In a world where users know that any image or message posted in social media, or sent through email, may be preserved forever, Snapchat's feature of automatically deleting information rather than preserving it found a growing niche. The feature was popular enough for Facebook to develop a competing ap called Facebook Poke.

"Although Snapchat says that it cannot see or store copies of content, the service still allows nimble-fingered users to capture screenshots of photos. Mr. Murphy calls that mechanism a 'feature, not a vulnerability' of the service. Each time a screenshot of a Snapchat is taken, the sender is alerted that the image has been captured. There have also been reports of loopholes and hacks that let people save videos and screenshots. 'Nothing ever goes away on the Internet,' Mr. Spiegel acknowledged.  

"Snapchat has its origins at Stanford, where Mr. Spiegel and Mr. Murphy first met as fraternity brothers. Mr. Spiegel presented a prototype of Snapchat in spring 2011 to one of his classes, but it was greeted as impractical and silly by his classmates.  

"Undeterred, Mr. Spiegel and Mr. Murphy shared an updated version for the iPhone with about 20 friends in September 2011. A few weeks in, they started seeing an influx of new users, paired with unusual spikes in activity, peaking between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.  

"It turned out the activity was centered around a high school in Orange County. Mr. Spiegel’s mother had told his cousin, who was a student at the school, about the app, which then spread throughout the school.

"Other high school students in Southern California picked it up, with the number of daily active users climbing from 3,000 to 30,000 in a month in early 2012. Mr. Spiegel took a leave from Stanford last June and Mr. Murphy quit his job and the pair raised a small round of financing and moved to Los Angeles to work on the application full time.  

"Since the overwhelming majority of Snapchat’s users are age 13 to 25, the application has provoked concerns from parents. The company acknowledges that the service can be misused, but does not dwell on it. 'We are not advertising ourselves as a secure platform,' Mr. Spiegel said. 'It’s a communication platform. It’s not our job to police the world or Snapchat of jerks' (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/09/technology/snapchat-a-growing-app-lets-you-see-it-then-you-dont.html, accessed 02-09-2013).

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Snapchat: Communication and Automatic Destruction of Information September 2011

In September 2011 Stanford University students Evan Spiegel and Robert Murphy produced the initial release of the photo messaging application Snapchat, famously launching the program "from Spiegel's father's living room." Users of the app take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them to a controlled list of recipients. Photographs and videos sent through the app are known as "Snaps". Users set a time limit for how long recipients can view their Snaps, after which the photos or videos are hidden from the recipient's device and deleted from Snapchat's servers. In December 2013 the range was from 1 to 10 seconds. 

In November 2013 it was reported that Snapchat was sharing 400 million photos per day—more than Facebook.

"Founder Evan Spiegel explained that Snapchat is intended to counteract the trend of users being compelled to manage an idealized online identity of themselves, which he says has "taken all of the fun out of communicating". Snapchat can locate a user's friends through the user's smartphone contact list. Research conducted in the UK has shown that, as of June 2013, half of all 18 to 30-year-old respondents (47 percent) have received nude pictures, while 67 percent had received images of "inappropriate poses or gestures".

"Snapchat launched the "Snapchat Stories" feature in early October 2013 and released corresponding video advertisements with the tagline "It's about time." The feature allows users to create links of shared content that can be viewed an unlimited number of times over a 24-hour period. The "stories" are simultaneously shared with the user's friends and content remains for 24 hours before disappearing.

"Another controversy surrounding the rising popularity of Snapchat in the United States relates to a phenomenon known as sexting. This involves the sending and receiving of explicit images that often involve some degree of nudity. Because the application is commonly used by younger generations, often below the age of eighteen, the question has been raised whether or not certain users are technically distributing child pornography. For this reason, many adults disapprove of their children's use of the application. Snapchat's developers continue to insist that the application is not sexting-friendly and that they do not condone any kind of pornographic use.

"On November 14, 2013, police in LavalQuebec, Canada arrested 10 boys aged 13 to 15 on child pornography charges after the boys allegedly captured and shared explicit photos of teenage girls sent through Snapchat as screenshots.

"In February 2013, a study by market research firm Survata found that mobile phone users are more likely to "sext over SMS than over Snapchat" (Wikipedia article on Snapchat, accessed 12-12-2013).

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Burning of the Library of l'Institut de l'Egypte December 17, 2011

On December 17, 2011 demonstrators set fire to the l'Instut de l'Egypte in Cairo. This research center and library, founded by Napoleon in 1798 to carry out research during his Egyptian Campaign, contained some of the most valuable rare books and original research material in Egypt. 

"State news agency MENA said that firemen eventually managed to control it, but state TV reported that the fire damaged the whole building and all of its collections" (http://www.dp-news.com/en/detail.aspx?articleid=106385, accessed 12-18-2011).



Published: Dec 20, 2011 13:03 Updated: Dec 20, 2011 13:04:

"CAIRO: Volunteers in white lab coats, surgical gloves and masks were standing on the back of a pickup truck along the banks of the Nile River in Cairo, rummaging through stacks of rare 200-year-old manuscripts that were little more than charcoal debris.  

"The volunteers, ranging from academic experts to appalled citizens, have spent the past two days trying to salvage what's left of some 192,000 books, journals and writings, casualties of Egypt's latest bout of violence.

"Institute d'Egypte, a research center set up by Napoleon Bonaparte during France's invasion in the late 18th century, caught fire during clashes between protesters and Egypt's military over the weekend. It was home to a treasure trove of writings, most notably the handwritten 24-volume Description de l'Egypte, which began during the 1798-1801 French occupation.

