The University of Michigan is a leader in the field of papyrology. As a founding member of the APIS project, Michigan has helped bring the field of papyrology into the digital era. While APIS has greatly increased the level of access to the papyri in its members' collections, papyrology nevertheless remains a relatively little-known field of study.
An Opportunity for Education
One of the main reasons why papyrology is such an isolated field is the skill level and time involved in becoming a papyrolgist. The reading of papyri, which requires intimate knowledge of ancient languages and experience reading the handwriting of ancient texts, is often filled with obstacles such as faded or abraded ink, holes and other damage to the text, and bad spelling and grammar on the part of the writer. Even for a skilled and experienced papyrologist, it may take months to decipher a text of moderate length.
However, with thousands of papyri already transcribed and published, the difficult work has already been done in many cases. And with digital access to the papyri now available to anyone over the internet, even the most fragile manuscripts can be viewed by the public. Where APIS has made the papyri available to scholars, these Learning Resources aim to make them available to students of all levels. Drawing on the multitude of texts with digital images and translations available in APIS, the Michigan Papyrus Collection has created these resources for the benefit of K-12 and university educators and their students.
Fueled by Curiosity
There is no doubt that these ancient texts arouse the public's curiosity. Evidence for this can be found in the fact that an exhibit on ancient magic, hosted on this website, continues to draw thousands of hits per month, some eight years after its original publication. Furthermore, consider the effect that these texts, when viewed in person, can have on a group of middle-school children: a room of chattering mouths is filled with reverent silence - a two-thousand-year-old magic spell commands their respect.
While Graeco-Roman Egypt may not be as popular as Rome or Dynastic Egypt, with their great architectural ruins, this region is home to the largest body of texts to survive from the ancient world, preserved by the hot desert sand. These texts come from the time and place of Alexander the Great, Antony and Cleopatra, and the dawn of Christianity, and they are not only useful to scholars, they are fascinating to anyone with an interest in this time period.
In the papyri one can find magical spells, medical recipes, private letters of Roman legionaries, musical notation, and even ancient homework assignments. For students, these types of texts offer a refreshing change from the standard works of classical literature that form the backbone of education in Greek or Latin. Of course, many literary papyri also exist, which provide students the opportunity to see how these pieces looked and were read in ancient times.
With so much material available in electronic form, it is only natural to disperse this material to the largest possible audience. For the curious but untrained visitor, virtual exhibits on this website act as a gallery, displaying a variety of texts which are otherwise inaccessible to the public. For students interested in ancient texts, interactive projects allow them to experience the often difficult task of reading a papyrus with relative ease. And for those with ambition to study papyri on their own, introductory materials are available to aid in the process of reading texts and papyrological literature. For students at all levels, we hope that these resources will be beneficial and help fuel interest in the study of ancient texts.