Kenneth G. Holum
JNSL: We're here today, Monday July 27, 2009. My name is Jean-Nicole Saint-Laurent.
AS: Anne Steptoe
EG: And Elizabeth Gettinger
JNSL: We have the honor today of interviewing Professor Kenneth Holum. Good morning – good afternoon.
KH: Good afternoon. And it's my pleasure.
JNSL: Thank you
AS: We understand, if we have our facts right, that you were first a Fellow in 1976. Is that correct?
KH: As a historian I'm supposed to remember dates exactly, that does sound correct.
AS: Was that your first interaction with Dumbarton Oaks?
KH: No. In fact, there's a sense in which my most intense period of interaction with Dumbarton Oaks preceded that fellowship. Of course, I've been involved with Dumbarton Oaks ever since then, too, but I actually came to the University of Maryland in the fall of 1970, having passed my comps at the University of Chicago. This was a different era, you might say. But I had not written my dissertation. I had just begun work on my dissertation and nevertheless got a good job at a major university and was told that I had two years to finish my dissertation. So, I wrote my dissertation in the history attic at Dumbarton Oaks and really spent a lot of time here, four or five days a week for the first couple of years. I first came in the fall of 1970.
JNSL: Who did you meet at that time here?
KH: Oh, I met everyone who was here, which included, through the years, a lot of the people that, who are now major figures in the profession. They were all Fellows at Dumbarton Oaks. One of the first people I met was John Nesbitt, who was also working on his dissertation in the history attic and we sat together and worked, sort of side by side. This – the term history attic may not mean much to you now, but at that time the library was, of course, entirely in the Main House and the Fellows – I was not a Fellow, I was a reader, a mere outside reader, nevertheless – had the run of the place, including the swimming pool, and certainly was welcome to have a desk in the reading room which is now the, what is it, it's on the second floor in the Main House, and the history attic was in the western part of the Main House where, in the old system, all the history books were shelved. There were probably one fifth as many as there are now because the collection was much smaller, so they fit there quite conveniently, it was a wonderful place to work. The texts were all within easy reach and the major monographs were all right there, so it was a breeze, and I sat there in 1970-71, '71-'72, writing my dissertation.
AS: As a reader were you allowed to go to lunch?
KH: Well, readers are still allowed to go to lunch, you have to sign up, and you have to pay for it. I guess we had to pay for it then, too. Sure, yeah we went to lunch, we had lunch here in this room, and it was very pleasant. A few years later, of course, when Anthony Bryer was one of the leading social influences at Dumbarton Oaks when he was in residence, and I guess it was during my first fellowship year, the neighbors were Paul Mellon, not Paul Mellon, no, no, no, no...
AS: Or his son maybe?
KH: Well his daughter lived in the house, but Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner lived across the street, so he took us from here across the street and knocked on the door and invited them to come and join us for a drink. They were busy, but quite polite. Yeah, this was the social heart of Dumbarton Oaks and readers were perfectly welcome, I think. We were called – we're no longer called now, I'm a former Fellow, I'd been a Fellow three times, but my status is reader and I think it's not outside reader any more. They used to call it outside reader.
JNSL: What was your impression of the place the first time you came here?
KH: Positive. It was – it was unbelievable. The place was – it was a smaller organization then. There were very distinguished scholars here, Father Dvornik among them, and Ihor Ševčenko and Cyril Mango occupied offices on the second floor in the main building. I got to know all of them and talked to all of them. I remember Father Dvornik asking me how my research was going and giving me a cheery “Happy hunting” once or twice a day, and the interchange with the other scholars, John Nesbitt was a Fellow, a Junior Fellow writing his dissertation, Ioli Kalavrezou was a Fellow a few years later. Virtually everyone who was at – Mike McCormick was on the staff. It was a very wonderful setting in which to write my dissertation and then continue working, and it was all mine because I was stationed at the University of Maryland. I didn't come and go like most people do, I would get to come over here whenever the spirit moved me and always felt very welcome.
AS: I was wondering if you might just follow up on your discussion of some of the older scholars, we were talking before we started rolling tape and you had some very interesting things to say about Father Dvornik. I wonder if you might just repeat those for the benefit of the recorder.
KH: Well, he was, Francis Dvornik, others knew him better than I did, certainly Alice-Mary knew Father Dvornik much better than I did, for example, and George Majeska, who – they were here a bit earlier and knew him longer than I did, I guess. He was – he seemed to me to be – he was a wonderful scholar and rather – he worked in a different age and operated in a different conceptual universe than many of us do now, but he was a marvelous, industrious scholar who wrote a great deal and had a wonderful command of texts, and was always happy to provide advice and to react to questions that could only have been of marginal interest to him, but were essential to what I was doing. And then I had the unusual experience that Father Dvornik died in – he was Czech, and he died, I believe, in his home country in the summer of 1975, and I was a fellow in the following '76-'77, if I have the chronology correct, and he had lived in the West Cottage, and I was given the West Cottage as my digs for the following year, which was quite luxurious because it had four, it was four rooms, well furnished, one of them had been used as a chapel where Father Dvornik said mass, if I remember correctly, but I didn't know that before I moved in and they told me, and then there was a sitting room and a bedroom – a kitchen, a sitting room, a bedroom, and then this room that had been the chapel, which became another sitting room. It was really nice, and very convenient – even more convenient than La Quercia. Most of the Fellows lived at that time at 2702 Wisconsin Avenue, but the ones who didn't lived in the Fellows Building.
