Wednesday 16 January 2019

Decolonising Papyri Collections

John Rylands Library - Deansgate
Dr Roberta Mazza outlines the ethical issues associated with handling ancient papyri in modern collections (Decolonising Manchester's papyri collection ) she says that the study of collections of this material involves unsettling stories of modern colonialism and cultural heritage misappropriation. In particular this concerns the movement of material from the Middle East to European collections at the beginning of the last century with little if any awareness of the damage inflicted on the archaeological and cultural heritages of the nations of origin.
For this reason, it is nowadays of great importance to view papyrology from a wider historical perspective of modern colonialism and to practice it with much more attention to what I call the ethics of manuscripts. It is of vital importance not only to study but also to make the public aware of the biographies of manuscripts, the way they were legally and illegally excavated and eventually exchanged on the antiquities market. As its custodian, the University has a great responsibility towards the papyrus collection, which belongs to different communities and should be preserved for the future. The contemporary illegal circulation of papyri and other Egyptian antiquities on the market has roots in a longer history that we are part of and is a theme of contentious debate and crucial importance, especially after the Arab Spring led to an increasing number of objects appearing on offer at auctions and online. There are many challenges, and Manchester is making a key contribution to the establishment of good practices not only in terms of conservation and the deciphering of manuscripts, but also in finding more ethical ways of bringing this important cultural heritage to the widest possible audience, in the city and beyond.

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