On Sunday, a fiery inferno claimed Egyptian maps and historical manuscripts, some of which were over 200 years old. Is Egypt’s heritage under attack? How can ancient books be protected?
Ancient Books: How can Scholars Protect Egyptian Heritage?
The Cairo-based fire was seemingly part of the anti-government protests which currently engulf the nation. And now, there is some talk of “foreign entities” (most likely UNESCO) taking sovereignty over historic Egyptian sites for preservation purposes. Fortunately, much of these ancient books and other works had been digitized. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons I support the digitization of ancient books and rare historical documents such as Sir Isaac Newton’s papers. Eventually, all ancient books, maps, and other documents will succumb to the ravages of time and violence. A digital copy might not be as good as the real item…but it’s the next best thing and it can be stored in many places. Anyway, here’s more on the story from the Guardian:
Volunteers in white lab coats, surgical gloves and masks stood on the back of a pickup truck along the banks of the Nile 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.
The Institute of Egypt, a research centre 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. It 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 civilisation and contemporary life at the time.
It is probably now burned beyond repair…
(See Cairo Institute Burned During Clashes for the rest)