AS: Before we talk about your first fellowship, I just wonder if you were here, you probably missed Mrs. Bliss just by a year. I think she died in the spring of '69.
KH: Yeah. She died a year or two before I arrived.
AS: I wonder, was her presence still very much around Dumbarton Oaks?
KH: Oh, very much so, because the members of the staff, the house men – we don't call them house men any more, do we?
AS: I think they're house staff.
KH: The guards, the people who were at the desk, they were all men at that time, of course, and they were generally – many of them were retired, supervised by Alex De Boeck, a wonderful fellow on staff for a long time. They all spoke of her with, you know – she was awesome, and there were others on the staff who had – or Sue Boyd, who was first the junior curator, then the curator of the collection, the Byzantine Collection, was sort of the protégé of Mrs. Bliss, I guess, they had all been very close to her, so we heard a lot about Mrs. Bliss. The – apparently, Mrs. Bliss presided over tea, I suspect Alice-Mary could tell you much more about that than most people. I never experienced it and by the time I was here that had been attenuated considerably. I don't think there actually was tea, there was sherry after talks in the Founders Room.
JNSL: Was Thacher here when you were here? Who was, in 1970, who was the Director of Studies?
KH: Tyler, Mr. Tyler, who was a charming man, and not a scholar, although he was certainly learned and alert, he was a diplomat and had also, I think, been, I don't remember, had been associated with the Blisses, so he was kind of distinct from the three scholarly operations. He sat in his office in Olympian splendor. He was in, you know, next to the Founders Room, what is it now? It's the – they used to call it the study.
AS: It still is the director's office, right?
JNSL: It's not the director's office, it's the study. It's used as a smaller meeting –
KH: It would be kind of a conference room, the director's conference room. For a long time, the Fellows' talks were held there and it had – the collection of museum catalogs was in that room. That had been Mr. Tyler's office, next to the Founders Room and the Orangery.
AS: So, you didn't have too much in the way of interaction with him either when you were a reader or later during your fellowship?
KH: I talked to him a number of times. Was he still – I don't remember when Giles took over.
EG: '77 I think.
KH: '77? So, I guess I talked with Mr. Tyler – must have been. I guess I was here when he retired, and he was – I remember him as being very affable, easy to talk with, and I had a number of conversations with him. I don't think he frequented the pool, as I remember, so it wouldn't have been that setting, but I think actually the readers, outside readers, had to be invited to the pool, but I think I had a standing invitation. We went swimming a lot, in fact, this was a major impediment to scholarship in the Byzantine field, the swimming pool. Do people still swim in the swimming pool?
AS: Oh yes.
KH: Very pleasant, the best part about it is being able to use it when all the people who come into the garden are excluded.
AS: As we understand, it was also a very social scene, garden parties and that sort of thing.
KH: Yes, we had a few of those. A notable one that involved Mike McCormick and, well, quite a few other people, but I'm not going to talk more about that.
AS: Big night dancing in the Orangery? Don't feel like you have to hold back, I think he's talked to us –
KH: Worse. Margaret who is the new Director of Studies, was also a social leader. She was a Fellow during my second fellowship.
JNSL: The early '80s.
KH: Yeah, '82, I think, and she was very good at getting the Fellows together for social occasions that were not – nothing ever got out of hand, not any of those. It was – it contributed a lot to the community feeling. The ones I remember when Margaret was sort of the captain of the feast, or whatever you say, those were in the, what do you call it, by the bamboo forest.
AS: The Ellipse?
JNSL: Oh, where the reflecting pool is?
KH: No, in the corner, the –
JNSL: The Chinese-French, it's a sort of shinwa area?
KH: Yeah, but there's another term that –
JNSL: Right, I've forgotten, it's escaping my –
KH: It's a theater, it's also a theater, they called it the – it had some theatrical term, but we had parties around there and it was very nice. Now there are the terraces where people could sit. So, you wanted me to talk about the social life of Dumbarton Oaks as I remember it, is that the idea?
AS: Yes – things that we won't find in archival material.
KH: Well, I have had so many memorable social experiences at Dumbarton Oaks. Have people talked about – I mean, Giles is still alive; his wife Evie, unfortunately, we lost, his first wife. He was an absolutely marvelous human being, he is a marvelous human being. I've actually been in touch with him occasionally. He's retired now. He's a very large man with –
JNSL: We've heard of his Halloween costumes.
