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Suzanne Akbari: What Makes a Personal Archive Special?

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

Holding History Podcast

Season 1: Episode 3

What Makes a Personal Archive Special?

“I can’t tell the story of my own life to myself without thinking about my shelves and my books.”

-Suzanne Akbari

In this episode, we talk with Suzanne Akbari, author, and professor of medieval studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

A co-editor of the Norton Anthology of World Literature, Dr. Akbari has published academic studies on optics and allegory, European views of Islam and the Orient, travel literature, and more.

We highly recommend her Open Access collections How We Write and How We Read. Another great starting point is her meta-meditation on essays, “Can the Essay Still Surprise Us?

But there’s more! In addition to Suzanne’s staggering scholarly output and engaging public writing, she is also the co-host of the award-winning podcast, The Spouter-Inn.

With Suzanne, we get into the personal archive. The conversation moves between personal practices (how we arrange our shelves) and historical practices (how have centuries before maintained private collections). Through this a paradox arises, how can a personal archive be accessed by, and shared with, others?

If you enjoyed this conversation, listen to the Spouter-Inn episode on Monkey Beach, browse the PIMS conspectus, read Edward Wilson Lee’s The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, learn more about the Mogao Caves, and view the Liber Floridus.

A transcript of this episode can be accessed here.

This episode’s Bookish Word, etymythology, was created by UW-Madison graduate students Francesca Bua and Arielle Raymos.

Wherever you find the Holding History Podcast, please like, subscribe, and provide feedback. Use the comment section below, or contact us at with questions or suggestions. Thanks for listening!

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