CCEPS Finale!

Hello everyone! It’s officially my last shift as a CCEPS Fellow, and I can’t believe how fast the time has gone. I really feel like my first day was just a few weeks ago! Regardless, I’m excited to report that the Nag Hammadi collection has come so far from where it was when I first started processing it. It’s extremely close to being available for researchers!

In fact, my fellowship has reminded me just how extraordinary it is that I can even say the collection is nearly ready for study! Since this is my last blog post, I thought it would be useful to explain how the Nag Hammadi library came to be….it’s a story almost too incredible to be believed.
It’s no secret that Christian history has some less than stellar periods, and one of those occurred around the time that the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity during the fourth century CE. This had some enormous benefits – namely, that the Roman Empire stopped persecuting Christians. Well, most Christians. It just so happens that Emperor Constantine’s conversion coincided with the Christian Church’s efforts to determine and enforce standards about who and what could be considered “Christian.” Thus, the categories of “orthodox,” and “heterodox” came to play a much bigger role in the life of the faith than they previously had.
What does this have to do with the Nag Hammadi library? Quite a bit, as it turns out. As you may recall from my previous blog posts, the Nag Hammadi texts are heavily influenced by a set of beliefs generally identified as being under the umbrella of gnosticism. Gnosticism meant many different things to many different people at this time. As a general rule, though, most gnostics were concerned with finding enlightenment via a path of inner knowledge. Unfortunately, their mystical beliefs eventually came to be considered “heterodox” by the official Roman Church, and gnostics were in turn labeled “heretics.” And because gnostic texts were also heretical, the Church proceeded to destroy many of them.
Scholars of Christianity knew that this period of ideological purging had taken place. However, until the Nag Hammadi texts were discovered, they thought that the Church’s persecution of gnostic Christians had resulted in the complete destruction of all gnostic writings. So how did the Nag Hammadi library survive? It’s not quite clear, but according to scholar Elaine Pagels, “in Upper Egypt, someone; possibly a monk from a nearby monastery of St. Pachomius, took the banned books and hid them from destruction – in the jar where they remained buried for almost 1,600 years” (you can read the entire excerpt from Pagel’s book, The Gnostic Gospels,  here: After being hidden by this determined desert soul, the codices remained untouched until a lucky Arab peasant stumbled upon them in December 1945. Their (re-)discovery in turn allowed scholars to begin the slow process of re-constructing and analyzing the texts…which is how Dr. James Robinson of Claremont Graduate School became involved…which is how Dr. Robinson’s Nag Hammadi Codices project papers ended up, upon his retirement, in Claremont’s Special Collections…which is how I ended up helping archive the Nag Hammadi photographs!
It’s an amazing story, isn’t it? I have been so privileged as a CCEPS Fellow to have a small part in the the incredible journey taken by the Nag Hammadi codices – and to help preserve their story for future generations of souls curious to learn more about the fascinating and mysterious history of gnosticism.
Many thanks for following our blog over the last semester. I hope you learned a few things about the history we help protect in Honnold/Mudd Special Collections, and have maybe even begun thinking about pursuing archiving yourself! In fact, if you’d like to learn more about becoming an archivist, I’ll leave you with a couple of great articles filled with tips and advice on how to do that: see here ( and here (! Again, thank you – and happy reading!

The Secret Life of the Nag Hammadi Texts

Hello everyone! Because I’ve devoted so much time to processing the Nag Hammadi Codices Project, I have – as you might imagine – had ample opportunity to consider the scholarly potential of this collection. Recently, though, I decided that it would be fun/enlightening to take a break from the academic side of things and learn a little more about the popular religious culture that has sprung up around the texts since they were re-discovered in 1945. 

