Libraries in the manuscript age,
East and West
Conference, Paris, Collège de France, 28-29 September 2017
As a quick look at a modern website shows, the information available about libraries is quite uneven, although the development of book history certainly greatly helped in focusing the attention on this important topic and succeeded in providing a wealth of material and case studies. And a closer look also shows that the information used is quite heterogeneous. Archival material or the evidence collected from the books that were once part of a library provides the basis for many studies whereas in other cases, the information is derived from literary sources dealing with libraries. This is certainly not problematic when this happens within the same cultural area where various points of view contribute to the global vision. But a comparative approach will be hindered by the imbalance between the various cultures when the study of libraries tends to depend mainly if not exclusively from a single approach. This is of course partly due to the evidence available today, above all when we are dealing with libraries that were established in non-Western cultures during the manuscript age –this loose definition covering the period in which manuscripts have been routinely produced, sometimes at the same time as printed books and until a date varying according to the various cultures concerned.
The conference intends to explore the history and the role of the libraries in the manuscript age in various Eastern and Western cultures. The diversity of the situations calls for a diversity of approaches: studies exploring various aspects examined by historians of the book -ranging from the patronage to the economy of the book within the frame of the libraries- or related to the intellectual history –politics of acquisition or interaction of the texts contained in a specific library- or analyses of literary sources of a specific culture dealing with libraries would have their place in the intended conference.
Functions and operating modes –covering the various aspects of storage and access- could be addressed, eventually in association with the previously enumerated approaches, and might allow to identify peculiarities or common patterns. The specificities of the manuscript age certainly weighed on the way in which libraries were assembled and kept. However, there might have been some effort by those who managed these libraries to get copies of texts that were deemed essential: are there “ideal libraries” at a given moment in a specific culture?
The conference is organized by the SICLE project (Saadian Intellectual and Cultural LifE, ERC grant 670628), in cooperation with the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures in Hamburg (SFB 950).
Prof. François Déroche, Collège de France
Prof. Nuria Martinez de Castilla, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Études