During the current ReIReS School on the Use and Study of Special Documents, Ephrem Ishac, research fellow at Fscire, gave insight into potential challenges for researchers who are working with Syriac manuscripts and fragments, and into the role that social media can play in this respect. After the training, we had an interview with him.
Ephrem, can you mention some challenges for researchers who are working with Syriac manuscripts and fragments?
I think there are two major challenges: the first is how to find those manuscripts and fragments? This requires having access to rare materials, for example via a library. There are libraries holding a special collection of fragments that were found for several reasons, perhaps during a restoration process for the manuscripts, or while finding some fragments inside the manuscripts (in situ).
The second challenge, is how to identify them? This needs of course a fine experience in knowing the texts and where to look for them. Nowadays, some digital corpora can offer a fantastic tool to help us in identifying some of those fragments.
You are pretty active on social media. Can you tell us how social media can support researchers who are dealing with the above mentioned challenges?
Indeed, I think social media is offering an interesting platform to find and to identify many manuscripts and fragments, especially in the regions which have been suffering from the atrocities of wars. That is why we have been noticing many important posts on Facebook for years. Of course, we must always be careful when it comes to the credibility of what has been posted, but at least those posts can help us to find missing pieces. Once we have found these pieces, then have to check the authenticity of the materials (for example, in the past years many fake materials circulated online, but for the experts it was clear that those materials were forgeries).
Do you have a special advice in this respect?
I believe, encouraging scholars to join social media platforms is a good idea these days. This will enlarge the academic control on what is being posted (concerning manuscripts and fragments), and their ‘unofficial academic’ comments can assist in evaluating the significance of those posts. Not to mention, social media posts may inform us quickly about those findings, so scholars can at least be informed about some quick updates of such rare materials.
Finally, I can propose here to suggest a little project for systematic tracking of these posted images (of manuscripts and fragments) and create a scholarly team to try identifying them.
Thank you very much for the interview, Ephrem!
Visual: Archive Ephrem Ishac