Herbert L. Kessler
Herbert Kessler was also interviewed by the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (ICFA) on July 22, 2014, as part of the ICFA Oral History Initiative. The interview is only available as written notes.
JW: My name is Joshua Wilson, and I’m here with James Curtin. Today – June 25th, 2013 – we have the great pleasure of interviewing, via telephone, Herbert Kessler about his relationship with Dumbarton Oaks over the years. So Herb, you came to Dumbarton Oaks for the first time as a Junior Fellow in 1964, is that correct?
HK: No, I first came as an employee, assistant to Paul Underwood working on the Kariye Djami project, in the fateful summer of 1963.
JW: How did you first come to be involved with Dumbarton Oaks?
HK: Kurt Weitzmann, my professor at Princeton, also knew Paul Underwood and arranged for summer employment with Paul.
JW: Mr. Weitzmann says in a letter in your file that, when you applied for a Junior Fellowship with Dumbarton Oaks, you were not a Byzantinist “in the strict sense” of the word, but that you worked on the Touronian Bible and had gone deeply into Eastern manuscript recensions and Jewish sources. Even though you weren’t a Byzantinist “in the strict sense,” then, why did you decide that D.O. was going to be the place most conducive to bringing your dissertation to a conclusion?
HK: The library, primarily, which was as rich as any resource I had access to.
JW: Other than the richness of the library, what were your initial impressions of Dumbarton Oaks?
HK: Well, the year I was a Junior Fellow, the symposium on “Byzantium and the West” took place. In those years, the speakers were invited to spend the year at D.O. So, present at D.O. in addition to Ernst Kitzinger were Otto Demus, Jean Porcher, Hugo Buchthal, and others, with whom I became friendly and also to whom I owe a lot of mentoring.
JW: How would you characterize your relationship with Mr. Weitzmann?
HK: Well, he and I were extremely close. I ended up being the executor of his will, and he and I collaborated on two major books, both supported by Dumbarton Oaks. The second one is a monograph on the painting in the Dura-Europos synagogue, which D.O. published, and the first one became in those days called a project, a D.O. project, which sent us to England, to study that Cotton Genesis book. I was a Project Fellow working on that and supported for three years on that project. So, he and I collaborated after I finished my Ph.D. under his direction.
JW: How is working on a collaboration a unique process from working on something on your own?
HK: Oh, very complicated and difficult. The first project, the Cotton Genesis project, was basically finishing work that Weitzman had begun in the ’40s and felt too old to complete. When he asked me to come onboard, I ended up writing every word of the published text, but using material that he gave me and working with him day after day on the analysis I provided. The second book, the Dura-Europos book, was actually in a way a criticism of Weitzmann. He gave me his text; I said, “You really can’t publish this without supplementing your argument in a different way.” He said, “Then you do it.” So, I wrote about half the book, which was to complete or to fill in what I considered the lacunae in his study. But it was always congenial.
JW: In what ways did you make use of Dumbarton Oaks’s resources in collaborating on those two projects?
HK: At the time of the first project, D.O. was also deeply involved with Otto Demus’s publication on the mosaics of San Marco, which D.O. had photographed in a photo campaign. The photos were essential – still unpublished – essential to my work. So, I had special access to as-yet not available materials; that was important. The Index of Christian Art served me well; the library of course. Yep, those were the basic resources. The second project was fundamentally just a publication, and D.O.’s part was just publishing the book.
JW: As a Junior Fellow, Herb, did you ever have the opportunity to meet Mrs. Bliss?
HK: I did. I met her several times during my time as Junior Fellow. Mrs. Bliss would appear regularly at the Fellows’ Tea in the Founders’ Room, and also at the Spring Symposium, where all the Fellows were invited to dine with her. She would also occasionally come to the concerts. So, yes, I met her.
JW: Do you have any specific recollections of your interactions with her, during tea or after a symposium, say?
HK: Well, she was very enthusiastic about Byzantine art. She was at that moment very keen on a project on Mt. Sinai. She was very, let’s say, aristocratic, in her reactions to the regular professors such as Kitzinger, and also then to the Junior Fellows. We were somehow – we were led to understand that we were in her service.
JW: Could you characterize Ernst Kitzinger’s Directorship?
