Papyrus scrolls, one of the most ancient of communications media, is seeing new life thanks to the internet. The University is at the forefront of a project to make the nation’s largest papyrus collections available to both researchers and the general public online.
According to a written statement from the University, the National Endowment for the Humanities recently granted the University $350,000 to continue and expand the 20,000 entry Advanced Papyrological Information System database.
APIS, started at the University in 1996, is a “virtual library” of digital images and information pertaining to the external and internal characteristics of each papyrus, President of the American Society of Papyrologists and Prof. of Papyrology Traianos Gagos said.
Of the approximately 7,000 artifacts in the University’s collection, which is one of the largest in the country, about 3,000 are entered in APIS said Prof. of Classical Studies Arthur Verhoogt, adding “there’s still work to do.”
The University’s collection includes many well-known texts, one the of most famous being the oldest manuscript of the letters of St. Paul from around 200 A.D., Verhoogt added.
“Conceived originally as a cooperative project among the six larger papyrus collections in the U.S., APIS has evolved into a global consortium effort that, at present, encompasses virtually all American institutions with papyrus collections and several European partners,” Gagos said.
These institutions include Columbia, Duke, New York University, Princeton, Stanford, and The University of California at Berkeley nationally and Oslo University at Norway and Oxford University among others internationally, Gagos added.
Besides making these collections readily available to the general public, APIS is used for classic civilizations classes and by researchers to “find parallel texts” by being able to see if different scrolls are written by the same hand, Verhoogt said.
“The primary funding source for APIS has been the National Endowment for the Humanities, the local institutions, and in our case also one private donor,” Gagos said.
Papyrology is the study of ancient texts, mostly in Greek and Latin, from Egypt written in ink on papyrus, as well as on pot-shards, wooden tablets, parchment, and linen, Gagos said.
The field involves deciphering these texts (along with texts from other parts of the world that are now Italy, Jordan, and Israel), translating them and setting them into their socio-historical contexts, Gagos added.
APIS will continue to grow and add new collections, as the University of Crete, Greece and the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian have recently expressed interest in becoming members of APIS, Gagos said.
APIS can be accessed by the general public at www.columbia.edu/dlc/apis