Papyrology: Collection History

The Papyrology Collection of the University of Michigan is for all practical intents and purposes the brainchild of Professor Francis Willey Kelsey (1858-1927). Kelsey’s quest to establish a teaching tool for students of the ancient world resulted in the purchase of numerous collections of artifacts, manuscripts, and documents; these now form the core of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, the Special Collections and the Papyrology Collection of the University of Michigan Library.

The first batch of papyri reached the University in late 1920. Kelsey himself made the tour among Egypt’s antiquities dealers in March and April 1920, during which time he became acquainted with dealers who would become central to the U-M Papyrology Collection. From 1920 to 1936 Michigan regularly purchased batches of papyri in Egypt, sometimes as part of a consortium of institutions, sometimes via faculty members who were in Egypt as part of archaeological excavations. After that time, there was only the occasional purchase, with the latest one occurring in 1982.

In 1924 Kelsey was instrumental in pushing for a University of Michigan excavation in Egypt. A new idea at the time was that this excavation did not focus on searching for papyri alone, but took a more holistic approach to the archaeological evidence, taking into account also the architectural and archaeological remains.

Kelsey’s colleagues on the U-M campus also became heavily involved in the study and publication of the papyrology collection, including Arthur E.R.B. Boak (1888-1962), Campbell Bonner (1876-1954), Orsamus M. Pearl (1908-1992), Henry A. Sanders (1868-1956), John G. Winter (1881-1956), and William Worrell, who were all instrumental in editing and publishing Michigan Papyri from the very beginning. A case in point is the 1936 third volume of Michigan papyri, in which five faculty members and three graduate students (two of whom continued in the field of papyrology) prepared the texts for publication.

Elinor Husselman (1900-1996), who studied Coptic and Greek papyri with Worrell and Winter and Boak, was Curator of Manuscripts and Papyri at the University of Michigan Library and Curator at the Museum of Archaeology from 1925 to her retirement in 1965.

The appointment in 1929 of Herbert C. Youtie (1904-1980) as Research Assistant (later Research Associate, and from 1946 Research Professor) of Papyrology further professionalized the study of Michigan papyri. What is more, Youtie was also involved in teaching Michigan graduate students (and students and scholars from other institutions) the art of papyrology.

The continuous process of training graduate students in papyrology was continued with the appointment of Ludwig Koenen to Professor of Papyrology in 1975. A growing flow of dissertations consisting of editions of Michigan papyri was the result.

Koenen was also instrumental in pushing Michigan Papyrology to the forefront of the new digital age. By hiring Traianos Gagos (1960-2010) as the first Archivist of the Papyrology Collection (combined with a tenure-track appointment in the Department of Classical Studies), Koenen ensured that the collection now had a face and a driving force.

Gagos was instrumental, with Roger Bagnall (then Columbia, now NYU) and the late John Oates (Duke), in developing the Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS).

After the death of Gagos, Arthur Verhoogt was appointed Acting Archivist (2010-2013). Under his guidance the collection focused more on outreach, both digital and in person. By adding a full-time staff position, the collection was able to give more frequent tours to different audiences. In 2013, Brendan Haug was appointed Archivist and Assistant Professor of Classical Studies.

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Last modified: 03/11/2014