Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Obama will use Lincoln Bible for inaugural oath

Following many other presidents who have used relic Bible's to take their oath of office, Barack Obama has chosen to use Lincoln's, according to Cox News Service:

President-elect Barack Obama will take the oath of office on the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln used for his swearing-in.

The burgundy velvet-bound volume known as the Lincoln Bible was purchased in 1861 by then-Supreme Court Clerk William Thomas Carroll for use in Abraham Lincoln's inauguration because the president-elect's family Bible was packed away and en route from Illinois to Washington.

The Lincoln Bible, now in the Library of Congress collection (as is Lincoln's family Bible), has not been used in a presidential inauguration since Lincoln took the oath in 1861.

The reader's comments on this article in the Boston Globe are unusually interesting. Ray Sollier takes issue with some common claims about the history of using Bibles in presidential oaths. I wish Ray would cite his sources ...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Preservation, preservation, preservation ...

Kevin Kelly on the Long Now Blog points out that storage of digital information should really be called movage, because it's only by moving it from one medium and platform to another that you can keep it accessible. And then there's the problem that:
The storage medium itself can decay. Turns out that paper is much more stable over the long term than most digital media. Magnetic surfaces flake, peel, shatter. And the supposed durable CDs and DVDs aren’t very stable either. ...

Proper movage means transferring the material to current platforms on a regular basis — that is, before the old platform completely dies, and it becomes hard to do. This movic rythym of refreshing content should be as smooth as a respiratory cycle — in, out, in, out. Copy, move, copy, move.

In other words, anything you want moved to the future has to be given attention to keep it moving forward.

We don’t know what the natural movage respiration cycle is for digital media yet since it is still very new, but I suspect the cycle is much shorter than we think. I would guess it is 5 years. No matter what digital format you have your precious stored on, you should expect to move it onto new media in five years — and five years after that forever!

Move it, move it, move it.

Paper is looking better all the time. Clay tablets, even better! Alexander Rose writes also on the Long Now Blog that the invention of a tough and resilient ceramic at UC Berkeley has the Long Now Foundation interested:
... we are quite interested in it as a long lasting material for the 10,000 Year Clock. We already plan on using engineered ceramics for bearings and other wear components, but the elimination of ceramics only real drawback, that it can shatter, really opens up the engineering possibilities.

It seems to me that they should broaden their thinking beyond clocks. Ceramics formed the original cheap and durable writing medium, as I've commented before. Wouldn't it be funny if the end result of all our experimenting with electronic technology would turn out to be a high-tech version of the cuneiform tablet!

Bookbindings of the Morgan

Sylvia on Classical Bookworm points out:
Legendumst posted about a new exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum, Protecting the Word: Bookbindings of the Morgan. Pierpont Morgan was, well, filthy rich, and he purchased a lot of beautiful things including books with exquisite bindings. These are now on display and you can see a handful of them online. I thought I would post one of them—it actually made me gasp when it came up on screen. They aren't sure exactly where and when it was made but they guess Salzburg around 760–790. A hundred years later or so it was "recycled" as the back cover of the Lindau Gospels. The front cover is astonishing also, but I prefer the older one.

Book Patrol: The Chinese Book Burner and the Great Wall of Books

Michael Lieberman on Book Patrol:

Qin Shi Huang, is one of the most notorious and prolific book burners in history. During his reign from 221 BC - 210 BC, Qin Shi Huang outlawed Confucianism and ordered the burning of pretty much all the books that came before him including the classic works of the Hundred Schools of Thought. It is also believed that he buried alive many of the scholars of the day. All in his quest to unite China.

This the same guy who built the Great Wall.

Jorge Luis Borges wrote an essay on Qin Shi Huang, 'The Wall and the Books' (La muralla y los libros) which appeared in the collection Other Inquisitions (Otras Inquisiciones), where he muses on these two grand feats.

The contemporary art company WELL has taken the Borges essay a bit further with their Great Wall of Books project - "a unique contemporary art project, simultaneously: public sculpture, interactive installation, outdoor performance, exhibition space and a point of creative departure for invited artists and communities. Literally a gigantic book, 5 metres tall and opening out to over 11 metres wide, it is a vessel that both generates and stores written, aural and visual stories." The project launched in 2007 with a 4 month stint in Macao, China and spent January of this year in Melbourne, Australia.

This has been the third installment in Book Patrol's new series Life of Google, featuring images from the vast archives of Life magazine that now appear on Google.

Modern Library Architecture

Sylvia on Classical Bookworm points out:

The WebUrbanist has just put together a collection of fifteen "dazzling" modern libraries from all over the world. It's a diverse assortment, from the Anchorage "washtub" to Prague's purple and pea green amoeba. Seattle is there, of course, as is Jay Walker's library. Two interesting libraries missing from the list are Salt Lake City's main library and the Vancouver Public Library. I haven't featured the latter before, so here it is:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Breathing Books!

Michael Lieberman on Book Patrol calls attention to "Bre Pettis takes us on a short video tour of Edith Kollath's latest exhibit Property and Evidence: The Whole Story which is currently on view at Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery."

Things - Edith Kollath Creates Books that Breathe from Bre Pettis on Vimeo.
- Kollath's account of the experience.
- Press release for the exhibit