ABF: We are Anna Bonnell-Freiden and Clem Wood, and we are here in Princeton, New Jersey, at the Institute for Advanced Study with Oleg Grabar to discuss his involvement at Dumbarton Oaks, and it is the 21st of August, 2008. So, we’d like to begin by talking to you about your very first impressions of Dumbarton Oaks. Your father came to Dumbarton Oaks as a Byzantine visiting scholar in the ’40s and was very active throughout the ’50s and ’60s. We see that you were working toward your Certificat de Licence at the University of Paris. Did you come visit your father at Dumbarton Oaks?
OG: No, I came with him, because when he came in the fall ’48, he came for the whole year because they offered him the position of Director of Studies at Dumbarton Oaks. He brought his wife and his two children. Nobody knew what to do with me. I was eighteen then. So, I was the proper age to go to a university. I didn’t know anything about American universities. I was given the choice between Princeton, Yale, and Harvard. The only thing that distinguished it to me was the color. I still remember the three colors as being three different colors. Why I went to Harvard I have no idea. But in any event, I went there and eventually graduated from there. My father decided not to stay permanently at Dumbarton Oaks because of complicated reasons, one of which was my mother – she didn’t know English well enough. And he had a good job in Paris and felt that there was something wrong with an institution that was so un-American and located in Washington. He felt totally alien to the American world, and so did my mother. It was nice to come and study for specific periods of time, but to run it, as was offered to him at some point, he felt was wrong. There were other reasons as well. That’s how I came and so my first week at Dumbarton Oaks was Christmas, ’48, because when we arrived in New York I went straight to Cambridge and my family went to Washington. It was an introduction to the feudal world of Dumbarton Oaks because at Christmas time, in those days, Mrs. Bliss always invited everybody at Dumbarton Oaks for a Christmas party. Everybody received a gift. She’d never known me but she knew my father had an eighteen-year-old son. I forgot what gift she gave me, but there was a little package for me under the Christmas tree. Everybody received something like this, and this was my first introduction to her. Again, afterwards my father was again at Dumbarton Oaks when I was a senior at Harvard, and I worked on my thesis partly at Dumbarton Oaks because they had the books I needed. I’d had some advice from Father Dvornik and others on the medieval subject I was developing. My first impression of Dumbarton Oaks was that nobody spoke English. It was essentially a European institution with wonderful European manners. One of the lovely memories I have of Dumbarton Oaks at that time – I can’t remember exactly what year it would have been – was my mother, the old Russian historian Vasiliev, and Otto Demus, a handsome Austrian Byzantinist, and, at the time, the Princeton Byzantinist, Bert Friend, holding arms together and going up and down the Music Room, which was where the Greco painting is now, and singing Viennese operettas in German – nobody would sing them in anything but German. Then they went out and entered again singing the end of the first act of Massenet’s Manon – and then three voices sort of going up. It was really wonderful to me. That was their world. Their world was the Paris opera, the Vienna opera, the Merry Widow, and so forth. America didn’t exist as a culture for them. Nice and wonderful though it was, it was a world totally of its own, where tea was very important, where to be seen at the swimming pool was very important, and so to them it was part of a nice little feudal world. The hierarchy was very clearly established. Everybody knew who was who, who had the right to do what and not to do what, and all the fellows, like properly infeodated vassals, lived in the Fellows Building which now is something else. I don’t know what it is now.
ABF: Guest House.
OG: Guest House, is it? Okay. In the Fellows Building some of the older professors lived in the apartments attached to that building. It was wonderful but pretty much out of the real world, which I think it always was and has remained like that. Its first impression was that of a feudal place, where French was the dominant language because Mrs. Bliss, as I would hear it, did not like anything German, and Russian was a second language. She was a great friend of Stravinsky. He composed a Dumbarton Oaks symphony for her. Vasiliev – who was a reasonable and broad scholar but not a great scholar but an absolutely adorable person with a nice little mustache and smiling face and sort of walking the way I walk now – that is an old man’s walk – as an eighteen-year-old, nineteen-year-old, to walk with an eighty year old was sort of new to me. I hadn’t encountered that. And telling stories – his stories were absolutely endless, whether it’s in St. Petersburg, Australia, or Wisconsin, wherever he’d been. Father Dvornik was of the same vintage, but not as attractive. And then there was Sirarpie Der Nersessian who had an extraordinary personal history. After all she was born in Constantinople. Her uncle was the Armenian patriarch of Constantinople. She escaped dramatically during or just after World War One and then went to Paris to study. All three belonged to a little world of its own. Sirarpie Der Nersessian lived in Dumbarton Oaks with her sister. They were both very remarkable because they were very short. In the dining room in the Fellows Building – I still remember because it struck me at that time – when Sirarpie sat at the head of a table, as she often did, her feet did not reach the floor. They were sort of dangling. But those were very close family friends. To me, Dumbarton Oaks was a wonderful estate in which you do whatever you want – you read books, beautiful books. It was set up not like libraries, but on shelves surrounded by genteel living – you had a Monet here, then you had Byzantine books, then you had a nice work of art – it was your private library and your private collection, which is now being transformed into a mechanized and organized way.