KH: Oh, I didn't, I don't remember that, if I knew about it. What I remember is what good sports Giles and Evie were, that they gave you the impression of aristocracy and a very refined sense of social relationships and what constitutes a good time. On the other hand, one of my dear friends at that time invited them and me to dinner at her apartment. She was not living – she was a Fellow, but not living at Dumbarton Oaks, she was off-campus, so to speak, and she had no furniture. She had rented the apartment but it didn't have any furniture in it, which didn't bother her at all. And she told me when I arrived – it didn't bother me either – but she told me when I arrived that Giles and Evie were coming, and I just couldn't imagine that they would, that they, you know, the normal director's dinners here were rather elegant affairs, and there was no furniture. They popped in and took their places in the middle of the floor in this big room and there was a Chianti bottle with candles dripping down and food was produced and we ate on the floor and everyone had a terrific time. They were perfectly comfortable. So, they had a way of making people feel welcome that I really admired, and he would – he really – the institution became much more a Harvard institution in some ways. It took a while for – I'm not a Harvard person, I'm an interested bystander, but the – it had been a Bliss institution and it had represented their, I guess, a lot of their values and interests and the people were largely employed by them, and then continued when it became a Harvard institution. But it took some time for Harvard to understand how this endowment and this institution could best be used, not contrary to what the Blisses had in mind, but sort of keeping up with the times. And Giles was really important in that transition. He was – he's a consummate academic, he really understands the way the academic world operates and how a research institution can contribute to it. He had, for example – one of the things I did with – I mean, I take a small amount of credit for it – Giles wanted Dumbarton Oaks to be more than a think tank for Byzantinists and garden architecture and pre-Columbian art, pre-Columbian studies, and he wanted it to have a more open presence in the academic world, not so much in Georgetown, that's a different story, but in the academic world. So, he initiated the program of appointing Fellows at Dumbarton Oaks, who, in cooperation with other institutions – and then this was supposed to insert younger scholars into academic careers also. So, being located outside of town, the University of Maryland thought it might be in a good position to form such a relationship, and I came to Giles and said “Why don't we pursue this?” and Giles thought it was a wonderful idea and the result was we hired John Duffy who's now Chair of the Classics Department at Harvard, whose first job was at the University of Maryland where he was a great success for quite some time because of this initiative that Giles introduced. And I think this is continued in one form or another, and I think now it's being emphasized again. Giles was terrific.
AS: It must have made him somewhat controversial, though, as a director, as it was a period of change, of great change, for Dumbarton Oaks.
KH: Well, you want controversy?
AS: Well –
KH: I don't know from, so much, from the point of view of – there have been controversial figures in the institution in one position or another. I don't think – I think Giles – my recollection is that he was pretty – he was a good administrator and the staff was pretty happy with Giles, that's my impression, and I don't have any really inside dope on that. There was always the Harvard vs. us syndrome set in in the time of Giles. There was always, I guess, one of the symptoms of it was that the Bliss money supported professorial positions, it was a little more complicated than that, but there were two professors at Dumbarton Oaks, that Giles – Ihor Ševčenko and Cyril Mango, two really senior people, who were here as full time research scholars and Giles didn't think that was appropriate. That was part of his wanting to bring the riches of Dumbarton Oaks into more effective contact with the broader academic world. He didn't think that scholars would flourish ultimately if they were isolated in a think tank permanently, so he put an end to that. Ihor, they moved. Ihor went to Cambridge and Cyril Mango became what, at Oxford, what was his – I can't remember his academic title, but you can supply that. Anyway, and so these professorships were lost to Dumbarton Oaks and went to Harvard and some in the Byzantine community, the broader community, thought this was Harvard taking the riches of Dumbarton Oaks away from Dumbarton Oaks where they would be accessible to the whole community and reinforcing Harvard's own resources, which were already greater than anyone else's. There was a lot of anxiety in the mid-'70s, when Giles took over, that the library was going to be moved to Harvard and it may be true. I don't' recall now. Others no doubt – George Majeska will remember better than I do, it may be true that one of Giles' commissions when he became director was to examine how Dumbarton Oaks should be incorporated into Harvard, including taking the library to Cambridge, which would have been odd because Widener already had more books than Dumbarton Oaks. Anyway, they decided not to do that. But this was part of, this became part of a considerable level of anxiety on the part of Byzantinists who were not Harvard people and, in fact, most Byzantinists weren't and aren't Harvard people, they come from other institutions, too. But it, you know, that turned out not to be the case and the model that Giles established, which concentrated – there is a professional director of studies of professorial rank normally with an appointment in Harvard or somewhere else who is the director of studies in each of the fields here, but there aren't in addition professors who are permanently here doing research and not teaching, which is a somewhat different model, I mean the emphasis is on the research program.
AS: During these same years, Bill Loerke was Director of Studies. While we're talking about the administration, I was just wondering what your interactions with him were.