Once I started looking for information, I discovered there was a lot to find! One of the most entertaining aspects of what you might call “Nag Hammadi Pop Culture” is the connection some people have argued exists between these gnostic texts and…global alien invasion. The basic gist of these conspiracy theories is that gnostic/Nag Hammadi writings about beings called Archons prove that aliens visited earth. And the alien activity didn’t stop back then, they argue. Even today people are being “invaded by Archons,” and that is why we have so much suffering in the world (
If you’re interested in hearing a little more about the “Archon as ET” perspective, you can listen to this New Zealand radio show’s exploration of the topic ( and read this article (!
But if you’re finding yourself shaking your head in skepticism, know you’re not alone. Scholars certainly don’t view the Nag Hammadi texts as histories of extraterrestrial activity. Although it is true that the Archons loomed large in the gnostic imagination, it’s not because they had recently landed near the Nile in a spaceship. Rather, they were discussed with frequency because they were important mythological figures in gnostic theology. Different gnostic groups propagated different interpretations of Archon theology, but the general themes were usually the same. Namely, gnostics believed that the Archons were powerful, non-human beings. They had less authority than God/the Ultimate Creator, but they had vastly greater power than human beings. As such, they were often presented in ancient writings as hostile or threatening figures that divided humans from their God. 
With this in mind, you can imagine how interesting I find contemporary arguments that the Nag Hammadi library is “factual evidence” that the Archons were alien invaders! While I don’t get on board with this theory, I do think it is a fascinating example of how a group of people very far removed from the culture in which the Nag Hammadi texts were created can come up with a very creative interpretation of them…based on contemporary cultural anxieties and concerns. In scriptural studies, there is a term for this: eisegesis. Specifically, eisegesis means “an interpretation, especially of Scripture, that expresses the interpreter’s own ideas, bias, or the like, rather than the meaning of the text” ( The goal for scholars, of course, is to avoid eisegesis and understand how the original record creator’s culture and background shaped his or her perspective and – in turn – the text. 
What do you think about this? Had you heard that the Nag Hammadi library was being used by some as “evidence” for supposed extraterrestrial life? Maybe you should come look at our Nag Hammadi collection when we’re done processing it and examine the evidence for yourself! 

Life Pre-Photoshop

Hello everyone! This week I’ve continued to work hard on processing the Nag Hammadi Codices Project collection. That is to say, I’ve spent a great deal of time organizing photographs of the Nag Hammadi texts, as well as photocopies of these photographs.

One of the things that has made an impression on me as I’ve moved through this collection is how difficult and laborious a process editing images was in a pre-Photoshop world. The phrase “cut and paste” is ubiquitous in our society, and of course it refers to the process of removing a phrase or image from one part of a document and placing it somewhere else. But in a BC (before computer 🙂 world, to “cut and paste” was no digital metaphor! It was what authors and editors literally had to do in order to create a book of images.
As you can imagine, there was a huge amount of cutting and pasting to be done for the Nag Hammadi Facsimile Edition. The gnostic texts had in many cases crumbled to fragments. Where pages still existed, they had often come loose from the binding and were incomplete. Thus, a significant portion of the job performed by Dr. James Robinson (to whom, as you may recall, this collection belonged) and his fellow editors was to try and piece together which fragments and pages went where. 
Fast forward approximately forty years, to the point where I am organizing the drafts and edited images they came up with during this process. Many times I will come across something like this:
fragment pasted_blog ready.jpg(Disclaimer: I recognize this photo is a little fuzzy, but in order to stay on the right side of copyright law, I need to make sure that none of the text in the image is identifiable! Still, it’s clear enough to provide an interesting example.) If you examine this image closely, you can see multiple layers of images that have been cut out and glued, one on top of another. This is what an actual “photoshop” job looked like back then!
With this in mind, I’ll leave you with a great blog post from the website – Check it out! The author, Michael Zang, has images and advice from an actual “how to” book on photographic retouching published in the 1940s. My favorite part is the chart of what tools the photo re-touchers would have used when doing this by hand (hint: rubber cement is on the list!).
I hope you have fun learning a little more about this!

Continue reading “Life Pre-Photoshop”

Reference Requests!

I filled my first reference request today! A professor at one of the Claremont Colleges is doing research that involves the Nag Hammadi texts, and of course that means she’s interested in what we’re processing over here at Special Collections. 


I had the pleasure of meeting her briefly on Wednesday, and followed up on her request to learn more about how she could view the facsimile images of this amazing gnostic library. Although the collection I’m processing won’t be open for scholarly research until I’m done organizing and conserving it, I was able to point her in the direction of some resources that might be helpful for her work in the meantime. I thought I’d share them with you all today, so that any other Nag Hammadi fans out there could settle in for some great weekend reading! There are three main areas I’d recommend looking:


1.     Special Collections has already digitized many of the Nag Hammadi images, and anyone with an internet connection is free to study them! These are located here:

2.     You can find publication details If you’re interested in purchasing (or finding at your local library!) the official, 15-volume facsimile set.

3.     Not fluent in ancient Coptic yet? No problem! There are at least three scholarly translations of the Nag Hammadi library into English of which I am aware: one by Bentley Layton (, another by Claremont’s own James M. Robinson (, and the last by Marvin Meyer and Elaine Pagels (

These should be enough to get you off to a strong start! If I find anything else, I’ll let you know!

