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Big and small history in the Genizah: how necessary is the Cairo Genizah to writing the history of the Medieval Mediterranean?

When Feb 08, 2018
from 05:15 PM to 06:45 PM
Where Rooms 8 & 9
Contact Name
Contact Phone 01223 765038
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Middle Eastern Studies Seminar given by Dr Ben Outhwaite, Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge

As many will know (particularly after my talk), the modern discovery of the vast trove of medieval manuscripts in the Cairo Genizah was an ‘epoch-making event’ in Jewish Studies. The degree to which it has not just filled in gaps in our knowledge of the history of the Jews of the Islamic world, but opened up whole new areas of investigation, is remarkable. The great historian of this world, S. D. Goitein, maintained that the Genizah spoke more widely, however, of a Mediterranean Society that crossed confessional boundaries, and blurred distinctions between Jews, Muslims and Christians, as they all embarked on a shared quest for economic and social stability, and that the manuscripts gave an insight even into ‘the soul of medieval man’. Thirty years after his death, can we agree with Goitein’s claims for universal relevance of the Genizah? How has recent scholarship employed Genizah material? Should we all be reading the manuscripts of the Cairo Genizah?

Dr Ben Outhwaite has been Head of the Genizah Research Unit in Cambridge University Library since 2006, having worked for the previous seven years as a Genizah researcher. Dr Outhwaite received a B.A. in Hebrew Studies and an M.Phil. in Medieval Hebrew literature from Christ's College, Cambridge. His Cambridge Ph.D. thesis, on the grammatical description of Hebrew letters in the Genizah, was completed under the supervision of Professor Geoffrey Khan. Dr Outhwaite's research interests revolve around Hebrew and its use and transmission in the Middle Ages: the vocalisation traditions of Biblical (and post-biblical) Hebrew, the Medieval Hebrew language (particularly its use as a medium of communication throughout the early Middle Ages) and the documentary history of the communities who deposited manuscripts into the Cairo Genizah.

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Cambridge has a long and distinctive tradition in the study of the Middle East and Asia. This Faculty prides itself on exploring these fields through the local languages and encourages students to learn through real world engagement. If you are interested in these world regions and want to discover their languages, cultures, histories, religions, and politics, then this is the home for you. 


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