Return to Alexandria : cultural revivalism and the Alexandria Pproject
My thesis is primarily addressed as a critical dialogue with museology and heritage theory and focuses on a contemporary project of cultural revivalism, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, headed by the Egyptian government and supported by UNESCO. The objective of the scheme is to revive the ancient Mouseion/Library on what is believed to be its original site, in Alexandria, Egypt. My interest in this revival project is that it marks a dramatic inversion or reversal of the usual flow of translations and transmissions of the Alexandria's mythology into modernity, which historically, has been dominated by Western writers who have laid claim to city and archive as part of an epic vision of ancient origins and odyssey of homecoming. As I demonstrate in the first part of my thesis what has become known as the Alexandria project and its particularisation by the museum/heritage culture as the Alexandrina paradigm characterises both city and archive as a sites of trauma and rebirth. The impulse to build the Alexandrina 'on the ruins' has subsequently seen the ancient Alexandrina provide the template for Western museums/archives from the Renaissance onwards and is present in the universalising ethos of cultural redemption which continues to characterise UNESCO interventions. My thesis explores how the contemporary revivalist project has destabilised the traditional Western purchase on the Alexandria project by opening it up to crossings-over and hybridisation. My central concern is to argue that an investigation of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina's contemporary odyssey of homecoming offers a means to engage in a fundamental re-conceptualisation of museology/heritage theory based upon a more grounded, ethnographic approach. My major intervention is therefore to draw upon contemporary debates on cosmopolitanism and actor-network theory to provide me with conceptual and operational frameworks from which to engage in field-work analysis of the contemporary context of cultural revivalism. In my conclusion I argue that the contemporary recasting of the Alexandrina paradigm crystallises the need for the centring of a re-worked intellectual-operational 'cosmopolitics' and as part of attempts to create a more relevant, responsible and responsive North-South museological/heritage dialogue.