"The compilation, which includes 20 years of observations by more than 150 French scholars and scientists, was one of the most comprehensive descriptions of Egypt's monuments, its ancient civilization and contemporary life at the time.

"The Description of Egypt is likely burned beyond repair. Its home, the two-story historic institute near Tahrir Square, is now in danger of collapsing after the roof caved in. 

"The burning of such a rich building means a large part of Egyptian history has ended," the director of the institute, Mohammed Al-Sharbouni, told state television over the weekend. The building was managed by a local non-governmental organization.

"Al-Sharbouni said most of the contents were destroyed in the fire that raged for more than 12 hours on Saturday. Firefighters flooded the building with water, adding to the damage.

"During the clashes a day earlier, parts of the parliament and a transportation authority office caught fire, but those blazes were put out quickly.  

"The violence erupted in Cairo Friday, when military forces guarding the Cabinet building, near the institute, cracked down on a 3-week-old sit-in to demand the country's ruling generals hand power to a civilian authority. At least 14 people have been killed.

"Zein Abdel-Hady, who runs the country's main library, is leading the effort to try and save what's left of the charred manuscripts.

" 'This is equal to the burning of Galileo's books,' Abdel-Hady said, referring to the Italian scientist whose work proposing that the earth revolved around the sun was believed to have been burned in protest in the 17th century.

"Below Abdel-Hady's office, dozens of people sifted through the mounds of debris brought to the library. A man in a surgical coat carried a pile of burned paper with his arms carefully spread, as if cradling a baby.

"The rescuers used newspapers to cover some partially burned books. Bulky machines vacuum-packed delicate paper.

"At least 16 truckloads with around 50,000 manuscripts, some damaged beyond repair, have been moved from the sidewalks outside the US Embassy and the American University in Cairo, both near the burned institute, to the main library, Abdel-Hady said.

"He told The Associated Press that there is no way of knowing what has been lost for good at this stage, but the material was worth tens of millions of dollars - and in many ways simply priceless.

" 'I haven't slept for two days, and I cried a lot yesterday. I do not like to see a book burned,' he said. 'The whole of Egypt is crying.'

"He said that there are four other handwritten copies of the Description of Egypt. The French body of work has also been digitized and is available online.

"There may have been a map of Egypt and Ethiopia, dated in 1753, that was destroyed in the fire. However, another original copy of the map is in Egypt's national library, he said. The gutted institute also housed 16th century letters and manuscripts that were bound and shelved like books.

"The most accessible inventory at the moment for what was housed in the institute is in a 1920's book kept in the US Library of Congress, according to William Kopycki, a regional field director with the Washington D.C.-based library. He said the body of work that was destroyed was essential for researchers of Egyptian history, Arabic studies and Egyptology.

" 'It's a loss of a very important institute that many scholars have visited,' he said during a meeting with Abdel-Hady to evaluate the level of destruction.

"What remains inside the historic building near the site of the clashes are piles of burned furniture, twisted metal and crumbled walls. A double human chain of protesters surrounded the building Monday.

"At a news conference Monday, a general from the country's ruling military council said an investigation was under way to find who set the building on fire. State television aired images of men in plainclothes burning the building and dancing around the fire Saturday afternoon. Protesters also took advantage of the fire, using the institute's grounds to hurl firebombs and rocks at soldiers atop surrounding buildings.

"Volunteer Ahmed El-Bindari said the military shoulders the brunt of responsibility for using its roof as a position to attack protesters before the fire erupted." 

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Sheikh Sultan Dr. Al-Qasimi Pledges to Restore the Library of l'Institut de l'Egypte December 20, 2011

Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi III (In Arabic: سلطان بن محمد القاسمي) governor of the UAE’s emirate of Sharjah, and a widely published writer and scholar, pledged to restore the library of the Institut de l'Egypte damaged by fire, and to replace  books destroyed or damaged beyond repair. 

" 'All the original documents in my private library I am giving as a gift to the Egyptian Scientific Complex,' Qassemi said in a phone interview from Paris with the independent Egyptian satellite Channel Dream TV. 'I have a rare collection that is not to be found anywhere else.'Qassemi added that he asked for a complete list of all the books that were damaged or lost during the fire and that he would do his best to look for other original copies and give them to the library, known for its collection of priceless books, maps, and manuscripts.  

“ 'What is happening in Egypt is happening to all of us and what I am doing is just a small token of gratitude that all of us, especially people from Sharjah, feel.  Egyptian [institutions] taught us  a lot and we were students in Egyptian universities and no matter what we do, it will not be enough to pay them back,' he said.  

"Qassemi added that he is overseeing the construction of a documents center in Cairo to house all the documents that are now kept in the Egyptian cabinet building, a place seen as unsafe at the moment because of clashes in Tahrir Square and surrounding areas.  

“ 'We will make sure that the documents are safely transferred before more acts of sabotage take place. We have been given the green light by the Egyptian government to do that.

"He added that he would do his best to preserve Egypt’s heritage as Egypt had always preserved the Arab world.  

“ 'Egypt has always been offering sacrifices and we will never forget what Egyptians did to liberate Kuwait. This alone is invaluable,' Qassemi said.  

"The Egyptian minister of antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim, said he appreciates Qassemi’s initiative.  

“ 'Sheikh Qassemi has always supported the library and Egypt.'

"Ibrahim added that the French government has also offered to salvage what it can from the Scientific Complex.  

"Among the documents in Qassemi’s possession is a copy of Description de l'Égypte, written at the time of the French expedition to Egypt (1798-1801) and published between 1809 and 1822. The book, which contains a detailed description of Egypt, was a main cause for the uproar that accompanied the fire at the Scientific Complex.  

