Ebla to E-Books: The Preservation and Annihilation of Memory.

A FREE Substack by 𝐊𝐚𝐭𝐡𝐥𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐝𝐞 𝐥𝐚 𝐏𝐞𝐧̃𝐚 𝐌𝐜𝐂𝐨𝐨𝐤

Portrait of Girolamo Savonarola by Fra Bartolomeo, artist. Museo Nazionale di San Marco

Fra. Girolamo Savonarola’s image is the logo for this Substack. In 1495 his bonfire of the vanities included books, paintings, and musical instruments.1

Girolamo Savonarola's statue in Bologna

The city of Ebla was set on fire by Akkadian invaders in 2300 BC, razing its royal palace and burning thousands of texts in the kingdom’s library. This seems to be the oldest library destruction of which we know.2

The preservation and annihilation of books, ideas, and free expression is the topic of this Substack.

Key sources:

Aguirre, Carlos, and Javier Villa-Flores. From the ashes of history: loss and recovery of archives and libraries in modern Latin America. 2015.

American Printing History Association. Printing History.

Apaydin, Veysel, ed. Critical Perspectives on Cultural Memory and Heritage: Construction, Transformation and Destruction. UCL Press, 2020.

Báez, Fernando. A universal history of the destruction of books: from ancient Sumer to modern-day Iraq. New York: Atlas, 2010.

Battles, Matthew. Library: An Unquiet History. New York, NY W.W. Norton & Co. 2015.

Bevan, Robert . 2006. The Destruction of Memory : Architecture at War. London: Reaktion Books.

Bibliography of Library History Database: 1990-2022 (psu.edu)

Bibliography of the Damned. - Robert M. Sarwark. An analysis of the phenomenon of book censorship in both the institutional and ideological context of the Catholic Church; and to provide a survey of some of the most notable titles that were included on the Index of Forbidden Books during its existence.

The Book Collector. The only journal in the world that deals with all aspects of the book, covering subjects ranging from typography to national heritage policy, from medieval libraries to modern first editions.

Buringh, Eltjo. On Medieval Manuscript Production in the Latin West: Explorations with a Global Database. Leiden: Brill, 2011. ( detailed information on tbook production per century and uses of medieval manuscripts in eleven areas of the Latin West. The numbers of manuscripts surviving from the period 500 - 1500 have been assessed statistically. Other data have been used to quantify the loss rates of such books in the Latin West). 

Carefoote, Pearce J. Forbidden Fruit: Banned, Censored, and Challenged Books from Dante to Harry Potter. Toronto, Ont: Lester, Mason & Begg, 2007.

Casson, Lionel. 2008. Libraries in the Ancient World. Yale University Press.

Censorship and Information Control. University of Chicago, Special Collections Research Center. 2018.

Clendinnen, Inga. Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatan, 1517-1570, 2nd. ed. Cambridge: University Press, 1987.

Cloonan, Michèle Valerie. The Monumental Challenge of Preservation : the Past in a Volatile World. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2018.

Darnton, Robert. Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature. New York : W.W. Norton 2014.

Darnton, Robert., and Daniel. Roche (1989). Revolution in Print : the Press in France, 1775-1800. Berkeley: University of California Press in collaboration with the New York Public Library, 1989.

Fine Books Blog.

Goedeken, Ed. Bibliography of Library History. American Library Association. Library History Round Table. 1990-.

Goldstein, Robert Justin. 2000. The war for the public mind political censorship in nineteenth-century Europe. Westport, Conn: Praeger.

Girst, Thomas, and Marc Spiegler. Lost Libraries: Abigail Reynolds' Art Journey. 2017.

Hesse, Carla. (1991). Publishing and Cultural Politics in Revolutionary Paris, 1789-1810. Berkeley:  University of California Press. (Article 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, promulgated August 26, 1789; an edited version appears in Godechot (ed.), Les Constitutions de la France, 34.)

Hillerbrand, Hans Joachim. 2006. “On Book Burnings and Book Burners: Reflections on the Power (and Powerlessness) of Ideas.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 74 (3): 593–614.

Houston Keith. 2016. The Book : A Cover-To-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time First ed. New York NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Hui, Andrew. “Dreams of the Universal Library.” Critical inquiry 48.3 (2022): 522–548.

The Index Librorum Prohibitorum ("List of Prohibited Books")-Roman Catholic Church. 1564-1966.

Intellectual Freedom Blog. The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association.

Jenkins, Romilly J. H. “The Hellenistic Origins of Byzantine Literature.” Dumbarton Oaks papers 17 (1963): 37–52. 

Kelly, Thomas Forest. The Role of the Scroll: An Illustrated Introduction to Scrolls in the Middle Ages (New York: Norton, 2019) 272 pp. $30.00 ISBN 978-0-393-285-03-1.

Emily Knox- scholar of information access, intellectual freedom and censorship, information ethics, information policy, print culture and reading practices.

  • Emily Knox. (2023). Foundations of Intellectual Freedom. Chicago, IL: ALA/Neal-Schumann.

  • Knox, Emily J. M. (2017). “Indoctrination and Common Sense Interpretation of Texts: The Tucson Unified School District Book Banning.” Journal of Intellectual Freedom & Privacy 2, no. 2 : 11–22.

  • Knox, Emily J. M. (2015). Book Banning in 21st-Century America. 2015.Lanham : Rowman & Littlefield.

