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Al-Azhar in the Bibliographic Imagination

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AbstractThis article interrogates the discursive substance of the library in the modern production of knowledge. It proceeds in two parts: the first section explores the locations of the idea of the Library in the modern episteme, while the second analyzes its importation and application in Egypt, and its implications for reforms at al-Azhar. Beginning with an exploration of the place of books and libraries as symbols and indices of civilizational progress in the modern West, it then moves to their mobilization in national and imperial state projects. Shifting to Egypt, it shows how modern assumptions distort readings of a pre-modern text by an Azhari scholar, before analyzing the internalization of a Western bibliographic discourse in the late nineteenth-century and beyond, culminating in today’s ‘Azhar Online’ digitalization project, where technical, didactic and ideological aims are discursively positioned in a dialectic of ‘education for heritage, heritage for education.’

Affiliations: 1: Columbia University, URL:


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