Fragmentary Remains

Fragmentary Remains: Books of the Dead at Williams College

In 1922 Alfred Clark Chapin purchased a small album filled with scraps of ancient Egyptian papyrus inscribed with the Book of the Dead. This album now resides in the Chapin Library at Williams College, along with a collection of inscribed linen mummy bandages. Together these material remains form an excellent corpus to exemplify the practice of fragmentology, both in terms of the modern methodology for tracing chains of provenance and potential digital restoration, but also in terms of Victorian collecting practices. Chapin’s modest album reveals the late eighteenth century predilection for pasting somewhat random scraps of papyrus together to present the illusion of more interesting—and thus more valuable—manuscripts. This presentation will open a discussion of these fragmentary remains by showing how a seemingly modest collection can be deconstructed, connected with other fragments around the globe, and ultimately reconstructed for the digital age.

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