Week 7 LAB Projects 2018

From Papyrus to the Internet: On the Creation, Transmission and Preservation of Knowledge

Participating Faculty: Ronald Milne and Andrew Hui

Project Duration: Wednesday, 26 September to Saturday, 6 October


  • This Week 7 will require a student co-pay of S$1,500. (Financial aid and merit grants are available. Please do not let finances deter you from participating).

Photo Credit: Mike Peel


Course Summary:

Umberto Eco once said in a lecture delivered at the new Library of Alexandria in Egypt that “We have three types of memory: The first one is organic, which is the memory made of flesh and blood and the one administrated by our brain. The second is mineral, and in this sense mankind has known two kinds of mineral memory: millennia ago, this was the memory represented by clay tablets and obelisks, on which people carved their texts. However, this second type is also the electronic memory of today’s computers, based upon silicon. We have also known another kind of memory, the vegetal one, the one represented by the first papyruses, again well known in this country, and then on books, made of paper.”

On this week 7 we will think about the creation and transmission of knowledge, while becoming acquainted with some of the world’s great documentary heritage collections.  We will examine the history, function, and future of the longest surviving vegetable in human culture: the book. We will journey to the UK to examine several major centers of knowledge production, “temples of vegetal memory,”: Oxford, Cambridge, and London. We will learn about some of the most celebrated library and archival collections in the world— including those held by Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, and the British Library in London. The tour will be curated by two of our College’s experts in the history of the book—Ronald Milne, Dean of ERT, and Andrew Hui, Assistant Professor of Humanities—with the opportunity to benefit from the knowledge of on-the-ground librarians, archivists, conservators, curators and bibliographers.

How does the written text evolve from papyrus scrolls to the codex, from medieval illuminated manuscripts to the printed book, from priceless treasures to cheap paperbacks? How is the world’s knowledge produced and preserved in the library? How is the library the laboratory of the humanities? How is the library a memory institution of the secular and of the sacred?

Some examples of what we’ll consider: the transmission of the Homeric epics from ancient papyrus fragments to medieval manuscripts to incunabula (early printed books) to modern editions and translations; the culture of early humanism in Boccaccio’s Decameron; how Shakespeare moved from the page to the stage through the quarto and folio editions; the vexed story of the translations of Holy Scripture in early modern Europe.


Oxford University Bodleian Libraries

Cambridge University (Trinity College Library)

The British Library

Other Week 7 LABs