ABF: Did your father know any of the scholars at Dumbarton Oaks before he arrived there?
OG: Yes. He knew all the old ones. Vasiliev, Dvornik, Der Nersessian, probably Underwood and Kitzinger. No – I think he met Kitzinger at Dumbarton Oaks. Because then you had the old blokes – Vasiliev, Der Nersessian, and my father who had been students together in the ’20s in Paris. So they had known each other for a long time. The new ones, the four professors at Dumbarton Oaks – I think there were four – they were Kitzinger, Underwood, Anastos and Downy. They were all supposed to be equal. Nobody knew exactly what to do with them, as the academic system was slowly taking over the feudal one. They had not participated in the exotic life of Europe after the First World War or of the ‘20s. Harvard had two Byzantinists at that time, but for reasons that I don’t know – Constable maybe would know better – the Harvard of that time was never brought to Dumbarton Oaks. Bobby Blake, for instance, who had been one of the big allied spies in the Caucasus during the First World War, who worked for the British, in Azerbaijan in 1919, never set foot in Dumbarton Oaks. That is something I don’t know – that part of the story. The Harvard establishment was not the Dumbarton Oaks establishment. Dumbarton Oaks was separate from Harvard and I think Harvard at that point didn’t know what to do with Dumbarton Oaks, and probably still doesn’t quite know what to do with it. The Princeton faculty was more visible there than the Harvard one. My father knew these four younger scholars, and he got particularly close to Kitzinger because they would often work on the same things, the same fields. In a way, I’m not sure that even this was very good for Kitzginer to have my father there because my father was about fifteen years older than he was. And he kind of a little bit made life difficult – I don’t mean technically but intellectually – for Kitzinger who was certainly the most intelligent, the most creative of these four professors. When he became Director of Studies, two of them – Downy and Anastos – left almost immediately. I think they were upset that they weren’t considered. Underwood – I forget when Underwood died – he died relatively young.
ABF: In ’69.
OG: But, he was so involved with Istanbul. He was constantly there. I have a wonderful memory of him because he found me my first hotel in Istanbul, which was the crummiest hotel I’ve ever been in my life. I shouldn’t say this, but he was very stingy in things like that.
ABF: So how was it for you, as a student of medieval history?
OG: I profited from being my father’s son, so that everything was open, everybody was very nice and sweet. For my work – at Princeton where I was a graduate student, then at Michigan or at Harvard where I was employed– their libraries were sufficient to me. I didn’t need Dumbarton Oaks. And I was never a Byzantinist, even though some people think I am, but I never was. So Dumbarton Oaks to me – let’s put it this way – Dumbarton Oaks to me was always a kind of second home. I always felt that I knew how to operate there. I got very distressed when they built the new shelves. I thought that the old Dumbarton Oaks would disappear. And I loved to go to the symposia. Every year we had a procession from Princeton where I was graduate student to go to Dumbarton Oaks for the symposium, where you kind of saw all the big shots you had heard about or read about. That was interesting and exciting. I think the symposium played a very important role up to whatever time it was when they changed the rules, when all the people who gave talks spent a semester at Dumbarton Oaks, so that the people preparing the symposium were all working together on the symposium. So, the symposium was not like now. People work wherever they are, then come the day before they give their talk, give their talk, and go away. This was a collective enterprise being prepared. But by the time I was involved in symposia, I guess in ’62, that wasn’t true anymore. I flew in from Ann Arbor the day before. So, as a collective operation, it was not as successful. These later symposia did not create as much excitement as the symposia of the ’50s, which were really, truly milestones – the one my father did in 1946, what Dvornik did, the first one Kitzinger did – they were really major intellectual creations. Since then it has become another meeting of professors to get their trips paid. Byzantine studies have been in trouble for the last twenty years. It’s not a field that is a growing – it has been taken over by all kinds of other forces than whatever is required of pure scholarship. The great thing about the central, western, and eastern European scholars of yore, as well as the first group of Americans who were there was that they were really only interested in scholarship. They had no other agenda. Now old national types have come, and Byzantine studies have tended to become a series of competing nationalisms, going from Greece to Ukraine or Russia. It is a series of national flags being waved, and that is very destructive. It is no longer what the old scholarship used to be. It is easy to say the old one was very nice and very good, because it was connected to empires, to big countries, and not to the small countries, which we are creating now one after the other. Have you heard of Southern Ossetia before last week? Now everybody’s excited about what Northern Ossetia and Southern Ossetia are going to do to each other. What I think is interesting about Ossetia, actually, is that the Ossetian language is the only Romanian language of its kind. It’s the only remaining Alan language that was known in the second century.