Scope and Content Notes

This week I’ve continued to work on processing the amazing photographs and documents contained in our Nag Hammadi collection! In addition, I’ve completed a bit more work on the Dead Sea Scrolls files. Specifically, I have created something called “scope and content” notes for each series and subseries in the collection. In this week’s blog post, I thought it might be helpful for me to explain the purpose of these notes, and also to introduce everyone to the closely related concept of a “finding aid.”

In brief, a scope and content note is a prose paragraph(s) telling the researcher “the range and topical coverage of the described materials, often mentioning the form and arrangement of the materials and naming significant organizations, individuals, events, places, and subjects represented. The purpose of this scope and content note is to assist readers in evaluating the potential relevance of the materials to their research. It may highlight particular strengths of, or gaps in, the described information entered in other parts of the finding aid” (many thanks to my erudite Honnold/Mudd supervisor, Lisa Crane, for this excellent explanation). 
If you’re a researcher, one of the first things you’ll want to do when you’re in an archive is examine the scope and content note(s) for a collection in which you’re interested. These can save you a ton of time, because they’ll clue you in fast and early to the contents of a particular grouping of documents. If there’s nothing useful to your work there, you know it would be more productive for you to move on and spend your time elsewhere.
So what do these notes actually look like? To help orient you, I’ve taken a couple of screenshots of the ones I designed today. You’ll notice I’ve already entered them in Archivist Toolkit. Here’s an image of the Series-level Dead Sea Scroll scope and content note:
DSS Series level scope and content note_blog ready.bmp

If you want to get even more detailed, you can then proceed to investigate one of the Subseries-level scope and content notes, which look like this:
DSS Subseries level scope and content note_blog ready.bmp
Does that make sense? I hope so! With this in mind, then, it’s possible for us to learn more about what a finding aid is. You can think about a finding aid as a much more detailed version of a scope and content note. People have created these for centuries in order to try and help make vast quantities of documents more manageable to sift through (think about how important that would be in the pre-digital world!). In fact, there is even evidence that the ancient Sumerians carved finding aids into clay tablets so that they could easily locate important bureaucratic records (!
Finding aids will often contain a significant amount of background information, such as a biography of the documents’ creator, a historical chronology of important events which relate to the collection, etc. This can help a researcher contextualize the records s/he will find if they choose to study a particular group of records. The finding aid will also probably explain how the collection is organized, and perhaps even contain a detailed overview of the materials it includes. A good archivist will normally create a finding aid in the course of processing a collection. Indeed, this is usually the final step in processing, because by then the records will have been properly conserved and arranged in their final order, and the archivist will be quite familiar with the contents of the entire collection.
If you’re interested in doing archival research anytime soon, I urge you to become comfortable reading scope and contents notes, and in using finding aids. Even the best-organized archive will look like a vast and chaotic sea of records without them! On that note, here’s a great finding aid tutorial created by San Diego State University Library. You may wish to explore it –


This week I’ve continued my efforts to arrange and preserve Special Collection’s many photographs of the Nag Hammadi texts. In doing so, I’ve begun to think a lot about the role the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) plays in helping preserve antiquities. This institution was critically important in helping Claremont’s own Dr. James M. Robinson publish a facsimile edition of the Nag Hammadi trove approximately 40 years ago.

What might motivate UNESCO to engage in this endeavor? Interestingly, UNESCO sees protecting pieces of cultural heritage as a form of peacebuilding. As its website explains, 
“In today’s interconnected world, culture’s power to transform societies is clear. Its diverse manifestations – from our cherished historic monuments and museums to traditional practices and contemporary art forms – enrich our everyday lives in countless ways. Heritage constitutes a source of identity and cohesion for communities disrupted by bewildering change and economic instability. Creativity contributes to building open, inclusive and pluralistic societies. Both heritage and creativity lay the foundations for vibrant, innovative and prosperous knowledge societies” ( 
With this in mind, I’ve been wondering how all these precious Nag Hammadi images might prove a unique source of creative inspiration and spiritual guidance in a world that is very different than the one in which these records were originally created. I am fascinated by the ways in which ancient scriptures and philosophies are used, revised, and re-purposed in light of each generation’s changing/historic needs. I hope over the next few weeks I’ll be able to find and share some examples of how people – both inside and outside the scholarly community – have found new and unique meaning in the Nag Hammadi texts!
On that note, I’ll sign off by pointing you in the direction of a really neat document I found this afternoon: a copy of UNESCO’s magazine, The Courier, from May 1971. Check out the article Dr. Robinson wrote on the Nag Hammadi findings inside!

