Spelunking in the Cairo Geniza: How to Make New Discoveries in Unstudied and Understudied Documents



Event Description

This presentation is targeted at anyone who wants to explore the Cairo Geniza and is daunted by its tremendous size and complexity. How do you find what interests you among ~400,000 digitized fragments written between the 10th century and the 19th century, fragments that are mostly in Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic, but also in Persian, Ladino, Yiddish, Italian, and every other language used in Egypt over the course of a millennium? How can you tell which documents have been overlooked in a century of Geniza scholarship? When a fragment catches your eye, how can you figure out what it is and assemble a collection of related documents?

Alan Elbaum, senior research assistant at the Princeton Geniza Project (PGP), will share many of the strategies he has developed and some of the fascinating new documents he has unearthed. He came to Cairo Geniza research as a medical student in Berkeley, writing a master's thesis on representations of illness in private letters. As he turned up more and more unpublished documents, he realized that the Geniza still contains untold surprises and that there's no reason why researchers in 2021 can't make new discoveries like Solomon Schechter in 1900 or S. D. Goitein in 1950. He has since fallen in love with Geniza research and has contributed thousands of new document descriptions to the PGP database.