"According to sources at the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, around 20,000 books and manuscripts were saved from the fire and are currently kept in the cabinet and parliament buildings"  (http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/12/20/183601.html, accessed 12-20-2011).

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2012 – 2016

The Anatomy of an Internet Attack by "Anonymous" 2012

In 2012 the Internet security company Imperva published "Imperva's Hacker Intelligence Summary Report. The Anatomy of an Anonymous Attack."

"During 2011, Imperva witnessed an assault by the hacktivist group ‘Anonymous’ that lasted 25 days. Our observations give insightful information on Anonymous, including a detailed analysis of hacking methods, as well as an examination of how social media provides a communications platform for recruitment and attack coordination. Hacktivism has grown dramatically in the past year and has become a priority for security organizations worldwide. Understanding Anonymous’ attack methods will help organizations prepare if they are ever a target.

"Our observation of an Anonymous campaign reveals:

"› The process used by Anonymous to pick victims as well as recruit and use needed hacking talent.

"› How Anonymous leverages social networks to recruit members and promotes hack campaigns.

"› The specific cyber reconnaissance and attack methods used by Anonymous’ hackers. We detail and sequence the steps Anonymous hackers deploy that cause data breaches and bring down websites.

"Finally, we recommend key mitigation steps that organizations need to help protect against attacks."

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Part of Library of the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu is Burned January 28 – January 30, 2013

On January 28, 2013 it was widely reported that the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research (CEDRAB) in Timbuktu (Tombouctou), Mali, the repository of 30,000 historic manuscripts from the ancient Muslim world, was set aflame by Islamist fighters.

On the same day Vivienne Walt reported on Time.com that the loss from the fire was far less than total:

"In interviews with TIME on Monday, preservationists said that in a large-scale rescue operation early last year, shortly before the militants seized control of Timbuktu, thousands of manuscripts were hauled out of the Ahmed Baba Institute to a safe house elsewhere. Realizing that the documents might be prime targets for pillaging or vindictive attacks from Islamic extremists, staff left behind just a small portion of them, perhaps out of haste, but also to conceal the fact that the center had been deliberately emptied. “The documents which had been there are safe, they were not burned,” said Mahmoud Zouber, Mali’s presidential aide on Islamic affairs, a title he retains despite the overthrow of the former President, his boss, in a military coup a year ago; preserving Timbuktu’s manuscripts was a key project of his office. By phone from Bamako on Monday night, Zouber told TIME, “They were put in a very safe place. I can guarantee you. The manuscripts are in total security.”

"In a second interview from Bamako, a preservationist who did not want to be named confirmed that the center’s collection had been hidden out of reach from the militants. Neither of those interviewed wanted the location of the manuscripts named in print, for fear that remnants of the al-Qaeda occupiers might return to destroy them.

"That was confirmed too by Shamil Jeppie, director of the Timbuktu Manuscripts Project at the University of Cape Town, who told TIME on Monday night that “there were a few items in the Ahmed Baba library, but the rest were kept away.” The center, financed by the South African government as a favored project by then President Thabo Mbeki, who championed reviving Africa’s historical culture, housed state-of-the-art equipment to preserve and photograph hundreds of thousands of pages, some of which had gold illumination, astrological charts and sophisticated mathematical formulas. Jeppie said he had been enraged by the television footage on Monday of the building trashed, and blamed in part Mali’s government, which he said had done little to ensure the center’s security. “It is really sad and disturbing,” he said.

"When TIME reached Timbuktu’s Mayor Cissé in Bamako late Monday night, he tempered the remarks he had made to journalists earlier in the day, conceding in an interview that, indeed, residents had worked to rescue the center’s manuscripts before al-Qaeda occupied the city last March. Still, he said that while many of the manuscripts had been saved, “they did not move all the manuscripts.” He said he had fled earlier this month after living through months of the Islamists’ rule, a situation he described as a “true catastrophe” and “very, very hard.” He said he expects to fly back home by the weekend on a French military jet. By then, perhaps, the state of Timbuktu’s astonishing historic libraries might be clearer."

On January 30, 2013 an article in Liberation.fr stated that "more than 90%" of the manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Institute in Timbuktu were saved from destruction.

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How the "The Brazen Bibliophiles of Tumbuktu" Saved Manuscripts from Terrorists April 25, 2013

On April 25, 2013 New Republic magazine published "The Brazen Bibliophiles of Timbuktu. How a team of sneaky librarians duped Al Qaeda" by Yochi Dreazen. This illustrated article combined issues of terrorism, political reporting, librarianship and preservation of information. From it I quote selections:

"One afternoon in March, I walked through Timbuktu’s Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Studies and Islamic Research, stepping around shards of broken glass. Until last year, the modern concrete building with its Moorish-inspired screens and light-filled courtyard was a haven for scholars drawn by the city’s unparalleled collection of medieval manuscripts. Timbuktu was once the center of a vibrant trans-Saharan network, where traders swapped not only slaves, salt, gold, and silk, but also manuscripts—scientific, artistic, and religious masterworks written in striking calligraphy on crinkly linen-based paper. Passed down through generations of Timbuktu’s ancient families, they offer a tantalizing history of a moderate Islam, in which scholars argued for women’s rights and welcomed Christians and Jews. Ahmed Baba owned a number of Korans and prayer books decorated with intricate blue and gold-leaf geometric designs, but its collections also included secular works of astronomy, medicine, and poetry.

