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Writing History from the Geniza: Issues, Methodologies, Prospects


Documentary materials from the Cairo Geniza present scholars with enormous opportunities for historical research. At the same time, both the nature of the materials and the history of scholarship using them lead to some unusual methodological challenges. This essay reviews recent developments in the understanding of the nature of the extant medieval materials as it now appears that Geniza practice was much less universal than previously thought and much material (perhaps the majority) from the classical period comes from the deposited archives of only a few handfuls of individuals. Reviewing previous scholars’ approaches to collecting dossiers of material to study, the essay makes suggestions for navigating the existing scholarship, particularly the works of S. D. Goitein. In outlining some of the challenges of writing history from scattered and undated materials, it also considers limited but increasing research in ancillary fields—paleography, diplomatics, philology, and prosopography—that might help place individual fragments. Finally, I turn to typology and efforts to understand the nature of Hebrew and Arabic everyday literate production found in the Geniza and place it in the broader context of growing research in Arabic papyrology.

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Correspondence to Jessica L. Goldberg.

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Goldberg, J.L. Writing History from the Geniza: Issues, Methodologies, Prospects. JEW HIST 32, 497–523 (2019).

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  • Geniza
  • Historiography
  • Typology
  • Philology
  • Archive