ABF: So, can you describe – speaking of the symposia – can you describe your experience at these early symposia?
OG: They were wonderful. I told you about the old symposia. I think they have changed quite a bit. The symposiums, first of all, never met on Sundays. That would have been immoral. Nobody went to church, but they did not do anything on Sunday. You rested. The old ones met on Thursday, Friday, Saturday morning and they always ended Saturday with a lunch at the Blisses’ private house, about several blocks down from the main building of Dumbarton Oaks. That was very important because not everyone was invited there. Speakers were invited, and a few selected guests. So, on Saturday morning after the last meeting, you could see the poor participants who had to go to the drugstore to have a hamburger on Wisconsin Avenue and the elect who walked down toward the Blisses’ house to have lunch at the Blisses’ house, which was always catered – waiters in white clothes – and where you met not only the Dumbarton Oaks crowd, but you also met some of the social people Mrs. Bliss was cultivating or who were cultivating her. It was a very social occasion, as were the dinners on Thursday and Friday – Friday dinner was at Dumbarton Oaks and comprised always the same menu, a magnificent single salmon, totally glazed. I’ve never seen a whole glazed salmon like this. White liveried, white-gloved characters were cutting it up to give you your portion with, I guess, some salad. I forget what was the menu on Thursdays. It must have been a meat menu, because those were days following the tradition of Thursday meat, Friday fish, Sunday sleep. Now I think that you buy your sandwiches or you buy your lunch box, which is kind of repulsive. The big thing about the symposium itself was also its ceremonial quality. Mr. and Mrs. Bliss used to arrive and sit in the back. And it was an event, like the arrival of the deacon or the bishop at a religious ceremony. They had their own chairs in the back. Mrs. Bliss would always listen very carefully, then ask the speaker to give her a copy of what he has said because she wanted to read it before she would comment on it. And she always read it and always commented on it. She always had something to say. I don’t think he ever did, and I think he slept through most of them. At the symposium itself, in the front row, were the big couches. I don’t know if they still have them at the symposium. Enormous couches where the very distinguished, elderly professors would sit. In my days it would have been Kantorovich, Friend, Dvornik, Vasiliev – would sit there, I think sleep a little bit. They were too old to listen to talks. It was like a royal court. You have the top princes sit in front, then you have the variety of lower aristocrats behind, and then some poor little graduate students in the back. But the graduate students were future aristocrats, so they belonged there. What hardly belonged there was spouses. That didn’t exist. It wasn’t allowed. We never talked about things like that. Or companions – the word didn’t exist. But it was always very – you felt that you were actually into a ceremonial event. And that was part of its beauty, that even if it was a lousy paper – most of them were not, in those days – it was a liturgical ceremony to listen to it and to partake of the learning. You were supposed to understand whatever language was used by the speaker. If you had questions afterward – the questions were in most cases stupid. The questioners were not stupid, but nobody had anything intelligent to say because they had just heard a lecture, so they hadn’t had time to think of something intelligent to say – except the learned disputes between people, as with Weitzman and Morey, when they were present. But that’s a special case. That I think has changed quite a bit. Now it has become much more routinized, like older colloquial of academic life. It’s quite different. It doesn’t have that prestige of a religious act. Food was very important. The teas were served at the right moment, the coffees at the right moment, the dinners – and who went to what was very important.
ABF: Were there any particular moments at these symposia or papers or even just one symposium in particular –
OG: I remember mostly one symposium that my father directed, the one you mentioned –
ABF: The Emperor and the Palace.