"This vision of a philosophical, scientific Islam means little to the Al Qaeda–linked Islamist group Ansar Dine, which for most of last year ruled Timbuktu through terror, cutting off the hands of thieves, flogging women judged to be dressed immodestly, and destroying centuries-old tombs of local saints. In the summer, the militants commandeered Ahmed Baba, using it as a headquarters and barracks. Then, in January, French forces closed in on Timbuktu. As the Islamists fled, they trashed the library, burning as many of the manuscripts as they could find. The mayor of Timbuktu, Hallé Ousmani Cissé, told The Guardian that all of Ahmed Baba’s texts had been lost. “It’s true,” he said. “They have burned the manuscripts. . . .

”Asking around about the manuscripts’ destruction, however, I heard different rumors. Find Abdel Kader Haidara, people told me. He could tell you more about what happened. So, in Bamako, Mali’s capital 400 miles to the south, I visited Haidara, an unassuming man with a shy smile, a neatly groomed mustache, and a healthy paunch under the flowing robes traditional to Malian men. Sitting cross-legged on the floor of the modest apartment where he now lives, Haidara told me the improbable story of what actually happened to Timbuktu’s manuscripts. 'It was only a matter of time before the Islamists found them,' he said matter-of-factly, passing dark worry beads between his fingers. 'I had to get them out.' . . .

"As the militias poured into his city, Haidara knew he had to do something to protect the approximately 300,000 manuscripts in different libraries and homes in and around Timbuktu. Haidara had spent years traveling around the country negotiating with Mali’s ancient families to assemble thousands of texts for the Ahmed Baba Institute, which was founded in 1973 as the city’s first official preservation organization. 'When I thought of something happening to the manuscripts, I couldn’t sleep,' he told me later.

"The initial wave of invaders were secular Tuareg, but quickly the Islamist militia Ansar Dine asserted control, imposing a harsh regime of sharia in Timbuktu and other northern cities. The Islamists didn’t know, at first, about the manuscripts. But their indiscriminate cruelty and their tight-fisted control over the city meant that the texts had to be hidden—and fast. Haidara thought the manuscripts would be most secure in the homes of Timbuktu’s old families, where, after all, they had been protected for centuries. He assembled a small army of custodians, archivists, tour guides, secretaries, and other library employees, as well as his own brothers and cousins and other men from the manuscript-holding families, and began organizing an evacuation plan.

"Starting in early May, every morning before sunrise, while the militants were still asleep, Haidara and his men would walk to the city’s libraries and lock themselves inside. Until the heat cleared the streets in the afternoon, the men would find their way through the darkened buildings and wrap the fragile manuscripts in soft cloths. They would then pack them into metal lockers roughly the size of large suitcases, as many as 300 in each. At night, they’d sneak back to the libraries, traveling by foot to avoid checkpoints on the road, pick up the lockers, and carry them, swathed in blankets, to the homes of dozens of the city’s old families. The entire operation took nearly two months, but by July, they had stowed 1,700 lockers in basements and hideaways around the city. And they did it just in time, because not long after, the militants moved into the Ahmed Baba Institute, using its elegant rooms to store canned vegetables and bags of white rice. Haidara fled to Bamako, hoping the Islamists’ ignorance about the texts would keep them safe. . . . "

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Rare Comic Books Unwittingly Destroyed to Make Papier Mache Sculpture July 10, 2013

As aspect of the digital revolution that continues to fascinate me is the very high prices paid for rare comic books, which were, incidentally, usually printed on poor quality paper, and read out of existence, so that even if their initial printing was large, their survival rate in fine condition is very low.  Nevertheless, not everyone appreciates their value. On July 10, 2013 www.web.orange.col.uk reported  that English artist Andew Vickers used discarded comic books to make a life-sized sculpture of a man that he called Paperboy.

"However, after the piece went on display at a gallery in Sheffield it was spotted by comic book expert Steve Eyre.

"It was while examining the piece that he realised the pasted sections were from classic Marvel Comics books.

"Indeed, one of the comics used was a rare 1963 first edition of The Avengers, a copy of which Mr Eyre also owns, worth around £10,000.

"It means that it would have been cheaper for Mr Vickers to create the sculpture out of Italian marble rather than the comic books.

"The artist says he never imagined the comics had any value when he retrived them from the skip and added: 'There's no point crying over spilt milk' (http://web.orange.co.uk/article/quirkies/Artist_turned_rare_comics_into_papier_mache, accessed 07-11-2013).

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The National Library of Turkey Sells 147 Tons of Mostly Antiquarian Books to a "Junk Company" December 9, 2013

On December 11, 2013 the following message was forwarded to the exlibris-l newsgroup, to which I subscribe:

Date: December 9, 2013 at 2:03:35 PM EST
To: MELANET <melanet-l@googlegroups.com<mailto:melanet-l@googlegroups.com>>Subject: [MELANET-L] Turkish National Library sold books to a junk company

Dear Mela-netters,

For those of you fluent in Turkish, hereunder an article concerning the latest scandal at the Turkish National Library.


The library sold 147 tons of books to a junk company at a price of 7 to 25 cents a kg. Most of them were antiquarian titles and serial in Armenian, Greek and Karamanlica (Turkish using Greek alphabet). The reason is that the TNL does not have staff who can read Armenian, Greek, Hebrew, Judeospanish or Assyrian.

Rifat Bali

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Destruction of Canadian Environmental Libraries January 2014

On January 4, 2014 Boing Boing blogger Cory Doctorow reported:

"Canadian libricide: Tories torch and dump centuries of priceless, irreplaceable environmental archives

"Back in 2012, when Canada's Harper government announced that it would close down national archive sites around the country, they promised that anything that was discarded or sold would be digitized first. But only an insignificant fraction of the archives got scanned, and much of it was simply sent to landfill or burned.