HK: Hmm. Yes, he was very involved in his own work at the time, of course, and interacted with the Fellows regularly, but from a distance, I’d say. So, he read my dissertation and called me into the office to discuss it. That was the most important interaction I had with him, I’d say.
JW: What did you discuss with him? What changes did you make to your dissertation as a result of that discussion?
HK: It was curious, in that he had taken voluminous notes – and these were the days when photocopy machines were new, and making photocopies rather expensive – and when I asked him for the notes afterwards to make a copy, he refused to give them to me, so I was not happy about that; but I remembered enough to incorporate – I understood that his criticisms, and they were criticisms, had to be taken into account before I published. So, they were useful. But I never fully understood why he didn’t want to deliver the notes to me, even to make photocopies.
JW: It seems that collaboration with your superiors was a very important part of your experience at Dumbarton Oaks in refining the work that you were doing. As a Junior Fellow, did you have any like interactions with your peers?
HK: Umm – I’m trying to remember who my peers were. We were a socially very integrated group, but there were no other art historians, if I remember right, and no one working on material related to my project, so I think that was less useful, that is, my peers. But that was, I’d say, more an accident of who happened to be there at the time. As I said, the counter to that was that I was fortunate to be present when a symposium really up my alley was being organized, so the Senior Fellows, or whatever they were called, really helped me and became close friends in subsequent years, especially Demus and Buchthal.
JW: What was the symposium about which you found to be really up your alley?
HK: It was called “Byzantium and the West.” Also, the presence of Jean Porcher, who was the retired Director of the Biblioteque – the Keeper of Manuscripts or something at the Bibliothèque Nationale – resulted in my having unrestricted access later to the holdings at the BN.
JWC: Would you mind just speaking a little bit louder? We can hear you fine, but just for the transcription it may be a little helpful.
JWC: Thank you.
JW: What was your role with “Byzantium and the West”? Or were you in the audience for that symposium?
HK: I was just in the audience for that symposium, but, as I said, the senior participants spent the year at D.O. It wasn’t as, developed later, just a coming for the three-day weekend. So, I watched them work, I watched them collaborate, and had lots of time to talk to them during the course of the year.
JWC: Now, in an interview that was done with Oleg Grabar, he spoke at length about the type of symposium that you just talked about, where people would come and they would spend a long time working with each other, and the final product would be, you know, work that spanned a year or, you know, whatever the length was. And he mentioned that, as the symposia became more focused on giving individual papers and only spending a weekend here or a week here, there was a change in the feel of the symposia and what he thought was a less robust symposium experience. What are your thoughts on that?
HK: Well, I can go back to the moment of change, because I was a Senior Fellow at the time, and there was a perception – that is, on the Senior Fellows Committee, so I was privy to the discussions, I participated in them – and there was a feeling under Giles Constable that Dumbarton Oaks was too undemocratic, that having the old kind of symposium meant inviting people for a year, filling most of the slots with people that were selected by the Senior Fellows for a specific purpose, and that that should be changed. The result – I agree completely with what Oleg said – the result was a transformation not only of the end-product, which was always published as an issue of Dumbarton Oaks Papers – so it really was a complete package: think of a topic, invite the right people, get them to come, get them to collaborate, have a polished symposium in which there were no surprises, and publish at least the very – all of the good papers. Sometimes people were disinvited, I understand. But the result was a finished work, and that was spectacular. For the Junior Fellows at the time, what really impressed me was watching senior scholars working together, collaborating, and I witnessed nothing like that ever again in my career.
JW: Earlier you mentioned that the Junior Fellows were very much socially integrated. How did that come about?
HK: Well, in my year as a Junior Fellow, it was because the participants in the symposium came as bachelors, so we all went out to dinners a lot together, ate together. The swimming pool had its effect, creating an informal atmosphere for those who went down there. And, again, I was lucky that the topic my year was an art-historical topic, so it brought art historians. I’m not sure – I don’t know one way or the other whether non-art historians had the same kind of experience.
JW: So, after your Junior Fellowship, Herb, you’d go on to have something of a lifelong relationship with Dumbarton Oaks, where you’re an employee, a Project Fellow, a Senior Fellow. At a given stage in your relationship with D.O., how did your experience differ from that of the previous stage or stages?