OG: – The Emperor and the Palace, which was really remarkable. But, of course, he had gathered probably the most spectacular group of scholars available at that time. Just even seeing them – I was a graduate student then – those people whose books I had read or was reading, here they all were. They were living beings. And so that was one. I think the one that Sir Hamilton Gibb did in which I was involved in ’62 was also important because he brought almost for the first time the Near Eastern world into Byzantium instead of Byzantium always connected with Europe. Kitzinger led one on Sicily – that was many years later – which was also very interesting, because he had gathered an unusual group of people. If you look – and you probably have them all – the symposia still now have their liturgical function, that is, all the participants gather some place and get their picture taken with each other – the chairman must be sitting in the middle. The rest may be standing, but the chairman always sits. And if you look at those pictures, they’re very interesting to see as a sequence, because you can see how people age. Some age well, some age not so well. The other thing – nobody, I think, ever smiles. But I would check that, because I’m not sure –
ABF: They start smiling later. They smiled later, in the ‘80s.
OG: They all dressed with coat and tie, and probably dark suits and so forth because it is a liturgical act. It is a liturgical function to participate in a Dumbarton Oaks symposium, like serving at mass. It was a liturgical moment – even staying at the Fellows Building at some point. But, I think there were two apartments at the two ends which were real apartments. And my parents stayed there. And I came to visit for whatever reason and the lunches and dinners were prepared at the Fellows Building. Now you fix your own sandwiches or whatever it is. But there was a whole group of staff – black staff, from a sort of formal American servants class – were there to cook and do the bedding. And I remember when the change began to happen – I forget when it was my parents were there, and I came late. I must have gone out to dinner or the movies or whatever it is, and I came back late, and as I opened the door, I see an extremely distinguished scholar making love to a woman on the couch downstairs. Because you couldn’t do it in the rooms – I forgot now why – so they stayed down. It was a very odd thing. There were two small houses, to the right and to the left. And the one to the right was occupied at some point by Dvornik. And I got very irritated once when I was a graduate student because Kantorovich was here. Dvornik also was a great cook, both of them. And Kantorovich came to cook. And Kantorovich had asked me to help him prepare the chickens. He mixed some fancy I don’t know what. And I was supposed to inject it between the skin and the meat of the chicken. But I was not invited for the dinner. You see, the dinner was for big guys. I was allowed to help. I got accolades; he knew I was going to be a big guy at some point and I will eat the proper chicken. But at that point I had not acquired the right to eat the chicken that Kantorovich prepared. And similarly, much later, the person who occupied that building was called Kraeling. I don’t exactly know how many years Carl Kraeling was involved with Dumbarton Oaks. It was after he retired from Chicago. He went to Yale but spent a lot of time at Dumbarton Oaks. Carl Kraeling was a very American type. He was of German origin, very Lutheran – very strict Lutheran tradition – but very American in spirit. Carl spoke four languages. My mother said once that she had to go and ask him once for something – I’ve forgotten now what, some practical thing – and rang the doorbell, and he opened the door, and he was naked. So, he walked around naked in his house, which is, again, the kind of thing one didn’t do at Dumbarton Oaks in those days. The rooms upstairs were single rooms, and they shared the bathroom, which is no longer acceptable now. And I don’t know when they started buying or renting apartments. The result was – is – that people don’t connect with each other the way they did before. But that’s a price that one has to pay. Nearly all American institutions were based then on single people. So my memories of Dumbarton Oaks are mostly social. They are mostly social because my direct contact with it – until I became member of the board of scholars – but that again was part of the feudal system, because Giles Constable and I were classmates, we’d known each other since the ‘40s, and so there was a kind of automatic reliance on the people you knew to run whatever work was needed. On the whole that was good, but not always. But it was a completely different Dumbarton Oaks then. And as well as the board of scholars, we took care of masses of little details, which before were not handled by the scholars. They were handled by some assistant at Harvard or elsewhere. And that is one of the good but debatable things that Giles Constable did: he created an administration for Dumbarton Oaks instead of a tradition. You didn’t do things because Mrs. Bliss said it should be done that way. You did things because that’s the way you do things. That was the good side. There were some incidents with that too. I got into trouble with one of the members, with one of the fellows, whom I was interviewing because we all had to interview a certain number of fellows. And for some reason I can’t remember, she was known as a difficult person. And I remember both Ihor Ševčenko and Giles telling me, “Well, you’re so nice, you take her. We don’t want to deal with her.” And I said, “I suppose I can handle it.” And she absolutely beat me. There was nothing I could say to which she did not have already set answers. And I never felt so completely overwhelmed by an individual. I was supposed to be the powerful one that’s supposed to decide her fate, and she flattened me right there. I think she’s still alive. I haven’t seen her for many years. It became a different world when it became so much more Americanized and involved with graduate students and assistant professors, that is, with a very specific American problem, instead of being the haven to which the world’s scholars come. I suspect because there is no need for Dumbarton Oaks, from that point of view. There are many other places that have now good libraries, with Internet you can get everything anyway. So, congeniality and pleasure of being together, having breakfast together, lunch together, dinner together, and tea together – that has disappeared. The humanities do not have what here I see with mathematicians and physicists: collective work. That is, they don’t work collectively. We tend to work individually. Collective work is done in excavations, but that’s out of Dumbarton Oaks. And the other thing of the Dumbarton Oaks I knew a long time ago was it was involved in masses of activity outside. The Istanbul excavations, the Hagia Sophia, project, and then another one in Constantinople, and then excavations in Syria, but the big Hagia Sophia project was something – have you ever seen those books?
