Student Internships on the ‘Forging Antiquity’ Project

In Session 2 2019, five research internships will be offered to Bachelor of Philosophy (Masters of Research year 1) students at Macquarie University on two research projects based in the Department of Ancient History. Four internships are being offered on the Australian Research council project “Forging Antiquity: Authenticity, forgery and fake papyri“, and one in the new ARC project “Ancient Egyptian papyri: unlocking secrets to the history of writing“.

In each of these internships, students will work as part of the Forging Antiquity team investigating an aspect of the history of the forgery of ancient artefacts, especially papyri an other manuscripts.

Internships are being offered in the following aspects of the project:

Interns will work one day a week with the team, undertaking research on a project which will contribute to the larger project goals. Descriptions of the tasks to be undertaken, the goals, and the expected outcomes for each internship may be found in the links above. For some internships we are seeking specific skills (such as knowledge of particular languages), but for the most part they are open to students across the Faculty of Arts and indeed the University. We love diverse teams of researchers with different skills and backgrounds, so if you’re interested in working with us, please do contact us.

Further information can be found at the links above. Applications close on the 14th of June 2019, but interested students should contact A/Prof. Malcolm Choat (email, phone 9850 7561) as soon as possible.


Markers of Authenticity: 2018 in Review

We’re again a bit late in re-capping our year in 2018, but looking ahead to 2019, we want to summarise what we did during 2018, as we continued the Markers of Authenticity seminar series with a program designed to look outside of the Faculty of Arts to highlight collaborative possibilities with other Departments and Faculties.

Due to one of the convenors taking parental leave and another being on study leave in the first half of  2018, we ran only one seminar in this semester, a session on ‘The Authenticity of the Body’ (22/3), featuring Dr Karin Sellberg (a specialist in the history of medicine and feminist and queer historiography based at the University of Queensland), who spoke on authenticity in transgender autobiography, and Professor Wendy Rogers (Department of Clinical Medicine & Department of Philosophy, Macquarie University), who addressed overdiagnosis and the problem of ‘real’ diseases.

On the 2nd of August a seminar on ‘The Authenticity of Identity’ positioned the work of A/Prof. Jay Johnston (Department of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney) on ‘otherkin’ and humans who identify as animals and other non-human creatures against the research on facial recognition of Dr Ian Stephen (Department of Psychology, Macquarie University), who asked ‘Are our faces and bodies authentic markers of identity?’. Dr Stephen’s work was clearly challenging to many in the audience, which as much as anything highlighted the different methodologies and working assumptions of the disciplines.

Our next seminar was a lively session on the 30thof August on ‘The Authenticity of Faith’, bringing together medievalist A/Prof. Clare Monagle (Department of Modern History, Macquarie University) and expert on medieval Islam and religious history Dr Aydogan Kars (Centre for Religious Studies, Monash University), who addressed the nature of faith in historical and theoretical perspectives: Kars’ overview of contemporary debates on religious authenticity was an invaluable crash-course for many in the audience, and Clare’s singing of sections of George Michael’s ‘Faith’ illustrated the aptness of the song for the exegesis of historical studies of religion Clare offered.

On 20–22 September, as part of the ARC Discovery Project ‘Forging Antiquity’, we held a Conference ‘Manuscripts from the Margins’, which gathered together a group of the world’s leading experts in fake texts from throughout history to examine the forging of manuscripts of all sorts, with ren international experts joined by four local scholars in giving papers. 20–21 September were devoted to specialised workshop where presenters addressed issues involved in working with, editing, and publishing forgeries (certain or alleged), while a public event ‘Faking It’ was held on 22 September, with an associated exhibition at the Museum of Ancient Cultures. A Wakelet thread of tweets about the event may be found here.

The final seminar was held on 11 October on ‘The Authenticity of Landscape’, with Dr Alicia Marchant (ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, University of Western Australia) examining Renaissance maps of Scotland, and Dr Emily O’Gorman (Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University) showcasing her work on wetlands.

On the evening of Thursday 8thof November, with the generous support of the Faculty of Arts Research Office, the Ancient Cultures Research Centre, and the Centre for Emotional Health at Macquarie University and in association with the Environmental Humanities Research Stream, we put on a gala event, ‘The Spectacle of Science: Humanities at the Crossroads of Innovation’ featuring papers by Prof. Kathryn Millard (MMCCS, Macquarie University), Oron Catts (SymbioticA, University of Western Australia), Prof. Jennifer Hudson (Department of Psychology, Macquarie University), and Joe Lander (Artist in Residence in the Faculty of Human Sciences, Macquarie University). This showcase event on the intersection between Art and Science highlighted the way humanities methods have been used to propel and communicate scientific discovery, with each project representing the integration of scientific and humanities methods for the transformation of our understanding of the world and our place within it.

