Month: March 2019

Papyri, Classics and what-not: Topics, tongues and occluded histories at the International Congresses of Papyrology

Papyri, Classics and what-not: Topics, tongues and occluded histories at the International Congresses of Papyrology

By Katherine Blouin

To anyone reviewing the history of classical scholarship as it is written by its practitioners today, the most glaring lacuna in it remains the failure to explore the ramifications of a book already twenty-five years old and with direct relevance to the field. There is no developed history of classical scholarship that takes into account the intersection of the discipline with European colonialism and imperialism from the 1700s to the 1900s. For reasons that are of considerable interest, scholars seem to be unable or uninterested in exploring the collusion between Classics and empire, despite the indisputable evidence for such collusion. If Said’s powerful demonstration of the relationship between Orientalist discourse and European colonial power seems not to have inspired similar work about the field of classics, within and without the discipline, then we are obliged to interrogate this resistance to the politics of Classical scholarship, and in particular to the coincidence between Classics and Empire.

– Ph. Vasunia 2003, 7

As to colonialism, I fear that we have here a classic case of scholars of antiquity grabbing at a modern critical wave long after it has passed its peak. Much of what Said had to say about orientalism has been demolished by subsequent scholars; it was at best reductive at the time. That’s my view, anyway. But is this really the place to make an argument for its continuing utility? I would not think so, because its link to what we see in the analysis of the congresses is at best indirect, if not wholly fictitious.

-Referee 1 2017; report on the joint paper submitted by Blouin, Gad and Mairs to the editors of the 28th ICP Proceedings

This post stems from a contribution originally presented at the 28th International Congress of Papyrology (henceforth ICP; Barcelona, 2016) as part of a tripartite thematic panel entitled “Inside Out: An Introspective Look at Papyrology Through its International Congresses”, which was co-organized by Usama Ali Gad, Rachel Mairs and myself and whose main data are now available on this blog. It discusses the ancient languages, periods, places, topics, and concepts that were the focus of oral and written papers during the past ICP as they appear in the congresses’ programs and proceedings, as well as the languages used for oral presentations and publications in the proceedings. In lieu of a conclusion, an addendum offers some preliminary data on the committee of the Association Internationale des Papyrologues (henceforth AIP). These are meant to offer a broader, institutional complement to the papers offered during this workshop.

Introduction: P.Congress‘ (occluded) voices

Thus, the effort is to understand that occlusion is an ongoing, malleable process, sometimes in a form already congealed and seemingly over as it acts on the present, making of us unwittingly compliant observers, nearly always belated in identifying just how it works.

-A.L. Stoler 2016, 14

Like any corpus, the ICP’s programs and proceedings have potentialities and limits. For a variety of reasons, they are not entirely representative of the field of papyrology: not all scholars associating with the field did attend these conferences, and when they did, they might not have done so continuously; the groupings of talks into panels and the topics of plenary sessions were made by the organizers and thus cannot speak to how individual speakers conceived of the themes dealt with in their papers; individual papers can only testify to a particular aspect of one’s scholarly output as far as topics and languages are concerned. Yet despite these pitfalls and because of their all-at-once longitudinal, institutional and international nature, I suggest that what we have called for convenience sake P.Congress offers a promising window into how the discipline self-fashioned and (re)produced its content (themes) and shape (panels, modern languages used) in the longue durée. By the same token, it allows thus us to assess how these trends do (not) intersect with issues that affected academia and the wider world between 1930 and 2016. It does so not only because of the data it contains, but also, crucially, because of what is not there; what Ann Laura Stoler refers to as “occluded histories” in her book Duress: Imperial Durabilities in our Times. For Stoler, “colonial constraints and imperial dispositions have tenacious presence in less obvious ways” (Stoler 2016 4). I argue that such colonial presences can be found in the way Papyrology (like most Antiquity-related fields) has been organized, performed, and displayed since its inception at scholarly venues such as the ICPs and the AIP, whose mandate it is to oversee papyrological outputs such as the ICP[1].

To what extent do the themes, topics, languages that are almost or entirely absent from the ICPs testify to layers of occlusion within the field? To what extent can we identify variations or stagnation of such occlusions over time? How can the data compiled in preparation for our “Inside Out” panel participate to broader self-reflective discussions within the field? How can the anonymized referees’ reports on the joint, non-anonymized paper Gad, Mairs and myself submitted to the editors of the 28th ICP Proceedings help, by their form as well as their content, illuminate the power structures at play and the discursive mechanisms of colonial presences and occlusions in the field? How can we make sense of the incommensurability between what we know exists elsewhere (in papyri, in academia, in the world) and what/who is not in the ICPs corpus and AIP’s establishment? Just like Stoler’s, my approach is not about ” “fault finding” and judgment but about restoring the forms that occlusion takes and the questions that its effects may lead us to ask” (Stoler 2016 14). By doing so, I hope to contribute to wider conversations on the history, nature and future of papyrology in particular, and of Classics and other Antiquity-related disciplines by extension.