Archivist, meet your new best friend: Mylar

Hello everyone! I’ve finished up another productive few days as a CCEPS Fellow here in Special Collections, and I’m excited to have accomplished so much. 

Most of my time this week has been devoted to arranging and preserving the Nag Hammadi Codices Project records. Of the 14 boxes which comprise this collection, 10 of them are almost exclusively facsimile photographs of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts. Although we always make sure to carefully preserve everything Special Collections accessions, it’s doubly important that these Nag Hammadi images are kept in as pristine a condition as possible. This is because the Nag Hammadi manuscripts themselves are losing more and more of their legibility with every passing year (see this link for more information:; it turns out being many centuries old will do that to reading material! Given these circumstances, the best way to make sure the information written on the Nag Hammadi papyri is passed down to future generations is to make sure facsimile image collections – such as the one I’m working on right now – are meticulously preserved.
My best friend in this endeavor is a shiny little substance called mylar. Mylar is a clear, acid-free polyester. It won’t ever yellow, and when it is used to encase photographs, it is a powerful tool to prevent image deterioration (see here for a little bit more of an introduction: As you can see in the below photograph, mylar sleeves come in a variety of sizes:
mylar sleeves_blog ready.jpg
If you’re having trouble finding a sleeve which is the right size, you can also cut your own – I’ve definitely done that this week!
Although it takes extra time and effort to place every individual photograph in its own mylar case, any archivist will tell you it’s 100% worth it. If you’re interested in preserving some hard copy images at home – especially really important ones (e.g. old family photos of your great-grandparents!) – do consider investing in some mylar of your own! It’s much less expensive than losing an irreplaceable image!

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

I am happy to announce that I have begun processing a new, 14 box collection: the Nag Hammadi Codices Project (NHCP) files. That is basically a fancy way of saying that Special Collections has accessioned an amazing group of documents and images, most of which are related to the publication of the Nag Hammadi gnostic text library.

Although the topic and the records are fascinating, we were dismayed to find that before they arrived at their new home here, they had not been stored in the best of conditions….by which I mean they had been stored in a garage. And although garages are an amazing and wonderful thing, trust me when I say they aren’t an awesome place to put your precious records. Why? Because you will likely end up with mold, bugs, and water damage all over the lovely things you were trying to save!
Now, when I think of water damage, usually what pops into my head is crinkled up pages of paper (what you would encounter if you were to drop a book in the bathtub). Well, it turns out that in addition to wrinkling pages, water can also cause rust! And then you end up with things like this:
Rust and water damage_blog ready.jpg
Yes: that, my friends, is the picture of what a rusting paperclip left on a stack of documents for years will leave you to remember it by! Needless to say, I spent a fair amount of time removing rusty paperclips and staples from this collection’s contents this week. There’s no way those rusty little suckers are heading into the archives if I can help it!
My time-consuming encounter with rust this week made me wonder about the chemistry of this interaction. So I looked it up. It turns out that – of course – paperclips are made of steel, and steel is derived from iron. Over time, as iron and oxygen meet and mingle, a chemical reaction takes place which transforms the iron into iron oxide. The common term for iron oxide is rust.
The good people who make paperclips know this, and so to try and prevent it, they coat paperclips in a layer of zinc. This works – until the zinc layer erodes due to humidity, water saturation, etc. (Many thanks to Shaun McGonagal over at eHow for this explanation! See for more information.)
Which brings us full circle to why you don’t store documents in a garage. Garages, generally speaking, are not weather-proofed…and that means water and/or humidity will hit all your paperclips…and then you will open up a box in 30 years and find this:
Rust damage_blog ready.jpg
But all is not lost! Fortunately, Special Collections accessioned these documents in time to halt their disintegration…so they will be around for a long time, and many researchers will get to enjoy them. Still – I thought after learning all this it was worth using my weekly blog post to make a public service announcement about rust!
Happy storing (your documents somewhere other than a garage) :-).

Archivist Toolkit

Hello everyone! I am happy to report that my efforts to process Special Collections’ Dead Sea Scroll files are going very well. I accomplished a lot this week, especially in terms of creating records for this series in a program called Archivist Toolkit (AT). 

