Dr Esther-Miriam Wagner

Executive Director

01223 761976


Dr Esther-Miriam Wagner is the Executive Director of the Woolf Institute and Fellow of St Edmund's College, Cambridge. Miriam joined the Woolf Institute in 2013 having been Research Associate at the Cambridge University Library and was appointed Director of Research in 2017. She is an Affiliate Lecturer at the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, and teaches on the MPhil in Middle Eastern Studies: Muslim-Jewish Relations at the University of Cambridge.

She completed her doctorate at the University of Cambridge on Judaeo-Arabic in the Cairo Genizah and has written and edited numerous books and articles on sociolinguistics, historical linguistics of Judaeo-Arabic and Yiddish, scribal practice, and Jewish-Muslim relations in Egypt and Muslim Spain as reflected in the Genizah sources. These include Scribes as Agents of Language Change (2013), Merchants of Innovations. The Languages of Traders (2016) and A Handbook and Reader of Ottoman Arabic (2021). Her work has been featured on TV and Radio programmes, such as on BBC3 The Essay, in History Magazine and in documentaries on the Cairo Genizah.

In recent years, Miriam has become a popular speaker, invited to deliver academic keynote lectures and lectures to the wider public, including at the Hay on Wye Festival. She chairs Woolf Institute panels and webinars, including the Institute's How to talk about … series, which among other topics, has considered Religious rights and Freedom of Speech and Humour and Religion.

Miriam is also the Vice-President of the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean, and the Editor-in-chief of the prestigious journal Al-Masāq.

Publications (selection)

Books and edited books

2021 Handbook and Reader of Ottoman Arabic. Cambridge: University of Cambridge & Open Book Publishers.

2018 Studies in Semitic Linguistics and Manuscripts: A Liber Discipulorum in Honour of Professor Geoffrey Khan (with Nadia Vidro, Ronny Vollandt and Judith Olszowy-Schlanger [eds.]). Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.

2017 Merchants of Innovation. The Languages of Traders (with Ben Outhwaite and Bettina Beinhoff [eds.]), Berlin: de Gruyter-Mouton.

2013 Scribes as Agents of Language Change (with Ben Outhwaite and Bettina Beinhoff [eds.]), Berlin: de Gruyter-Mouton.

2010 Linguistic Variety of Judaeo-Arabic in Letters from the Cairo Genizah. Leiden: Brill.

2001 Walter W. Mueller, Suedarabien im Altertum. Kommentierte Bibliographie der Jahre 1973–1996 (with Norbert Nebes [eds.]). EFAH 2. Rahden: VML. 

In preparation

2022 Arabic Letters in the Prize Paper Collections (with Mohamed Ahmed, in preparation). Leiden: Brill.

2021 Wisdom and Greatness in One Place: the 15th-c. Alexandrian Trader Moses Ben Judah and his Circle (with Dotan Arad, in preparation). Leiden: Brill.

Articles (peer reviewed)

2021 'Language and Language Varieties used by Medieval Egyptian Jews', In Miriam Frenkel (ed.), The Jews of Egypt, 191–208. Berlin: de Gruyter.

2020 'Language and Identity in the Cairo Genizah'. In Alison Salvesen, Sarah Pearce and Miriam Frenkel (eds.), Israel in Egypt, 514–528. Leiden: Brill.

2020 'Genizah Sociolinguistics: the Language of Women'. In Zvi Stampfer and Amir Ashur (eds.), Language, Gender and Law in the Judaeo-Islamic Milieu, 1–13. Leiden: Brill.    

2019 'Register and Layout in Epistolary Judeo-Arabic', Jewish History Online First

2019 'Scriptswitching between Hebrew and Arabic Scripts in Documents from the Cairo Genizah', Intellectual History of the Islamicate World 7: 351–380.

