@Dumbarton Oaks

Harris, Josephine M.

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Harris, Josephine M.

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  • Harris, Josephine Marie

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  • Josephine M. Harris

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Josephine Marie Harris (1911-1992) earned a Ph.D. in Latin and Greek at Washington University, St. Louis in 1936. From 1937-1941, she was a fellow in Archaeology at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Harris became a Junior Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection from 1942-1945. Under the direction of Wilhelm R. W. Koehler, Senior Fellow in charge of Research, Harris cataloged the art and architecture of Late Antique Egypt, including Oxyrhynchos, for the Research Archive.

Harris was an art history instructor at Smith College from 1945-1946. She was associate professor at Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA, from 1946-1954, after which she became Chair of the Fine Arts Department. Harris was granted leave for the academic year 1953-1954, having received a Faculty Fellowship from the Ford Foundation to travel to Europe and the Near East and also receiving the Margaret M. Justin Fellowship from the American Association of University Women to study Coptic Sculpture in Egypt. At this time, Harris began photographing and studying the Oxyrhynchos fragments from the three excavation campaigns (1927-1937) by Evaristo Breccia, which are housed in the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, Egypt. Breccia published his findings in two volumes of the Graeco-Roman Museum’s annual publication in 1932 and 1933, but only featured 200 of the roughly 500 fragments, which were tentatively dated by scholars as 4th-6th century works. As there was no further detailed study being done of all the fragments, Harris recognized the research potential of the Oxyrhynchos fragments for a better understanding of the larger context of Coptic sculpture. Harris set out to analyze and catalog all of the fragments, in order to discuss their interrelationships, the development in their “stylistic features,” and their relationship to decorative sculpture from other Late Antique sites in Egypt, Constantinople, and elsewhere in the Byzantine Empire. In 1959, Harris received additional grant funding from the American Philosophical Society to continue the project. This enabled her to return to Dumbarton Oaks for research and to visit other libraries and specialists in the field. Harris returned to Egypt in 1963 to continue her photography at the Graeco-Roman Museum, a trip that produced the majority of her Oxyrhynchos documentation. During subsequent trips to Egypt in the 1970s, she continued to fact-check and re-photograph selected fragments with the intention of publishing them.

Harris served on the faculty at Wilson College until the 1970s. Nearing the completion of her manuscript, Harris suffered from a stroke in 1979 and relocated to Arizona to live with family. Harris passed away in 1992. Her manuscript remains unpublished, but it has been consulted and cited, along with her photographs, by scholars in the field of Late Antique sculpture. The manuscript reveals Harris’ analytical study, which ultimately dates the Oxyrhynchos fragments to the 5th-6th centuries and deciphers two distinct “styles” of ornamentation. The first “style” possesses richness in combinations and variations of motifs, a preference for plant motifs, the juxtaposition of geometric and natural forms, and a deep undercutting of edges. Being more common, the first “style” displays a clear development over time. The second “style” is characterized by a simplification and stylization of patterns, the absence of deep undercutting, and a lack of clear distinction between geometric and natural forms.


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ISAAR (CPF): International Standard Archival Authority Record for Corporate Bodies, Persons and Families



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This record was created by Alison T. Miner, September 26, 2012. This record was edited by Shalimar White on January 14, 2013 (added historical note).


  • English



  • The finding aid created by the Image Collection and Fieldwork Archives

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