AT is an open source data management tool. As the AT website explains, it was developed by the “University of California San Diego Libraries, the New York University Libraries and the Five Colleges, Inc. Libraries, and is generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation” (
So you can get a sense of what using AT is like, I’ve included some screenshots here. The first thing I do when opening the program is go to the “Resources” section. There, I find the collection where the Dead Sea Scroll files “live;” in this case, that means I go to the James M. Robinson Collection. 
A little historical background is useful here in understanding why we organize things this way. As you may know, Dr. Robinson is Professor Emeritus in Claremont Graduate University’s Department of Religion. With Dr. Robert Eisenman (Cal State Long Beach), he helped publish A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1991. The publication of this book, along with the Huntington Library’s decision to make thousands of photographic negatives of the Scrolls available to researchers, made these texts available to the entire scholarly community for the first time. Prior to these events, access to the Scrolls was controlled for decades by a small in-group of scholars who kept these ancient documents to themselves. The twists and turns of this story, as well as the involvement of Dr. Robinson and Dr. Eisenman in breaking this “scholarly monopoly,” make a fascinating tale. I highly recommend you explore their work – and maybe even read through Special Collection’s series of Dead Sea Scroll files when they’re ready! They contain all sorts of intriguing details about what Dr. Robinson and his colleagues had to go through in order to publish these texts.
All of this is to say: when Dr. Robinson retired, he graciously donated his personal papers – including the Dead Sea Scroll files – to Special Collections, so that the scholarly community could continue to be enriched by his work. This is why you’ll see that I go to the “James M. Robinson” collection in AT when I want to work on digitally organizing the Dead Sea Scroll series:
James M. Robinson_resources screenshot_blog ready.pngOnce I’m inside the series, I organize it on the subseries and folder levels. I can also add notes to help researchers get a sense of what’s inside a particular file. For example, in “Subseries 1.1: Project papers for A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1991), edited by Dr. Robert H. Eisenman and Dr. James M. Robinson,” I have a folder entitled, “News related to release of Dead Sea Scrolls.” And inside of that record, I have a further record – a note which explains that this file:
Contains both popular and serious news articles related to the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Also includes information related to political conditions during the time period surrounding their release, and a copy of the Society for Biblical Literature’s ‘Statement on Access’ to ancient materials.
When I’m working to describe the collection on a folder level, the AT screen often looks something like this:
AT Instance_blog ready.bmpTo sum up, AT is a great piece of archival technology, and I’m happy I’m getting the opportunity to learn how to use it – especially since it will make it so much easier for researchers to find what they need in the Dead Sea Scroll files once I’m done recording everything! If you’re interested in learning more about this program, or downloading a copy of AT for personal or institutional use, I encourage you to go to the AT website. And if that’s not enough to quench your archival curiosity, you can even follow AT on Twitter (!

The Week of Fantastic Photocopying!

I’ve enjoyed another fascinating week here as a CCEPS Fellow! 

This week I finished arranging Honnold/Mudd Special Collections’ Dead Sea Scrolls files. During this process, I spent the majority of my time carefully going through each file and putting everything in chronological order. 
After concluding this process, I attended to the necessity of photocopying all fragile documents on acid-free paper. After making these xeroxes, I discarded the original records – which were falling apart! This allowed me to rescue content without keeping a crumbling document in the collection – one which could very well end up illegible down the road, and perhaps even damage other documents as it decayed. To illustrate: I recently encountered a decrepit newspaper clipping which seemed intent on self-destruction – and had already stained the record next to it a nasty yellow! Fortunately, we had an unharmed duplicate of the stained document, so no long-term harm was done. However, this is a good example of what can happen when cheap paper products are allowed to sit for years on end, unpreserved.
Among the materials in this collection that necessitated photocopying were any periodicals printed on inexpensive paper (particularly newsprint), carbon paper, carbonless copy paper, and thermal paper. This last item was commonly used in earlier fax machine models. As it turns out, Dr. James M. Robinson – who donated the Dead Sea Scrolls collection to us – communicated extensively by fax. This meant there was a plethora of thermal paper to be dealt with over the last week! I’m so glad Special Collections received these documents when it did, because records printed on thermal paper can fade rapidly with time, handling, and exposure to light – and the ones in this collection were doing so. Thermal paper is a highly unstable medium.
In case you’re hankering for a look, here’s an image of the oh-so-hardy photocopier on which I made many dozens of xeroxes for this collection:
Photocopier_blog ready.bmp
And here’s Special Collections’ well-stocked, acid-free paper bank – a corner I came to know well while I worked!
Acid Free Paper Bank_blog ready.bmp
As I hope you’ve seen this week, the world of archival preservation and paper chemistry is really pretty fascinating. If you’re interested in reading more, I recommend you check out Michigan State University Libraries’ piece on deacidification ( Australia’s National Archives also have some clear and helpful guidelines on paper preservation as well (