KH: I had very – I had good – I guess I get along with too many people. He wasn't difficult to get along with at all. He was a capable administrator. He was a very bright scholar who knew a lot, also a wonderful resource, like, for younger scholars as I was at that time. It's obviously important to be around senior people who are willing to share their time. They remember things that you haven't run into yet and you can learn so much from them. Bill was terrific that way. Certainly, if I went through the things in my first book that I owed to each of the scholars at Dumbarton Oaks, every one of them would be represented. I learned things from all of them, and from the Fellows, and I think I got most of them into the acknowledgments, but I don't remember about Bill. He had – he was not terribly productive as far as the quantity of books and articles. He was more, when he was here, he was more an administrator and a facilitator than an active scholar, I guess. But I have only positive recollections of him and his wife and his son, who was one of the guards for some time.
JNSL: How would you characterize the interaction among the Fellows of the three fields? Did you initiate dialogue or scholarly exchange?
KH: Interesting. I have the impression that it's better now than it was. There was no – there wasn't any hostility, is that sufficient? We by and large got along. Do you know who Linda Schele is? She's one of the major scholars that this place has produced.
AS: We understand that she was good social glue.
KH: She was very – there was a volleyball – they were talking this morning about David Axelrod's basketball buddies – we had a volleyball group. Ihor was a permanent member. This lasted all through the '70s until Ihor left. Ihor was a member of the group, Anthony Bryer, John Nesbitt, and I, and Linda Schele was a major figure.
JNSL: Where did you play?
KH: In Montrose Park. There was a – we pushed the picnickers out of the way, sometimes they weren't very happy. We tied this net up between two trees. It was – Ihor was vicious.
AS: We've heard tall too. I imagine he was very good.
KH: Yeah, he was tall, and physically capable. So was Linda; she was very good too. I don't remember Margaret playing volleyball, maybe we had gotten away from volleyball by the time she arrived. There was this wonderful Fellow, I don't know if anyone has mentioned him, John Wiita, who should not be forgotten. He was – John Wiita was a Finn from North Dakota, I guess, in fact he and I worked out the genealogy and decided we were related because my relatives were from North Dakota, but that's a – I have relatives from North Dakota. Anyway, he was a student of Tom Jones at the University of Minnesota, and came here to write his dissertation on the Strategicon of Maurice. It's a major military treatise of the late sixth century, and he did a brilliant job of it and it became part of – he never went anyplace, he never got a job, and he was such a strange character, I guess that it was too difficult for him to find a job. But his work became sort of integrated in George Dennis' work on the Strategicon, so it's not lost. But John Wiita was also in the center of everything, really impressive intellectual, and great basketball player, great volleyball player, and we also played volleyball in the swimming pool, although that caused some of the –
JNSL: You set up a net there?
KH: No, we had a technique. We didn't need a net. It was pretty wild and I think some of the people didn't like it. It intimidated their free use of the pool. John Wiita eventually went back to – he had lived in Connecticut and he went back and got some kind of job and died, died fairly young. I don't remember exactly when it was, probably in the '80s.
EG: Did you attend any symposia or lectures or anything like that in the early days?
KH: Oh yes.
EG: Were there any that were particularly memorable to you or important?
KH: Have you talked to Gary Vikan?
JNSL: Yes, last summer.
KH: And he didn't mention the famous Byzantine Studies Conference at Dumbarton Oaks.
AS: I think this might have come up, but go on.
KH: That he and I organized? It was the, I mean, every, every year one or two people got saddled with the job of organizing the BSC and one year they decided that Gary and I should do it, so we did it. And we decided that we would do a BSC that would never be forgotten and I think we succeeded. It was the first one, I guess there'd been others at Dumbarton Oaks, or maybe not, but this was early on, they began, when, in 1976?
JNSL: That sounds about right.
KH: The first one was in Cleveland at the – Alice-Mary hosted it. So, this was probably '78, '79, '80, somewhere in there, and it was in the Music Room, by far the most splendid setting for such a conference, in the Music Room and other places. We had a really wonderful program, I mean, everyone came because it was in Washington at Dumbarton Oaks, and it was a place everyone wanted to attend. I don't remember all the details. We had a great reception in the Music Room with bartenders that I had recruited at the University of Maryland that made a big hit, and I didn't know that they were capable bartenders. So we – that was a high point in the early years of the BSC, I guess. The – I think I didn't miss a Dumbarton Oaks symposium until – I mean, what's happened with me is I got, my early career was almost entirely at Dumbarton Oaks and there's a sense in which it still is because this library is one of the top three or four in the world for what I do, so it's very convenient for me to be here. But I got involved in this excavation project in Israel and so I'm almost very much involved in that community, the archaeological community and particularly the archaeologists in Jerusalem and so forth. So, I've been less profoundly enmeshed in the activities of Dumbarton Oaks since the mid-'80s, although still pretty enmeshed. I've spoken here and attended lectures here. I was at the Roman Holiday or the Roman, whatever it was called. That was really wonderful. Another secret of my career is that I'm not a Byzantinist, I'm a fraud. My field is late antiquity which is part of the sort of commission that Dumbarton Oaks has, but I come at late antiquity from antiquity, I'm a Roman historian essentially. Doesn't make any difference, it's still the best library for me, but I'm also involved in that other, a couple other academic circles. There are a lot of other people in the same boat, like Tom Parker and Mike Maas and Mike McCormick – well he's more western medievalist than a Byzantinist. So, the circles of Dumbarton Oaks go far beyond the central set of issues and Byzantine studies, strictly speaking.