We were very pleased with the year’s program, especially with our engagement with colleagues in the Faculty of Human Sciences, and look forward to our 2019, which we hope to announce shortly.


How do we edit forgeries?

In a week’s time, a group of scholars from around the world will gather at Macquarie University to discuss fake manuscripts in our Forging Antiquity conference, ‘Manuscripts from the Margins’. Part of this will comprise a workshop focusing on forged texts, at which – among other issues – we’ll consider the practical issues involved in editing forgeries. The seeds for this were sown at our first Forging Antiquity conference, ‘Imagining the Real’ in 2017, where I presented a paper called ‘How do we edit a forged papyrus?’. To set the scene for this year’s conference and forecast some of the issues we’ll be addressing, I’ve drawn on my paper from last year in the post below, reproducing mostly the questions I asked, rather than the possible responses to them I posited: we’ll revisit the issue in the wake of this year’s conference.

Discussion of editing forgeries involves consideration of both ethics and practice. We study textual artifacts by editing them; those editions, sometimes accompanied by further examination of the manuscripts, form the basis for further academic work on these texts. When we come to forgeries, however, there is more reluctance to edit them, for a range of reasons. Traditionally, they have been ignored in favour of genuine artifacts. But the rise of multiple scholars and research teams working on forged texts of many sorts has demonstrated the relevance and importance of working on them.

Yet this interest has not necessarily resulted in textual editions of these fake papyri, and opinion varies, with commentators sometimes calling for their publication, and sometimes suggesting they be suppressed. So we may legitimately still ask: should we edit forged manuscripts? And if we do, how should we do it? Here there are a range of issues to be considered, which we might group round questions of priorities, ethics, and practice.

Firstly, in terms of priorities, should we work on forgeries at all? Some would say we should eschew work on fakes in favour of genuine artifacts. This might be thought to be a matter of personal choice, with each person able to decide their own research topic. But with a limited amount of research funding available (a fair bit of which in various places, it must be said, has been awarded to projects on forgeries), how should we as a guild prioritise our efforts?

Secondly, should we reveal to forgers what we know about their work by publishing on it? Will this simply tip the next generation of forgers off to items to avoid when making their fakes? This is an interesting and difficult issue, but I do wonder about the practicality of keeping forgers in the dark about advances in detecting their handiwork, and think this issue needs to be set in the context of the long engagement between forgers and authenticators and the way that has at times driven fields forward.

A further important consideration is that the publication of such texts can pollute the data pool: this has certainly happened in the case of the Dead Sea Scroll-like fragments, as work by Årstein Justnes and the Lying Pen of Scribes project has revealed. But this is so only if they are published as genuine texts; those clearly signaled as forgeries should not do so.

More cogent, I think, are ethical issues. If forgeries are in collections of unknown provenance (by which I mean the items within them contain little or no proper collection history), or collections of anonymous ownership, should we work on them? Current ethical standards in biblical and ancient world studies (at least as expressed in official policy) would give a decisive ‘no’ to this question: transparency over ownership and provenance is the basic starting point for work on any textual artifact: but debate remains, and this is far from the universal position. Although – as is well known – I have worked on a papyrus later proven to be fake in a collection whose owner was at that time unknown, I was uneasy with engaging with the broader collection of papyri (later revealed to be owned by Walter Fritz, something unknown to me at that time), precisely because of this lack of transparency and the distinct possibility that some or all of the papyri were recent unprovenanced acquisitions (Fritz later told me that all the documentation concerning their acquisition had been – somewhat conveniently – stolen by burglars). Had I investigated that collection more thoroughly, I might have noticed the presence of a number of fakes (not only the ‘Lycopolitan Gospel of John’ fragment which severely compromised the authenticity claims for the ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’) and been more critical of the ‘Jesus’ Wife’ papyrus itself. But the same could apply in many cases wth regard to genuine papyri, and the reasons many within the discipline now refuse to work on unprovenanced material or those owned by anonymous collectors are cogent and not to be lightly ignored. We’re told, rightly, not to work on papyri of unknown provenance: but then how do we track forgers and their work? Should we work on these collections but not publish the papyri? Or ignore them entirely?

So, we need to ask ourselves if we do want to edit forgeries; if this process, and increased academic attention, will help us understand them better, and assist in solving the very real problems that the circulation of forgeries have produced. These are questions which should be the subject of further discussion. In the rest of the post, I’ll outline some of the challenges that arise from the construction and nature of fakes if we do work on such texts, and specifically if we try to edit and publish them.

