Sunday, 8 February 2015

More Publication Delays for Green Collection?

Roberta Mazza is reporting ( ) that the latest news is that:
"it appears the first volume of the Green papyri has been now delayed to 2017".
This is rather rough on those scholars involved who have been forced into signing some kind of a non-disclosure agreement, some of whom set to writing their stuff up in 2012 for an envisaged publication date in 2013. What they wrote may then have been cutting-edge scholarship and linked in with other research they are doing, all of which will now be being delayed by the slippage in publication date of the volumes in which their research will appear. It is not enough to say "they'll have time to revise their texts five years later before it goes to print".

I am sure the Greens' lawyers will have drafted up watertight contracts totally preventing participating scholars from taking part in the unfolding debate, whether or not they themselves regret (or are grateful for) that, there are some important intellectual property issues here to be discussed, and indeed in the ethics and practicalities of scholars becoming involved with private collectors in the first place and the factors that can and should (from the academic point of view) condition that. The issues are not unlike those involved in the 'partnership' of British archaeologists and metal detecting artefact hunters/collectors.

I think this is not really helping the analysis of the Green Collection material. By 2017, it will not be "news" that someone somewhere has a piece of Mark that is dated by the few that have seen it to "the 80s" (according to the first reports, and now being said to be from "the 90s"). Big excitement two years ago, its existence is old news now. Its publication is not going to be any sensation, all most readers will now be interested in is that dating evidence. My prediction is that in the end that - although the special status of this trophy piece will no doubt be carefully argued - that dating evidence is not going to be anything like watertight and will always remain controversial.

What is going to happen as a result of the delay is that we will see the effects of the current state of discussion. We do not know what this fragment is, what it contains, what it is thought to reveal. What much discussion is having to focus on now is where it came from. When it is publish, the actual fragment itself will not be of as much interest as it would if it had been published (even in interim form) two years ago. In view of the way the discussion is now going even in papyrological circles, what is going to attract more attention are the ethical and provenance issues. What are the chances that the publication is going to answer those questions satisfactorily? I think there is a fair chance that when this long-awaited publication appears, that will be the focus of the discussion. The work of the scholars that actually publish the text will be sidelined by a discussion of how and where the fragments were acquired, and how that relates to the way we define 'licit antiquities'. 

The problem is the prolonged secrecy. The whole purpose of this may be seen as to allow the Green Collection to be a gatekeeper of information about the private collector's acquisitions, maybe to to protect the collector's bragging rights. Any scholar working on privately-owned material made available under some form of secret agreement and sponsored by the same owner, is always going to be working under some form of pressure to produce a certain type of result. We may only speculate about the reasons for the delays and the internal discussions going on around the reasons for the publication of what is after all a relatively simple two-dimensional artefact which is an addressed source (intended to convey information).

What actually would be lost if Mr Green were to make available a high quality digital image of these papyrus fragments for everyone to see and discuss? They are two dimensional addressed sources and their description and interpretation could be crowd-sourced, and the publication built around existing and broad discussion. What would be lost Mr Green, and what would be gained?

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