AS: I wonder, as we're talking about the various figures in the field, we talked a little about the, sort of the '70s crew, but when you came back in '82-'83 there were – Kazhdan was here and some different set of scholars and other Fellows who I'm certain, you know, influenced your work and worked with you, if you might talk about them a little bit.
KH: I'll – yeah – Alexander and, later, lots of other people, I guess. Who was the director, the third one, when I was Fellow for the third time?
KH: Ah, Angeliki was, yes, but I worked so hard on my project that I hardly saw anybody. Alexander was less – although he wrote an article – he and Tony Cutler wrote an article that was very influential on my work for a long time. He was less – I got to be less and less of a Byzantinist, well, never was a Byzantinist. But he was a real Byzantinist and what he was mostly interested in was issues later than my work, although I wrote articles for the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium. And I was amazed when I wrote my articles – I don't know if he did this with everyone – but I came in and we sat down in his office and talked about them and he knew all this stuff, you know, he was – it was amazing. He knew the details of all of the things I thought were my specialty, what is he doing knowing all this? He was such a learned man, it was amazing. I've just been – some of the things I'm working on right now involve Mike McCormick's book on the birth of the European economy because his first chapter is on the death of the Roman economy and I look at things very differently from the way he looks at them, so I had to cite him. But he writes about Alexander's influence on that book and how he, how Mike got the idea when he was here for this approach to the emergence of the European economy looking at communications and trade, and he presented his first findings in a seminar at Dumbarton Oaks and Kazhdan shot him down. I mean this was – and this was the beginning of this serious thinking about it, and he dedicated the book to Kazhdan's memory. He didn't have that kind of influence on me because I work in much earlier periods, but he did, we did intersect. Personally, he and his wife were such charming people. By then I was married to my wife Marsha and we found both of them very charming. I had less to do with Angeliki, although on my final fellowship we – I got to know her quite well. We were at her house, in the director's house for dinner a few times. I was always intimidated by dinner at the director's house from the time of the first one with Giles, I don't remember who the others were, but it was sort of assumed that if you went to dinner in the director's house, whether it was Giles or Angeliki or whomever, you could speak French. It was perfectly normal for the conversation to switch back and forth from English to French. I can't speak French, I can read French perfectly well. When I hear French it sounds like – Marsha speaks French quite well, so it was no problem for her. I think I could do perfectly well in German, but nobody seemed to think – that never came into the equation. It was either English or French. So. But it was still fun to have dinner in the director's house, and Angeliki had, I remember, a particularly nice dinner that she had once – I probably wasn't a Fellow, but if someone is visiting who is in the field of some scholar in the vicinity they often invited us over. We were – Jan invited us to dinner last year, but we couldn't, there was an underwater archaeologist from Istanbul, or who had been working in Istanbul anyway, and unfortunately I had just had surgery for my knees, so I couldn't come. I was going to come but then we decided it would a little too embarrassing, hobbling around, so I haven't had dinner since he arrived.
AS: Did the social atmosphere change much among the three separate times when you were a Fellow here or like the daily life, routines, things like that?
KH: Well, I changed, you know? I was probably less disciplined the first time I was a Fellow in the '70s. During my first fellowship I was working on my book, Theodosian Empresses, and in a way that was the most critical of the three, because I met people who led into the next stage of my career. I don't remember – it was the second one, when Margaret was here, in the early '80s, that I remember as being particularly intense, socially. Don't tell her that. There seemed to be more parties that year than ever. Again, I was frustrated to some extent because there were so many social occasions that I couldn't get any work done. It was a little different for me because I live here, you know, and the third was one was the same. I drove from home, I didn't live in the Fellows Building or Dumbarton Oaks accommodations, we just stayed at home, so I was in my normal social setting. The other Fellows were sort of thrown on their own resources, you know. They interacted with each other and they had more time for partying than I did, because I had all the other partying to do, also. I don't know, we don't party, don't get the impression that we partied all the time, but that year it seemed that every week there was some occasion that needed to be celebrated and it was great fun and Marsha was included in it and enjoyed it enormously. But we had to drive all the way in from Silver Spring to participate in something like this.
AS: In those years the Kazhdans were great hosts, right? Is that – we've heard that before.
KH: They were great hosts. I was in their – they lived in, what did we call it?
AS: Now it's the security building.
KH: I know. Well, I guess they just called it the – No, that's not right. It's where – I think Ševčenko lived there. There was a special term for it, but I can't remember. I was in their house – they were wonderful hosts, of course. How could they not be? They were such warm, friendly people. But that was after the '70s. I was involved in other circles in the area so I wasn't as profoundly involved. In the '70s, this was where I spent all my time, I was really a denizen of Dumbarton Oaks. It was wonderful.
AS: In the course of your three fellowships, what kind of interactions have you had with the D.O. collection? We talked a little bit about your interactions with the library, but have you spent a lot of time with the collection?