First among these is the vocabulary we use. Do we use the term ‘scribe’? Or ‘forger’? If the latter, then we foreclose debate: sometimes we know, or are virtually sure, of the outcome, but often we are not. It could be suggested that if we use as far as possible the tools of palaeography we use for uncontestedly genuine papyri, it will provide a more sound methodological foundation for our investigation of alleged fakes.

Beyond this, different types of forgeries present different challenges. Many fakes are in nonsensical simulated alphabets: how do we represent them? Line drawings? How do

P.Mich.inv. 1879
P.Mich.inv. 1879, fake papyrus in simulated script. Courtesy of University of Michigan Library.

we describe them? Can we identify ‘hands’ among the nonsensical alphabets? If we deal with composite papyri, composed of more than one genuine papyrus (sometimes augmented with fake script), to what extent can we describe the product, and not its components? How should we describing fibre direction for papyri composed of fragments from more than one original document?

Some of the same, and also a different order of events arise when discussing papyri with readable text. Here, I’ll highlight only one: the ‘Lycopolitan Coptic Gospel of John’ fragment produced, probably recently and presumably by its owner, Walter Fritz, owner of the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”. This papyrus, ‘COPT 01-11’ in the inventory system of the Fritz papyri, is currently MS Coptic 12 in the papyrus collection of the Houghton Library at Harvard, which has placed high quality digital images of the papyrus online (see also the catalogue record).

As is now well known, the handwriting of this certainly forged papyrus, whose text has been copied from that in a codex of the Gospel in Lycopolitan published by Herbert Thompson in 1924 (see Christian Askeland’s work here and here) is the same as that on the ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’, which provided a crucial step in uncovering the true nature of the latter papyrus. I’m going to leave aside here the manifold problems with the reconstruction of this imaginary codex, although this is also a major problem with describing the materiality of forgeries (for an excellent discussion of which see the work of Stephen Emmel here), and concentrate on how we might present the text of this papyrus in an edition.

In a text such as this, we know what the text should be: not only because we know it’s the Gospel of John, but because we know exactly what the forger’s model was, so, despite some odd deviations from it, should we read what we expect when there are only traces, even if they don’t resemble to letters at all? (In what follows, I reproduce Coptic text in Unicode, which hopefully displays properly in your browser).

P.Fritz. COPT 01-11 = Houghton Library MS Coptic 12, front (→), ll. 1–2.

For instance, in l. 1 on the front (the side written along the fibres), ⲛⲉϥⲉⲝⲟⲩⲥⲓⲁ is expected: should we read ⲛ̣ⲉ̣[ϥ]ⲉ̣ⲝ̣ⲟ̣ⲩ̣[ⲥⲓⲁ or simply provide dots to indicate unreadable letters after the preceding word (ⲁϥϯ)? In line 2, ⲙ̅ⲡⲣⲣⲙⲁⲉⲓ is expected: should we corral the traces into ⲙ̅ⲡ̣ⲣ̣ⲣ̣ⲙⲁⲉ̣[ⲓ, or print ⲙ̅ⲡ̣ⲣ̣ⲉ̣ . ⲉ̣[?

P.Fritz. COPT 01-11 = Houghton Library MS Coptic 12, back (↓), l. 9.

On the other side (that written against the fibres), ⲙ̣ⲁ̣ⲙ̣ⲏ̣ⲉⲡⲉ is expected in line 9: but the text is highly unclear: should we print . . . . ⲉⲡⲉ ? Or assimilate it to what we think was intended?

P.Fritz. COPT 01-11 = Houghton Library MS Coptic 12, Front (→), l. 5.

Restoring lacunae creates even more problems: on the front in line 4, ⲛⲉⲛⲧⲁⲩⲉⲓⲣⲉ is expected on the basis of the model. But there is insufficient space for [ⲛ]ⲉ̣ in the scribe’s normal hand, which would require letters that in the next line (and on the back (↓) at lines 1 and 7) take up nearly a centimeter to have fit into a gap c.4 mm wide. The observation that the nu of -ⲛⲧⲁⲩ- seems to ‘stoop’ to avoid the hole (but on the other side a letter is made of be lost in this hole) was made by Frederic Kruger of Berlin (as reported in this post by Joost Hagen). This raises an issue of what to print in the text: [ⲛ]ⲉ̣? Or ⲉ̣? We are no doubt meant to understand [ⲛ]ⲉ̣, but as it was almost certainly never there, and would not fit anyway, should we print what can be seen and reasonably restored on the basis of the lettering elsewhere on the papyrus?