"Unsurprisingly, given the Canadian Conservatives' war on the environment, the worst-faring archives were those that related to climate research. The legendary environmental research resources of the St. Andrews Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick are gone. The Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's, Newfoundland: gone. Both collections were world-class.

"An irreplaceable, 50-volume collection of logs from HMS Challenger's 19th century expedition went to the landfill, taking with them the crucial observations of marine life, fish stocks and fisheries of the age. Update: a copy of these logs survives overseas.

"The destruction of these publicly owned collections was undertaken in haste. No records were kept of what was thrown away, what was sold, and what was simply lost. Some of the books were burned.

For further information see "What's Driving Chaotic Dismantling of Canada's Science Libraries? "by Andrew Nikiforuk, The Tyee, December 23, 2013.

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The Burning of Two-Thirds of an Historic Antiquarian Bookshop in Tripoli, Lebanon January 4, 2014

On January 4, 2014 it was reported that most of an historic library in Tripoli, Lebanon were burned:

"Two-thirds of a historic collection of 80,000 books have gone up in smoke after a library was torched in the Lebanese city of Tripoli amid sectarian tensions. The blaze was started after a pamphlet insulting Islam was reportedly found inside a book.

"Firefighters struggled to subdue the flames as the decades-old Al-Saeh library went up in smoke on Friday in the Serail neighborhood of Tripoli. Despite firefighters’ best efforts, little of the trove of historic books and manuscripts was recovered from the wreckage.

"A demonstration had been planned in Tripoli after the pamphlet was found but was reportedly called off after the library’s Greek Orthodox owner spoke with Muslim leaders. Lebanese news outlet Naharnet also reported that one of the library workers was shot and wounded Thursday night.

“The library owner, Father Ebrahim Surouj, met with Islamic leaders in Tripoli. It became clear the priest had nothing to do with the pamphlet, and a demonstration that had been planned in protest over the incident was called off,” the source said.

"However, Ashraf Rifi, former head of the Internal Security Forces, told AP the attack had nothing to do with a pamphlet and was, in fact, triggered by speculation that Father Surouj had written a study on the internet that insulted Islam.

" 'This criminal act poses several questions [about] the party behind it that aims at damaging coexistence in the city and ruining its reputation,' Rifi told AFP. The Lebanese police have launched an investigation into the incident.

"Sectarian tensions have been rising in Lebanon recently as a result of the ongoing, two-year conflict in neighboring Syria. Until recently, the violence usually spared Christian minority groups. In December the northerly city of Tripoli saw a spate of attacks on the Alawite community in the latest spillover from Syria’s civil war" (extracts from http://rt.com/news/library-fire-lebanon-violence-176/, accessed 01-04-2014).

On January 5, 2013 more images of the library, the relevant documents and interviews wee available at this link, and at this link, and at this link.

Then, on January 16, 2014, Elias Muhanna, assistant professor of comparative literature at Brown University, posted on newyorker.com a piece entitled "Letter from Lebanon: A Bookshop Burns," indicating that the so-called library was actually an antiquarian bookshop—a cultural landmark in the community.

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Car Bombing of Police Headquarters Damages Building Housing Egyptian National Library and Museum of Islamic Art January 24, 2014

On February 5, 2014 MadaMasr.com published an article by Elena Chardakliyska entitled "The past and future of the bomb-damaged manuscript museum," from which sections are quoted below, with the addition of a few explanatory links:

"Early on January 24, 2014, a bomb exploded in front of the Cairo Security Directorate, just across the street from a neo-Mamluk building which many know as the Museum of Islamic Art. The first images that came out from behind the makeshift security cordon showed almost complete destruction of the exhibition halls. What many people didn't realize then, and maybe still haven't, is that those pictures were not of the Museum of Islamic Art, but rather of the institution housed on the second floor of the same building Dar al-Kutub Bab al-Khalq, which showcased their world-famous collections of manuscripts, documents, coins, scientific instruments, and other precious objects.

"By the end of January 24, it had become clear that the Museum of Islamic Art had suffered no luckier fate and that its collection and exhibition halls had sustained considerable damage. Still, even 10 days after the bombing, few realize that two different institutions were hurt in the bombing and even fewer bother to distinguish between them. The better known of the two, the Museum of Islamic Art, has been used interchangeably to mean the museum itself, the building, and the two institutions housed in it. While this article does not downplay what has happened to the Museum of Islamic Art and the importance of its collection, it will focus on Dar al-Kutub Bab al-Khalq and the collection it proudly exhibited until 10 days ago. Understanding what was there and what was lost can help in repairing and reconstructing this special building that houses two of Egypt’s most important cultural institutions.

"What would grow to be the National Library of Egypt and Archives of Egypt, known today as Dar al-Kutub wa Watha’iq al Qawmiyya or simply Dar al-Kutub, was founded in 1870 as the Kutubkhana Khediwiyya, or "Khedival Library," by a decree of Khedive Ismail. It officially opened its doors to the public on September 24, 1870, from the first floor of the Mustafa Fadil Pasha Palace in the Darb al-Gamamiz area in Cairo.

"Just days before the blast, on January 19, 2014, a celebration was held at the museum commemorating the inclusion of part of its collection of splendid, monumental Mamluk Quran manuscripts in UNESCO's Memory of the World Register, whose aim is to gather and raise awareness about collections of global importance.

"In the decades that followed, the library gathered private collections of manuscripts and rare books, as well as Quran manuscripts and religious texts from mosques and religious educational institutions. It was a bold project to collect the rich written heritage of Egypt in one place for study and research. One of the driving forces behind it was the reformer Ali Pasha Mubarak (1823-1893), minister of Public Works and Education during the second half of the 19th century.  