OG: Oh, you should see them because you probably would not know how to use that book. You need a whole table just to open the book to look at the pictures. But that was the extraordinary person, Van Nice, involved in the project. He was an architect. I think he went to Princeton. Many scholar-architects had done that. Underwood went to Princeton. And that’s an important side part of the relationship between Princeton’s adventures and architects, Dumbarton Oaks, the Near East, ARAMCO, the Arab petrol company, and the CIA. All of this was very closely interrelated. When I took a trip – when I was at the University of Michigan – with George Forsyth, who was on the Dumbarton Oaks board and who had been with us in Princeton – every embassy we stopped at had a Princeton graduate as a C.I.A. agent there, and they all knew each other. They all started as archaeologists and became O.S.S. during the war stage of the C.I.A. because it pays better than Wellesley, as in the case of one. This again is another world that’s gone. Now you have creepy individuals who went to military school. You don’t have any longer cultivated spies. But Dumbarton Oaks was very much involved in that. But it is interesting that Underwood was an agent there, and all the other Dumbarton Oaks activities were not done by the people that were at Dumbarton Oaks. Kitzinger was not involved; Downey was not; Dvornik was not. That was decided by Thacher, Jack Thacher. I knew Thacher quite well, but I knew him personally rather than academically. He would represent the kind of things my father was very much opposed to at Dumbarton Oaks, that is, the power of rich people, rich amateurs. To my father, Thacher was a great amateur – very cultivated and very sophisticated, but he was an amateur. He was not a priest. He did not belong to the priesthood of scholarship.
ABF: So, this was happening while you were on the board of scholars?
OG: No. I wasn’t on the board of scholars until the early ‘70s, and I would say that after the early ‘60s, for about ten years, I was hardly involved in Dumbarton Oaks. Then, in the ‘70s, after I came to Harvard, whenever Giles Constable became Director – he sort of got me back here. But I must admit, I was not as personally involved as I had been in early times. I didn’t know the people anymore; and, also, because I was also in a different field from most of the fields of the people at Dumbarton Oaks, I was not important to anybody at Dumbarton Oaks. I was important as an administrator, as a Harvard representative, but intellectually I was not important. But, anyway, it was no longer a hot intellectual center, where you talk to people about scholarly things. Like all these institutions, most of the people who were here were young assistant professors looking for jobs or people whose concern was not whether somebody discovered a new manuscript; their concern was, is the job in Vanderbilt better than the job in Oklahoma State? So, it was a completely different attitude, and much more mechanically involved. By 1990 I was already here, and I went to Harvard for a few meetings to find a successor to whoever it is who was – who was the director just before Ned Keenan? – it was Thomson –
OG: Laiou, it was for Laiou. Well, the Laiou appointment was a tricky one; because, first of all, Harvard professors were rarely appointed there and secondly, there was the Hellenization – a criticism made of Dumbarton Oaks, whether justified or not, that it was all taken over by the Greeks. But one could say that the early one was all taken over by Russians. Eventually, you will have the Serbs or the Bulgarians – there’s not enough of them – or the Romanians taking over; and that is the drama of Byzantine Studies. It has become national, instead of being global and since nobody goes to church anymore, there was no Orthodox streak. You could say that this was true in previous generations – that they became Byzantinists because they had learned to be orthodox. They were not believers, they did not go to church regularly, but they knew the services, they knew the religion, they knew the theology – Meyendorf and people like this; my father, who’s not religious at all, but knew every service. Weitzman went to every orthodox service he could lay his hands on. Kitzinger never did. They were no longer interested in Byzantium; they were interested in what happened to the antique world, the late antique world – that’s what Kitzinger did. It became a different world. The collection is still a Byzantine collection, but I wonder how many of the professors ever go there, to the collection. I mean, this is a separate, public thing and, in fact, I don’t think there are professors at Dumbarton Oaks anymore.
