Judaica DH at the Penn Libraries Blog //DataDeepDive: Materials
Blog //DataDeepDive: Materials

In this series, we take a deep dive into the Talk boards tags to look at how volunteers classify the fragments. You can read an overview of our Talk boards tags in the Sorting Phase Data review.

While it can be difficult for volunteers to notice the material of subjects in their digital forms, the physicality of Geniza material is an important component of a subject. Material can help a scholar identify the age of the subject, its purpose, or its significance,

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, a majority of the Cairo Geniza fragments are made of paper. Scholars have identified papyrus, vellum, parchment, and paper texts.


Parchment (5)is a general term for prepared animal skin used for writing, as seen in the fragments below. Originating in the second century BCE, parchment created a flexible surface where a scribe could write on both sides. Many earlier fragments (10th-11th centuries) and literary fragments (Scripture for worship or ceremonial purposes) are made of parchment. Subject 21707846: MS-OR-01080-J-00066, Genizah Research Unit, Cambridge University Library

Subject 12503250 is a great example of parchment used for the Mishnah. Because it was expensive, even the smallest piece of parchment would be used in full. Subject 12503250:ENA 2549, Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary


Vellum (1)is prepared animal skin (typically calfskin) used for writing.The distinction between parchment and vellum is difficult to discern — while vellum is used to refer to only calfskin, it can be difficult to determine precise origin animal type. Modern librarians will typically refer to both as parchment, or to vellum as a finer quality form of skin in comparison to thick and crude parchment. Subject 12501736: ENA 2110, Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary


Paper (9)is a modern material for writing. By the 11th century, paper was a common material for writing in the Arab world, and especially in Egypt. Most of our fragments have not been tagged for their material, but we know paper is often found. From left to right: Subject 11602690: ENA 3611, Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary; Subject 12505497: ENA 2716, Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary

Volunteers have also noted the color of paper — colored paper suggests to researchers that the subject is more recent (18th or 19th century). Blue paper (8) is common for Judeo-Persian subjects like Subject 11609423. Subject 11609423: ENA 2331, Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary


While it was never tagged in the project, volunteers have also commented on three examples of cloth fragments. In subject 12602481 (left), we see a fine-textured cloth with a few lines of text. Subject 21714563 (center) is a cloth amulet. In subject 30737925 (right), the cloth seems to be part of a bookbinding. From left to right: Subject 12602481: ENA NS 23, Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary; Subject 21714563: MS-TS-AS-00142–00174, Genizah Research Unit, Cambridge University Library; Subject 30737925: A 36–1, A 36–2, The University of Manchester Library.

👉 Read more Talk conversations or start your own by participating in Scribes of the Cairo Geniza on Zooniverse!

By Judaica DH at the Penn Libraries on .

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Exported from Medium on April 14, 2020.

Cite this post: admin. “DataDeepDive: Materials”. Published May 28, 2019. https://judaicadh.github.io//blog/2019-05-28-datadeepdive/. Accessed on .