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Universal Libraries, Global Bibliographies

Posted By Seth Kimmel, Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The dream of knowing all that there is to know is a powerful one, even or perhaps especially for those of us finely attuned to the limits of our own knowledge. Technologies of manuscript culture, print media, and electronic cataloging have each in their respective moment helped both to keep alive the cyclical lure of comprehensiveness and to render it impossible ever to attain. More specifically, the universal dictionaries, bibliographies, histories, and libraries of the late medieval and early modern period were pragmatic attempts to organize and protect a body of knowledge that pretended to be total, yet the processes of selection and summarizing that characterized these genres contributed to the loss as well as the conservation of information. That the intellectual aspiration of total knowledge sometimes overlaps with the imperial objective of domination is a feature of the rhetoric of universality that was not lost on early modern scholars and monarchs. These early modern tensions remain with us in our late modern period too, as a universalizing rhetoric characterizes bibliographic practice in the digital environment, and disciplines like world literature and global history seek to find their institutional and intellectual footing.

We welcome papers for a series of panels at the 2017 RSA that respond to these and related issues about the material qualities of the lure and limitations of universal knowledge. Please send a one-page CV and an abstract of no more than 150 words to Seth Kimmel ( and Miguel Martínez ( by May 31, 2016.

Tags:  book history  global history  global Renaissance  libraries  material culture  world history  world literature 

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