P.Fritz. COPT 01-11 = Houghton Library MS Coptic 12, back (↓), l. 5.

Similar issues arise elsewhere: on the verso, in line 5,  ⲁⲩⲥⲁⲩ is expected, but there is no trace of an alpha: should we print ⲩⲥⲁⲩ or [ⲁ]ⲩⲥⲁⲩ? (we cannot print ⲁ̣ⲩⲥⲁⲩ)

P.Fritz. COPT 01-11 = Houghton Library MS Coptic 12, Front (→), l. 9.

A different sort of issue is raised at recto line 9:  should we restore text where there never was any? The preservation of the top (horizontal) layer of fibers is not quite clear, but it seems at least to survive immediately to the left of ⲉϣⲱ̣[, where one expects ⲉϣⲱ̣ⲡ̣ⲉ̣ (or at least the remains of the tops of these letters). Do we restore the line from the model?

A lot of the same issues arise with the study of the papyri forged by Constantine Simonides, about which Rachel Yuen-Collingridge and I will speak at the forthcoming conference, taking advantage of our own work, and our collaboration with Tommy Wasserman (for whose recent article on Simonides see here).

In genuine papyri, our principle is, or should be, to observe what is on the papyrus, and then interpret that: not to force traces to what we think it should be. But in the case where we know or suspect a forger has copied an existing text, the temptation is almost unavoidable: ‘we know what they were trying to do, so we’ll print that’: the question is, should we?


*Edited 14/9/18 to make more clear what I mean in the section on provenance and ethics.

Forgery, (de)authentication, and modes of expertise.

Rachel Yuen-Collingridge and I spent part of February and March as Visiting Research Fellows of the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University, an amazing institution which I strongly recommend visiting and working in if the opportunity arises – many thanks to our hosts for making our time there so profitable. While we were there we were working on our ARC-funded project on forged papyri as part of the HRC’s 2018 annual theme ‘Imagining Science and Technology 200 Years after Frankenstein’.

As part of my fellowship, I gave a paper in the HRC seminar series which I used to sketch out some ideas on how the HRC’s research theme of the humanities’ engagement with science and technology related to our work, by tracing some of the scientific and technological engagement with ancient manuscripts, and especially forged manuscripts and papyri. I also used this opportunity to think about the book that Rachel and I will write as part of the forgery project, which will focus on Constantine Simonides and what we might concentrate on within his huge, complicated, and fascinating story. The (still somewhat long) summary below necessarily skates over a number of important issues somewhat superficially, and there are many loose ends I need to chase up, paths I need to follow much further, and no doubt things I have not yet thought of; but I hope it serves as a spur to further conversation and is of some interest nonetheless.

Part of this discussion needs to be about the way different modes of academic expertise interact, and, importantly, how the public perceives, evaluates, and values these academic expertises. To have this discussion properly, we need to think about what is meant by ‘expertise’, both in the context of the mid-19th century, when the self-taught could rise to the top of their disciplines, and in the present day, when distrust of expertise and the rise of the internet as a means of propagating opinions has led to the ability to project arguments which are persuasive to various publics, who are inclined to accept claims that there are truths which are being hidden form them. Of course, we also need to think about precisely what we mean by ‘science’; what counts as scientific investigation; what it means to make the claim that one’s study is ‘scientific’; and the validity of the bases on which disciplines whose institutional or traditional home is within the arts and humanities make this claim. These days a lot of archaeological research presents itself as science, but what is it that makes it thus? And, of course, as we’re talking about authenticating artefacts, we have to think about what we mean by the malleable and multivalent concept of ‘authenticity’. These can be challenging questions, and investigating the history of science and its engagement with the humanities throws into relief how difficult they are to answer.

Rather than trying to define these concepts (‘authenticity’ in particular eludes definition and should be left fuzzy; the others would require posts in and of themselves), I want to reflect on the interaction of different modes of expertise, and different modes of viewing them, in the assessment of ancient artifacts. In the paper, I focused on two figures from the mid-nineteenth century, a forger and a chemist, whose echoes I looked for in the twenty-first century.

The first of the mid-nineteenth figures was the master forger Constantine Simonides (1820 or 1824 – 1867 or 1890, depending on who you believe), who needs little introduction.1 The other was the chemist Henry Deane, who is a little less known. Henry Deane (1807–1874) was a chemist who learnt on the job and through voracious reading, rising to be President in 1853–55 of the Pharmaceutical Society in which he remained a central figure in until his death in 1874, on which the Society commissioned a portrait of him which hangs in the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum in London.