"On January 1, 1899 Khedive Ismail Hilmi II laid the cornerstone for the building that was damaged on January 24, 2014, known today as Bab al Khalq, with the idea to give a proper home to two of the most progressive institutions at the time. From its inception, the neo-Mamluk building was to house the newly established Museum of Arab Antiquities on the ground floor (now the Museum of Islamic Art) and the Khedival Library on the two upper floors. This arrangement persists to today, even though the Museum of Islamic Art and Dar al-Kutub Bab al-Khalq now find themselves under the Ministries of Antiquities and Culture respectively."

"Just days before the blast, on January 19, 2014, a celebration was held at the museum commemorating the inclusion of part of its collection of splendid, monumental Mamluk Quran manuscripts in UNESCO's Memory of the World Register, whose aim is to gather and raise awareness about collections of global importance. Before the Mamluk Quran manuscripts, a selection of the museum’s documents and decrees was added to the register in 2005, followed by the collection of Persian illustrated manuscripts in 2007. There are not many libraries in the world that have three different collections prominently featured on Memory of the World.

"Fortunately for Dar al-Kutub Bab al-Khalq and for all of us, all the manuscripts have now been accounted for after the bombing and none of them have suffered irreparable damage. Most of them were actually fine, protected by the thick walls of the building and the reinforced glass of the exhibition cases. They were all evacuated to Dar al-Kutub’s Corniche premises to be reunited with the rest of its collection until reconstruction plans take shape. In the meantime, we're left with the visceral realization that these manuscripts could have been lost or destroyed in a second, manuscripts that, despite being on display in the center of Cairo and free to look at, not enough people knew about."

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"Unlooting the Iraq Museum": A Summary February 25, 2014

Regarding objects looted from Iraq's National Museum, on February 25, 2014 I received the foillowing email from Stewart Brand and the Longnow Foundation. via the SALT (Seminars About Long-term Thinking) mailing list  The email, titled "Unlooting the Iraq Museum," reported on a lecture previously given in San Francisco by Col. Matthew Bogdanso, who was instrumental in recovering many of the looted objects. Because the letter presented a meaningful concise summary of the context and extent of the looting and the extent of recovery, I decided to quote it in full: 
"Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad had been closed to the public by Saddam Hussein for over two decades when his regime fell in April 2003.  Iraquis felt no connection to the world renowned cultural treasures inside.  Like every other government building, it was trashed and looted.
Marine Col. Matthew Bogdanos, then in Basra leading a counter-terrorism group, volunteered part of his team to attempt recovery of the lost artifacts.  He arrived at the museum with 14 people to protect its dozen buildings and 11 acres in a still-active battle zone.  Invited by the museum director, they took up residence and analyzed the place as a crime scene.
Missing were some of civilization’s most historic archeological treasures.  From 3200 BC, the Sacred Vase of Warka, the world’s oldest carved stone ritual vessel.  From 2600 BC, the solid gold bull’s head from the Golden Harp of Ur.  From 2250 BC, the copper Akkadian Bassetki Statue, the earliest known example of lost-wax casting.  From 3100 BC, the limestone Mask of Warka, the first naturalistic depiction of a human face.  From 800 BC, the Treasure of Nimrud— a fabulous hoard of hundreds of pieces of exquisite Assyrian gold jewelry and gems.  Plus thousands of other artifacts and antiquities, including Uruk inscribed cylinder seals from 2500 BC.
Bidding on the international antiquities black market went to $25,000 for Uruk cylinder seals, $40 million for the Vase of Varka.

Since the goal was recovery, not prosecution, Bogdanos instituted a total amnesty for return of stolen artifacts—no questions asked, and also no payment, just a cordial cup of tea for thanks.  Having learned from duty in Afghanistan to listen closely to the locals, Bogdanos and his team walked the streets, visited the mosques, played backgammon in the neighborhoods, and followed up on friendly tips (every one of which turned out to be genuine).  3,000 items had been taken from the museum by random looters.  Local Iraquis returned 95% of them.  
The prime pieces stolen by professional thieves took longer to track down.  Raids on smuggler’s trucks and hiding places turned up more items.  The Bassetki Statue was found hidden in a cess pool; the Mask of Warka had been buried in the ground.  Some pieces began turning up all over the world and were seized when identified. (Bogdanos noted that Geneva, Switzerland, is where that kind of contraband often rests in warehouses that law enforcement is not allowed to search.)
It turned out Saddam himself had looted the museum of the Treasure of Nimrud and the gold bull’s head back in 1990.  Tips led to a flooded underground vault in the bombed-out Central Bank of Iraq, and the priceless items were discovered.  
Everything found was returned to the Iraq National Museum, where the great antiquities are gradually being restored to public display.  Iraq, and the world, is retaking possession of its most ancient heritage.
Bogdanos quoted Sophocles: “Whoever neglects the arts… has lost the past and is dead to the future.”
—Stewart Brand (sb@longnow.org)
(This talk was neither recorded nor filmed, because material presented in it is part of a still on-going investigation.  You can get the full story from Bogdanos’ excellent book, Thieves of Baghdad.)"
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Visionary Plans for a New City Library in Baghdad May 8, 2014

On May 8, 2014 Ibraaz.org published a dramatically illustrated article by London-based AMBS Architects on the philosophy and design of a new city library in Baghdad, Iraq: "Designing the Future. What Does It Mean to be Building a Library in Iraq?" From this I quote:

"The idea of building a new library in Iraq has been met with equal measures of impassioned hope as much as worn cynicism. AMBS Architects were commissioned to design a new library for Baghdad by the Ministry of Youth and Sport in November 2011. The supposedly simple brief of 'a modern library' for the 'youth' of Baghdad, as presented by the Ministry of Youth and Sport, required an exercise in re-learning and questioning the conventional model of a library. Our investigation into what a new library in Iraq could be was primary. The idea of 'youth' as an audience is especially significant given 63 per cent of Iraq's population are under 24, with nearly 12.8 million (43 per cent) of these under the age of 15, and a further 15 per cent between the ages of 25 and 35. Thus, we posed the question – how might people, especially young people, engage with learning in the future?