Knuth, Rebecca. Burning Books and Leveling Libraries: Extremist Violence and Cultural Destruction. Praeger, 2006.

Knuth, Rebecca. Libricide: The Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century. Westport, Conn: Praeger Publishers, 2008.

Legacy Libraries, Library Thing.

Library Card Museum

The Library History Buff.

𝐌𝐜𝐂𝐨𝐨𝐤, 𝐊𝐚𝐭𝐡𝐥𝐞𝐞𝐧 𝐝𝐞 𝐥𝐚 𝐏𝐞𝐧̃𝐚. (2021). Creation of the World Brain. Free Power Point.

McLeod, Jane. (2011). Licensing Loyalty: Printers, Patrons, and the State in Early Modern France. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Martin, Henri Jean. 1999. Livre, pouvoirs et société à Paris au 17. siècle. 1 1. Livre, Pouvoirs Et Société À Paris Au 17. Siècle : 1598-1701 / Henri-Jean Martin ; Préface De Roger Chartier. Genève: Librairie Droz.

Moore, Nicole. The Censor's Library: [Uncovering the Lost History of Australia's Banned Books]. St Lucia, Qld: Univ. of Queensland Press, 2012.

Nix, Larry T. The Library History Buff.

Ovenden, Richard [VNV]. Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack. 2020.

Peignot, Gabriel. Essai Historique Sur La Liberté D'écrire Chez Les Anciens Et Au Moyen Âge, Sur La Liberté De La Presse Depuis Le 15. Siècle Et Sur Les Moyens De Répression Dont Ces Libertés Ont Été L'objet Dans Tous Les Temps. Genève: Slatkine Reprints, 1970.

Petersen, Jens Østergård (1995), "Which books did the First Emperor of Ch'in burn? – on the meaning of Pai chia in early Chinese sources", Monumenta Serica43: 1–52

Pettegree, Andrew. The Book at War: How Reading Shaped Conflict and Conflict Shaped Reading. (New York: Basic Books, 2023).

Pettegree, Andrew, and Arthur der Weduwen. 2021. The library: a fragile history. London: Profile Books Ltd.

Pettegree, Andrew. The Book in the Renaissance (Yale University Press, 2010).

Pettegree, Andrew. The French Book and the European Book World (Brill, 2007)

Polastron, Lucien X., and Jon Graham. Books on Fire The Destruction of Libraries Throughout History. 2007.

Post45 Data Collective. Emory University Center for Digital Scholarship.

Pottinger, David T. (1958). The French Book Trade in the Ancien Regime, 1500 - 1791. Harvard University Press.

Printing History. American Printing History Association.


Purcell, Mark. (2017). The Country House Library. The National Trust. Yale.

Purcell, Mark. (2019). “The Role of Librarians in a Historical Age of Obsession.” LitHub. October 18.

Raven, James. Lost Libraries: The Destruction of Great Book Collections Since Antiquity. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Raven, James (2018). The Oxford Illustrated History of the Book. Oxford University Press.

Riedlmayer, András J. “Crimes of War, Crimes of Peace: Destruction of Libraries During and after the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.” Library Trends 56, no. 1 (2007): 107–32.

Rosenblum, Joseph. Practice to Deceive: The Amazing Stories of Literary Forgery's Most Notorious Practitioners. New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 2000.

Rydell, Anders. The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe's Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance. New York : Penguin Books, 2018.

Sarwark, Robert M. Bibliographer of the Damned. Bibliography of the Damned.

Scales, Pat R. Books Under Fire: A Hit List of Banned and Challenged Children's Books. Chicago: ALA EDITIONS, 2021.

Schmandt-Besserat, Denise, and William W. Hallo. Before Writing: From Counting to Cuneiform. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992.

Siebert, Frederick S. Freedom of the Press in England 1476-1776: The Rise and Decline of Government Control. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1952.

Special Collections + Social Media.

Van Straten, Giorgio, Simon Carnell, and Erica Segre. In search of lost books: the forgotten stories of eight mythical volumes. 2018.

Wellisch, Hans H. (1981). "Ebla: The World's Oldest Library". The Journal of Library History. University of Texas Press. 16 (3)

Zittrain, Jonathan (June 30, 2021). “The Internet Is Rotting: Too much has been lost already. The glue that holds humanity’s knowledge together is coming undone.” The Atlantic.

Edited by Kathleen de la Peña McCook, School of Information, University of South Florida.


Martines, L (2006). Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for the Soul of Renaissance Florence. Oxford University Press. [Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498), born in Ferrara. Inspired by an aversion for worldly things, and the highest religious ideals, he condemned first the corrupt way of life of Florence then the church hierarchy in Rome. Ignoring numerous reprimands and contemptuous of danger, he was condemned to death: together with his fellow friars, Domenico da Pescia and Silvestro Maruffi, he was hanged and burnt in Piazza Signoria on 23 May 1498.]


Wellisch, Hans H. (1981). "Ebla: The World's Oldest Library". The Journal of Library History. University of Texas Press. 16 (3)

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Creation, and Destruction of Memory and Ideas


"Ebla to E-Books: The Preservation and Annihilation of Memory. " Teach "History of Books & Libraries" and "Rare Books & Special Collections," School of Information, University of South Florida. KN4IJM.I do not speak for USF.