Wyburd, Francis John, 1826-1893; Henry Deane (1807-1874), President of the Pharmaceutical Society (1853-1855)
Francis John Wyburd, Henry Deane (1807-1874), President of the Pharmaceutical Society (1853-1855); Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum;

Alongside pharmacy, Deane had a second related legacy, microscopy, in which field he made important observations about microscopic fossils in chalk rock, discovered a genus of algae, and pioneered a technique for mounting slides with glycerine.

It was his expertise in microscopy which led to his paths crossing with Simonides; maybe not literally, as they may not actually have met, but Deane was drawn into the Simonides affair after Simonides arrived back in England in 1858, carrying a palimpsest manuscript in which Uranius’ History of Kings of Egypt was supposedly underlying a medieval ecclesiastical manuscript. This has been denounced as a forgery already in Berlin in 1856 (though not before Wilhelm Dindorf had published part of a – swiftly recalled – edition with Oxford University Press), but the controversy over the papyri Simonides ‘discovered’ in the Mayer collection in Liverpool led to a reopening of discussion over the authenticity of the Uranius. Deane was contacted by John Eliot Hodgkin, a Liverpudlian businessman and collector of antiquities, who was the chief supporter of Simonides and

Portrait of Francis Wenham, 1866. Source: Wikimedia Commons

defender of his manuscripts in England at this time. According to letters from Hodgkin to Deane now in the State Library of Victoria (which we had the opportunity to examine last year), Hodgkin asked Deane to engage ‘your most eminent collaborators in microscopical investigation in London’, in the task of examining the Uranius manuscript and some of the papyri, at which Deane called on the expertise of the optician and microscope maker Richard Beck, and the microscopist, aeronautical pioneer, and inventor of the wind tunnel Francis Wenham.

In the course of more than a year considering the Uranius and the papyri, Deane gave his opinion publically at a meeting of the Royal Society of Literature,2 and prepared a handwritten report, now in the State Library of Victoria. While he vacillated in his opinion on the issue of the Uranius’ authenticity – as a number of alarmed letters from Hodgkin demonstrate – at both the Royal Society meeting and in the report, he disagreed with Wenham, Beck, the naturalist and microscopist Freeman Roper, (whose opinion Deane mentions), and the German microscopropists who had already examined the Uranius, by declaring that his “full conviction that the uncial writing (i.e., the Uranius) is under the cursive or Ecclesiastical and moreover that if it is a forgery Simonides is not the author of it.” The following year, in 1865, Simonides left England, never to return. And Deane seems not to have interacted with manuscripts, forged or otherwise, again. His reputation certainly did not suffer among his fellow chemists and microscopists, all of which seem to have forgotten about the episode.

As mentioned above, by the time Deane saw the Uranius manuscript, it had already been subject to a full philological, textual, and historical examination by scholars in Germany, most prominently the Egyptologist Carl Richard Lepsius, the editor of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica Georg Heinrich Pertz, as well as Dindorf himself. However it had also received scrutiny in January 1856 by a trio of top German microscopists, Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg, Heinrich Wilhelm Dove, and Gustav Magnus.

Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg, Heinrich Wilhelm Dove, and Gustav Magnus. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Ehrenberg was the doyen of German microscopy in the period, and was Chief Secretary of the Royal Academy of Sciences in 1863 when he wrote a letter describing the examination that he and his colleagues had undertaken which was reproduced in the Royal Society of Literature’s Report of the Council of the Royal Society of Literature on some of the Mayer Papyri and the Palimpsest MS. of Uranius belonging to M. Simonides with Letters from MM. Pertz, Ehrenberg and Dindorf (London: John Murray, 1863).

As Ehrenberg explains there, Lepsius wanted more proof of forgery than his philological and historical analysis could provide: he needed ‘material proofs of forgery’ (materieller Beweise), and so turned to the microscopists, who adduced various proofs around the relationship of the uncial writing to the ruled guidelines for the 12 century ecclesiastical text (on which Pertz had also concentrated), and the 12 century script itself. During the debate over the Uranius in Berlin and Leipzig, a tincture was also applied to the manuscript which, it was believed by some made ancient but not modern ink turn blue. This procedure had been discovered by Charles Blagdan in the eighteenth century, who by testing a number of solutions on a number of medieval manuscripts (some of which caused the writing to be obliterated) found that a combination of a dilute acid and a phlogisticated alkali made the ink he was examining turn a brilliant blue.3 What Blagdan called ‘phlogisticated alkali’ we call Potassium ferrocyanide (K4Fe(CN)6 . 3H2O), but Deane (who used the same procedure) and his fellow nineteenth century chemists called Prussiate of potash. Yet as noted by Alexander Lykurgos, a Greek who at first unwittingly aided Simonides in constructing the Uranius before writing a long work denouncing him, this procedure was not so much a test of authenticity as a reading aid, which is indeed what Blagdan had proposed it for.4