Themes, topics, and concepts (Annex 1)

All talks have been indexed with relevant keywords. These were established on the basis of the title of the talk, its abstract, as well as, whenever needed, the article published in the Proceedings. The data is too dense for me to attempt an in-depth discussion of all topics covered during all ICPs here. Instead, I shall focus on the sessions these papers were grouped into. If we exclude a small number of colloquia/workshops[2], sessions were conceived and named by the organizers. As such, they partly proceed from the particular set of abstracts of each ICP, but also bear witness to historiographical and epistemological trends within the field.

Based on the available documentation, the papers offered during the 1st to 8th ICP (1930-1955) were generally not numerous enough to be grouped in sessions. The only exception is the 5th ICP (Oxford 1937; see Hombert 1938, xi). The first session titles we could find are those of the 9th ICP (“Reports from papyri collections”; Oslo 1958), but the practice doesn’t become the norm until the 16th congress (NYC 1980). The descriptive nature of most session titles conveys the logic behind the groupings. A great variety of titles are attested, but several ones (i.e. “literary papyri/papyrology”, “Herculanum papyri” and “Unpublished papyri”) reappear consistently. Congresses whose programs proceed from the most varied sets of organizing principles (14) are the most recent ones (24th, 27th and 28th). This phenomenon may result from the growth of the discipline and more nuanced approaches to the nature and potential of papyri.

As can be seen in Annex 1, the overall logic underlying sessions (and talks) remains the same throughout the history of the Congress. A first level of distinction exists between sessions on methodology and historiography (including studies of papyri collections) and those focusing on papyri. Sessions belonging to the latest category can systematically be subdivided into two themes: Materiality (writing support, writing implements, palaeography, restoration), and content (unpublished papyri, literary papyri, documentary papyri). Within the latest subcategory, the divide between literary and documentary papyri is a fundamental one, as is the habit of grouping literary papyri from Herculaneum in separate sessions. This compartmentalized approach, which mirrors the philology/history divide, has important limitations, which Jean-Luc Fournet laid out during a plenary session at the 27th ICP (Fournet 2013).

An illustration of the pitfalls of such traditional groupings is the case of “para-”, “sub-”, or “semi-” literary papyri (Table 1). Texts related to medicine, astronomy, astrology, religion, magic, music, as well as school exercises have traditionally been treated as literary ones[3]. For this very reason perhaps, they have, until recently, attracted considerably less interest than fragments of « Classical » authors or Biblical texts.

ICP22232425262728
Para-/Sub-/Semi-literary papyriX X  XX
Paraliterary and figurativeX      
Scholastic textX      
Literary and semi-literary papyri  X    
Subliterary texts     X 
Paraliterary papyri – Medicine      X
School texts      X
School texts and scribal practices      X
Astronomy and astrology      X

Table 1: Sessions dedicated to para-/sub-/semi-literary papyri

The first sessions dedicated to such documents took place in 1998, during the 22nd ICP (Florence). They were respectively dedicated to “paraliterary and figurative texts”, as well as to “scholastic texts”. The 24th ICP program (Helsinki 2004) includes one session on “literary and semiliterary papyri”, and a session on “subliterary papyri” took place at the 27th one (Warsaw 2013). The program of the latest, 28th congress included four sessions dedicated to medical, school, astrological, and astronomical texts.

That there were enough talks to form one, then a few sessions dedicated to such genres indicates the growing interest of papyrologists for these types of texts. Yet the varying prefixes used during the 22nd, 24th, and 27th ICP, and the fact that papers dedicated to different “paraliterary” genres were at times lumped together, highlight the challenges associated with fitting these non-canonical texts within standard categories, whose origins go back to the early stages of the discipline. Such a phenomenon can also be observed with papers focusing on non-Greek papyri, as we shall see below.

From a theoretical and methodological point of view, two main trends emerge from the ICP’s programs (both talks and sessions): A limited level of engagement with post-colonial theory, methodologies, and topics on the one hand, and a pioneering interest in the digital humanities on the other (Table 2).

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Table 2: ICP panels named after post-colonial theories, methods and themes

The post-colonial themes that have been of most interest to papyrologists are the use of digital technologies for papyrology, topics related to space (including toponymy and topography), as well as Graeco-Egyptian bilingualism. One also notes one panel on affects and emotions. Given the substantial impact of feminist and gender theories and, more recently, of environmental history on the humanities and social sciences, the absence of sessions dedicated to them is particularly noticeable.

