Association internationale de Papyrologues

International Association of Papyrologists

In memoriam John Frances OATES


Discours prononcé durant l'Assemblée Générale de l'AIP réunie à Ann Arbor le 4 août 2007
Speech delivered during the General Assembly of the AIP gathered in Ann Arbor on August 4th, 2007
par - by: Kathleen McNAMEE

John Frances Oates, professor emeritus of classics of Duke University, died peacefully on June 24, 2006 after a long and debilitating illness, which he faced with grace and dignity. On the last day of his life he was still visibly enjoying the company of friends, and he talked sports with his student, friend, and colleague Josh Sosin in their last encounter.

John Oates was born in 1934 and earned the B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Yale University, where his beloved teacher was C. Bradford Welles. He spent time as a Fullbright fellow at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens and as an Honorary Research Assistant at University College London. After teaching at Yale, he moved to Duke in 1967, where he played an important role on building the Department of Classical Studies and reviving the graduate program; he was Chair from 1971 to 1980. Oates also gave generously of his time and energy as trustee of the National Humanities Center, Chair of the North Carolina Humanities Council, and in the work of many other councils and committees.

He taught history at every level for nearly four decades and supervised dissertations in both history and papyrology. He cared deeply for his students and has influenced many in this room. His research focused mainly on Ptolemaic Egypt, but he also made three remarkable and lasting contributions to papyrology, all of which reflect his strong commitment to standards, to transparency, and to making information accessible to both specialists and beginners.

First, he produced in collaboration with R.S. Bagnall, K. Worp, and W.H. Willis, the Checklist of Papyri, Ostraca, and Tablets, now supplemented by the Checklist of Arabic Papyri. Together, by standardizing forms of reference, they contribute clarity and cohesion to papyrological publication. Second, he made a fundamental contribution to papyrology by co-founding, with W.H. Willis, the Duke Data Bank of Documentary Papyri. Oates was instrumental in designing, obtaining funding for, and supervising work on this powerful tool for scholarship. Finally, in collaboration with Duke University Library, he oversaw creation of the Duke Papyrus Archive, a pioneering resource that presents in digitized form the almost 1400 pieces collected at Duke since the 1940s. This on-line archive permits easy worldwide access to high-resolution images and to metadata for the entire collection. The first major collection to go online, this resource marks a revolution for papyrological research.

In July 2006, a month after he died, the American Society of Papyrologists arranged for music-suggested by his widow Rosemary-to be performed in his memory during a concert at the carillon of Harkness Tower of Yale University.

[Adapted from the remembrance by Peter BURIAN in the Newsletter of the American Philological Association.]