ABF: There aren’t. In your opinion, do you think that’s a good or a bad thing?
OG: I don’t know. I think, on the whole, it is a good thing. I can imagine having two or three ancient scholars – like Kazhdan was there; but usually, you do it because you can’t find him a job in regular universities. So , I’m not sure if that made sense at the time of war or with the Soviet regime; now, it is not necessary anymore. But that’s something you can argue about, whether it should be a kind of temporary place, where people stop early in their career in order to form themselves properly or whether it is a place to which you come for a year of rest and breathing within your normal career. I don’t know, I mean, I can argue it either way; and I can see people here who have exactly the same problem. Should it be a place to which people come with thoughts and to have peace of mind, or it a place where you go to magnify yourself to get a better job – which tends to be now that happens. So, half of our people at Dumbarton Oaks spend most of the time running out and giving lectures and showing off some place or other. And I’m not sure quite what it should be. I suppose that what an institution like Harvard has to decide – they have to set their policies for them, if they want to do that. It is no longer a great center for collective scholarship, except that it has a publication program, and the Dumbarton Oaks Papers are a very important thing. It is no longer because there are competitors for that; there are other places which do this. I don’t think the kind of scholarship that Ihor represents is something that is still of significance to most people. I mean, if you read any of the things that Ihor writes, it’s actually wonderful; but if you don’t know Greek, German, and Russian, it becomes very difficult to understand and appreciate.
CW: Do you remember anything about the rumors of Harvard wanting to move the operation of Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard?
OG: Well, my thoughts on the possibility of transporting Byzantine Studies to Harvard? You’re going to be shocked if I even suggest this to Tom Lentz or anybody of that nature, but it would have been, probably, a good idea forty years ago. Now, there is no point in thinking about it. Harvard can’t handle its own collections in Cambridge, and to bring all this down suddenly. When I knew Dumbarton Oaks, it was all Byzantine – then suddenly appeared all the Pre-Columbian and then the Garden. Should all three of these continue on a more or less equal footing? I simply don’t know; but, then again, I don’t do the budget, so I don’t know where it is financially. I think it is strange bedfellows, I mean, these three things together; but maybe that is legitimate – I mean, if there is enough money, there is certainly enough space here to have all three of them. I want to go back to this question about the atmosphere of the place. Now the atmosphere of the place has changed because people are not in a monastery together. They are in a library together, whereas in the past it was like a monastery: you had breakfast together, you had lunch together, you had dinner, you spent all day together. Right now, you don’t have breakfast. You still have lunch, and I’m told it’s still very ceremonial: who is allowed to have lunch in the Fellows Building, who is not allowed. You have classes of visitors to the library, ones who are first-class visitors and second-class visitors. I don’t know whether it’s true, but in the past, it used to be a community working together, which I don’t think it is now. Maybe these kinds of worlds have simply disappeared, and there’s no point in trying to establish them. You’re not going to invent a Vasiliev, a Dvornik, or people of that nature – they just don’t exist. For instance, when Ihor tried very hard to get Hans Belting, who probably to the younger generation is the most brilliant Byzantinist or art historian or whatever you want – but he didn’t want to come to Washington. One reason is that he doesn’t feel at home in an American institution. And why should you bring somebody who’s not at home in that institution? It’s still easier to do here, at the Institute for Advanced Study – we still have quite a few people like that. Because here there is nothing around, you really live in your own secluded world with your lunches and dinners. And the world of Dumbarton Oaks can no longer be recreated. There was a mythology of Dumbarton Oaks, but it is really no longer clear to what objectives it responds. Is it a training place to prepare people for functions in American or other institutions. Usually, it has to be American institutions, because I don’t think you get yourself ready for a position in Italy by coming to Dumbarton Oaks. Or it is a place where you meet for seminars and symposia? These should be organized differently, that is, where people meet twice: once to organize something, and then they do work wherever they are, and then they meet again to expose the results of their work; or all kinds of other techniques or patterns that can be proposed. I don’t know, is there actually a board of trustees at Dumbarton Oaks now that is separate –?
