A Short History of Burning Books | BIBLIOCLASM

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In 1821 the famous German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, who wrote
in his 1821 play Almansor the famous admonition, “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt
man am Ende auch Menschen”: “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.” Each of us have probably thought about burning
a book we dreaded to read during high school. But: book burning was around before you and
I graduated high-school, and it has been performed on an extremely large scale throughout history,
in the name of religious and political ideology. A collective condemnation is often cried out
when such acts occur. We share the conviction that destruction of
culture is senseless and perilous to society. So.. what are some book-bonfires that are
remembered even today, and.. Why does it matter? -intro- Biblioclasm In many social conflicts, deep-seated strife
has led humans to commit extreme acts of violence, and just as often, the bloodletting has been
accompanied by the destruction of books. Back in the sixth century, Rome was sacked
by the Vandals and many books perished. Around two-hundred-and-fifty years before
that, the Roman emperor Aurelian and his troops attempted to recapture Alexandria, and during
the siege, they destroyed an entire city-quarter, including the famed Library of Alexandria. While sources available to us are unclear
about whether the library was completely destroyed or not – if it wasn’t then it would be in
two-hundred-and-ninety-seven, during a siege of Alexandria by the Roman emperor Diocletian. A few hundred years later, the British Isles
were subject to Viking plunderings, Christian monasteries that had sustained learning throughout
the Dark Ages were often demolished and their contents destroyed. In twelve-fifty-eight, taking a leap in history
and a bit more to the east, the Mongols destroyed the House of Wisdom, a public academy and
intellectual centre in Baghdad. The Mongols chucked books from the House of
Wisdom in the Tigris River and according to chroniclers, the quantities were such that
the water ran black from the ink. After the discovery of the Americas, In the
16th century, the majority of Maya codices were destroyed and burned by conquistadors
and Catholic Priests. Notorious was Diego de Landa, for having nearly
all of the codices burned, not to mention the massacres of the native population attributed
to him. Book and library destructions are akin to
iconoclasm. Icons that are associated with corrupt and
evil establishments are destroyed. Biblioclasm is specifically the destruction
of books and libraries. Its history is intertwined with political
violence and vandalism. Ancient times saw libraries rise and fall
during periods of war. What makes destroying books symbolically powerful
is the fact that there is a powerful association between texts, group identity and the preservation
of a society’s belief system. We can trace evidence of this notion back
to two-hundred-and-thirteen Before Christ, in China. Emperor Ch’in Shih-Huang, the first emperor
of the Qin dynasty, buried scholars and burned their books, in an attempt to extinguish opposing
beliefs and cultures. Some of the burned books were over 2,000 years
old and among the burned books were philosophical treaties, written between the 6th and 3rd
century Before Christ. Just like the Mayan codices, and for that
matter every event of biblioclasm touched upon so far, we will never know what kind
of knowledge and valuable documents have been lost, only that it was too much. In contrast, the attempt to preserve culture
and protect libraries and books provoked heroic efforts. The Jewish people have been persecuted for
centuries and their cultural survival is, among other things, due to their protection
of sacred works. The past teaches contemporary groups worried
about cultural decline that preserving texts is necessary for cultural autonomy and survival. Often (though not always) the impulse behind
biblioclasm is a religious or quasi-religious dedication to an ideology. This obviously all is rather… primitive. Nowadays something like this would no-…
oh, right. So, in recent years libraries and books have
been burned… en masse. Let us go back to probably the most famous
example of book-burning in the 20th century: those in Nazi Germany. In the introduction, I briefly mentioned that
there was an ideological component to burning books. Well, exhibit A. The Stürmabteiling, the
thugs and brutes of the Nazi party, regularly organised book burnings in order to destroy
works they deemed “Against the German Spirit”. I could honestly create a short film about
this, as the biblioclasm in Nazi Germany has been researched extensively. To keep it brief: what exactly did they burn.. What was deemed “against the German spirit”? Jewish, Marxist, pacifist books, though any
author that was deemed an enemy of the Nazi regime was prone to having his books burned. But.. aside from those black pages in world
history, after the Nazis, we calmed down a bit with regard to the pyromania, have we? Well, yes. As long as you do not mention the burning
of books in Arabic script after the Latin alphabet was introduced in Azerbaijan, hundreds
of books burned after the fascist dictatorship of Pinochet was established in Chile in 1973,
the burning of a library in Jaffna, Sri Lanka in 1981 during a pogrom against the Tamil
population (over 100,000 books were burned), the burning of over 2.8 million books in Croatia
by the Croat government during the 1990s, because they were written by Serbs, a strange
cult in Australia burning books in 2009, some radical leftist hippies breaking into the
library of the Amsterdam South Africa Institute in 1984, only to destroy its entire contents,
basically being counter-productive to their cause, and a senior Norwegian official removing
maps from library books and causing an uproar throughout the entire country when he got
caught, resulting not only in his career turned into shambles but a national outcry for the
improved security of libraries. Fin There certainly is a reality of how effective
unchecked vandalism and unbound racial pride reverses our progress toward a modern society
based on pluralism and tolerance. It seems like a historical law that wherever
knowledge is preserved, someone always has to ruin it for the rest, whether you are a
Chinese scholar under an angry emperor, a monk on the British isles overrun by Vikings,
or a Norwegian senior official with a strange library-book-map obsession. Thank you very much for watching this video! As always, the sources are in the description,
until next friday! And because the holidays are coming up: read
a book. I will upload a recommendation somewhere next
week, of one of the most interesting and best books I have read this year!

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