One of the wonderful things about the University of Iowa is the variety of fascinating guests which it attracts to this little corner of the Midwest. Yesterday afternoon we were host to Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole, authors whose most recent work, Sacred Trash, explores the story of the scholarly rediscovery and exploration of one of our most important sources for the history of Mediterranean Judaism: the Cairo Genizah.
How the Genizah came to be discovered by Western scholars, and the subsequent transportation of the bulk of its many thousands of documents to Cambridge University, is a tale known at least in outline to many medieval scholars. Hoffman and Cole’s recounting of it was distinguished by verve and good humour, and by the new perspectives which they were able to bring to the topic as non-academics who had nonetheless thought deeply about issues of translation, identity, history and poetry.
Indeed for me, their discussion of their writing process—how they chose to structure their work, the somewhat serendipitous process by which they made connections or were introduced to people who were unexpected founts of knowledge—was one of the most interesting part of the two hours for me. Their emphasis on the pleasure to be found—which should be found—in scholarly writing for both author and reader was a welcome reminder of one of the key things I should keep in mind as I begin the process of writing my dissertation.