HK: Well, Dumbarton Oaks itself had changed. When I was a Project Fellow, Giles Constable was trying to find ways to open D.O. up. He was much criticized as a non-Byzantinist, and he probably turned to me – well, first as a Project Fellow, he encouraged a project that cut East and West, so that was certainly part of his agenda. And then when he initiated my appointment as Senior Fellow, it was, I think again, to bridge gaps. I had been a member of the Byzantine Studies Conference, which, when Giles Constable was first appointed to D.O., was hostile – was somewhat hostile – and I think Giles was surprised to learn, when I was Project Fellow, that I was not hostile to his Directorship. And so he brought me on board. I was quite young at the time. So, Dumbarton Oaks was changing in many, many ways. I mean, he was, as Director, very much determined to open D.O. up, to break the stranglehold that a very small inner circle had had on the institution.
JW: Do you remember any initiatives in particular that Constable proposed to the end of opening D.O. up?
HK: Oh, sure. He began by democratizing the eating. So, when I was a Junior Fellow, only the faculty, which was almost exclusively male, were allowed to eat – and the Fellows, also mostly all men – in the Fellows’ building. Giles sensed this and invited everyone to eat, but everyone had to pay; and this meant that members of the staff, like Susan Boyd, who never felt welcome to eat in the Fellows building before that, even though her assistants could eat there sometimes, felt free, integrated into the operation. That was one thing that Giles did. As I mentioned, again, he insisted that all fellowships be awarded on an application basis. I know that some scholars bridled at that. For example, Hugo Buchthal felt that there was no need for D.O. to get letters of recommendation about him, because his record was already well-known and his history with D.O. was established; and Giles in fact compromised in the end on such cases of truly renowned Fellows. But it was a move to open up a very closed institution. He also put a halt to ongoing projects by scholars who went, for example, every summer to, say, Istanbul year after year after year on D.O.’s nickel without having to account for it. Yes, in every way he breathed fresh air into the institution.
JWC: When a lot of people talk about Giles, they always use the word “democratization” and, oddly enough, the first thing that always seems to come up is, as you mention, the lunch. Why do you think that the institutions that were here before he came in had such a large effect on the minds of scholars – things like that versus the scholarship itself and policies relating to scholarship?
HK: Well, Giles came in at a low point in the history of D.O., a low point that was really the result of inbreeding, I would say. So, small groups seemed – well, certainly evinced control of large amounts of money. Harvard was not happy with the direction. Harvard – Derek Bok was trying ways to make Dumbarton Oaks flourish, but to become relevant to the American educational system. Independent, stand-alone research institutions like D.O. were rare in those days. They’re a little more common now. And, of all things, a rather upper class Englishman was brought in to effect the transformation; and he did. He was of course – is, of course, a very distinguished scholar, so no one could impugn his credentials, though he wasn’t a Byzantinist and was attacked, quite viciously, by people who stood to lose ground because of that. But he had a vision, and he had skills for implementing it. I think he saved D.O. this way. He also came in at a – it looked like D.O. was squandering its funds, and there was the famous Proctor Report – I suppose you’ve heard about that, that suggested that income would fall below expenditures very – I forget how many years, but like eight years; and Giles set about to change that. I can give you one example. D.O. had funded Otto Demus’s San Marco project and the related Adriatic mosaics project with stipends to provide scholars and photographers, year after year, to study these very important mosaics, Byzantine-related mosaics. When Giles came in, Otto was finishing the project and to publish San Marco, which he had worked on for many, many years at D.O.’s expense. The Publications Department – Julia Warner – sent out the book for an estimate of cost, and it came in at something like a quarter of a million dollars, which in the early ‘80s was absolutely staggering; and Giles said, “We can’t do it.” Otto was crushed by this news. He couldn’t believe it because he, like everyone else, had been accustomed to tapping D.O.’s largesse. I myself came to the rescue there by – I was close to people at the University of Chicago Press; I arranged for them to make a bid – I think it was about half the cost that had been given. There was a lot of tut-tutting, that it wouldn’t be up to D.O. standards. I think everyone thinks it ended up being a spectacular publication, matching D.O.’s criteria, exceeding them perhaps, for half the price. But this gives you – my anecdote gives you some sense of what D.O. was like: no bids to spending the money, no thinking about costs. Related to that was the whole editorial process. They checked – Julia Warner and her crew who – they were wonderful – but they actually checked every footnote in D.O.P. against the holdings in the library to make sure there were no errors, so there was a staff doing that, and they used the most expensive printing operation without ever thinking about savings. And, of course, you’ve probably heard that one of Giles’s radical innovations was to cut out the dust jacket and use shrink-wrap instead of dust jackets, which saved a lot of money, and to begin distributing D.O.P. through the Harvard University Press.