2019 'Writing Judaeo-Arabic'. In Dmitry Bondarev, Alessandro Gori and Lameen Souag, Creating Standards. Interactions with Arabic Script in 12 Manuscript Cultures, 73-92. Berlin: de Gruyter

2018 Birds of a Feather: Arabic Scribal Conventions in Christian and Jewish Arabic'. In Nadia Vidro, Ronny Vollandt, Esther-Miriam Wagner and Judith Olszowy Schlanger (eds.), Studies in Semitic Linguistics and Manuscripts: A Liber Discipulorum in Honour of Professor Geoffrey Khan, 376–391. Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.

2018 Scribal Practice in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt'. In Myriam Wissa (ed.), Scribal Practices and the Social Construction of Knowledge in Antiquity, Late Antiquity and Medieval Islam, 91–110. Louvain: Peeters.

2018 'These wo lines … ': Hebrew and Judaeo-Arabic Letter Writing in the Classical Genizah Period (with Ben Outhwaite). In Jennifer Cromwell and Eitan Grossman (eds.), Scribal Repertoires in Egypt from the New Kingdom to the Early Islamic Period, 314–332. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

2018 Code-switching in Judeo-Arabic Documents from the Cairo Geniza' (with Magdalen Connolly). Multilingua 37/1: 1–23.

2017 'From Tuscany to Egypt: 18th-c. Arabic Letters in the Prize Paper Collections' (with Mohamed Ahmed). Journal of Semitic Studies 62/2. 389–412.

2017 'A Matter of Script?'. In Yousef Meri (ed.), Muslim-Jewish Relations in Past and Present: A Kaleidoscopic View, 115–136. Leiden: Brill.

2017 'The Socio-Linguistics of Judaeo-Arabic Mercantile Writing'. In Esther-Miriam Wagner, Bettina Beinhoff and Ben Outhwaite (eds.), Merchants of Innovation. The Languages of Traders, 68–86. Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton.

2017 'Merchants of Innovation: the Languages of Traders' (with Bettina Beinhoff). In Esther-Miriam Wagner, Bettina Beinhoff and Ben Outhwaite (eds.), Merchants of Innovation. The Languages of Traders, 3–16. Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton.

2016 'Codeswitching in Yiddish and Judaeo-Arabic'. In Sergio Neri, Roland Schuhmann & Susanne Zeilfelder (eds.), Dat ih dir in nu in huldi gibu, 495-504. Wiesbaden: Reichert.

2015 'The Cairo Genizah'. In Egypt – Faith After the Pharaos, Exhibition Catalogue, British Museum, 164–169.

2014 'Subordination in 15th- and 16th- Century Judeo-Arabic'. Journal for Jewish Languages 2, 143–164.

2013 'The Shift in Positioning of the Finite Verb in Older Yiddish' (with Henrike Kuehnert). In Marion Aptroot and Björn Hansen (eds.), Yiddish Language Structures. Empirical Approaches to Language Typology, 125–142. Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton. 

2013 'Scribes and Language Change' (with Ben Outhwaite and Bettina Beinhoff).  In: Esther-Miriam Wagner, Ben Outhwaite and Bettina Beinhoff (eds.), Scribes as Agents of Language Change, 3-18. Berlin: de Gruyter-Mouton.

2013 'Challenges of Multiglossia: the Emergence of Substandard Judaeo-Arabic Registers'. In Esther-Miriam Wagner, Ben Outhwaite and Bettina Beinhoff (eds.), Scribes as Agents of Language Change, 259-273. Berlin: de Gruyter-Mouton. 

2010 'The Weakening of the Bourgeoisie: Social Changes Mirrored in the Language of the Genizah Letters'. In Ben Outhwaite and Siam Bhayro (eds.), Cambridge Genizah Studies I: Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Genizah Studies, Westminster College, Cambridge 2007, 343–355. Leiden: Brill.

2004 'Konnektive in der diachronen Entwicklung des Jiddischen (The Diachronic Development of Connectives in Yiddish)', (with Henrike Kuehnert). In Indogermanistik, Germanistik, Linguistik - Proceedings of the 1st Congress for Indoeuropean Studies, German Studies and Linguistics Jena 2002, 261–299. Hamburg: Kovac.

2002 'Zahl und Gezaehltes im Sabaeischen (Number and Counted in Sabaic)'. In Norbert Nebes (ed.), Neue Beitraege zur Semitistik (JBVO 5), 259–279. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.