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Table 3: Topics of plenary panels at the ICP

Apart from a plenary panel at the 25th ICP (Ann Arbor 2007) and Roberta Mazza’s plenary talk during the 28th one, ethical issues surrounding the illicit excavation and trade of papyri have attracted close to no attention, and so have postcolonial approaches to the history of the field, whose quasi absence is striking in the light of the long-lasting, and ongoing impact they have had on most fields within the Humanities and Social Sciences. It is not to say that no papyrologists have worked on such questions and approaches in other contexts and venues. Yet the lack of representation of postcolonial scholarship within the programs and proceedings does testify to the more conservative nature of the field, a characteristic which papyrology shares with most Antiquity-related disciplines, Classics and Egyptology included. Inversely, a plenary panel on “Computer uses in papyrology” at the 12th ICP (Ann Arbor 1968), and the recurrence of this topics in numerous sessions and in two plenaries since then is in line with the ground breaking digital work done by papyrologists over the past 50 years. In that regard, the discipline is well ahead of many other Humanities fields. If one excludes the three plenaries just mentioned, plenary sessions appear as opportunities to reflect on issues pertaining to disciplinary “state of the field” or recent scholarship on particular groups of texts (defined by period, genre, language or origin; Table 3).

Places, languages, and scripts (Annexes 2 and 3)

Annex 2 shows the sites/regions discussed in each ICP. In total, 15 different sites or regions are attested. One notes a gradual increase in the number of places represented. Yet despite such qualitative diversity, the vast majority of talks deal with Egyptian documents. This comes as no surprise given the geographical distribution of papyri. The Herculaneum papyri make up the second best represented corpus. Texts found elsewhere tend to be discussed shortly after their discovery/edition. Only a few corpora are represented in more than one ICP, a trend that must be understood in the light of the limited size of these non-Egyptian documentary samples.

Languages/scriptsTotal ICP1st ICP
Greek281 (1930)
Greek dipinti126 (2010)
Latin261 (1930)
Demotic242 (1931)
Coptic232 (1931)
Arabic143 (1933)
Aramaic116 (1939)
Egyptian (general)714 (1974)
Hieratic74 (1935)
Hieroglyphics66 (1939)
Hebrew66 (1939)
Old Nubian512 (1968)
Nabatean318 (1974)
Pahlavi219 (1989)
Cuneiform15 (1937)
Carian113 (1971)
Syriac114 (1974)
Meroitic112 (1968)
Armenian122 (1998)
Unknown language116 (1980)
Tachygraphy/stenography311 (1965)
Bi-/Multilingual pap.76 (1939)

Table 4: Ancient languages in ICP talks sorted by the total number of congresses where they feature

20 ancient languages and scripts are attested throughout the history of the ICP (Table 4). Greek dominates (28 ICP), followed closely by Latin (26 ICP), Demotic (24 ICP), Coptic (23 ICP), Arabic (14 ICP), and Aramaic (11 ICP). The quasi-absence of papers dedicated to hieratic papyri seems to stem from the fact that Hieratic (7 ICP) was very early on categorized as “belonging” to Egyptology. The same logic must be invoked when it comes to understanding why, even though Latin remained marginal in the eastern Mediterranean (that is the region where most papyrological texts come from) throughout the Roman period, Latin documents were discussed in more conferences than Demotic and Coptic ones. That papyrology was originally – and still is in the eyes of many scholars – conceived as a by-product of Classics certainly plays a role here (see Keenan 2009).

While many papyrologists still argue that they do, in fact, “belong” to the Classics, a more inclusive (and recent) conception of the discipline defines it as the study of ancient handwritten texts on particular types of writing supports (papyrus, ostraca, leather, wax or wooden tablets, bones), no matter their language, script or origin. This tension is already visible in the first 3 ICPs, where all five main languages and scripts are the subject of at least one talk (Annex 3).

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Table 5: Panels named after language(s) at the ICP

Talks given at the 1st ICP only focus on Greek and Latin papyri, but Demotic and Coptic appear at the 2nd congress, and Arabic at the 3rd (but only to reappear at the 23rd ICP). Nevertheless, discussions of non-Greek or bilingual papyri remain marginal, especially before the 1980s. The tendency to isolate these documents in separate panels also speaks to the tension between an enduring « Classico-centric » conception of the field and its gradual re-articulation in the light of more recent studies on bilingualism and multilingualism in Antiquity, as well as diachronic approaches to ancient history and culture. Most often, instead of being grouped on the basis of the topic, issues or period discussed, they are joined together in a monolingual (and often pluri-scriptural in the case of Egyptian) panel (Table 5). Such linguistic compartmentalization echoes the organization of manuscript collections according to language and script, which is behind the dismembering of several coherent, multilingual papyrological archives (see Blouin 2016).

Modern languages

These languages [ancient Greek, Latin, German, French and Italian] are the tools of the trade, but they are also metonyms for the philological traditions that we are expected to put on a convincing show of knowing — with, say, the occasional name-check of Wilamowitz. Once you decide to get serious about the field, you learn to take these traditions for granted as the most inherently valuable. The history of European classical scholarship is entangled with the esteem that Greek and Latin have enjoyed in countries where German, French, Italian, or English is spoken. Many scholars who identify with the European classical tradition assume that any scholarship worth reading, or at least citing, will be in one of those four languages.