JWC: Why do you think that there was that attitude toward money? Do you think that maybe it was because of the way the Blisses lived, and things are still being run as a wealthy private estate? Or was it more a culture that had developed – you used the word “inbreeding,” where people had a sense of entitlement. What do you think, you know, created the culture that you just spoke of?
HK: Absolutely entitlement. I know that Weitzmann felt – he was a Senior Fellow – he felt, and expressed to his students, that he had one Junior Fellowship per year in his gift at D.O. He could name one of his students Junior Fellow. There was a little jockeying, I know, once. He tells the story of how he played Richard Krautheimer into voting for his candidate, so there was a little of that. But there’s no question that he conveyed to me that, if I wanted to go to D.O., he more or less could arrange that. So, it was absolutely a small circle. This is not really criticism; a lot was done in those days of this order, and the small circle named the outer circle.
JW: Would you discuss how Giles’s democratization of Dumbarton Oaks affected the quality of the scholarship coming out of the institute?
HK: Well, it brought in the scholarship first of all. So, his point of view was that it need not be only Byzantium but could focus on Byzantium and its neighbors, and, if you look at some of the topics that were studied during his reign, they included Byzantium and the East, for example, as well as the West, or Armenia and the like. So, he went in that direction. Also, he included many new kinds of topics: so, Byzantium and medicine. I think the scholarship – I would argue, the level of scholarship rose – it did not decline. But I think that depends on the viewpoint of the person you talk to. I mean, the opinion will vary considerably, because it was a rather hot time for Giles and the rest of us as he effected this transition from the old guard to no guard. He really did democratize the processes.
JW: At what point did this “hot time” cool down, and what were the causes of that cool down?
HK: Well, Giles was succeeded by Robert Thomson, who in a way returned somewhat to the old traditions. I remember I was a Senior Fellow at the time and Robert said, with a little smile on his face, “I’ve been asked what my vision of D.O. is,” meaning he was following Giles, so Giles had a vision, and he said, sarcastically, “my vision is that D.O. is a library.” So, he brought the expansive projects in tighter, if he didn’t disband them and returned to a much more sedate time at D.O. And then I sort of passed from the picture after that in the mid-1980s, except for coming back for symposia and the like.
JW: When you became a Senior Fellow, did your perspective of the Junior Fellowships change at all? Did you see it from a different perspective?
HK: Oh, sure. Again, there were controversies. In the old days, in my day as Junior Fellow, a Junior Fellow could expect automatic renewal. So, Kitzinger was quite surprised when I opted not to have second year at D.O. as a Junior Fellow, but to start teaching, whereas Giles favored – I’m not remembering exactly – but he certainly favored one year fellowships and not automatic renewal. So, that was certainly one difference. Ask me the question again. I forgot what you wanted to know.
JW: We were interested in how your perspective of the Junior Fellowship changed once you were in a senior position.
HK: Yeah. Well, we were very worried about standards – standards of applications. We had some bad experiences and so we kept fiddling with the criteria. Especially in those days, a lot of scholars, probably still true, young scholars would apply for D.O. as a place to park themselves while they were waiting to get jobs or trying to get one of the scarce jobs, so we certainly looked askance at young Ph.D.s who were trying to come to D.O. as a postdoc. We were worried that the postdocs, I guess Fellows, they were called “Fellows” without any modification, that they would simply be scholars who used it as a default. We didn’t reject that out of hand, we again – Giles, a very Solomonic man said, “Everyone with a Ph.D. should be free to apply for a fellowship, but we would hold them to the criteria we applied to more advanced scholars.” So, some people did succeed but others did not on the basis of that.
JW: Do you remember any specific changes to the selection criteria?
