Cecelia Klein

Oral History Interview with Cecelia Klein, undertaken by Alyce de Carteret by telephone on August 10, 2010. At Dumbarton Oaks, Cecelia Klein was a Fellow of Pre-Columbian Studies in 1992 and a member of the Board of Senior Fellows of Pre-Columbian Studies between 1992 and 1995.

AdC: Good afternoon, I’m Alyce de Carteret. Today is Tuesday, August 10, 2010, and I have the pleasure of speaking with Cecelia Klein, currently a professor of art history at UCLA and formerly a regular and Senior Fellow here at Dumbarton Oaks. Thank you for joining me today.

CK: You’re welcome; my pleasure.

AdC: So, to begin, could you tell me a little bit about how you first came to know about Dumbarton Oaks and what your initial impressions were of the institution?

CK: Well, I first came to know about it when I was a graduate student at Columbia; I would have been a doctoral student then. I’m sure I had learned about this from my dissertation adviser. When I finished my dissertation, he felt it should be published, and so he suggested that I contact Betty Benson at Dumbarton Oaks to see if Dumbarton Oaks would want to publish it, which I did. After a while I heard back, but Betty felt it wasn’t the kind of study that would make a salable book, but did I want to give a talk at the upcoming conference on death and the afterlife in pre-Columbian America? So, I said, “Sure.” It was actually my first presentation anywhere, and I was absolutely terrified because I seemed to be starting at the top rather than at the bottom. But I went to the conference and did my thing, and although I knew Betty only indirectly, she was very supportive and they did publish that talk. Once you have your attention called to Dumbarton Oaks it’s never too far from your mind because it’s really kind of a Mecca for my field.

AdC: And did you have much interaction with Betty Benson after that or in the years – ?

CK: No, I didn’t. I think the next time I went to D.O. she was no longer the Director. But she would come to the events. You would always see her there. But she was no longer running Pre-Columbian Studies.

AdC: And over the years you’ve been involved with numerous symposia and publications after that first talk that you gave. What was your experience – what was the experience of being part of these symposia and these publications?

CK: Good. When Elizabeth Boone was director of Pre-Columbian Studies, I was invited to participate in, I think, two additional symposia, and D.O. was extremely supportive and helpful and always did a fantastic job of putting together a conference volume. And, actually, there must have been three occasions when I presented at D.O., but the next time, I actually chaired one of their sessions. By that time Jeff Quilter was the director. But they were all very positive experiences. I never had any complaints at all.

AdC: And what was the atmosphere like being in the symposia with all of the scholars gathered together?

CK: Well, it’s a kind of a high. One reason I think that D.O. is so important to my field is that it’s one of the few places where everybody is likely to come. It’s not regional. The conferences for a long time were defined in such a way that they were really of interest to everybody in the field, not just to a specific group. So, when you went you saw people that you maybe didn’t otherwise ever see except at Dumbarton Oaks. And then the intellectual interaction was always first-rate because the group was small enough there in that Music Room that you weren’t intimidated into silence, but large enough that you got a lot of different points of view. And so there were usually excellent papers and then very lively discussions that would follow.

AdC: And you had more of a chance to interact with Elizabeth Boone at these events?

CK: Well I did, but to be honest Elizabeth is a very good friend of mine.

AdC: Oh, okay.

CK: And I think that that was one reason that I was offered as many opportunities as I was offered during her tenure there. She was a booster. In fact when I would go there I would stay with her, so our relationship during those periods was both social and professional.

AdC: So, you became a Fellow, a regular Fellow in 1991. Is that correct?

CK: Well that’s a good question. I – that’s, I think, not right.

AdC: Okay.

CK: I think I must have gone in the second term, the first half of 1992 because I left to go there from Pittsburgh and it was snowing. And I just don’t remember exactly what I did – I think I had been teaching at Pitt that fall. I had a Mellon professorship at Pitt, I think, that fall term, and then I moved on down to Dumbarton Oaks after Christmas.

AdC: And I know you were friends with Elizabeth Boone, but could you characterize perhaps her directorship of Pre-Columbian Studies at Dumbarton Oaks?