J. Hanink 2016

Table 6 summarizes the fate of all four official AIP languages throughout the history of the ICP. The four official languages of the ICP (French, German, Italian, and German) have been the same since the origin of the congress[4]. Their status must be understood within the wider imperial context of the time, which is also the period when Classical, Near Eastern, and Egyptological studies developed (Goff 2013; Marchand 2005; Reid 2002 and 2015; Vasunia 2003 and 2013). While English reigns supreme in most disciplines within the Humanities and Social Sciences, Antiquity-related fields such as Classical Studies, Egyptology, and Papyrology have been able to maintain a higher degree of scholarly multilingualism despite the clear growth of English in all but a few niche fields. Once again, this phenomenon is not disconnected from the conservative (and traditionally élitist) nature of these disciplines (Goff 2013; Vasunia 2013).

ICPNumber of talks% English% French% German% Italian%Other
1 (Brussels 1930)19165316105 (modern Greek)
2 (Leiden 1931)30104730130
3 (Munich 1933)25161256124 (ancient Greek)
4 (Florence 1935)39102823390
5 (Oxford 1937)6448113380
6 (Paris 1939)71215513101 (Latin)[5]
7 (Geneva 1952)1127551800
8 (Vienna 1955)31192348100
9 (Oslo 1958)3027273736 (Latin?)
10 (Warsaw 1961)3213374730
11 (Milan 1965)542020173112 (1 Latin;

5 Spanish)

12 (Ann Arbor 1968)65512314111 (Spanish)
13 (Marburg-Lahn 1971)67301933135 (1 Latin; 2 Spanish)
14 (Oxford 1974)102621610120
15 (Brussels 1978)68372910230
16 (NYC 1980)102561512170
17 (Naples 1983)17837144450
18 (Athens 1986)10846165303 (1 Spanish; 2 Greek)
19 (Cairo 1989)168501611185 (6 Arabic; 1 modern Greek; 1 Spanish)
20 (Copenhagen 1992)96531811180
21 (Berlin 1995)180441423190
22 (Florence 1998)166431612290
23 (Vienna 2001)152441220240
24 (Helsinki 2004)148571112200
25 (Ann Arbor 2007)1488271100
26 (Geneva 2010)189581612140
27 (Warsaw 2013)25772107110
28 (Barcelona 2016)2817983100

Table 7: Modern languages at the ICP

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Graph 1: Modern languages in P.Congress

In the case of papyrology, the close connection with Classics, the bias in favour of Greek and Latin, and the distribution of papyrological collections/research poles mean that the best basin of recruitment for future papyrologists have traditionally been found in Europe and North America. For, as emphasized by Johanna Hanink in the quote provided at the start of this section, this is where the “myths” of a direct connection between European nation-States and the “Classical world” justifies an enduring (though increasingly threatened) valorisation of Greek and Latin learning in secondary schools. A similar phenomenon, coupled with the very origin of the Herculaneum papyri, explains the prevalence of Italian within the sub-field of literary papyrology, whereas the strength of German in the sub-field of juristic papyrology might stem from Germany’s enduring leadership role (together with Italy) in the broader fields of Roman law and legal history.

Table 7 and graphs 1-6 allow for some, general observations: One must distinguish between sharp peaks, which indicate that the language in question was the one spoken in the country where that year’s ICP took place (or that it was, like the case of Poland with German, French, and English shows, a dominant second language), and the general trajectory of a language.

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Graphs 2 and 3: French and German at the ICP

French and German have been experiencing a steady decline, especially since after WWII. The case of Italian is slightly different. The Bell curve-like graph visible between the 1978 and 2004 ICP reflects the development of literary papyrology (notably Herculaneum papyri studies) in the country during this period.

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Graph 4: Italian at the ICP

Finally, the constant rise of English since the early 1970s is in direct line with the hegemonic status of this language on the international stage, within and beyond academia (Ammon 2010; Genç and Bada 2010 ; Hamel 2013 ; Salomone 2013). It’s total dominance in the last two ICP (which took place in non-anglophone countries where the vernacular language is not one of the AIP’s four official languages), indicates that this trend cuts across sub-disciplines and national traditions. 89% of all talks given at the 28th ICP were given in English, compared to 10% in Italian (essentially on literary papyri), 8% in French, and 3% in German.

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Graph 5: English at the ICP

Such a dramatic contrast poses the question of the future of papyrological multilingualism. Spanish, modern Greek, and Arabic are each attested at most a few times in the programs, and a few titles in ancient Greek or Latin seem to refer to papers delivered in that language.

