The Formation of Cultural Memory

This article first appeared in ISAW Newsletter 14, Winter 2016.

Ancient Mesopotamian Libraries and Schools and Their Contribution to the Shaping of Tradition and Identity

Workshop, organized by Beate Pongratz-Leisten, ISAW
April 8, 9:00am-5:00pm

Ancient disputation and dialogue literature reveals that there was a tradition of competition between ancient centers of learning in Mesopotamia. Knowledge of important Babylonian cultural centers can still be detected in the writings of Strabo. So far, scholarship has occupied itself primarily with publishing the contents of libraries, and often, due to the quantity of texts and particular research questions, such effort has focused on particular genres rather than on entire collections. Much effort has gone into the reconstruction of school curricula. Less attention has been paid to what particular texts or genres were collected and for what potential purposes in one particular place. The workshop intends to approach Mesopotamian libraries holistically, by taking a closer look at their content, situating them in their sociopolitical context, and exploring who owned them. 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.