HK: It kept varying. What comes to my mind – yes, of course. There’s one critical one. While I was Senior Fellow, we sacrificed one slot to pay for bringing the candidates in for interviews. This was a direct reaction to a series of problematic cohorts of Junior Fellows. So, we laid eyes on them. We were very concerned that one of them who had applied, of course, in the fall for a fellowship, ended up having a deferred degree at Oxford and that was egg on our face. We decided that if we could actually talk to people, press them, we would make better decisions. I think the judgment was we did. It was worth the price. But we kept evaluating the costs of bringing people in for interviews against the benefits.
JWC: Who do you, in your personal opinion, feel makes the best type of a Junior Fellow? Someone who’s been around the block a little longer or someone who’s sort of green and can use this chance to grow and see what their scholarly interests are?
HK: I would say maybe both types – D.O. would benefit from having both types and vice versa. It did create programs, maybe under Giles, I don’t remember, for training people in Byzantine Greek and other disciplines at an early stage to nurture a cohort of American, I guess, mostly American scholars, who weren’t getting this kind of training in their host institutions, but D.O.’s commitment to helping students finish dissertations is also extremely important. I don’t know if you are going to ask me about this, but I’ll tack this onto that question. Of course, the other thing Giles did was create joint appointments with neighboring institutions. Are you going to ask me about that or should I just talk?
JW: No, please. Go ahead.
HK: Okay. A part of Giles’s mission to integrate D.O. with the American educational system was to create joint appointments in Byzantine subjects with local institutions – Georgetown, University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins, American University, various places. I happened to be a Senior Fellow and helped negotiate the joint appointment with my home institution at Johns Hopkins. This reflects on Giles’s whole attitude. The pressure on the Senior Fellows and Director came from certain empowered old guard members of D.O. Giles said, “No, we’re going to have an open search.” The open search for Johns Hopkins resulted in the appointment of someone no one had ever heard of before, a man who was trained in Belgium, an American man called Michael McCormick, trained in Belgium. We all agreed he looked like the very best candidate, even better than Harvard’s own Ph.Ds. This rankled, I can assure you. We brought Mike in for the interview and he impressed both sides – Hopkins and D.O. – and he was appointed. It rankled further because Mike was accused of not being a true Byzantinist, even though he has super Greek as well as super Latin. Anyway, the seed was planted at D.O. Mike eventually got tenure at Johns Hopkins and then he was stolen from Johns Hopkins by Harvard where he’s now a named chair, got the Mellon lifetime achievement award of a million and a half bucks, and many other things. So, Giles’s decision in that case was certainly proven to be a wise one. So, its just characteristic of Giles’s openness, but also his vision to plant Byzantine Studies in America. And there are many, many other success stories. John Duffy went from Maryland to Harvard, and I’m sure you know better than I that part of the history.
JWC: I think it was also under Giles that there was a project where Dumbarton Oaks scholars and fellows would travel around to different cities in the U.S. and they would do a series of lectures on a topic of their interest, but the lectures weren’t always given in academic settings. I think the idea was to share Byzantine Studies with a larger audience. Are you familiar with that? Did you ever have a role?
HK: I did it. I did it myself. I haven’t thought of this in a long time. I went to Mt. Holyoke College and I gave a lecture that was open to the public.
JW: What was the lecture on?
HK: I can’t remember. It was a long time ago.
JW: Do you remember at all how it was received by the general public?
HK: I liked it. I think it was received – you know, I don’t know my particular lecture – but I think the event was very successful. I remember vaguely, now that you mention it, talking to students about Byzantium – students who had never heard the word before.
JW: Do you think D.O. has an academic duty or that it’s in the best interests of Dumbarton Oaks to launch public outreach initiatives like that?
HK: Yes. Byzantine Studies, and with it Dumbarton Oaks, will die if the job is left just to a few scholars at a few universities. There is little doubt that when Giles started his initiatives, there were very, very few places, and increasingly fewer, that were willing to invest in Byzantine Studies. Giles also had the initiative of creating a troika of scholars at Harvard, this was controversial too – at least one university where there would be a critical mass of Byzantinists. Someone doing Byz. Lit., someone doing Byz. art history, and someone doing Byz. history to help train students.
JW: During and beyond your Senior Fellowship, which extended between 1980–86, if we’re not mistaken, you served as the advisor to the Byzantine photograph collection. What were some of the important changes made with regard to that collection in that period?