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Graph 6: Other languages at the ICP

The case of modern Arabic is particularly interesting: Although the official language of the region where the vast majority of papyri comes from (Egypt mostly, but also Syria and Israel-Palestine), and despite the growing importance of Arabic papyrology, only six talks in Arabic are attested, all at the 19th ICP (Cairo, 1986). Arabic is also absent from the programs and proceedings (whose overall corpus we call P.Congress; see graph 6). As Referee 2 has rightfully pointed out in their report to the joint paper we submitted for publication in the Barcelona ICP Proceedings (and as my own choice of English over French, which is my mother tongue, also shows), this phenomenon results to a great extent from one’s wish to maximize one’s audience:

In Cairo (1989), if I recall correctly, Greek scholars asked that Modern Greek be accepted as a language for giving papers in AIP Congresses. Jean Bingen, who was AIP Secretary at the time, replied that our Greek friends could well give their papers in Modern Greek if they so wished; nobody but the Greeks, however, would attend. To this pragmatic argument, Greek colleagues answered nothing and never formally repeated their request in AIP Congresses. (Referee 2 2017)

The referee’s comment confirms what everyone in the field knows: There were, and still are, Greek papyrologists who produce (some of) their scholarly work in modern Greek. Now not only does this story remind us of this, it also shows that some of the Greek papyrologists specifically asked to present papers in their modern tongue at the 1989 conference. Bingen’s response to his “friends” was a double-edged sword: They “could well give their papers in modern Greek”, but “nobody but Greeks” would be able to understand them. Jean Bingen’s “pragmatic argument” silenced Greek papyrologists (they “answered nothing”) durably, for they have “never formally repeated their request” since then. I would like to suggest that what is presented as a “pragmatic argument” by Referee 2 is in fact both an acknowledgement and a reinforcement of the customary occlusion of modern Greek scholarship from the field. The same argument is generally invoked in Classics as a justification for the status quo. Yet, as Hanink notes regarding the position of modern Greek in the field of Classics, these positionings are nothing but objective:

So why does Modern Greek still not have a seat at the classicists’ table?

This is, bluntly put, largely because our discipline continues to take a colonialist view of, among other things, Greece, Greeks, and (Modern) Greek. Historians and anthropologists who work on Greece have been much more willing than classicists to acknowledge the country’s legacy of metaphorical colonization: not by the Ottomans, but by the early European antiquaries and travelers who planted their flags in the ruins of Greek antiquity. (Hanink 2016)

The same could be said regarding Arabic. As Usama Ali Gad’s blog Classics in Arabic shows, there is papyrological (and other Antiquity-related) scholarship being done in Arabic. Outside the field of Arabic papyrology and the Arab-speaking academic world though, it is in general completely ignored by non-Arab speakers. Thus during the Q&A that followed our panel, one of the European members of the audience rationalized their opposition to the inclusion of Arabic as one of the official languages of the AIP by saying: “I come here to listen to talks in languages I understand”. Likewise, the argument whereby good quality scholarship in Arabic is lacking is a common though flimsy argument that would be worth contextualizing and unpacking. But it is not my point here. My point is that the occlusion of Arabic (and modern Greek for that matter) is, in itself, meaningful. It is so because it not only proceeds from historically-anchored dynamics within the field, but also generates in turn further, overlapping layers of occlusions. In response to the suggestion whereby the AIP might want to consider making Arabic one of its official languages that was included into the manuscript we submitted for publication in the Barcelona conference proceedings, Referee 1 wrote the following:

The other subjects of the paper include an attempt at postcolonial analysis of the discipline, the history of classics and papyrology in Egypt, and an attempt to make a case for a larger role for Egypt and for Arabic in the field of papyrology. It is not surprising that the interconnections of these goals are not very compellingly made, and indeed the combination of analysis and advocacy is a tricky business. If the choice of language at a congress is made to assert national pride (and this is basically what the advocacy of Arabic as a congress language comes down to, despite the attacks on nationalism elsewhere in the paper!), then every language should be included. If the choice is made to facilitate comprehension and communication, then the long-standing restriction makes sense. That most participants are interested mainly in communication is made clear by the dominance of English in Barcelona. Indeed, it is precisely the lack of knowledge of other European languages by participants from countries outside Europe and North America that makes the dominance of English useful. A little more candor about the realities of life would help.

I shall let the readers judge for themselves whether this passage offers a fair and balanced reading of the data laid out in our previous and in this post, and whether our analysis amounts to “attacks” on European and American nationalisms. I for now wish to highlight how Referee 1’s argument exemplifies some of the mechanisms of colonial occlusion and historical aphasia[6] that are still reproduced by a number of scholars within the field. Here, the dismissal of Arabic is justified on the basis of custom (“long-standing restriction”), practical concerns (the avoid a Babel tower situation), and universalism, whereas the case for the inclusion of Arabic is presented as a form of “advocacy”, a “tricky business” that “is made to assert national pride” (as if Arabic was a “national” language) and shows a lack of “candor about the realities of life”. Meanwhile, references to the relationships between imperialism, colonialism and the trajectory of the discipline are amounted to “attacks on nationalism”. Lastly, the “dominance of English” is presented as “useful” due to “the lack of knowledge of other European languages by participants from countries outside Europe and North America”. In other words, papyrologists from outside Europe and North America lack the knowledge of European languages, so having English as the lingua franca is actually a good thing for these scholars. Referee 1’s argument relies on two problematic over-generalizations: that papyrologists from Europe and North America do know all of the field’s “European” languages; that those from countries outside that sphere do not. Which countries did Referee 1 include in the second group? Given the passage is a reaction to our discussion of Arabic, one obvious contender is Egypt. One is reminded of the dichotomic topos of the stoic, charitable, enlightened, cosmopolitan, white scholar looking down on the hysterical, self-centered, misinformed, uneducated, nationalist Oriental or colonized described by Frantz Fanon[7]

