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Preserving our collective memory

From an op-ed in the Cornell Daily Sun:

For as long as civilization has existed so has war, along with all of the destruction and devastation that it entails. The 20th century, however, was arguably the bloodiest chapter in our historical narrative. In light of the war on terrorism, the U.S. invasion in Iraq and the Arab Spring, among other global conflicts and disasters, the 21st century seems to be following a similar path. With this in mind, what exactly defines a war, conflict or period of time as “bloody?” Is it the loss of human life, stagnation of development and progress or simply a lack of peace between different peoples, ethnic groups and nations?

When one thinks of war and conflict and all of the destruction that comes along with it, it is easy to forget a very significant and devastating casualty: the loss of our collective memory of the past. From the Ancient Library of Alexandria to the National Libraries and State Archives of Iraq, oftentimes libraries, books and human knowledge are the victims of invading forces, gunshots and bombs. In the second issue of the magazine, Document Journal, art historian Zainab Bahrani recounts witnessing the destruction of Baghdad’s National Library in 2003 after U.S. forces invaded Iraq: “A centuries old archive of not only state events and political concerns, but also the Ottoman era documents of people’s lives ... of inheritance and kinship ties [that] had been both burned in fire and damaged by water … These are what form the stuff of documents in a literate culture… In Iraq of 2003, the loss of the archives was the first step to the loss of a national collective memory.”

Read the full story in the Sun.