KH: Well, if you mean – I spent quite a bit of time working on coins when I wrote my first book. Not the coins that are on display, although the – I was interested in the marriage belts which made their way into my first book a little bit. But I was more interested in certain issues of gold coins from the early fifth century, which I wrote an article and I added to my books. I worked in objects, and that, to me – this may not be what you have in mind – but that was an opening to me into a sort of, a world I hadn't been in in graduate school, which was art history, because I was trained as a text historian, ordinary text historian, and then it turns out I spent the best years of my career working as an archaeologist, which is far from what I was trained in. But when I worked in the collections, began and worked on these coins and tried to address historical problems using these objects, I learned how to deal with a different – with the sources in a different way and was then attracted. Gary Vikan and I wrote a seminal article called “The Trier Ivory 'Adventus' Ceremonial and the Relics of St. Stephen” that neither of us will ever admit could be improved upon, and that was, again – I was working with Gary on that and that object is in Trier, not here, but it was the same kind of thing, working with the object taught me how to deal with evidence in a different way. There was a direct line from that to studies in urbanism using physical as well as textual evidence and even environmental evidence, even seeds and bones and things of that sort. Mike McCormick has gone through the same transition. So, the proximity of the collection is important even for historians, everyone will say that, in that, in the '70s and now much less, there was a sense that there were two kinds of Byzantinists, historians and art historians. There were some odd ducks who did liturgy and other things, but basically historians and art historians, and we were sort of at war with each other: they, the art historians, are getting too much attention. There was no sense that we're all in the same game, and that's very much different now, I think. Historians deal with objects and images and material culture, just as much as the specialists in those fields do and vice versa. Rina Avner, who's here now – I mean she was here this past year, she's going to be here again – is very adept at using literary texts, and she taught me a thing or two about the church we excavated at Caesarea from literary texts that I knew perfectly well but hadn't looked at in the way she did. So, that kind of crossing old barriers is nothing unusual any more. Don't you think?
JNSL: Yes, yes.
AS: And when you were starting to do that here, I mean, there were individuals in place to sort of guide you, I guess, would Grierson have been here?
KH: Grierson was here most of the time, yeah, and Michael Hendy was here, also, yeah, and they both, in particularly Philip, did help me out with my coins. This was a small problem for him, and he was – again, I worked on that – my first book was on, was called Theodosian Empresses and it was about Roman empresses in the late fourth and early fifth century, so it's, the coin issues from those, from that period, and that's not what Philip was mostly interested in. Michael Hendy was interested in, mostly in that period and later as well, but he was interested in money, not coin iconography – I mean interested in money in the sense of – not in the sense of making money – in the sense of studying money.
JNSL: As someone who was working in the earlier period, did you ever use the library over at the Center for Hellenic Studies?
KH: That's too early. I have two students who are real members of that community. When Professor Knox was the Director of the Hellenic Studies – again that was in the '70s and early '80s – we were over there for lunch. The Fellows still go over there for lunch, I think, but we went to lunch a lot and Bernard came swimming here, and he was just an amazing man. He was very popular with the people here, wonderful to talk to, and he had fought in the Spanish Civil War and he entertained intellectuals of all strips in splendor over there. And I've known the people over there since then, but I've never done research – I've gone over there to find things – but I've never really don't research there. Although I do teach classical Greek history, also, and I have two students who did their Ph.D.s in classical Greek.
AS: Well, should we fast forward a bit to your final fellowship, which I guess was in '97? Correct? I wonder if you'd just –
AS: Well, no, your –
JNSL: – most recent.
KH: Do you know something I don't? Most recent. The problem now is –
JNSL: Once a Fellow, always a Fellow.
KH: I can't afford to be a Fellow. They don't pay enough. That was a really good year, but I worked really hard, and I finished two major projects that year, but not the one I was supposed to finish. I'll finally finish the one I was supposed to finish hopefully in about two years.
JNSL: Was that Angeliki's last year then, '97?
KH: It was close, yeah. I don't remember exactly. If it happened before 600, I can remember the date.
JNSL: After that history just repeats itself anyway.
KH: That's right. I heard one famous scholar at a Byzantine Studies Conference declare that anything that happened after 600 is just gossip, this was a Byzantine Studies Conference so it was a little out of place. Let's see, who were the other Fellows in – I was again – what I remember most about that year is going over the text of the Greek and Latin inscriptions of Caesarea Maritima twenty-five times and changing the numbering because the inscriptions had to be added or dropped, and computers weren't as clever then as they are now. I worked really hard that year, and Jodi Magness, of course, was another Fellow that year and we were across the hall from one another. And my work with her was probably the most intense experience I had that year, because she and I are really in the same field. She's a – there was a time when she tried to pass herself off as a historian, but she's much more a self-declared archaeologist who does historical issues, and I'm the other way around. But it was a really nice occasion for the two of us to do a lot of talking. And she – one of the chapters of her book is straight out of our conversations. Don't tell anyone that. That's the book on the early Islamic conquests, the results of the early Islamic conquests in the Levant, and it's not the only one, but it sort of overturned a lot of traditional views of what had happened when the Muslims had conquered the Middle East. That's what happens to me as the – I've worked with these Israelis and Jordanians who think that Byzantium ended in 638 or 640 or whatever, so they have early Byzantium as from Constantine to Theodosius, middle Byzantium makes no sense at all, late Byzantine is from Justinian to the Muslim conquest, and it's a different world. I tried to persuade them that they should correct their terminology but they refused to do it, and Jodi belongs in that world, she's never gotten out of it. Are you interviewing her?