The examination of the Uranius initiated a new phase in the use of microscopy for studying manuscripts, but also raised the public profile of microscopy. The Evening Mail reported on 3 March 1856 that ‘Professor Ehrenberg’s microscope, which did such good service in procuring undeniable proof of the Simonides fraud, has been made use of again, to detect the thief that stole a barrel of specie, which had been purloined on one of the railways’. (Italics mine). In the case of the ‘Perkins folio’ of Shakespeare, in which the authenticity of the corrections and marginal additions on the manuscript was disputed, Nevil Maskelyne, Keeper of Minerals at the British Museum, ‘suggested the use of an instrument which has already done good service in an analagous case (that of the Simonides Uranius) – the microscope’, as he reported in a letter to the Times in 1859.5 And it was no doubt the role the microscope had played in the deauthentication of the Uranius which led Hodgkin to seek out British microscopists to examine the Uranius, to try to overturn the earlier opinions formed on the same basis.

It was during the 19th century that microscopes emerged as guarantors of authentic reproduction within science, as zoologists not only gained ever increasing ability to see the natural world at the microscopic scale, but also, by using a machine, to gain what they asserted was a more objective and authentic view of this micro-world. Using a microscope still relies on human sight, but the machine was an essential component of the process. It is also to the nineteenth century that Daston and Galison date the development of the discourse of objectivity itself.6 It is in this context, within the development and propagation of concepts of mechanical objectivity that we see the recourse to the microscopists and chemists in attempts to prove both forgery and authenticity, to provide the definitive answer which, it seemed, observation of the language and script could not.

We might put the growth of microscopy’s engagement with studies of manuscripts into dialogue with Walter Benjamin’s observations some 80 years later, problematising the relationship between original and copy ‘in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, lamenting the loss of the aura of the original. And also with one of the other great technological advances of the 19th century which effected both manuscript studies and concepts of authenticity and originality, the development of photography.

Before the mid-nineteenth century, from the time of Mabillon, Montfaucaon, and before, discussions of authenticity had been based exclusively on the traditional methods of studying manuscripts. From that time until now, scientific engagement has advanced exponentially, to the point where now a wide array of techniques are used to study manuscripts which are under no suspicion of being fakes, and ones which are suspected of being that. The case of the so-called ‘Gospel of Jesus Wife’ provides an apposite recent case, where a battery of scientific techniques were used to test the papyri. In the present day – something this case also demonstrated –the collection history of an object has also come to occupy an increasingly central role in discussions of authenticity. Just as in the case of Simonides’ manuscripts, the debate over the ‘Gospel of Jesus Wife’ advanced the field, and led to new methods of ink-testing which made advances which may be very significant for the study of ancient inks.

So we could argue that forgery is a catalyst for disciplinary innovation; that such moments of crisis drive fields forward; and that in response to the vulnerabilities caused by uncertain data, new techniques are developed. We could partner this with reflections on the role of technological change in exposing the vulnerabilities of human systems, and increased anxiety about the status of information distributed in new forms of media, from changing book technologies in antiquity and the renaissance, to the new digital media of today. If we position the figure of the forger as an embodiment of these anxieties, someone who by appropriating traditional and novel ways of affirming authenticity exposes the flaws within systems of verification, we gain a very interesting insight into the interaction of different modes of expertise and how the public perceives them.

These various public evaluations of expertise were on display in the mid-nineteenth century, but they were even more evident recently, with the way the ‘Gospel of Jesus’ wife’ was reported in some sections of the media, with the scientific results highlighted; and received by some in the general public, as perusal of comments sections in traditional media (e.g. the New York Times, or Boston Globe) and online fora such as Reddit (e.g. here or here) shows. While many argued past each other on the basis of other debates and fault lines in American society, many were simply more receptive to the supposedly more objective scientific opinion, than the subjective, emotional, uncritical, and possibly biased judgment of humanities scholars. This is of course to some extent a simplification, but I think this tendency can be detected in public responses to media reporting of the case.

