@Dumbarton Oaks

Series 01 - Photographic Documentation and Comparative Material, 1953-1978

Identity area

Reference code

DcWaDIC MS.BZ.007-01


Photographic Documentation and Comparative Material, 1953-1978


  • 1953-1978 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

2 boxes of photographic prints and contact sheets; 2 boxes of slides; 2 boxes of negatives

Context area

Name of creator

Harris, Josephine M. (1911-1992)

Biographical history

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.

Archival history

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Content and structure area

Scope and content

Contains negatives, contact sheets, corresponding descriptions notated on photo lab negative envelopes, slides, and photographic prints, which represent Harris’s documentation of the Oxyrhynchos fragments at the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, Egypt and her collection of comparative material. There is also a notebook and some loose notes, used for recording information about the fragments and keeping track of the photographs taken. In addition to the Oxyrhynchos material, there are additional negatives of: the Agora Museum in Athens, the Corinth Museum in Corinth, and the site of Ancient Corinth in Greece; the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Al Ashmunin, Dendera, Deir Anba Shinuda, and Deir Anba Bishuy in Egypt; copies of publication plates; and a passport photo of Harris. The negatives are mostly dated and organized in chronological order.

Harris’s slide collection comprises positive copies of the negatives in this series, as well as other souvenir slides produced by museums. The original arrangement of the slides has been maintained, though there is no clear organization. For example, images of Al Ashmunin in Egypt and images from the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece are often mixed with Harris’s Oxyrhynchos images. There is one slide of the Duomo di Siena in Italy.

The photographic prints, in various sizes, are made from Harris’s negatives, but also include reproductions of other photographs used for comparative purposes. Subjects not only include the Oxyrhynchos fragments, but also other sites in Egypt, Greece, Syria, and sculpture in museum collections. The original groupings of the photographic prints have been maintained, but may not reflect a clear chronology. The photographic prints in this series are not a comprehensive representation of Harris’s photography of the Oxyrhynchos fragments. Instead, refer to Series 2 for Harris’s complete photographic catalog and for more information about the various numbering systems used for identification.

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Describing Archives: A Content Standard



Level of detail


  • English



Rights area

Related right

Josephine M. Harris Research Papers and Photographs on Coptic Architectural Sculpture from Oxyrhynchos, ca. 1950s-1970s





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Photographs are for research purposes only.



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Josephine M. Harris Research Papers and Photographs on Coptic Architectural Sculpture from Oxyrhynchos, ca. 1950s-1970s





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Preferred Citation: Josephine M. Harris Research Papers and Photographs on Coptic Architectural Sculpture from Oxyrhynchos, ca. 1950s-1970s, MS.BZ.007, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C.



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