AS: We're not scheduled to, but –
KH: She's in North Carolina, so it's a little bit – You could interview Clive Foss.
AS: Yeah, we've trying to get in touch with him. Along the lines of your description of '97-'98 was sort of a more business-oriented year, I wonder if you could talk about your relationship to the D.O. library and the librarians, in that fellowship and in previous ones, because I think we've gotten the sense that there's an important relationship between librarians and scholars.
KH: When did Irene retire? She was still librarian in '97-98?
JNSL: Was it around 2002 or 2003?
KH: That sounds about right. From the time Irene came I had wonderful relations with Irene and the whole lot, Mark Zapatka. I mean, they were – that was their job. They were, we have librarians at the University of Maryland who understand us also, but the library here – it's not, I don't want to detract from the librarianship that people at other great libraries do, because they – there are very capable librarians that I've worked with in various places, including the National Library in Jerusalem where I just spent some time. But I've never worked with librarians who were so, in the case of Irene, so attuned to what was appropriate for the kind of research people do at this institution, and of course, have the resources to provide it, which have now become so problematic even for Dumbarton Oaks that it's a different world. That was still at the beginning of the digital age, we're much more into it now. The 1996-97, is that when it was?
KH: '97-'98. Doesn't sound like the beginning of the digital age, but you wonder if last year wasn't the beginning of the digital age. Mark was just always willing to – they are now too – I'm never – there are enough librarians, the institution has enough money to support enough librarians and there are few enough scholars using the place that you get an incredible amount of attention, and the books are there, there's nothing you need other than more time. I can't imagine anyone complaining about the way the library works at Dumbarton Oaks. It's just – Irene was universally admired, I think, for her work. I've had less – since she left, I haven't had such an intense relationship. I haven't been a Fellow, but I get the same treatment, if I actually have any questions or have any problems – I usually don't because I know where all the books are. I don't know what more to say. I know about library problems, because I've – I just came off a term as Chair of the University Senate and one of our big problems at Maryland is that the library budgets are going down and we're not the bad guys, the bad guys are the scientists who have, you know, their subscriptions cost $10,000 a year and who can afford it?
AS: Shall we start wrapping up?
EG: Yeah. Could you talk about any significant changes you've seen over the years since you first started working here in the '70s until the present, kind of what are the biggest changes you've seen in Dumbarton Oaks, either academically or socially or anything like that?
KH: Well there have been really big changes, but the, what's happened at Dumbarton Oaks is that, well there are a lot of things. One thing that's happened is that scholarly publication has increased geometrically. I don't know, I don't have any figures but the library had, what, 48,000 books when I came, and it's probably got 500,000 or 600,000 books now, not to mention digital resources of all kinds, so it's really a very different kind of operation in many ways. A research library has to be organized in different ways. At first it was a very, very critical space problem. They just didn't have anywhere to put the books. That was one of the issues that contributed to this anxiety about the whole place being moved to Cambridge, and they put these compact stacks, they put the books – they remodeled the library – put the books in the Music Room for a while, and there were periods when you couldn't get at them, but they kept it open for the most part, and then they put the movable stacks in the basement in the Main House, and then they grew out of that, and they're going to grow out of this and this, although there are people who think that books are on their way out so we don't have to worry about it. So, that's a very big change, not in the sort of physical sense of the institution has changed. I think what I said earlier is important, that when I first arrived here it was only a year or so after Mrs. Bliss had died. It was, I guess, it was a good long time, twenty-five years after the property had been conveyed to Harvard, but the Blisses – as long as the Blisses were alive the institution continued in the sort of the mold that they were still here and influencing the way it went, and so in that period, the ten years after Mrs. Bliss died, the university began to deal with how this endowment and the institution should be used for the, you know, for the benefit of the academic world or whatever, and that was an evolutionary process that Giles Constable set into motion, but it's changed a lot of things about Dumbarton Oaks. The shape of the – you know, there's no longer a resident faculty in the traditional sense. It turned out that, you know, what's happened is good, I mean, it's better now than it was then. I think the expanded research possibilities that the digital age provides and the way this place has developed as an institution are much to the benefit of everybody, it's a very positive history, looking back on it, at least it seems to me.
JNSL: What is your favorite project that you were able to participate in, in terms of Dumbarton Oaks?
