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Books under Fire: From the Flames of Leuven to the Timbuktu Renaissance

decoration04 July 2015|13 Sept. 2015

This exhibition commemorates the historical and cultural significance of the destruction and revival of the Leuven University Library. On 25  August 1914, at the very beginning of the First World War, the library was set aflame. The intellectual heritage this institution had built up for over five centuries was lost forever. Around the world a wave of protest denounced this act of cultural atrocity.

The first part of the exhibition, entitled ‘The Flames of Louvain’, recounts the destruction of the University library and the international rescue efforts that followed. It explains the enormous symbolical meaning of the Library’s destruction. Before and after pictures of the library’s interior were published as postcards which travelled the globe. The loss of cultural heritage touched people around the globe. Committees in 25 countries raised money and books for Leuven. In the Treaty of Versailles Germany was expected to provide books and material worth millions of German marks. The United States topped the bill by funding the construction of a new and grand library building. The exhibition takes place in this monumental building and invites visitors to reflect on the protection of cultural heritage in times of conflict.

A second part of the exhibition displays a collection of ‘snow-whites’, books which were saved from the 1914 fire and are being kept in sealed, glass caskets. A third part of the exhibition titled ‘Timbuktu Renaissance’ draws attention to a contemporary crisis, displaying a selection of centuries-old manuscripts from the legendary libraries of Timbuktu which are now under threat. In 2012, almost 400.000 of these manuscripts were transferred in secret from Timbuktu to Bamako, in order to save them from the destruction of the conflict in Northern-Mali and the threat of radical armed groups. The Timbuktu manuscripts show how today’s violent conflicts threaten world cultural heritage.

What do we lose when we lose a library?

In addition, a conference will be held from 9 to 11 September, 2015. Click here for more information.

Picture: KU Leuven


04 July 2015|13 Sept. 2015
University Library
Oude Markt 13 - bus 5005
KU Leuven, curated by Garrelt Verhoeven, Marc Derez, Kjell Corens, Anne Verbrugge, Katrien Smeyers, Lieve Watteeuw
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