About the AHRC Rylands Cairo Genizah Project

History of the Project

The Arts and Humanities Research Council awarded the Library in June 2006 a grant of over £361,000 to digitise and catalogue the Rylands Genizah.

This grant has ensured that high resolution images of the Rylands Genizah fragments have become world-wide accessible through The University of Manchester Library website as part of a searchable and browseable catalogue.

The two main objectives of the AHRC Rylands Cairo Genizah Project were to photograph both recto and verso of the nearly 15,000 fragments, and to make the images available with their catalogue descriptions. The project has resulted in the creation of Rylands Genizah, an online image collection and catalogue which will eventually hold nearly 30,000 images.

As part of the AHRC Project, we have organised annual workshops to which we invited a number of Genizah specialists with an eye on enhancing the database and in the hope of new identifications.

For each workshop we selected a specific group of Rylands Genizah fragments and asked the participants of the workshop to give a paper about how they think the fragments relate to the Cairo Genizah as a whole.

These workshops have provoked lively discussions and led to new discoveries.

The Rylands Cairo Genizah Project has been running since October 2003 following generous grants by the Friedberg and Safra Foundations and Mr. Joe Dwek for the first three years of the project.

Its primary objective was initially to describe the Rylands Genizah fragments and supply the electronic records to the Friedberg Foundation as part of the Library's contribution to an international initiative to produce a union catalogue for all Genizah collections world-wide.

Where we are now

We have published From Cairo to Manchester: Studies in the Rylands Genizah Fragments (Oxford University Press, 2013), a volume of articles edited by R. Smithuis and P.S. Alexander, and written by an international group of scholars on specific groups of Rylands Genizah fragments.

The Introduction to Rylands Genizah offers researchers the latest information about which fragments are currently online, which have been catalogued, and which have as yet only basic cataloguing records attached to them.

One of the last categories of fragments awaiting conservation, and subsequent publication on the web, concerns the so-called notebooks of Moses Gaster, in which he glued selected fragments. The Conservation department of the Library has made a start on carefully dismantling and conserving the first of this series of notebooks.

In due course we hope to be able to fund some of the following substantial sub-projects:

  • Conservation of all Gaster notebooks (costs estimated between £10,000-£20,000)
  • An extension of the Princeton-Rylands collaboration to include all our historical documents so that the relevant images and cataloguing records in Rylands Genizah can be cross-linked with transcriptions of the texts on these documents found in the online Princeton Geniza Project database.
  • Collaboration with Professor Shulamit Elizur and Dr Sarah Cohen of the Ezra Fleischer Institute for Research of Hebrew Poetry from the Genizah in Jerusalem to help us identify most of our liturgical poetry fragments.
  • The invitation of individual Genizah experts to Manchester to help us enhance our present catalogue records, such as in the field of Judeo-Arabic literature, or catalogue those online series of fragments with currently have only basic catalogue records attached to them, following the example of Dr Sagit Butbul. We encourage experienced scholars, who would like to help us in any of these areas, to get in touch with us.

While the Project has formally run out of funding, it is continued, though at a much slower pace, by Dr Renate Smithuis, following her appointment (2009) as Lecturer in Medieval Jewish Studies at The University of Manchester.

Intentions are to make new funding bids to complete the cataloguing work.


The exterior of Ben Ezra. Reproduced by kind permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library

AHRC Project Staff 2006-2009

Professor Philip Alexander FBA: Principal Investigator of the AHRC Rylands Cairo Genizah Project; Professor of Post-Biblical Jewish Literature; Co-Director of the Centre for Jewish Studies.

Dr Stella Butler: Co-Investigator of the AHRC Rylands Cairo Genizah Project; Head of Special Collections of The John Rylands University Library.

Dr Renate Smithuis: Research Associate of the AHRC Rylands Cairo Genizah Project.

Jane Donaldson and Anna Harper: subsequent Cataloguing Assistants of the AHRC Rylands Cairo Genizah Project.

James Robinson and Gwen Jones: subsequent Part-time Photographers of the AHRC Rylands Cairo Genizah Project.

Advisory Board

Dr Ben Outhwaite: Head of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit of the Cambridge University Library.

Professor Geoffrey Khan: Professor of Semitic Philology at the Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Cambridge.