In today’s “information age,” people thrive daily on different kinds of documentation from diaries to bank accounts, and social media from Facebook to Twitter. But information was no less valuable in ancient cultures.
The Harold B. Lee Library continues its 50th Anniversary celebration with a fourth exhibit containing ancient documents, several of which are from ancient Egypt and Greece. The exhibit, located in the exhibition room near the main entrance, will be available through Aug. 12.
Roger Macfarlane, professor of classics and comparative literature, compared the importance of information between ancient and modern society.
“Documents have been kept for a long time really for the same reasons we keep them,” Macfarlane said. “We have writing in ancient Greek recording the size of a person’s landholding. We write down contracts today, wills, letters to our friends, all those things were written down in the ancient world as well.”
While we face issues today in our society such as identity theft and illegal immigration, documentation for identity was important anciently as well.
Robert Maxwell is the chair of special collections cataloging and metadata, and drew parallels between the importance of documented identity.
“They needed to prove their citizenship,” Maxwell said. “For instance, you know the story of Paul, saying ‘I’m a Roman citizen, why are you treating me this way?’ Instantly, they changed the way that they were behaving toward him, and he would have had documents to prove that.”
Citizenry meant privileges for people in ancient times, the same way drivers licenses, college degrees and other certifications grant privileges for people today.
Roger Layton, Harold B. Lee Library communications manager, has been involved with this exhibit and several in the past. The ancient documents exhibit is the fourth of seven rotating exhibits during the 50th Anniversary celebration. Past ones and the current one are also an indication of exhibits to come.
“We are going to have seven different exhibits come through this year,” Layton said. “I did an exhibit on artifacts, things you can’t check out: guns, swords, hippo teeth, all sorts of things like that which come in different collections and they are just too cool to get rid of so we keep them.”
Layton said visitors to the exhibit have found the display interesting.
“We are just starting to get the word out on it,” Layton said. “But when we have been upstairs setting things up or adjusting lights, everyone who walks through loves it. There are things in there that are almost 2,000 years old. I think this is going to be one of the most popular exhibits that we have had in a very long time.”
Layton was asked how this exhibit compared to others in the past.
“Each one has had its own flavor,” Layton said. “This one goes right to the core of scholarly research, these are things that are actively being used by scholars who are publishing. This is a great example of what goes on at BYU in terms of our best scholarship.”