"Iraq's youth have been brought up surrounded by violence and instability. For the past decade educational services have rapidly deteriorated and opportunities for work and personal development have declined. When AMBS's founding director Ali Mousawi returned to Iraq in 2003, what he saw and still sees today is that the Iraqi youth are in many ways lost. Before 2003, Iraq had almost collapsed after a 13-year embargo and eight years of war. This kept the country isolated from the world and from modern technology.

"From the beginning, the question of what such a library can pose for the future of Iraq has been a reoccurring one. The recent turbulent history of over a decade of conflict during the occupation has left Iraq relatively isolated from the rest of the world. The neglect of Iraq's cultural resources has meant much of Iraq's literary history has been lost. Today there is a strong will to rebuild in Iraq and this project brings the hope of the re-ascendancy of intellectual life in Baghdad. As such, conceptualizing the library has demanded an understanding of the complex context and significance of raising a new library.

"The Director of the Iraq National Library and Archives (INLA), Dr Saad Eskander who has played a valuable role in preserving Iraq's literary heritage wrote about the new library:

"It is imperative for the new Iraq to consolidate its young democracy and good governance through knowledge. New libraries have a notable role to play by promoting unconditional access to information, freedom of expression, cultural diversity and transparency. By responding to the needs of Iraq's next generation, the new library, we hope, will play an important role in the future of our country. . . .

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A New Threat to the Beseiged Libraries and Cultural Heritage of Iraq September 8, 2014

In September 2014 I learned through the mailing list of the Middle East Librarians Association of the report dated September 8, 2014 by iraqi archaeologist and Iraq Heritage Senior Fellow, Abdulameer al-Hamdani, entitled Iraq's Heritage is Facing a New Wave of Destruction. This report I quote in full:

"Since early June, extremist armed groups, including ISIS, have controlled most of north-west of Iraq, from Mosul downward to Falouja on the Euphrates and Tikrit on the Tigris. According to ISIS law, archaeological sites, museums and artifacts, shrines and tombs, non-Islamic, and even non-Sunni worship places, modern statues and monuments, and libraries should not be existed and must be demolished.

"More than 4000 archaeological sites that are located in areas that have been controlled by ISIS are facing a serious threatening either by looting or destruction. The staff, as well as the archaeological sites' guards, of the antiquities' inspectorate of Ninawa province and other districts can't do their daily work in visiting and observing sites because both the security issues and the lack of fuel and vehicles to be used.

"The well-preserved fascinating Assyrian capitals of Nineveh, Nimrud, Khorsabad, and Ashur, as well as hundreds of ancient Mesopotamian sites, are targets that are going to be stolen and destroyed by ISIS. ISIS wants to diversify and expand its financial resources to include the lucrative trade of antiquities. For instance, on July 12th, a group of armed looters attacked the ancient city of Nimrud and stole a unique bas-relief from its palace that dates back to the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the eighth century BCE. Hatra, a Hellenistic city from the second century BCE, is isolated in the desert south west of Mosul, in an area that has been used by ISIS to train its fighters. Mosul museum, the second large museum in Iraq, has been occupied by ISIS and its staff cannot inter to check its valuable collections. ISIS plans to put statues from the museum on trial with plans to smash some statues and sell some. ISIS evacuated the houses around the Hadba-Leaning minaret that date to the twelfth century. It is not certain if the minaret is intended or the shrine of Ali al-Hadi who is buried in the Nidhamia School, which dates back to the same date of the minaret.

"Not only ancient Mesopotamian heritage has been destroyed, the Christian and Ezidian heritage and other religious and ethnic minorities in Mosul and Nineveh plain were targeted. Churches and monasteries either burned or occupied where ISIS stole the contents and put its flag upon them. St. Behnam monastery south-east on Mosul was occupied by ISIS and has been converted to be its headquarter in the region. The Virgin Mary Church in Mosul was blown and the image of the Mary statue torn down from the top is an older archive image.

"Even the Islamic heritage is also not spared from destruction. Apparently after the fundamentalists destroyed all the Shia mosques in Mosul and the other towns, they have now turned to the Sunni shrines. The Sunni shrines were destroyed by explosions and bulldozers; these include the shrines of Sheikh Fathi, Ibn al-Atheer, and Sultan Abdullah Bin Asim, the grandson of Caliph Omer. Before that, ISIS has exploded and demolished Shia and Sufi shrines and worship places in Mosul, Telafer, and Kirkuk. Among these shrines was the iconic-domed shrine of Yahya Bin al-Qasim in Mosul, which dates back to 13th century.