2015 Review of Na'ama Pat El, Studies in the Historical Syntax of Aramaic. In Journal of Semitic Studies 60/2.

2015 Review of Lidia Bettini and Paola La Pisa, Au-Delà de l'Arabe Standard moyen et Arabe mixte dans les sources médiévales, modernes et contemporaines. In Journal of Semitic Studies 60/2.

2011 Review of J. Lentin and J. Grand'Henry, Moyen Arabe et variétés mixtes de l'arabe àtravers l'histoire. Actes du Premier Colloque International (Louvain-la-Neuve, 10–14 mai 2004), Louvain-la-Neuve 2008. In Bibliotheca Orientalis LXVIII N° 5–6 (September–December 2011). 622–625.

2011 Review of Benjamin Hary, Translating Religion: Linguistic Analysis of Judaeo-Arabic Texts from Egypt, Leiden 2009. In Journal of Jewish Studies LXII N° 2 (Autumn 2011), 391–394.

2011 Review of Werner Diem, Wurzelrepetition und Wunschsatz. Untersuchungen zurStilgeschichte des arabischen Dokuments des 7. bis 20. Jahrhunderts, Wiesbaden 2005. In Bibliotheca Orientalis 68/1–2 (2011). 199–201.

2002 Review of Alexander Sima: Tiere, Pflanzen, Steine und Metalle (with Barbara Jaendl), Wiesbaden 2000. In Der Islam 80 (2003). 373–375.

Electronic Resources

2017 Fragment of the month December (T-S Ar. 51.86a) Shi'ite and Karaite - a Fatimid Melange

2016 Fragment of the month June, Moses ben Judah - a 15th-Century Bibliophile and Gourmand

2015 Fragment of the month January, The Language of Women

2014 Fragment of the month May, Go to the House of the English: 19th-c. Genizah Merchants

2013 Fragment of the month January, The Preacher Who Speaks Like a Parrot: Two Versions of a Letter by R. Joshua ha-Nagid

2012 Fragment of the month March, Goitein and Girlish Prose

2011 Fragment of the month May (T-S 10J7.4), Only Death Remains for Him

2010 Fragment of the month December, Geographical Texts in the Collection

2009 Fragment of the month October, Vis, liber zun, ikh hob dir vil brif geshribn: Yiddish Letters in the Genizah

2008 Fragment of the month April (T-S AS 157.50), A Twitch Divination in the Hand of Halfon b. Manasseh

2007 Fragment of the month October (T-S AS 152.86), A Newly-Discovered Fragment of a Letter Written by Maimonides

2007 Fragment of the month July (Mosseri Ia.29), Halfon's Wife


2018 Woolf Institute blog (with Emrah Efe Khayyat): People of the Book - People of Books

2016 Woolf Institute blog: A Summer of Learning

2015 Woolf Institute blog: History in Fragments 

2015 Woolf Institute blog: Hay Festival 

2015 Woolf Institute blog: Conferences 

2014 Woolf Institute blog: Language and Identity 

Radio Programmes

Regular panelist at the Naked Reflections Series

2013 Radio programme BBC3, The Essay: Stories from the Cairo Genizah

Organised conferences, lecture series and high-profile panel discussions

2019 Ottoman Arabic III, Woolf Institute, Cambridge, 23–24 May 2019

2018 Encounter Culture. Workshop on music and interfaith, Woolf Institute, 23 April 2018

2017 Ottoman Arabic, Rutgers University, 30 May 2017 (with Emrah Efe Khayyat) 

2016 Interdisciplinary perspectives on code-switching, Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, 3-4 October 2016 (with Organisation Committee) 

2016 Arabic in the Ottoman Empire, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge, 21-22 April 2016 

2015 Southern Englishes Workshop. Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, 23-24 March 2015 (with Laura Wright) 

2014 Merchants of Innovation. The Languages of Traders. Conference at St John's College, University of Cambridge, 7-8 April 2014 

2011 Scribes as Agents of Language Change. Conference at St John's College, Cambridge, 4-6 April 2011

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