HIST 325 Spring 2015 The Great Library of Alexandria: Collecting and Connoisseurship in the Ancient World

Cross Listed as ARTH283, CLAS283, COMP293
During the early third century BCE, the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt built the Great Library of Alexandria to serve as a repository for all human knowledge. Such an audacious project of collection has rarely been attempted either before or since. At its height, the Great Library was reputed to house over 700,000 books from across the Greek world, as well as many translations of texts originally written in Latin, Hebrew, Egyptian, and even Sanskrit. Attracted by the vast stores of knowledge, scholars, artists, and poets flocked to the Great Library to create one of the most vibrant intellectual communities the world has ever known. In this course, we will examine the development and influence of the Great Library and its sister institution, the Mouseion (or "Museum") from a variety of cultural and historical perspectives. We will begin by exploring the political motives of the Ptolemaic kings and their reception of earlier traditions of collecting in the Greek and Near Eastern worlds. We will then turn to the intellectual and artistic activity at the Library itself, with special attention to the development of notions of connoisseurship and canon across various disciplines. Although implicated in the Ptolemies' political agenda, the scholars living and working in the Great Library were granted extraordinary freedom to pursue new ideas that transformed literature, science, and the arts forever. Readings will include selections from Theocritus' Idylls, Apollonius' Argonautica and Eratothenes' Geography. Finally, we will examine the legacy of the Great Library from the Roman empire to the present day, focusing particularly on how the concept of a universal archive has shaped the collecting practices of everything from modern art museums and Google Books to such governmental entities as the NSA. All readings are in translation.
Class Format: lecture
Requirements/Evaluation: evaluation will be based on classroom performance, three response papers, one 12- to 15-page paper, and a midterm exam
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Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preference: preference given to majors or prospective majors in Classics, History, and Comparative Literature
Department Notes: meets Division 1 requirement if registration is under CLAS or COMP; meets Division 2 requirement if registration is under HIST
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Distribution Notes:
Divisional Attributes: Division II
Other Attributes: HIST Group C Electives - Europe and Russia,HIST Group G Electives - Premodern
Enrollment Limit: 30
Expected Enrollment: 20
Class Number: 3365
HIST 325 - 01 (S) LEC Great Library of Alexandria Division 2: Social Studies Benjamin B. Rubin
TF 1:10 PM-2:25 PM Griffin 5 3365
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