HK: We hired a professional archivist, and then a second one. She retired. When I came on the scene, it was a rather private precinct used by in-house scholars. There were very unpleasant controls on some of the material – unpleasant in the sense that some scholars from the outside were allowed to use the materials and some were denied it on the basis of personal preference. So, we instituted a policy of openness, hired a professional archivist to put the materials together, and in general apply professional standards. Many of the very precious fieldwork materials were degrading because they were not being stored in archivally sound fashions – photo sleeves and the like. Indeed, one of the things we did was visit every office in Dumbarton Oaks and look under desks to retrieve boxes of photographic and other materials that scholars had just left randomly throughout the building. So, we put in an order and opened it up. A good case in point that concerns the San Marco material, which Dumbarton Oaks had almost exclusive rights to at the time: whereas Weitzman and I, as I mentioned, were allowed to have access to this material, and indeed to publish it, another eminent scholar was denied the same right because she, quote, “was not good enough as a scholar,” end quote. The result was, she went to the newly founded Getty Institute in California, had them re-photograph the material she wanted, and ended up having another, even better set, actually the Norman mosaics of Sicily, which she then published. So, we put it on an open and professional foundation.
JW: We spoke recently with Dumbarton Oaks archivist and researcher Natalia Teteriatnikov. She mentioned that you recommended the Princeton Index be incorporated into the D.O. collections. Could you discuss the basis for that recommendation?
HK: That has to be a misunderstanding. D.O. always had a copy of the Index of Christian Art. She might – and they existed side by side – Princeton would never have allowed the integration of D.O.’s collection – the integration of the two. I guess what she must mean is that I thought D.O.’s materials might be entered into the Index of Christian Art, which at the time was rather weak in Byzantine. That must be what she meant. That was stopped on the grounds that the Princeton Index only includes, or in those days only included, published materials. So, there would be no gain in adding the unpublished D.O. material. That must be what she meant.
JW: To move to some more general questions, Herb, what do you think the greatest accomplishments of the Byzantine Studies Program were over your time at Dumbarton Oaks?
HK: I’d say first of all excavation and restoration. Beginning with the Byzantine Institute of America, which was subsumed by the D.O., D.O. went to Istanbul and restored monuments. My earliest work with Paul Underwood was on the Kariye Djami restoration, which is a perfect example of bringing a major work of art, preserving it, restoring it, bringing it to life, publishing it, and opening it up to the public. D.O. did that in many, many places – Sinai, Greece more generally, and eastern Turkey. So, that’s historically its greatest accomplishment. You probably know about the episode about the silver treasure which put that in jeopardy. Again, Giles had to navigate through pretty heavy waters to rescue the relationship with the Turks and preserve the excavations, the access D.O. had to the monuments in Turkey.
JW: How did the social life, habitual activities associated with the program at Dumbarton Oaks change over your years here? – symposia, lectures, reports, dinners, teas, that sort of thing.
HK: So, totally – again, under the pressures of budget and democratization. When I was a Junior Fellow, participants by initiation, not by open application to the symposia were treated to extravagant lunches. Everyone remembers Mrs. Bliss’s fondness for a poach salmon, an enormous salmon – probably ten pound poached salmon that had scales made of sliced cucumber out there for everyone to enjoy and other such delicacies. She herself had a private lunch for the Fellows and participants at her house on the final day of the symposium – at her house on 28th and P. That was part of it. The teas were served by her upstairs house maid with a French name. I forget what it was. They were pretty modest; they weren’t extravagant. But the service was. It went then to – it went quite far at a certain point under Giles that the symposium lunches were boxed lunches that participants had to pay for. My last symposium seems to have struck a better balance between extravagance and the parsimonious middle period. So that was – you asked about food, what else was on your list?
JW: Teas, symposia, lectures…
HK: Yeah, I guess the symposia we already covered. They symposia were more serious, more productive, but vastly more expensive the way they took place in the past. I must say also in this context that the tradition of the old symposia had pretty much run the course. It was very hard to get scholars of a new generation to be able to come for a year. It was – the Senior Fellows looked around for topics. It was very hard to find topics, to manufacture topics that would suit the old format. So, that too should be noted. It wasn’t just democratization, but a recognition of a new scholarly world.