Addendum – “Scholarly eminence is the main criterion”: Some thoughts on the AIP’s committee

In 332 B.C. Alexander the Great conquered Egypt. From then on and for nearly a millennium, the country, while retaining its own traditions, belonged to the Greek world. It came to be under Ptolemaic, then Roman, then Byzantine administration. The International Association of Papyrologists (AIP), which originated in a meeting held in Brussels in 1930, attempts to link together all who are interested in Graeco-Roman Egypt, in particular in the thousands of Greek texts that the climate of the Nile valley has preserved up to now. The ultimate rule for the Association is the amicitia papyrologorum. The AIP is member of the International Federation of the Societies of Classical Studies (FIEC).

AIP statement  (Oct. 16, 2018)

Le colon fait l’histoire et sait qu’il la fait. Et parce qu’il se réfère constamment à l’histoire de sa métropole, il indique en clair qu’il est ici le prolongement de cette métropole.

-F. Fanon 2011 (1961), 53

This addendum offers a preliminary reflection on the list of Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the AIP since its inception, as well as on the absence of Egyptian representatives from all AIP committees (an analysis of the composition of the committees as a whole would be a valuable undertaking). The central role played by the AIP’s President, Vice-President, and committee in the overseeing of the AIP, in the choice of host cities, as well as in the overseeing of the ICP’s organization and Proceedings make it one of the centers of symbolic and effective power and prestige within the discipline. For this reason, it both complements and contextualizes the evidence analyzed in this post, as well as the general data highlighted previously on this blog.

To date, the AIP has had eleven presidents, of which three are women (Table 8).

CongressPresidentGenderCountryVice-PresidentGenderCountry
Bruxelles 1930P. JouguetMFrancenone
Bruxelles 1947

Paris 1949

Genève 1952

H.I. BellMUKnone (1947)

V. Martin (1949, 1952)

M

Switzerland

Wien 1955

Oslo 1958

Warszawa 1961

V. MartinMSwitzerlandA. CalderiniMItaly
Milano 1965

Ann Arbor 1968

Marburg 1971

E.G. TurnerMUKN. LewisMUSA
Oxford 1974

Bruxelles 1977

NYC 1980

N. LewisMUSAR. Merkelbach (1974-1977)

O. Montevecchi (1980)

M

F

Germany

Italy

Napoli 1983

Athinai 1986

O. MontevecchiFItalyP.J. ParsonsMUK
Cairo 1989

København 1992

H.-A. RupprechtMGermany
Berlin 1995

Firenze 1998

L. KoenenMGermanyG. Husson (1995)

D.J. Thompson (1998)

F

F

France

UK

Wien 2001

Helsinki 2004

D.J. ThompsonFUKJ. GascouMFrance
Ann Arbor 2007

Genève 2010

R.S. BagnallMUSAG. BastianiniMItaly
Warszawa 2013

Barcelona 2016

A. JördensFGermanyP. SchubertMSwitzerland
Total118 M (73%)

3 F (27%)

6 countries118 M (73%)

3 F (27%)

7 countries

Table 8: Presidents of the AIP

Two are American; the others were/are Europeans (in the pre-Brexit sense of the term). Five presidents spoke English as their mother tongue, three German, two French, and one Italian. The list of Vice-Presidents follows the same gender distribution, and the countries and mother tongues represented are the same. Four Vice-Presidents became Presidents (Martin, Lewis, Montevecchi and Thompson). In terms of research interests, Greek documentary papyrology dominates.

While the AIP’s committees have historically included a more diversified and (increasingly) gender-balanced group of scholars, several of the countries that host papyrus collections and where papyrologists conduct research and teach are absent from Table 8. These include many of the countries that have so far hosted ICPs: Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Netherlands, Poland, Spain. As for the absence of Egyptian (Vice)-President, it is in line with the composition of the AIP’s committees, none of which has, so far, included an Egyptian member[8]. According to the author of the first referee report on the joint paper submitted by Gad, Mairs and myself to the editors of the 28th ICP Proceedings, the AIP committee members must be “seniors” papyrologists who attend the ICP on a regular basis. Referee 1 argues that only two Egyptian scholars have met these criteria since the creation of the Association. They then go on to justify the two scholars’ exclusion from the committee:

As to the Comité, I must be blunt. In the previous generation the only plausible candidate would have been xxx […]. But not only [were they] not a scholar on a level with the rest of the committee, [they were] regarded by the leadership of the time as of doubtful probity. The only senior person since then who was at all active in coming to congresses was yyy, also not generally viewed as of scholarly distinction. Although there is some effort at geographical diversity on the Comité, scholarly eminence is the main criterion. (Referee 1 2017)

Referee 1 argues that “only” two Egyptian scholars from the previous generation were ever deemed “plausible”/”senior”/”active in coming to congresses”, but that even they were excluded from the committee due to their lack of “scholarly eminence” (“not on a scholarly level with the rest of the committee”, ‘not generally viewed as of scholarly distinction”) and, in one case, their corruption (“of doubtful probity”). The terminology and tone of this remark are reminiscent of the discourses and practices analyzed in Timothy Mitchell’s seminal Colonising Egypt. Mitchell’s 1991 work has compellingly demonstrated the all-encompassing and ongoing “enframing” of Egypt through the production of “truths” about its people, resources, economy, and history, by colonial “experts”:

The truth of colonialism was congruous with the literature of nineteenth-century Orientalism […]. These images in turn referred back to the great Description de l’Égypte produced during Egypt’s earlier period of European occupation, under Napoléon. By the end of the nineteenth century, as Said as shown, knowledge of the Orient had become an expertise institutionalised in the centres of colonial administration, in government ministries, and in universities. This expertise, combined with images of the Orient in popular writing, entertainment, the press, government reports, guidebooks, travelogues and the memoires of colonial officials, came to form a broad discursive field, a vast theater or exhibition of the real. Within this theatrical machinery, elaborate representations of the ‘objects’ of colonial authority could be produced. (Mitchell 1991, 168; see also Mitchell 2002)

As has been shown beyond doubt recently by Malcolm Reid, Egyptology, Classics, papyrology, and other Antiquity-related disciplines with a focus on Egypt, have all been profoundly shaped by and partaker in these objectifying dynamics (Reid 2002 and 2015; see also Moyer 2011 and Quirke 2010 regarding Egypt and, more broadly, Hanink 2017 and Vasunia 2003 and 2013). This is in line with Vasunia’s observation quoted at the start of this post.

With that geopolitical contextualization in mind, the joint examination of the occlusion of Egyptians from the AIP committee, of Referee 1’s report and of Mitchell’s work raises the existential question, to date largely underexplored, of papyrology’s role in the past and ongoing “theatrical machinery” of truth. To what extent is papyrology, in terms of both who performs it and how it produces expert knowledge on the Egyptian past, still behaving as a Classically-led branch of scholarly Orientalism? And why is that so? Concomitantly, (how) has the AIP, its committee, and its members dealt with the chronic, structural imbalances that pervade the field, and academia in general? To what extent has it engaged with questions such as who can access higher education and specialized training; who can afford to travel to international conferences such as the ICP; and, increasingly, who must and is able to get a travel or study visa (on time)?

The recommendations of the AIP’s Working Party on the Commerce of Papyri that were approved in a plenary session at the 2007 Ann Arbor conference do include “measures that may appropriately serve the purposes of scholarship, support the development of papyrological studies in Egypt and further the preservation of the documentary heritage of Egypt and other countries”. These measures notably include the following:

(9) That the AIP should explore with all relevant parties the possibilities for the creation of an Egyptian National Center for Papyri to be located in Cairo, which could help serve the research needs of Egyptian and non-Egyptian scholars for access to scholarly information and for facilities for scholarly interchange of all kinds. Such a center should

  – provide access to material for authorized scholars without the burden of separate permits and security clearances;

– have a teaching function involving academic staff cross-appointed from universities in Egypt;

– have a scientific board that includes international scholars and the directors of at least some of the foreign research institutes in Egypt;

– provide a means for centralizing flows of external funding for papyrological research and education in a fashion that will be transparent and avoid any suspicion of favoritism or patronage.

[…]

(15) That the AIP should sponsor an ongoing series of lectures and seminars in Egypt, coordinating the presence of international scholars visiting or working in Egypt and willing to give such lectures or seminars, which could be held in rotation at a variety of institutions in Cairo and Alexandria. The working party envisages such lectures being given without payment to the lecturer and without charge to the audience, with coordination both internationally and in Egypt.

(16) That the AIP should seek funding for a program of competitively-awarded scholarships for Egyptian students to study papyrology abroad for a year, whether in connection with a master’s degree program or as part of a continuing doctoral program. This program would be administered by the AIP. The working party recommends a level of 2-4 such grants per year at a level sufficient to allow residence at a foreign center of papyrology for a full academic year. Such grants might be linked to the availability to Egyptian students of suitable unpublished material from Egyptian collections and the digitization of that material. 