OG: – that is separate from the Harvard one?
CW: No, I don’t think it’s – I think they are more or less the same.
OG: As the Harvard corporation, yeah. So to whom are they responsible? They are responsible to the Harvard president?
OG: See, one doesn’t even know who runs that place. It was alright as long as the people running it were the Blisses, Thacher, Thacher’s successor, Tyler, the former ambassador to The Netherlands. They were all American aristocrats, wealthy American aristocrats – they were superior to Harvard. They didn’t talk directly to Harvard and didn’t want Harvard to meddle with their little feudal entity. That’s fallen apart. Now everything is run by the actual rule of professors, which means the bureaucrats of an academic system; and they have it different – they are not wealthy for the most part (some exceptions you have there), and it’s a completely different world – and the academic world is a completely different world than it was thirty years ago.
ABF: When do you – what period do you pinpoint as the time when these changes began to take place?
OG: I think the ‘70s. This was when Giles Constable was Director.
ABF: This was when you were on the Board of Scholars?
OG: Yeah; and I think that the important thing is that Giles Constable is somebody who understood that. Giles knew that. Now, whether his solutions were the right ones is another questions, but he understood that there was something different – that you cannot recreate the world of wonderful, sophisticated learning – and cooking. I mean the idea of a bunch of professors cooking for each other is very interesting because all the professors I mentioned who cooked for each other – Friend and Dvornik and Kantorowicz – were all bachelors – and the whole history, which I haven’t thought much about, about the intimacies of people at Dumbarton Oaks – the ones with families, the ones without families. See, Kitzinger was remarkable. He had three children, and one of them stayed in England I believe when he was at Dumbarton Oaks, but maybe two of them, I think, were little children – or only one. Anastos had a son nobody ever saw. Downey had a daughter, I think, who eventually became a professor at UCLA. Underwood had a daughter whom nobody ever saw – they were already grown-up children. They were no longer part of the community. I don’t remember them showing up at Mrs. Bliss’s Christmas party – but I may be wrong. In other words, there is an old myth at Dumbarton Oaks, which is cute to remember, and you can write nice little stories about it, but it has nothing to do with what Dumbarton Oaks could or should be. What it is, it is a fabulous library, and, I suppose, I’m sure it now has all the right equipment for computer work of one kind of another. It probably spends more money, just as we do now here, on all kinds of ways to improve the computerization of the place – and not on secretarial help or research assistants. Because, who needs a research assistant when everything’s on the internet? But, that’s true, you have to know how to use that thing, and half the time, it falls apart [laughter]. But, since Ned Keenan became director, I haven’t been much involved with Dumbarton Oaks. Until then, I was. Thomson I knew quite well. Angeliki Laiou – that’s different. She belongs to – because she represented a very different objective for Dumbarton Oaks than what Thomson had been.
ABF: What was that?
ABF: One thing, actually, that you said that I was a bit curious about. You talked about your father being a bit critical of rich amateurs, amateur scholars; but, isn’t that how you would also describe the Blisses?
OG: Oh, they were not scholars. They were not trained to scholarship.
ABF: Amateur collectors.
OG: Yeah, amateur collectors; oh, collectors are mostly amateurs. But I think there is something interesting in that there was always a paradox in my father’s opinion of the Blisses because he genuinely liked Mrs. Bliss; he was very fond in a social way of what she represented. She had a kind of charm and she understood intellectual theories – or maybe she acted as though she understood – that I don’t know, but she understood, and she made you feel good. But she never claimed to be a scholar. She was a collector, but I think he was the bigger collector, Mr. Bliss. He was the real collector, but she was a collector too. I mean, that was a completely different attitude – and I suspect my father always thought museums should collect, not people – this is a public activity, not a private activity (which doesn’t work). Was the DO faculty ever dissolved, or they just didn’t replace people?
ABF: Well, they – in the ’70s, basically, there ceased to be a permanent faculty at Dumbarton Oaks.
OG: Yes, well, who was the faculty? Ihor was there, then he moved to Harvard. Was there anybody else?
