Margalit Fox’s new book The Riddle of the Labyrinth (Ecco Press) will be released on May 14. http://www.harpercollins.com/books/The-Riddle-of-the-Labyrinth-Margalit-Fox?isbn=9780062228833&HCHP=TB_The+Riddle+of+the+Labyrinth
The Times Sunday Review for May 12, 2013 has a biographical essay about Kober by Fox: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/12/sunday-review/alice-e-kober-43-lost-to-history-no-more.html?pagewanted=all
Margalit used the PASP archives and the School of Information resources at UT Austin in order to tell the story of the decipherment of Linear B. She places the the work of Alice Elizabeth Kober in the context of the research done on the Aegean linear scripts from 1900 through the decipherment of Linear B in 1952. As Margalit quotes:
“Kober was ‘the person on whom an astute bettor with full insider information would have placed a wager’ to decipher the script.” —Thomas Palaima
Margalit also gives us a way of grasping Kober’s sense that work on the scripts was what we might call ‘a sacred duty’. For her working with other serious scholars like Johannes Sundwall and Emmett L. Bennett, Jr., and John Franklin Daniel was a life calling (alongside her full-time obligations as a professor with major teaching obligations). But it was also deeply satisfying, worth all the painstaking effort, and fun.
In short, Margalit gives us Kober as a full human being.
I have read every page of the manuscript in draft and proof stages. The Riddle of the Labyrinth is a fine book, well-documented, fascinating and humanly engaging. It makes clear how Kober’s work was related to the work of Sir Arthur Evans, Michael Ventris, Emmett L. Bennett, Jr., Johannes Sundwall, Sir John Myres and others.
I just met today with Sue Trombley, director of consulting at Iron Mountain, a digital records management company. In 2003-2005, Sue preserved and organized the Kober archives, writing the first finding aid for the materials. Sue did the Kober-like work of going through each and every one of the cigarette-carton and other files (over 180,000 items) making sure each one was not in a destructive environment (removing all sorts of intrusive matter) and housing all assemblages of items in archivally sound environments.
Here is the commentary piece Sue and I wrote in 2003 about Alice Kober and her archives. It gives some sense of the human side of Alice that going through her records gave to Sue (and vicariously to me):
Margalit thanks Zachary Fischer, who put the Kober and Ventris letters up on-line in summer of 2012. He and Sue are happy to see Alice’s story told primarily from the materials they worked hard to preserve and make available.
Zachary reports that as of May 2013, UTDR (University of Texas Digital Resources) usage statistics are that the collections have good use by visitors. In the last nine months or so, SMID has had ca. 1155 views and the main Kober page has had ca. 1245 views!
Christy Costlow Moilanen has done the complete finding aid to the PASP Kober, Ventris and Bennett materials (mainly in 2007-2008).
Many PASP assistants have helped in keeping the Kober materials well-organized and fully accessible to visiting scholars. Margalit Fox, in her acknowledgements (pp. 347-349), explicitly thanks Dygo Tosa. Dygo has worked with these materials for three years now. Dygo has finished his M.A. degree and is now finishing his certification in the University of Texas at Austin’s UTeach Program. Dygo is a mainstay of PASP, a bright young mind and an inspiring teacher. He has written and given papers on Minoan language and linear scripts.
Margalit also thanks, as do I, Alison Fell, whose engrossing novel, The Element -inth in Greek (Sandstone Press 2012) tells in a fully human way some of the Kober story.
Alison investigated the life of Kober and provided PASP with documents pertaining to Kober’s life, for example, her birth and death certificates, photographs, and the ship’s manifest marking the arrival of Alice’s mother and father in the new world. Alice’s mother was already in her first trimester of pregnancy with Alice. Alison also provided us with census reports showing where the Kobers lived after they arrived in the new world.
The Kober archives were in the possession of the late Emmett L. Bennett, Jr., since soon after Alice’s death (May 16, 1950) until the late 1980’s when he entrusted them to my personal care. I have made them available to PASP and have supplemented them with the kinds of materials I have mentioned above. Here are links to materials.
Thanks to everyone involved. In a few days Alice will step into the spotlight at last, something she was ever reluctant to do when she was alive and when work took priority over any concern for any kind of fame connected with her work.
The late Robert Graves said, “I write poems for poets…. For people in general I write prose, and I am content that they should be unaware that I do anything else. To write poems for other than poets is wasteful.”
Mutadis mutandis, this describes Alice E. Kober’s mindset, spirit and work. She wrote beautiful, exacting, sound and serious scholarship for serious scholars.
Tom Palaima May 10, 2013
ALSO OF INTEREST TO STUDENTS OF HUMAN COMMUNICATION BY MARGALIT FOX:
Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals about the Mind (Simon & Schuster, 2007)