Medieval Communication (2014)

Visualizing Jewish history through the aggregate manuscripts of the Cairo Genizah


Utilizing the advents of data science this project demonstrates a new methodology for studying the Cairo Genizah documents. Here is the first time this data set has been processed on such a comprehensive scale. The following interactive graphs are likely the first visualizations of the millennia old network contained within the Cairo Genizah.


Treatment of God's Namen
In Jewish law the reverence for God extends to the written word and any document containing his name is never to be treated as trash. Many medieval correspondence would include a prayer and were thus never disposed of.

A Genizah 
A Genizah is a storage space where texts and manuscripts that contain god’s name are stored after their useful life. This space for indefinite storage is often in a synagogue or cemetery.

The Cairo Genizah
The Jewish community of Fustat (present day Cairo, Egypt) amassed a collection of approximately 200,000 documents that remained relatively preserved in the arid desert climate. These documents provide an unfiltered history of Medieval Jewish people.

My Approach 

During my spring 2014 semester I took two inspiring classes in both discrete mathematics and the history of Jews living in Islamic lands. During that semester I became fascinated by the Cairo Genizah and the scholars who dedicated themselves studying it’s documents. At the same I was learning about the power and versatility of discrete mathematical structures.

Along the way I realized the enormous potential of the unexplored structures contained in the Genizah documents. I subsequently reached out to the Mathematics department chair and set-up an independent study focused on using the tools of discrete mathematics to study the Genizah documents. I presented those results in a paper and later created this webpage to share my findings.

The basis for these networks was scribed thousands of years ago and since undergone many transformations. The steps of exchange, reformatting, and re-purposing of this data can be understood through the flow chart on the right. 

Visualizing Avenues of Communication

In the following graph each edge represents a document with nodes corresponding to its author and addressee. To draw a graph that is both comprehensive and meaningful multiple algorithms used to optimize the graphs layout. comprehensive and meaningful.