Memory's Library

2008
Author(s)
Jennifer Summit
Publisher
University of Chicago Press
Memory's Library

"Libraries," wrote Francis Bacon in 1605, "are as the shrines, where all the reliques of the ancient saints, full of true virtue, and that without delusion or imposture, are preserved, and reposed." In Jennifer Summit’s account, libraries are more than inert storehouses of written tradition; they are volatile spaces that actively shape the meanings and uses of books, reading, and the past. Considering the two-hundred-year period between 1431, which saw the foundation of Duke Humfrey’s famous library, and 1631, when the great antiquarian Sir Robert Cotton died, Memory’s Library revises the history of the modern library by focusing on its origins in medieval and early modern England.

Summit argues that the medieval sources that survive in English collections are the product of a Reformation and post-Reformation struggle to redefine the past by redefining the cultural place, function, and identity of libraries. By establishing the intellectual dynamism of English libraries during this crucial period of their development, Memory’s Library demonstrates how much current discussions about the future of libraries can gain by reexamining their past.