The Formation of Cultural Memory: Ancient Mesopotamian Libraries and Schools and Their Contribution to the Shaping of Tradition and Identity

Workshop organized by Beate Pongratz-Leisten (ISAW)

When dealing with archives and libraries in the ancient Near East, Assyriological scholarship has dedicated much effort into the publication of their texts, often concentrating on one particular genre. Less attention has been paid to the questions what particular texts or genres were collected and for what potential purposes in a particular place. The workshop intends to approach Mesopotamian tablet collections, tablet-depots, archives, and libraries from a cultural-anthropological perspective, looking at the epistemic practices and forms of production and reception of texts in order define more closely the repertoire of cultural memory and tradition. According to the concrete historical and socio-cultural context, the materiality and presence of the text as artifact, the meaning and function of texts change. In the context of reception, an excerpt of the Gilgamesh-Epic on a school tablet acquires a different meaning than a library exemplar representing a full tablet of the epic. Examining the particular tablet as an artifact in its social context and its grouping with other texts raises central questions including who owned the tablet collection, who built it and who was writing the texts for which purpose? Does the meaning of a text changes with regard to intracultural or intercultural reception? This approach will probe the possibility that Mesopotamian libraries can be defined as much as places for the acquisition and transmission of knowledge as for its construction and production. Further, the workshop will attempt to map a geography of knowledge and to test whether we can identify traditional centers of knowledge as well as staging posts in the flow of knowledge.

10:00am - Introduction: The Materiality and Presence of the Text as Artifact
Beate Pongratz-Leisten (New York University, ISAW)

10:30amManufacturing Tradition & Textual Production in Third-Millennium Syria & Mesopotamia
Gonzalo Rubio (Pennsylvania State University)

11:30am - Coffee Break

12:00pm - Mesopotamian Tablet Collections of the Second Millennium BCE: Speculations on the Flow of Textual Knowledge Outside of the Schoolroom
Piotr Michalowski (University of Michigan)

1:00pm - Lunch Break

2:00pm - The Hands of Ba'lu-qarrad and Ba'lu-malik: Reconstructing Ritual Composition in the Diviner's Archive at Emar
Daniel Fleming (New York University)

3:00pm - Coffee Break

3:30pm - Medical catalogues, archives, and libraries as reflections of canonicity
Mark Geller (Freie Universität Berlin)

4:30pm - Final Discussion

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A detailed schedule for the workshop, including a list of speakers and talk titles, will be posted in the coming weeks.