Colonized Manuscripts. The Provenance of Hamburg's Papyrus Collection
In the early 20th century, the Stadtbibliothek Hamburg (now Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek) held one of the largest collections of manuscripts in Germany. Among the newly acquired documents in that period was quite a number of remarkable manuscripts from colonial contexts, amongst others over 100 papyri from Egypt. While scholars have always been interested in the content of those manuscripts and to a minor extent in the history of their material production, a third dimension has hitherto been ignored: the circumstances of their acquisition and their paths to Hamburg. Who acquired them, under which conditions and for which price? How were they transported to Europe and how were they distributed? In answering these questions, this project will combine research in the materiality of manuscripts and analyze the epistemic consequences of collecting manuscripts within the current debates on provenances of cultural artifacts.
Due to the wide geographic scope and regional differences of these collections, the project will focus primarily on one part of the collection: manuscripts acquired in North Africa and Arabia in the early 20th century, especially the papyri bought through the German ‘Papyruskartell’ between 1906 and 1914. Their acquisition in the context of European control over Egypt and its antique services will be researched extensively. To cover the whole scope of the case study, provenance research will not be limited to the place of origin or the scholarly and commercial trade networks, but will include motives and backgrounds for the acquisition in Hamburg as well as the subsequent research on the papyri. The project therefore aims to reconstruct the networks behind the papyri’s acquisition processes from Egypt to Hamburg, while at the same time highlight the connections to the city’s ambitions for colonial sciences with the Kolonialinstitut.