CK: Well, she was high energy, and she did a lot to put pre-Columbian studies in a better position. It had – I don’t know if it’s still the case – traditionally, it was always playing third fiddle to – well, second fiddle – to Byzantine studies, and it was getting a much smaller share of the pie. I know she was a real advocate and that she fought hard to get more of the budget so that she could build, among other things, the library. But she also lobbied long and hard to get more Fellows because there were times when Pre-Columbian Studies got short changed. So, she was a fighter and she turned that library into something that’s now one of the probably top three Latin American libraries in this country. She also was very good about bringing Latin Americans in and having them be involved, so it wasn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. And I think she conceptualized very interesting topics. There were topics of conferences that really worked well because it would turn out that there were a lot of people who were interested in them. It was just knowing what would be liked and how to frame it and whom to invite. And the other thing she did that was new was start to move toward including early colonial with pre-Columbian studies because in general, in the field at large, pre-Columbian art historians were coming to understand that their understanding of the pre-Columbian past was greatly shaped by colonial texts, even colonial art, and that you have to know the colonial period in order to do pre-Columbian studies correctly. She met a lot of resistance on that, however, so that she wasn’t able to do a lot with it, but she moved Dumbarton Oaks in that direction, which was widely hailed as a very progressive thing to do. Fortunately it’s back on track and moving that way again.

AdC: Now some of these goals you’re talking about – moving, expanding Dumbarton Oaks perhaps into the early colonial period and reaching out to Latin America – were these goals that the Senior Fellows committee also shared at this time when you were on the board?

CK: Not that I remember. That board – I’ve kind of forgotten exactly who all was there. Richard Townsend was on the board but seldom showed up. Maybe he came once. Richard Burger was there (he seems always to be on that board). Robert Sharer and Barbara Voorhies and Heather Lechtman. And so except for Dick Townsend and me, you’re talking about archaeologists, although Heather’s really a materials analyst. These aren’t people who were coming at that material as an art historian would. But Elizabeth was an ex officio member so she would be sitting in. There’s somebody else who, as I recall, was sitting behind me, perhaps Angeliki Laiou, who was director at that time. Some of the topics that interested the archaeologists, however, were of minimal interest to me, until the day that Heather and Barbara said that they thought Dumbarton Oaks should do a conference on gender issues. That was very interesting because the men all felt that it was premature: there weren’t enough people working in that field, it wasn’t going to go anywhere, etc. I supported Heather and Barbara, and in the end they made me take the responsibility for organizing it, which I really hadn’t counted on. I felt that once that conference had come about, however, we showed that those guys had been completely wrong. There were dozens of scholars working on gender issues in pre-Hispanic America. When you have a Senior Fellows committee that is so heavily slanted towards the material sciences and the chair is an archaeologist, it’s hard to get certain kinds of issues to be seriously considered. I do remember that.

AdC: Yeah, that brings up a lot of interesting things which I hope we all get to in this interview, But to jump back a little bit, how would you describe the experience of being a Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks and what was the – ?

CK: Oh, extremely positive. Very, very positive. You mean as a Senior Fellow or as a – ?

AdC: As a Fellow, but then also as a Senior Fellow.

CK: As a Fellow it’s a dream. You don’t have to teach – of course, I had one of my own students right there, but for the most part we left each other alone. She knew what she was doing and didn’t need me very much. So, you just come in every day. In those days you worked downstairs in the basement surrounded by your books and nobody bothered you unless you wanted to be bothered, so you just could immerse yourself in the material. And then when you went to lunch there were all these people, not only everybody at Dumbarton Oaks, but all these people who were in Washington momentarily and would come up and join everybody for lunch. So, it was extremely, extremely positive, invaluable; I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. In fact, I’ll tell you a little anecdote because it speaks to this. This was earlier, in 1986. I had applied for a fellowship to both Dumbarton Oaks and CASVA – the Center for the Advanced Study of the Visual Arts at the National Gallery – and I got both of them. I knew I couldn’t take both, so I took the CASVA because in my discipline – not thinking now about the field of pre-Columbian studies but just of art history in general – that’s a more widely recognized and touted institution. So, I went to CASVA, and there was not a single book in their library that had anything to do with what I was working on, and the computer system there was basically non-functional. So, I ended up spending a great deal of my time at Dumbarton Oaks. I can’t remember the name of the man who was the Director then (I think it was Robert Thomson), but I remember walking with him someplace – I don’t know where we were going – and he said, “You’re here pretty much all the time.” I said, “I know.” And he said, “Why did you turn us down for CASVA if you were going to be here the whole time?” Good question! It was very ironic, but the truth was everything I needed and wanted was really up there at D.O. So, if I had to do it over again I probably wouldn’t take the CASVA offer. I would go to D.O.

