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Summer Institute in Papyrology

From the Chair of Classics, Dr. Catherine Keane:

The 2018 Summer Institute in Papyrology (SIP), organized by the American Society of Papyrologists (ASP) and held in Olin Library Special Collections, represents a lasting investment in our important collection of papyri from Egypt. The papyri collection’s value lies in its utility to scholars and students and its visibility to the scholarly community, and so it was an honor for the Department of Classics to facilitate this event. Ten expert instructors and a dozen students from across North America and Europe came together to pore over a selection of unpublished pieces, to pass on their knowledge about and enthusiasm for papyrology, and to plan publication of the pieces they examined.

The Summer Institute in Papyrology was funded by the American Society of Papyrologists, the Onassis Foundation, and the Washington University Department of Classics.

The following is an account of the 2018 SIP from participant Irene Soto, from Universität Basel:

From July 9th until August 10th, Washington University in St. Louis hosted the American Society of Papyrologists’ (ASP) Summer Institute in Papyrology (SIP), an intensive program that trains grad students and recent PhDs in the field of papyrology. The SIP takes place biennially in various institutions across the United States, allowing participants to acquire hands-on experience in papyrology by studying unedited texts and preparing them for publication. This year, the SIP was held for the first time at Washington University, whose collection is of importance despite its relatively modest size.

A professor and student look over some of the papyri collection documents.
Prof. Peter van Minnen helping SIP students make selections of papyrus pieces to work with, in the Special Collections Reading Room.

In 1922 the well-known archaeologist and Egyptologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie returned to the site of Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, where he had last worked in 1896. It is thanks to this return visit that papyri from Oxyrhynchus are now present in St. Louis. Washington University, like many other American institutions during the period, was keen to obtain papyri and had contacted Petrie in this regard. After paying a subscription to Petrie’s British School of Archaeology in Egypt it received several hundred pieces, which are today housed in the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections in the University’s Olin Library.

Four individuals are gathered around a piece from the papyri collection.
Prof. Roger Bagnall (second from left) and students examining a papyrus fragment in the Special Collections Mendle Room.

Although two volumes of texts have been published since the arrival of the papyri, important unpublished pieces, mostly dating to Late Antiquity, remained in the collection. These had been studied preliminarily by Prof. Todd Hickey (Director of the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for the Tebtunis Papyri) and seemed to him an excellent corpus on which to base a SIP. Prof. Timothy Moore, then Chair of the Washington University Classics Department, agreed, and preparations commenced.

Three individuals (two standing, one seated) study a section of scanned papyri that is projected onto a white board.
Prof. Todd Hickey and Prof. Roger Bagnall (both standing) lecturing in the Special Collections Mendle Room.

During the SIP’s five weeks 12 students from Europe, Asia, North America, and Central America representing various academic institutions from around the world deciphered and interpreted unpublished papyri from the Washington University collection. Prof. Roger Bagnall, director emeritus of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, joined Hickey as a principal instructor and organizer. Each week different experts in the field of papyrology visited St. Louis and gave lectures to the participants that provided historical context and introduced them to methods and issues in the field of papyrology. More important, perhaps, was the time the participants spent every afternoon learning how to edit a papyrus and to prepare it for publication with the guidance and support of the main and visiting instructors.

A group of fourteen stand under one of the arched walkways outside of the quad on the Washington University campus.
2018 SIP group photo outside the Quad on Washington University campus

The variety of unpublished papyri in the University’s collection (astronomical texts, house leases, orders for payment, contracts concerning wine, petitions, letters, and so on) offered the participants a broad perspective on late antique Oxyrhynchus. Like their fellow SIP alumni, they are continuing to develop their skills after the Institute and will be publishing their texts in peer-reviewed papyrological journals.