Earlier this summer, Lisa Tweten and I met with Professor Philip Harding, a former University of British Columbia faculty member, to learn more about the history of our unique squeeze collection. He confirmed that all of UBC’s squeezes are from the private collection of Professor Malcolm McGregor, who was the head of our department for many years. Prof. McGregor donated the squeezes around the time of his retirement, and ordered the seven-foot-tall cabinet which currently houses the collection.
Prof. Harding described Prof. McGregor as “a very colourful character … big in all ways,” and explained that the squeezes were taken during his scholarly travels through Greece. He was mainly concerned with fifth century Athens, and particularly those documents related to the Athenian Tribute Lists, as they were the basis of one of his great works. Prof. McGregor co-wrote the definitive volumes on the Athenian Tribute Lists, together with H. T. Wade-Gery and B. D. Merritt, which includes texts and translations of the lists.
Prof. Harding had some colourful asides for us about epigraphy in general: “The days of the hostility between epigraphists is sort of past and people have moved on, but squeeze taking is now highly monitored. If you went to the epigraphic museum, you’d have to go through hoops to take a squeeze. In Malcolm’s day, they were just doing it and walking off with it, and people would come along and say, ‘Well, there was a letter there when I looked at it and you knocked it off,’ and they would tear each other apart in print!”
We also had the chance to discuss the advantages of epigraphic squeezes: they provide ready access to the inscription after a scholar has returned to his or her home university for the school year, and they preserve physical details that a drawing cannot capture. Sometimes a squeeze will even reveal a detail invisible in the stone fragment because of dirt or discolouration. Prof. Harding was interested to hear that our images are digitally reversed to read forwards; because of the convenience of squeezes, epigraphists like Prof. McGregor simply learned to read Greek backwards (in all capitals with no spaces or punctuation, I might add). Overall, it was an enlightening way to spend an afternoon!