A peek inside Michigan's extensive collection of papyri: BTN LiveBIG Book Club
Imagine yourself as a University of Michigan student in the early 20th century. You’re almost certainly dressed a little less casual than students of today. You are watching the campus rapidly expand as well as the curriculum. A hospital complex, large library and the Hill Auditorium sprout up, as program in dentistry, government, architecture and engineering are added to the rolls.
But you’re still studying a classical liberal arts education, and that includes a heavy dose of the… classics. Unlike today, though, you can’t just hop on an Airbus and view with your own eyes the sights of antiquity. Luckily, there is professor of classics Francis W. Kelsey, who has amassed at Michigan the largest collection of ancient papyri in the Western Hemisphere.
Luckier still, Kelsey’s collection remains with us to this day, a font of ancient knowledge for modern minds. In his book Discarded, Discovered, Collected (University of Michigan Press, 2017,) Arthur Verhoogt explores the history of the collection, most originating from Greek-ruled Egypt, and what it has meant to research at the university and beyond.
A professor of Papyrology and Greek and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan, Verhoogt is one of the stewards of the Kelsey collection. He uses his intimate knowledge to engage readers on a journey through time, recounting both the papyri’s meaning in an historical context and as it relates to our deepened understanding of the past. The book abounds with extensive illustrations of truly awe-inspiring papyri, such as the earliest copy of the Epistles of St. Paul, and translations of texts that give a direct window to the Greco-Mediterranean world.
Verhoogt also dives deep into how Kelsey came to gather such a collection at Michigan. He discusses the careful preservation of the collection, along with how the those who study papyri go about their work. This is of particular note, as out of 18,000 pieces total, a full 5,000 have yet to be analyzed.
A crown jewel of the University of Michigan and the study of classics, the Kelsey collection continues to attract academics and visitors alike. For those who can’t make it to Ann Arbor, Discarded, Discovered, Collected provides a thorough and enjoyable encapsulation of a unique and treasured trove of ancient writings.