Manuscripts allow advanced research

Undergraduate humanities students sort through ancient papyri fragments retrieved from paper-mache-like wrappings from the mask of a mummy on loan to Baylor.
Baylor University

By Jade Mardirosian
Staff Writer

Baylor students are being given the unique opportunity to practice ancient languages and complete advanced research on rare manuscripts, ultimately leading to the publication of important, unknown texts.

These experiences are made available to undergraduate, and some graduate, students through the Green Scholars Initiative, a research program focused on giving undergraduate students hands-on research opportunities.

Dr. David Lyle Jeffrey, distinguished professor of literature and the humanities in the Honors College, said this type of research for undergraduate students is almost unheard of.

“The Green Scholars Initiative allows students to do undergraduate research that results in publication, [which] is a distinct advantage for many types of graduate programs,” Jeffrey said. “Beyond that, the advantage to the students is [that] they get to work with manuscripts in a way that no other undergraduates in the country get to.”

This semester the Green Scholars Initiative will include about 18 to 20 students — mostly sophomores, juniors and seniors — who will begin working on manuscript projects.

Jeffrey explained the manuscript projects typically take a year to finish, with some possibly taking as many as three.

Alexandria, La., senior Stephen Margheim is involved in one of the first projects implemented through this program. Margheim was assigned papyri fragments to research and identify.

“It took me a week to identify [the papyri] as Homer from the Iliad,” Margheim explained.

Dr. Jeffrey Fish, associate professor of classics, is serving as Margheim’s mentor for this project. Margheim explained that the two would now work together to write an article to publish in an academic journal.

“I’ve been thrilled with his work from the very start,” Fish said. “He was able to tell what the papyrus was without a database and he was so enthusiastic about reading it that I had to give him bits of it at a time. He has done superb work.”

Margheim explained that this semester he would also work as a mentor to students who will be completing other projects through the program. He said the program puts a real focus on undergraduate research through hands-on experience.

“I think it is, in fact, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that’s not just cliché,” Margheim said. “It’s given myself — and in the future, many others — the ability to learn about papyri and the study of contextual tradition in a way we could have never done in a class setting. It’s been amazingly helpful and cool.”

Baylor is the primary academic research partner for the Green Scholars Initiative, which began in 2010. The research materials provided for the program are part of the Green Collection, which contains about 40,000 different antiquities, owned by the Green family, who owns the retailer Hobby Lobby.

Fish explained the importance of being able to use the Green Collection for this program.

“The amazing thing about this collection is that it puts objects in the hands of students. Usually these things are hoarded in a dragon-like way by institutions and professors at elite universities,” Fish said. “The Green Initiative has an approach that is radically different from that and really subverts that whole paradigm of a collection.”

Dr. Scott Carroll, director and principal investigator of the Green Collection research projects, and a research professor of manuscript studies/biblical tradition in Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, said he believes the program will attract a core of new students and faculty to the university.

“The Green Scholars Initiative provides a major paradigm shift in higher education and it is fitting that Baylor leads the way with this innovative initiative,” Carroll wrote in an email to the Lariat. “This sort of work brings the classroom to life and arguably brings excitement to the campus as groundbreaking research is being made by students and faculty.”