The Cairo Genizah with Marina Rustow
The cairo. Anita is repository of such immense historical value. That sometimes it's easy to just assume the ways that it's important and i'm so excited to really dig in deep with marina on these important issues and think through all the different ways in which the denisa is an important historical record an important social phenomenon and an important lens through which we can understand medieval jewish has as well as the broader context in which jews as well as their neighbors lived. Thanks for listening in high marina. Welcome to the podcast here. Thank you so much for joining us. I really had such a blast reading your book and it's wonderful to be able to talk about it and to think about the really broadly. I want to think about your starting point from the book. The book is called the lost archive. And it's interesting that you are calling the cairo an archive in part because we have this great twentieth century can use a scholar. Some of gorton. Who talked about the guineas in very different terms in the introduction to his book the mediterranean society. He specifically calls the guineas a kind of an anti archive. I was wondering if you can talk a bit about the way in which you see the news as a kind of a lost archive. And what this means to you. When we think about the way that we approach vanessa and the kinds of questions that we can ask about it and what we can learn from it so i called the book the lost ark on that. Actually the claim that i'm making isn't that they can use it self archive but rather that. It contains traces of other archives. Go was right that they use is not an archive because an archive is arranged and maintained for the purposes. Not just storage. But also a retrieval so things have to be index. They have to be organized. They have to be ordered and they have to prunes for all. Those reasons are kaiser kind of different animal whereas they can isa people were just throwing stuff has early with absolutely no expectation that things would be accessible again in that sense. It was an anti our pod. But gordon says the guineas our guy because it was basically trashy what we would call a recycling bin or something like that but the inisia- is one place where we can find evidence to reconstruct the archiving practices of estate. That didn't it's preserve archive. The fontham calif it so in other words like it'd be so great if we could just walk into a building and i don't know cairo for instance and you know see the whole art of the fontham if it laid out there like i. You have a fiscal documents and then you have the administrative documents and are arranged according to date and place. This is how we kind of expect to work what you have in. The asia is a bunch of documents that may once have been thought archives but eventually were dumped and pruned from them because if things are are preserved for the purposes of retrieval then. Something's eventually have to be pruned. Otherwise you just end up with an infinite archives in kind of bored. Acn way and the other is documents that were never intended for the archive those two types of state document against each other. You can kind of triangulate what the loss ultimate archive looked like. So that's the lost ark. That i'm referring to in the title. Yeah it's this question of how we reconstruct the past in the absence of sources or in the absence of an official repository An official repository is both really good. Because it means that you have a lot of material that you can work with an official repository also means that there may be things that don't make it in there on purpose or the get removed and so i think that part of what you're doing here is using the news as a way to think through how we can approach history really different ways. That's right this is kind of in keeping with a move that some people in my field medieval middle east history have moved towards the last decade. Which is from static. Archives to archiving practices the study. we're cutting practices. And i think there's a much much broader movement towards this which is like you have a history of the book on the one. Hand the history of archives on the other which you know. Well that's your field that when you have a sense of how texts were produced and why they were producing the material forms in which they were produced in an survived again physically. How do they survive. You can actually use them as historical source material in a much more responsible way so i think part of what historians had come to do over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is in a sense to get kind of lazy which is to say that we re defied archives as a kind of ready made repository store source material as opposed to understanding that the archives an accumulation of different processes obviously not all historians. Did this. but you know. I think my expectation was very much like you know. I would love to be able to walk into a building and start looking through files and then thinking retroactively about what here isn't here whereas going from the other end which is taking all the discarded material and trying to figure out what an archive would have looked like had it survived is a different story or with is in a different way. There's the archive as it was kept in the period in question and there the curatorial conventions and standards and assumptions criteria are interesting to think about it also often quite transparent and then there's the archive as it's kind of evolved over the centuries. Let's say like. I'm an eleven twelve century historian so as it evolved in a an eight hundred subsequent years. I mean if you think about about it all right. This is a place that has some of the oldest continuously operating libraries that we know of but of course the the archival material that they have in these libraries has been organized reorganized. You know dozens of times since the fourth century or or and that means that we have to start asking different questions and the afterlife archives. From how the archives were actually produced and arranged in the time period that were studying.