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Material Texts: Marina Rustow (Near Eastern Studies, Princeton): “The Cairo Geniza and the Lost Medieval Arabic Archive”
Monday, October 10, 2016 - 5:15pm to 6:30pm

Class of 1978 Pavilion
Sixth floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library

Please join us Monday, October 10th, for the next meeting of the Workshop in the History of Material Texts. We will convene at our usual time and place: 5:15pm in the Class of 1978 Pavilion in the Kislak Center on the 6th Floor of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. We will be welcoming Marina Rustow (Near Eastern Studies, Princeton) for a talk entitled “The Cairo Geniza and the Lost Medieval Arabic Archive”

Marina writes:

The Cairo Geniza, a cache of more than 300,000 manuscript pages preserved in a medieval Egyptian synagogue, has yielded many unexpected finds. Perhaps none is so unexpected as a corpus of thousands of Arabic documents from the archives of the Fatimid caliphs and their provincial officials (969–1171): rotuli in Arabic that have been reused as bifolios for texts in Hebrew script; administrative documents recycled for liturgical texts and biblical commentaries; magnificent and calligraphic chancery compositions repurposed as single-use aides-memoire.

How did papers from the state archive in Cairo find their way into the hands of the Jewish scribes who reused them? And what do they tell us about the mix of concerns for posterity and the immediate present to which documentary texts were subjected? This is a period from which only a tiny number of official documents is believed to have survived. Their abundance and ubiquity in the Geniza suggests that they have something to tell us about the scribal habits of one of the most important Jewish communities in the medieval world, and about the administrative and archiving practices of an Islamic polity hitherto known mainly from chronicles.

Marina Rustow is the Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East and Professor of History at Princeton University, where she also directs the Princeton Geniza Lab. Her first book, Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate (2008), won the Salo Wittmayer Baron Book Prize in Jewish Studies (2009) and the Jordan Schnitzer Book Award in Ancient and Medieval Jewish history (2007–11). She is a 2015 MacArthur Fellow.