JW: Do you have any memories, either positive or negative, that are especially salient about Dumbarton Oaks or that epitomize your time here?
HK: Yeah, when I first arrived in the summer of 1963, windows were thrown open. Everyone had access all the time. That is, I can’t remember whether I had a key or just walked through the door. Hot summer nights I remember going in whenever I wanted. It was just a different kind of operation. One of the things sacrificed by all the changes is this sense that one was part of an inner group that had no control. So, people did take books out into the garden, took books over to the Fellows building. We knew the entire staff. There was a mingling between the staff. Of course, there were no black people on the staff at the time. It was still very southern. D.O. changed with that world. Mentioning that, of course – the summer of 1963, my being there as an employee meant that I could and did go to Martin Luther King’s March on Washington. That was an index of the circumstances in which D.O. found itself during the first period I was associated with it.
JW: That’s very interesting. Mike McCormick said that we needed to ask you about Joan Southcote-Aston – that you’d have some gossip for us.
HK: Oh my God. That wicked, wicked Michael putting that in your head. Well, here’s what I was told. Joan rose to a very, very important position at D.O. What I was told was she had in fact come to the States as a housemaid to J. P. Morgan’s daughter, who lived in Georgetown, and was found unsatisfactory. So, Ms. Morgan, whatever her name was, called Mildred Bliss and said, “Can you help me out, I don’t want to have to send her back.” So, Mrs. Bliss hired her. When I first knew Joan, she was a lovely, lovely person – truly kind and elegant. But she was in no way a housemaid. When I first met her, she was Ernst Kitzinger’s secretary or research assistant, had a hyphenated name, and a British accent – that was, I guess, yes, when I was a Junior Fellow. When Giles became director, Joan was in some ways running Dumbarton Oaks. That is, she had the living memory – she could and did say, “Well, Mrs. Bliss would not have approved of that. Mrs. Bliss would have not allowed Fellows to come to concerts without ties.” That was probably true – so, one listened to her. She was the oracle. She ran the concert series. She was doing various odd jobs. But the irony – and should be maybe on the subject of a novel – is that this person whom, I’m told, started out as a failed Georgetown maid ended up becoming the oracle of the founders of Dumbarton Oaks.
JW: Well Herb, we’re coming close to the end of the interview. At this point, I wanted to ask whether there’s anything we’ve neglected to question you about that you’d like to discuss with us.
HK: Yeah. One person you haven’t mentioned was Bill Loerke, Giles predecessor as director. Well, he was director of studies. Bill Loerke was brought in in Derek Bok’s first attempt to Americanize Dumbarton Oaks. He was the only – one of two people with sufficient administrative ability, sufficient American credentials, and sufficient Byzantine credentials. The other one was Jim Breckenridge at Northwestern University. And Bill was brought in to help transform Dumbarton Oaks. And he was brutally treated by the old guard. Ihor Ševčenko, Cyril Mango, had distain for him because he was not the kind of Byzantinist that they were. And that was certainly true. And he also in a funny way did not manage the transition very well, because he maintained that Dumbarton Oaks’s mission was, as he explained to me, he said to Bok, “The green volumes of DOP and D.O. studies and the like.” So, he didn’t have quite the vision, we call it, that Giles did of outreach beyond the scholarly agenda. But he was brutally treated, scorned and shunned, and I got involved in this in the following way. His first year, he was Director Ihor and Cyril were supposed to run the symposium. To embarrass him, I gather – not absolutely certain of this – they cancelled their symposium. So, that meant that Bill had to face the embarrassment of having his first year without a symposium. And he quickly patched together a symposium of young scholars. I think that was in 1972, where I spoke and Alice-Mary Talbot spoke and Tom Matthews, a lot of young scholars were brought together. Of course, it was not the kind of symposium that would have been had Cyril and Mango [sic] gone ahead or that would have taken place. But Bill is, I think, unappreciated in the history of Dumbarton Oaks, and he was essentially pushed aside when Giles was brought in and spent the rest of his life quite marginalized within Dumbarton Oaks.
JW: Well, thank you so much for your time, Herb. We really appreciate you speaking with us today.
HK: My pleasure. Take care.
JW: You too, bye bye.
HK: Bye bye.