KH: Projects? Well, my favorite project was, is my own excavation project, which Dumbarton Oaks has not been involved in. I got lots of money from somebody who had nothing to do with Dumbarton Oaks. In fact, I got a phone call one day in my office at the university from a guy who said, “Hello, can I give you a lot of money?” And I said, “OK!” and he gave me $500,000, so the funding of that was, had nothing to do with Dumbarton Oaks. Dumbarton Oaks has supported my research on it. So, that's my favorite project, but lots of projects, the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, I was involved in that – I though that was a wonderful project. I mean, all of the – I certainly followed with interest and have profited from Tom Parker's projects. I think he – he didn't get money, he may have gotten some money from Dumbarton Oaks, but that was mostly NEH. The final report of the Limes Arabicus Project has been published by Dumbarton Oaks. As an interested outsider, I've been most, in some ways, most impressed by the Hagia Sophia project that Robert Van Nice and his colleagues conducted. Do you know of that? – the books?
AS: And Robert Nelson, I think, picked it up or maybe wrote on that project.
KH: It was basically a complete architectural survey of Hagia Sophia in amazingly, excruciatingly complicated detail all beautifully published, and that went on for the first fifteen years I was here and we would go down and watch Robert and his colleagues working on this thing. It was really amazing. I haven't been involved in any of the other Dumbarton Oaks archaeological projects, but I know about them, or with the text projects, although again, since some of them have been very important to my work.
AS: Dumbarton Oaks did fund some of your projects, is that right?
KH: We had, Yoram Tsafrir and I got a grant from Dumbarton Oaks, in fact we may have gotten two of them, to excavate at Rehovot ba-Negev, a wonderful archaeological site in the Negev desert, which is very important, again, for the Byzantine-Islamic transition, as they call it and, you know, Byzantine ended in 640 or whenever. That project was swimming along – Yoram and I had several terrific seasons there, then the Israelis made peace with Egypt and they, part of the peace agreement was that they withdrew their military bases from the Sinai and they established a series of airbases and other military facilities in the part of the Negev where this site was located and they kicked us out because we couldn't – it was not safe for us to work there because they were doing military training there and dropping bombs and rockets and all sorts of brutality – so they kicked us out and we were not able to continue the project. We have, in the meantime – I've kicked in some money from my $500,000 for the continuation, which is cheating a little bit, but that's alright, which is to, which we're still working on pottery and we intend to publish a final report, but in the meantime we both got involved in other big projects, and Yoram is now retired, and he was the director of the excavations at Bet Shean, Scythopolis, and had a huge backlog of material to publish. And I'm in much better shape. We're going to be wrapping our final report series up in about a year, hopefully, and I have another grant to do that, so that's coming along. And then, hopefully, we'll be able to – we've got – a lot of the material had been processed, we'll be able to finish that sort of abortive research project at Rehovot ba-Negev, which is the way we left it. If not, we excavated in 1986, then three short seasons in the next four years, just two week periods when the army wasn't training and they would let us go in, and we got some pretty good data to be published, but it's sort of hanging fire.
AS: On that note –
KH: Hanging fire?
AS: Well, maybe not on that particular note, I wonder if, just in closing, you might talk about the role of Dumbarton Oaks in the field of Byzantine studies, not just in field work but in the – I know that you're somewhat like second cousins, but I think you've had a long perspective here to see the role in the field and whether that role will change in the future.
JNSL: And also on it's position here in Washington, as a person who is an academic who's also located here.
KH: Let me say a few words about that. I think that we have been very successful from the University's perspective in cooperating with Dumbarton Oaks in appointments and research projects and so forth, but all of those, the positive things have declined in the last, sadly, in the last few years. George Majesko retired, we've had people leave the university that haven't been replaced, we don't have a medieval art historian at the University of Maryland, much less a Byzantinist. There's very little likelihood that we'll be able to appoint a Byzantinist in the history department in the near future. We're in the middle of a very serious financial crisis and that's been a heavy blow, and hopefully that will not be permanent. Others in the area have done better, but I think it's really important for this field that, there's been a tendency for the number of Byzantinists in all fields of Byzantium to decline in universities across the country and it's been a retrenchment, and hopefully that won't continue indefinitely. There are good opportunities in this area for universities to cooperate with Dumbarton Oaks, it's just not a very good climate right now. More generally, more positively, it's not the only institution in the world that promotes Byzantine studies. There are institutions in Paris, Munich, Berlin, there's the École Biblique in Jersusalem, there are other great libraries on Byzantium, but certainly in this country, this is the place that has by far the most ability to promote Byzantine studies and to support the work of scholars in institutions in the U.S. who are working in the field. Dumbarton Oaks had never been narrowly American-oriented, I mean, no one would every accuse us of that, and that's appropriate, but, as a matter of fact, Dumbarton Oaks really does a lot for Byzantine studies in the U.S., it's the kind of – there you're talking about new people coming into the field, providing support for the crucial research of young scholars who are just entering the field and then just as important is the support that the institution gives to junior faculty members getting their first books published, getting tenure, they need this kind of institution, and we all need it because it has, it is the concentration of research resources that is unparalleled in this country and has few parallels anywhere else. Don't you think?
KH: Would anyone disagree with me?
JNSL: We're so grateful for your time today, for sharing your memories and your anecdotes and your thoughts with us.