COLLOQUIUM: Joe Howley, Columbia, "Book-burning and the uses of writing in ancient Rome"

Thursday, February 2, 2017 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm

402 Cohen Hall

This talk will examine the burning of written material at Rome from the Republican period until the rise of Christianity, using the lens of book history.  We will consider why and how Romans burned written material, looking at the diverse range of practices attested in ancient sources, and so construct a historical narrative and typology of the practice.  We will then look at responses to different practices of book-burning at the times of their advent as well as in later generations' memory.  We will be particularly interested in the intersecting practices of burning both books and documents, which each have distinct and varying implications for our understanding of Roman censorship, memory control, and political theater.  A capacious, book-historical approach to Roman book-burning shows that differences in practice and use account for the different consequences Romans saw for burning different written media.  By examining this particular destructive practice, we can also better understand Roman distinctions between different forms of writing.