About the Exhibition
The Cairo Geniza consists of an estimated 400,000 literary and documentary fragments that range in provenance from the tenth through the twentieth centuries. Over the course of a millennium, successive generations of the Jewish community in Cairo discarded these texts in sacred burial chambers (genīzōt) so as to avoid improper disposal of the written names of God. Given its temporal breadth, the documentary Cairo Geniza references a wide array of monetary systems that once spanned the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic. At the Princeton Geniza Lab we have begun to track these numismatic data due to their advantages in dating fragments via the production history of coinage. By cross-referencing such data it becomes possible to estimate the earliest year in which a text could have been recorded– even when a tattered paper fragment bears but a single word or monetary symbol. This exhibition marks the culmination of our efforts toward building a paleographical glossary that enables researchers to implement this methodology. The eclectic range of coins and documents on display underscores the explanatory potential of numismatics for historical inquiry and, in turn, the stakes of reconstructing what Elizabeth Lambourn has called the "material worlds" of the Cairo Geniza.
This exhibition frames the capaciousness and increasingly global intersections of these "material worlds" through the lens of twenty-two coin/document pairings across twenty digital displays. The coins in the exhibition are all preserved in the Princeton Numismatic Collection and the images of documents are from the geniza collections of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and Cambridge University Library. In each of the digital displays, we contextualize the coin/document pairings according to relevant state affiliations, regnal years, production thresholds, alternative names, and/or etymology. The descriptions also unpack the purpose of each coinage type across a wide variety of transactions and conclude with a translation of each transcription as well as numismatic data from the PUL catalogue. The coinage types portrayed in the exhibition are but a fraction of those comprising the companion database: "Coins of the Cairo Geniza: A Paleographical Glossary for Dating Textual Fragments." We are releasing the latter resource with 104 initial entries yet we expect this figure to grow over time as we further develop this methodology for estimating the dating of fragments. The companion database also references a wide variety of economic units spanning the medieval and early modern periods.
Link to Companion Database Website: https://geniza.github.io/paleographicalglossary/
About the Authors
Matthew Dudley is a research assistant at the Princeton Geniza Lab and a Ph.D. candidate in History at Yale University where he is completing a dissertation titled: "Into the Anti-Archive: Jewish Law and Ottoman Imperial Administration in the Early Modern Cairo Geniza."
Alan Elbaum is a senior research assistant at the Princeton Geniza Lab and a psychiatry resident at the University of California San Francisco.
Thanks to Our Colleagues and Mentors
Since this project began in November 2020 we have accrued a debt of gratitude to many colleagues and mentors on-campus at Princeton and across other institutions. First and foremost, we'd like to thank our mentors at the Princeton Geniza Lab and Princeton University Library, Professor Marina Rustow and Dr. Alan Stahl, who have supported this project throughout each stage of its development. At the PGL, we must also thank: Professor Eve Krakowski, Professor Amir Ashur, Dr. Lorenzo Bondioli, Jessica Parker, Yusuf Umrethwala, Rachel Richman, Ksenia Ryzhova, Grace Masback, and so many others who have contributed to the PGP cataloguing data that enabled the completion of this project. At Princeton University Library, our thanks go to: Dr. William G. Noel, Kimberly Leaman, Emma Sarconi, Esme Cowles and at The Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton: Dr. Rebecca Koeser. Beyond Princeton University campus, we thank Professor Mordechai Akiva Friedman (Tel Aviv University), Professor Avraham David (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), and Professor Shmuel Glick (the Jewish Theological Seminary of America), whose transcriptions appear in displays three, ten, and seventeen, respectively. We also owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Benjamin Outhwaite and Dr. Melonie Schmierer-Lee for making it possible to display images of geniza fragments from the collections of Cambridge University Library. For their review of the companion database metadata and advising over the years, many thanks go to Professor Francesca Trivellato (Institute for Advanced Study) and Professor Alan Mikhail (Yale University). We also wish to thank Dr. Nancy Um (Getty Research Institute) for her feedback on our metadata.
Our work toward building a companion database website for the exhibition would not have been possible without access to the open source coding framework CollectionBuilder– which was developed by a team at the Center for Digital Inquiry and Learning at the University of Idaho. To the CDIL Co-Directors Devin Becker, Olivia Wikle, and Evan Williamson– thank you for building such an accessible and powerful coding framework for digital humanists.