The ETC Blog is one of countless outlets that have talked about the terrible fire at the Brazil National Museum. Few give thought to the precariousness of such treasure troves of historical knowledge. Even those of us who do family history research, and worry about the possibility that a fire in our own home might destroy forever some unique photo of or document from or about an ancestor, put out of our mind the thought of something like that happening to a collection that impacts not one family but a nation and even all humanity. Even those of us who have done research into Irish ancestors, and know how the effort to move records from local parishes to Dublin for safe keeping backfires, still like to pretend that something like that won’t happen again.
But then it does.
The fire at the museum in Rio is a reminder of just how important digitization and other similar archiving projects are. Those of us who study ancient times depend on materials that we can only access digitally, and while it is ideal to have the original objects and texts, copies are better than nothing. One can also make a comparison with textual criticism. Would we rather have the original copies of the biblical writings? Most certainly. But perhaps someone put those originals in a museum in ancient times, those originals that are now lost to us, and the museum burned to the ground taking the manuscripts along with it. More likely they just fell to pieces and became trash. Either way, if no one had ever made the best copies they were able to, we would have nothing. And if we could have only digital images of those copied manuscripts because the building they were in burned to the ground, we would be grateful to at least have the photos and other such images.Have any readers of this blog been to the museum in Rio that burned down? What did you see there that it is particularly heartwrenching to imagine gone forever? If you have never been to the museum in Rio, what object in another museum would you feel particularly impacted by the loss of?
On a related note, I was pleased when, watching a video about Hamburg University’s research on handwritten texts, I saw some shots that looked very familiar – right out of slides from last year’s SBL session on Digital Humanities work on palimpsests!