To what extent have these recommendations been implemented over the past decade remains to be seen (we must also keep in mind that this period includes the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, whose aftermaths have had substantially disruptive impacts on archaeological – including papyrological – fieldwork). The working group and the Ann Arbor congress’ plenary session during which the recommendations above were discussed and approved were exclusively made of European and North American scholars (AIP 2007, 2; all male except from Cornelia Römer; a female representative from the UNESCO also participated in the plenary). This is striking for two reasons. First, the exclusion of Egyptian scholars and heritage specialists/actors from such working group, whose mandate pertained to a great extent to Egypt’s sites and history, is in line with other mechanisms of occlusion visible in the P.Congress and in passages from Referee 1 and 2’s reports analyzed throughout this post. Second, the imperial nature of this process did not strike me at the time, and I haven’t witnessed nor heard of any audible outrage at the absence of Egyptian voices in this panel at nor after the conference. This very absence of audible critique is telling. It is so because it illuminates how colonial papyrology’s (and more broadly Antiquity-related fields’) power structures still are; how much most of us have internalized how things work, why they should keep on working this way, and why, as the case of the anonymized report of Referee 1 analyzed in this paper (and more recent debates surrounding anonymous outputs in the Classics community) exemplifies, openly suggesting otherwise can, depending on the venue and the audience, expose one to having their voices discredited (as a “nationalist”, “proud”, “activist”, “bad”, “young” or “dishonest” papyrologist), and thus further marginalized and potentially shut. That is all the more so the case when the (non-anonymized) voices in question are junior, female, educated in/from the Global South (including Egypt), or from other traditionally marginalized groups/communities.

While papyrology’s ground-breaking work in the digital Humanities, the increasingly multilingual nature of the evidence discussed at the ICPs and the AIP’s 2007 recommendations are constructive, encouraging developments, P.Congress tends to show that sur le fond, and contrary to most fields within the wider Humanities, the discipline has not changed very much over the past century. The topics, themes, ancient and modern languages attested in the ICPs’ programs and proceedings send the image of a fundamentally Eurocentric field. As long as the Association, its Congress organizers, and its members avoid engaging with the thorny yet fundamental and urgent questions raised in this paper, the discipline runs the risk of losing its relevance within academia, and the broader world. This is all the more so the case that the Humanities, including Classics and other Antiquity-related fields, are facing a severe crisis worldwide.

As Stó: Nation author and teacher Lee Maracle aptly said in October 2018 at the University of Toronto’s “Humanities Pedagogy: Confronting Colonization” workshop, when looking at our field in the eyes, we scholars ought not to “take anything away”. Rather, we need to “change the way we look at it. The start is facing ourselves and our own history.”

Notes

[1] “L’Association Internationale de Papyrologues a pour but de favoriser la collaboration internationale dans le domaine de la papyrologie et de contribuer aux progrès de cette science par l’organisation de congrès internationaux, par la publication ou la revision d’ouvrages de référence ou d’autres subsidia essentiels au papyrologue et par tous autres moyens qui seront jugés utiles”. Article 1 of the AIP’s Status.

[2] The first three ones whose titles I was able to trace took place at the 16th ICP (NYC, 1980) and were entitled “Apokrimata”, “The fourth century”, and “The interconnection of Greek and Demotic documentation”.

[3] As such, they are not integrated into Papyri.info but, rather, in Litpap.info.

[4] The Association Internationale d’Épigraphie Grecque et Latine has five official languages (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish), the International Association of Egyptologists (English, French, German) and the Associazione Internazionale di Archaeologua Classica (Italian, English, French) three, and the International Federation of Associations of Classical Studies as well as the International Association for Coptic Studies two (French and English).

[5] Two Italian female speakers, Rita Calderini and Orsollina Montevecchi, are also said to “have used” Latin in their talks; Calderini 1949, 194.

[6] See on the matter Stoler 2016, 12-13: “Aphasia is a condition in which the occlusion of knowledge is at once a dismembering of words from the objects to which they refer, a difficulty retrieving both the semantic and lexical components of vocabularies, a loss of access that may verge on active dissociation, a difficulty comprehending what is seen and spoken… This capacity to know and not know simultaneously renders the space between ignorance and ignoring not an etymological exercise but a concerted political and personal one. “Self-deception” does not do justice to the ways we each find to turn away.”

[7] Fanon 2011 (1961), notably 459-463 (463 cit.): “« Le colon fait l’histoire. Sa vie est une épopée, une odyssée. Il est le commencement absolu: « Cette terre, c’est nous qui l’avons faite. » Il est la cause continuée: « Si nous partons, tout est perdu, cette terre retournera au Moyen Âge. » En face de lui, des êtres engourdis, travaillés de l’intérieur par les fièvres et les « coutumes ancestrales », constituent un cadre quasi minéral au dynamisme novateur du mercantilisme colonial.” See also Mitchell 2002, 165-269, with reference to Said’s work on Orientalism.

[8] In comparison, the International Association of Egyptologists has had no Egyptian President, but there are currently three members of the council. The 2016-2020 Board of the International Association for Coptic Studies does not include any Egyptian. Apart from Malcolm Choat, board members are all (pre-Brexit) Europeans. See also, more generally, Blouin 2018.

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