"The shrines of the prophets Daniel (Nabi Danial), Shayth (Nabi Sheeth), and zarzis (Nabu Jarjees) have also been destroyed. But nothing affected and harmed Iraqis like the demolishing and exploding of Prophet Jonah's shrine, the well-known as Nabi Yunis, which is respected by all Iraqis from different religions and ethnicities. The Shrine’s iconic minaret was from 1924 it replaced the Ottoman one that collapsed. However the fear is for what underneath the shrine, the Assyrian Palace, which has unusual winged-bulls were uncovered in the 1990 and some of them are visible. The city of Mosul has about two hundred heritage buildings, many are of the Ottoman Period, and some are still being used as government buildings. A number have already gone, destroyed by ISIS, the Sarai was the police headquarters and the Ottoman hospital, the head quarter of the Intelligence, and it was raised to the ground.

"Modern monuments and statues in Mosul have been smashed or removed. Among them was the statue of Abu Tammam, an Abbasid poet, who was died in Mosul in 845 AD, as well as the statue of Mulla Uthman al-Mosuly, a singer, musician and poet, who was born in Mosul in 1845. ISIS has also has took over public libraries in Ninawa and Diyala provinces. At Mosul University, ISIS met with some of the academics and informed that the College of Arts will be closed; some of Departments at the College of Archaeology will be closed. There will be a change of the entire Curriculum.

"The international community should support Iraq in protecting its rich and diverse cultural heritage. According to the international legislations and the united nation agreements, the international community has to do its legal, humanitarian and cultural responsibilities to protect the cultural heritage of countries under risk such as Iraq these days. The Iraqi neighbour countries should don’t allow for smuggling aboard the stolen artefacts from Iraq. Protecting Iraq’s cultural heritage is a global task for it is the
memory of the humankind."

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ISIS Burns the Manuscripts and Paintings at Mar Behnam Monastery October 21, 2014

On October 21, 2014 I learned from aleteia.org that Father Charbel Issa, head of the ancient Mar Behnam Monastery, also known as the Monastery of the Martyrs Saint Behnam and his Sister Sarah near Bakhdida in northern Iraq, reported that members of ISIS ripped down the monastery's crosses and burned its paintings and manuscripts. According to BBC.com on July 21, 2014 ISIS seized control of the monastery, and threatened the monks with execution. They were expelled with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

"Issa added in a statement to the website Ankawa.com that he had contacted the former mayor of al-Basatliyah, where the monastery is located, in order to ascertain conditions at the monastery. The mayor confirmed that members of ISIS had taken the crosses off the monastery’s roof and burned important manuscripts. Furthermore, ISIS wrote the words “Property of ISIS” on a large portion of its exterior wall."  

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"Iraqi Libraries Ransacked by Islamic State in Mosul" January 31, 2015

This I quote from The Associated Press online publication dated January 31, 2015. The link at the end of the quotation is my addition:

Iraqi libraries ransacked by Islamic State group in Mosul


"BAGHDAD (AP) -- When Islamic State group militants invaded the Central Library of Mosul earlier this month, they were on a mission to destroy a familiar enemy: other people's ideas.

Residents say the extremists smashed the locks that had protected the biggest repository of learning in the northern Iraq town, and loaded around 2,000 books - including children's stories, poetry, philosophy and tomes on sports, health, culture and science - into six pickup trucks. They left only Islamic texts.

The rest?

"These books promote infidelity and call for disobeying Allah. So they will be burned," a bearded militant in traditional Afghani two-piece clothing told residents, according to one man living nearby who spoke to The Associated Press. The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation, said the Islamic State group official made his impromptu address as others stuffed books into empty flour bags.

Since the Islamic State group seized a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria, they have sought to purge society of everything that doesn't conform to their violent interpretation of Islam. They already have destroyed many archaeological relics, deeming them pagan, and even Islamic sites considered idolatrous. Increasingly books are in the firing line.

Mosul, the biggest city in the Islamic State group's self-declared caliphate, boasts a relatively educated, diverse population that seeks to preserve its heritage sites and libraries. In the chaos that followed the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein, residents near the Central Library hid some of its centuries-old manuscripts in their own homes to prevent their theft or destruction by looters.

But this time, the Islamic State group has made the penalty for such actions death. Presumed destroyed are the Central Library's collection of Iraqi newspapers dating to the early 20th century, maps and books from the Ottoman Empire and book collections contributed by around 100 of Mosul's establishment families.

Days after the Central Library's ransacking, militants broke into University of Mosul's library. They made a bonfire out of hundreds of books on science and culture, destroying them in front of students.

A University of Mosul history professor, who spoke on condition he not be named because of his fear of the Islamic State group, said the extremists started wrecking the collections of other public libraries last month. He reported particularly heavy damage to the archives of a Sunni Muslim library, the library of the 265-year-old Latin Church and Monastery of the Dominican Fathers and the Mosul Museum Library with works dating back to 5000 BC.

Citing reports by the locals who live near these libraries, the professor added that the militants used to come during the night and carry the materials in refrigerated trucks with Syria-registered license plates. The fate of these old materials is still unknown, though the professor suggested some could be sold on the black market. In September, Iraqi and Syrian officials told the AP that the militants profited from the sale of ancient artifacts.

The professor said Islamic State group militants appeared determined to "change the face of this city ... by erasing its iconic buildings and history."

Since routing government forces and seizing Mosul last summer, the Islamic State group has destroyed dozens of historic sites, including the centuries-old Islamic mosque shrines of the prophets Seth, Jirjis and Jonah.

An Iraqi lawmaker, Hakim al-Zamili, said the Islamic State group "considers culture, civilization and science as their fierce enemies."

Al-Zamili, who leads the parliament's Security and Defense Committee, compared the Islamic State group to raiding medieval Mongols, who in 1258 ransacked Baghdad. Libraries' ancient collections of works on history, medicine and astronomy were dumped into the Tigris River, purportedly turning the waters black from running ink."

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