A busy semester is now winding down, and I’m happy to announce that in August, I’ll be kicking off a new, five-year project: The Early History of the Codex: A New Methodology and Ethics for Manuscript Studies (EthiCodex) based here in Oslo at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion, and Society, thanks to the support of the Research Council of Norway.
The beginnings of the technology of the codex have intrigued me for a long time now, but I recognized early on that there were a number of methodological hurdles involved in thinking critically about this kind of historical phenomenon. The codicological details of many of our earliest surviving codices and codex fragments have in many cases not been as richly described and cataloged as they could be. And on top of that, most of the corpus of surviving samples of early codices lack a secure date. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am skeptical of the use of palaeography (the analysis of handwriting) to yield high-precision dates for manuscripts of the Roman era (for more details on that, see the discussion here).
Over the years, however, I came to recognize that in addition to these methodological problems, there were also ethical issues to face: Many of these books are unprovenanced and were were acquired unethically, or even illegally. Colleagues like Roberta Mazza have forced us (i.e., me) to ask: How should we, as scholars who study ancient manuscripts, respond to this fact?
This project is an attempt to begin to fill in the many gaps in our knowledge about these ancient manuscripts while at the same time taking seriously the problem posed by the illegal antiquities market. To achieve this goal, the project has four secondary objectives.
- Conduct provenance research into the ownership histories of early Greek and Latin codices.
- Produce detailed physical and codicological descriptions of the make-up of the earliest Greek and Latin codices.
- Design an open-access database making codicological data and provenance information for an estimated 2500 early Greek and Latin codices easily searchable and freely available online.
- Make a systematic canvassing of museum and library collections containing ethically acquired early papyrus and parchment books to determine willingness to have AMS radiocarbon analysis carried out on their early codices and then fund this analysis.
The goal, then, is to increase the number of securely dated manuscripts, but to avoid adding value to manuscripts that were obtained in an unethical way. And what is to be done about those unethically sourced manuscripts? We catalogue and organize the existing published data about those codices and flag them as ethically problematic. In this way, if colleagues do decide to study them, they will at least have a clearer idea of what they might be getting themselves into.
The project will be hiring two postdoctoral research fellows for three-year appointments (2022-2024). The application portal for the positions is now open here. Contact me if you’re interested!