We might contextualise this public reaction to different modes of expertise by positioning it within developing relationship between academic disciplines, especially at points where not only their findings but their methodologies come into friction. We might compare here the recent unwillingness by Nassim Taleb and his online supporters to acknowledge that evidence used by ancient historians was acceptable data in his argument with Mary Beard over race in Roman Britain (or indeed the twitter debate between Taleb and US-based Iraqi intellectual Nibras Kazimi over the genetic history of Lebanon). And we can of course talk about this in relation to the rising distrust of ‘experts’ (or ‘so-called experts’ as some would call them) in public debates – climate change, Brexit, gun-control, vaccination, immigration. Yet against this suspicion of expertise, we could compare the use of scientists in advertisements for a range of products, to vouchsafe the reliability of the product. The classic examples were of course the smoking advertisements, but now – and more legally – scientists (or actors in white coats) appear in advertisements commenting on research (or perhaps ‘research’) on a whole range of products.

So as we look back at these cases of the interaction of the humanities and sciences in the assessment of forged manuscripts, we can ask ourselves a more general question about what we’re witnessing. Are the humanities here merely a staging ground for debates within science over who has the better techniques, instruments, reputation? Is it thus an opportunity for scientists to debate each other, or are they engaging with the humanities, and with the issues underlying the question of forgery and authenticity? When giving their opinion on manuscripts, scientists from Deane’s time until today are usually clear that they do not regard their findings as the last word. Yet the public often interpret them as if they were, or they’re being presented in this way by proponents of one view or another. So is this an issue of communication within the academy, or of the academy with the wider community?

There’s much more to explore here, and many more things for us to understand about the way authentication interacts with science and technology, modes of expertise, and the public gaze. Part of that will be explored by Rachel in her HRC seminar, ‘Negotiating Authenticity: Fakes in the Public and Private Worlds of Disciplinary Expertise’, to be delivered later in the year, so please stay tuned for further thoughts on this issue.

Malcolm Choat.


1. The wikipedia page for Simonides provides a very basic orientation; a bit more detail, though dated, is in chapter 3 of Literary Forgeries by Andrew Farrer. Among things not available freely online, I recommend A.E. Müller et al., Die getäuschte Wissenschaft. Ein Genie betrügt Europa – Konstantinos Simonides (Vienna: Vienna University Press, 2017), and on the time period I focus on here, especially the excellent chapter by Massimo Pinto, ‘Simonides in England: A Forger’s Progress’ (pp. 109–126) (partially visible in Google Books).
2. See The London Review of Politics, Society, Literature, Art and Science, Feb. 14, 1863.
3. C. Blagden, ‘Some Observations on Ancient Inks, with the Proposal of a New Method of Recovering the Legibility of Decayed Writings’, Philosophical Transactions 77 (1787) 451–457.
4. Alexander Lykurgos, Enthüllungen über den Simonides-Dindorfschen Uranios (Leipzeig, 1856), 70, n. 1.
5. Reproduced in N. Hamilton, An inquiry into the genuineness of the manuscript corrections in Mr. J. Payne Collier’s annotated Shakspere, folio, 1632 : and of certain Shaksperian documents likewise published by Mr. Collier (London 1861) p. 142–146, at 143-144.
6. L. Daston‪ and P. Galison‬, Objectivity (New York: Zone Books. 2007), which should also be consulted on the rise of the microscope in the 19th century.

Seminar: ‘Creative Authenticity: Originality and the Real’

Our next  ‘Markers of Authenticity’ seminar, on ‘Creative Authenticity: Originality and the Real’, is a co-sponsored event with the ‘World Literatures and Cultures’ research cluster at Macquarie University. It  features papers by Drs Mio Bryce and Ilona Hongisto of Macquarie University, who will address the topic from different creative and cultural perspectives, followed by a discussion on the theme. The seminar will take place in the Level 5 seminar room (212) in the Australian Hearing Hub at Macquarie University on Thursday 26th of October, from 4.00–5.15 pm, with refreshments to follow the discussion.
‘Creative Authenticity: Originality and the Real’
Thursday October 26th, 4:00pm–6:00pm
Australian Hearing Hub, Level 5, Seminar Room 212
‘Witty rather than original: collaborative authenticity in classical Japanese poetry’
Dr Mio Bryce (Department of International Studies: Languages and Cultures)
Japanese traditional poetry, waka, poses questions to notions of authenticity in terms of originality and creativity. In the Heian period (794–1185), cultural codes and knowledge were shared, and a harmonious appropriation to each given situation was required. Suggestive, metaphorical, and aesthetically contextualised expressions were appreciated, rather than candid manifestations. Waka was a respected means of communication: yet like emails, it was not fully private. Therefore, another dimension was formulated within waka to convey the true meaning in a more subtle manner, utilising a number of rhetorical concepts and apparatuses. This means that the authenticity of waka lay not in creativity and originality from today’s point of view, but in witty, intertextual appropriation of images and sentiments based on a shared culture and literary tradition.
‘True fabulations: The act of creation in documentary cinema’
Dr Ilona Hongisto (Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies)
This paper reconsiders the truth claims of documentary cinema through the notion of fabulation. Drawing on Gilles Deleuze’s postulation of ‘the powers of the false’ and the genealogy of fabulation in Friedrich Nietzsche’s thought, the paper relocates the modus operandi of documentary cinema from truthful representations to acts of fabulation in reality. The notion of fabulation describes the work of documentary cinema as one that engages with ‘the false’ in order to produce relations that enrich and add to existing realities. As such, it moves away from established documentary discourse where truth claims are conditioned on replicating a priori realities and enabled by the documentary’s representative modalities. Fabulation locates truth as that which is created in the documentary, making true fabulations the creative acts with which the documentary enriches the real.

