Friday, December 17, 2021

New Book on Edgar Goodspeed


There is a new book just out on two important years in the life and work of Edgar J. Goodspeed.

Todd M. Hickey & James G. Keenan, Edgar J. Goodspeed, America's First Papyrologist (California Classical Studies 8, 2021).

Blurb: This is a study whose main sources are archival, principally Edgar J. Goodspeed’s “Student Travel Letters” from 1899–1900. These letters home recount Goodspeed’s daily and sometimes hourly activities during nearly two years abroad, in continental Europe, England, Egypt, and the Holy Land, in pursuit of scholarly seasoning. The book’s focus is on his engagement with the newly emergent field of papyrology—the decipherment and study of the ancient Greek manuscripts then being discovered in Egypt. The letters allow for a tracking of this engagement in far greater depth than that allotted in his 1953 autobiography, As I Remember, or in his 90-page unpublished memoir, “Abroad in the Nineties,” filling in some apparently intentional gaps, casting doubt on some of his later self-assessments but putting much additional substance to the claim that he was indeed “America’s First Papyrologist.” The result, part biography, part travelogue, part diary, part academic history, is a description of Goodspeed’s progress, beginning with his enthusiastic commitment to the fledgling field in the late 1890s, ending with his abandonment of it in the early 1900s, possibly a result of his complicated dealings with Oxford papyrologist Bernard P. Grenfell in the fateful summer of 1900. Along the way the book introduces the reader to the world of papyrology in its early days, but it is mainly an account of one budding scholar’s experiences in pursuit of recognition in that subject, a story that has its own complications, narrative arc, and human interest.­­­

You can read the whole thing online (here: It is especially interesting for the history of papyrus purchasing, exporting, and distribution; and for seeing something of Oxford in the summer of 1900 where he worked on the Tebtunis papyri with Grenfell and Hunt. He was quite an aggressive networker (he called it “lion hunting”), so there is a large supporting cast of papyrologists and other manuscript scholars mentioned in his letters. There is also a collection of photos from his travels, especially from sites in Egypt. There is not a lot of direct connection with his later academic interests in the text and exegesis of the New Testament text, but it is an interesting exploration of some of his formative years, through the letters he sent home to his family.

Goodspeed visited Cambridge (where he met up with Mrs Lewis, Rendel Harris, Solomon Schechter, as well as some friendly girls!) and there, once he’d seen Schecter’s “Genizah stuff” he says ‘I got an attendant to shew me some leaves of “D” (Codex Bezae), which is a beautiful Manuscript’ (p. 111). This is a curious expression which suggests the manuscript may have been disbound at this point (6th August 1900).

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