OG: Well, Mango, well, Mango – that was one of the mistakes. I mean, Mango was a great man, but it was a mistake for Ihor to have brought him because they are very close friends and kindred spirits. They are very old friends, but they are separate from everybody else who was there. And, therefore, you create a kind of – two bodies running everything, and both very critical of most people; and that was a mistake, that was the wrong kind of person to have. But then anyway I don’t know that anybody really thought whether Dumbarton Oaks should have a faculty or not? So these guys are gone, or one goes and the other – “we’ll take him to Harvard. Let’s not do anything. Let’s see how it runs.” Was it a thoughtful decision or just it’s easier to not have a faculty – because nobody ever knew. These became the years under Bill Loerke about whom the question had arisen whether he should be adhoc-ed by a Harvard committee or not; and I don’t remember the discussion and decisions that took place. There was already a question as to whether Bill Loerke was a member of the faculty at Harvard or not; and similarly, you ask here why they abolished the position of Director of Byzantine Studies. Now I don’t know why it was abolished. I think it was abolished when Giles became Director.
ABF: Mmm hmm.
OG: Yeah, because I think he thought he could do it. And then he reestablished it – or was it reestablished after him?
OG: I would imagine so, because this is – I could see very well, Giles would feel, being a medievalist and a scholar and an academic, that he doesn’t need a Director of Studies. But the moment you get somebody who doesn’t get – but, again, Giles is a strong personality with strong connections, who belongs to the striped pants general staff of academia (very complicated system in academia, where you have those people who went through War College to general staff and people who did not go to general staff). And the German military always had striped pants, if you went to general staff school; and Giles, like I, belonged to general staff. We went to all the right places: the right institutions, the right degrees, at the right time, and so forth. If there are no studies, should there be a Director of Studies? I don’t know, I mean, this is something – there is one now?
ABF: Mmm hmm.
OG: Who is it now?
ABF: Alice-Mary Talbot.
OG: Oh, she’s still at DO?
ABF: Yeah, for another year.
OG: For another year. She is very good at it; but I’m not quite sure what the purpose of it is, unless there are indeed – or they have now Junior Fellows, Junior Fellows, that’s right. So they have younger people – so Summer Fellows, that’s right. They have all kinds of groups of people to take care of, so therefore it would make sense to have a Director of Studies. Do they still have concerts?
CW: Primarily in the winter, I think.
OG: Yeah, in winter, usually. But, this again – the concerts or even the symposia or the lectures were a big social event in Washington, and I remember for the symposium, for instance, automatically, the whole staff of the Freer Gallery and the National Gallery came to the symposium, regardless of the subject, because they had to be seen. Right now, they don’t even know what happens at Dumbarton Oaks. I mean, I’m close to both the Freer Gallery and the National Gallery; I’ve been very much involved with both of these. They don’t even know what happens at Dumbarton Oaks. They don’t even get invitations any more. Just as Dumbarton Oaks is not invited to their activities. Now, in the Bliss period, the Dumbarton Oaks affairs, whether its concerts or lectures, were a social event in Washington, and you played for a Washington public; and I think this is almost gone now. Maybe they’ll try to – well, it should be reestablished. In a way, this is the kind of thing people like my father thought was silly, but they enjoyed it. It was a real occasion for them to see a certain Washington establishment. This is not the political establishment. This is the establishment of the Georgetown rich, old aristocratic Georgetown families that would meet there for a concert or for a lecture – symposia, usually they didn’t stay very long, because symposia bored them. Also, the nature of publication has changed so much that, is there any use for most of these symposia? I mean, we have them all the time here in the sciences; but, again, the sciences work as a team. I mean, that’s quite different as a way of doing things. But, the other great thing is the social change. A cooking staff disappears when most Fellows started being married, and therefore living in apartments, and not coming – but this is a rather important issue: do you create a social collective, as the Soviets would have called it, or do you create a convenience store, to which you come for whatever you need and then you go home? We have a wonderful library here. The great thing about this library in Princeton is that there’s almost never anybody in it, because it’s so easily accessible that people come at 3 a.m. or whenever it is they can come and work here. But it is a luxury. It is a luxury because all these books, no one – nobody ever touches them. They’re there in case you want it; and here and there you suddenly want it. I think all these institutions of research have a problem. They, as I said, become, either, like the Getty, which just brings younger people and older people for six months to do their thing, that’s one way; or you’re creating something together. That’s what Dumbarton Oaks tried to do, and I don’t think it has been able to do it anymore; but I don’t think we have common questions anymore. But, that, I mean, may be the pessimism of old age. Now, what I suggest, if you don’t mind, we have a very simple lunch. We could do that.
ABF: Sure, thank you very much.