‘The Authentic Terrorist?: Mobilising the Past, Battling for the Future’

The Markers of Authenticity seminar series continues its 2017 program Tuesday 5th September at 4.00 pm, with a seminar on ‘The Authentic Terrorist?: Mobilising the Past, Battling for the Future’, presented by Dr Julian Droogan of the Department of Security Studies and Criminology at Macquarie University . The seminar will be held in the Australian Hearing Hub, Level 5, Seminar Room 212, from 4-6 pm, with light refreshments to follow the paper and discussion. All welcome!


‘The Authentic Terrorist?: Mobilising the Past, Battling for the Future’

Presenter: Dr Julian Droogan (Department of Security Studies and Criminology, Macquarie University)

One of the most revealing perspectives from which academics can meaningfully approach the phenomenon of ‘terrorism’ is to look at it as a communication strategy. Terrorists threaten, attack, destroy and kill in order to communicate a message and elicit a response. Concepts of authenticity and the ownership of the past and of ‘tradition’ are often central to these narratives of destruction and revolution. This presentation will look at two of the ways in which terrorists engage in a dialogue with the past in order to make claims about the present and communicate their aspirations for an idealised future. First, religious narratives are mobilised by some terrorist groups in a way that attempts to create a perceived connection with authenticity and authority. Second, the material realities of the places and structures that terrorists attack often embody narratives of historical and cultural importance. These symbolic targets, once attacked, often become places that embody competing narratives for terrorists, victims, nations and other groups, and can play a role in promoting resilience and reconciliation after the violence has ended.

Conference: ‘Imagining the real: Alternative (arte)facts from antiquity to the present day’, 13–14/10 2017, Macquarie University

‘Imagining the real: Alternative (arte)facts from antiquity to the present day’

October 13–14, 2017, Macquarie University Museum of Ancient Cultures

A Symposium sponsored by the Australian Research Council, the MQ Ancient Cultures Research Centre, the Australian Centre for Ancient Numismatic Studies, and the Macquarie University Faculty of Arts ‘Modes of Communication’ Research Theme.

Authenticity gives our experience of the world salience and purchase. The idea of a single real past, anchored in material culture and transmitted by cultural practices, remains cherished in popular culture even as it is steadily eroded by academic discourse. The notion of a stable distinction between true and false continues to the widely held, even as everything from fake news to forged objects dissipates this certainty.

All pasts are imagined, competing constructs of what should, or could, have been. Present relevance is, after all, the final arbiter of the shape of memory. The authenticity of an object, text, or idea, is constructed by the viewer, and does not inhere within it. As the security of an authentic material past is disrupted by forgery, so too do fake objects bring forth fresh imaginings of past and contemporary experiences, lives, and cultures. Forgeries may be in this way carriers of a more authentic representation of the significance of the past than real artefacts, dependent as they are on affinities with contemporary discourse. Authentication techniques, from ancient processes of legitimisation to modern scientific techniques, and from humanities to scientific approaches, rest on expertises and authorities that are routinely contested.

Papers at this symposium will examine contested objects from a range of genres and periods; traditional and emerging techniques used to authenticate them; and the discourses of authenticity and modes of knowledge that both enable their creation, and frame competing understandings of them.

Speakers include: John Melville Jones (University of Western Australia); Årstein Justnes (University of Agder); Margie Borscke (Macquarie University); Malcolm Choat (Macquarie University); Maree Clegg (University of Auckland); Heather Greybehl (Monash University); Ken Sheedy (Macquarie University); Clementine Vanderkwast (Macquarie University); Rachel Yuen-Collingridge (Macquarie University).

Attendance will be free, but rsvps are necessary for catering purposes. A registration site wil be activated soon, but to signal interest now, or for other inquiries, please contact