@Dumbarton Oaks

Series 02 - Unpublished Manuscript and Catalog, 1953-1970s

Identity area

Reference code

DcWaDIC MS.BZ.007-02


Unpublished Manuscript and Catalog, 1953-1970s


  • 1953-1970s (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

1 box of papers; 3 boxes of photographic prints

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.

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Scope and content

Contains a draft of Harris’s unpublished manuscript and photographs that represent her research and catalog of Coptic architectural sculpture from Oxyrhynchos. The unpublished manuscript of Harris’s research findings includes text, endnotes, appendices of the catalog numbering concordances, and the catalog list. The manuscript text describes the sculptural fragments in detail and discusses their interrelationships, as well as their relationships with other Coptic and Byzantine sculpture. This series also includes handwritten cards with Harris’s bibliographic citations, earlier drafts of the concordance lists, and a set of inventory notes used for organizing and assigning her own cataloging number to each sculptural object she was studying.

While the catalog list in the manuscript refers to 496 Oxyrhynchos sculpture fragments, the accompanying photographic catalog documents only 480 (the other 16 fragments were not seen in person by Harris and are only referenced in the manuscript text). The photographs are compiled in three sets of prints, boxed separately. The first and second sets represent the photographs taken by Harris on separate trips to Egypt in 1953 and 1963, consecutively. The third set is a compilation of the previous two sets, but with smaller images, more comprehensive descriptive information, and arranged in a more finalized stage of organization. Together, the three sets demonstrate how Harris assembled her catalog over time. However, the third set alone can be considered to be Harris’s complete photographic catalog, exhibiting her own organization of the fragments by architectural type and then by decorative motif within each type. The photographs are grouped in this order: niches, friezes and other decorative blocks, cornices, and capitals. Decorative motifs include, but are not limited to: acanthus leaf, grape vines with heavy stem, running vine with stems intertwined, and meander pattern.

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Notes area


Here is a key to the different numbering systems present in the collection, using catalog number 246 as an example:

246 [Harris’s catalog number (or JMH number) that she assigned to each sculptural fragment]

23589 [Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, Egypt inventory number for the same fragment]

Roll IV, 14 [Harris’s 1953 negative roll number and negative frame number for the image depicted]

Oxy 8 (1/5/63) 33-34 [Harris’s 1963 negative roll number with date embedded in parenthesis and also negative frame numbers for the additional images depicted]

Oxy I, pl. XLVIII, 174 [Reference to the illustration plate number in Breccia’s two publications in 1932 and 1933. Harris’s concordance lists refer to the two publications as “Oxyrhynchos I” and “Oxyrhynchos II” respectively. She often abbreviated them to “Oxy I” and “Oxy II.” The plate number is in Roman numerals and illustration number is noted.]

23588 [Another Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria, Egypt inventory number. Sometimes an additional fragment is listed for comparison or described as being similar]

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Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)



Level of detail


  • English



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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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