AdC: So, overall you’d say it was a beneficial experience to be here.

CK: Oh yes.

AdC: And while you were here, was there much interaction, would you say, between not only Pre-Columbian Fellows with those of Byzantine and Landscape studies, but within Pre-Columbian between Fellows and Junior Fellows or Senior Fellows and the Fellows and Junior Fellows?

CK: Well, Senior Fellows would just fly in for a day or two. I don’t even remember who the Senior Fellows were when I was a Fellow, and I doubt that there was a lot of interaction with them. They’d have their meeting and then go right home. But there were attempts to facilitate interaction with the Byzantinists in particular. There were these formal seminars that were organized – I think Elizabeth was active in putting together that one that foregrounded Stanley Tambiah who, I guess, was a Fellow there. We would come together and meet, and he kind of held forth. I don’t remember anybody else having a whole lot of opportunity to speak. And it was a disaster – at least from my point of view it was a disaster – because he works with what he calls the great religions, and the “great religions” are Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. So, he had formed his ideas, which I’m sure he thought were very profound, about religion based on his knowledge of the so-called great religions. But the pre-Columbianists were sitting there stunned because the religions that we work with just didn’t fit into his model at all. We would try to have a conversation about that but it didn’t go anywhere. The Byzantinists were no help because they’re all about Christianity, so they were happy. So, at one point some of us – and I think maybe Elizabeth might have even joined us – just left one day, and in the end we weren’t even attending the thing. But it really wasn’t the fault of Byzantinists. I think it was really Tambiah that set things off on the wrong track. The idea of a joint seminar was basically good. Do they still do that?

AdC: Try and bring together all the different – ?

CK: Yes.

AdC: I think they’ve had a few, but there haven’t been many that combine all three. And that’s another great question: is that something that Dumbarton Oaks should try to do more of, is bring these different groups of people together working in very different fields and having symposia and having conferences?

CK: Well, they’d have to be sure that how they were going about it had a fair chance of success.

AdC: Right.

CK: My only experience was very negative. But you know, at CASVA they throw people together from all kinds of different fields, and they seem to interact beautifully. But CASVA takes up a lot more of your time when you’re there. In order to do that they have coffees in the morning. And then you’d have lunch – and these lunches could last an hour and a half or two hours. Wine was served, and you all sat around a great big table, the Director usually had something in mind that he wanted everybody to talk about, but it was very relatively informal. Then you would disband and you would think you were going to go back and do your work again, but they’d call you forth again to go have sherry. You’d have these little sherry parties preliminary to dinner, and then you’d have your dinner. So, in the end, unless you were a very early riser, you spent probably fifty percent of your time interacting with people, and you interacted in very effective ways. And if there was a dignitary in town they would invite that person, and I remember that the Director of the National Gallery was there at least once. That’s what you have to do in order to get that to work, and, you have to have a director who’s very clever about thinking of ways to get people to talk across their disciplinary or field boundaries. That was achieved at CASVA. Dumbarton Oaks, in contrast, lets you have much more time to yourself so you can do your own work

AdC: Now, this makes me think of the question about directors, overall directors of Dumbarton Oaks. Did you have much interaction with them, for example Angeliki Laiou or Robert Thomson?

CK: Angeliki was the director when I organized the gender symposium and when I was a Senior Fellow, but I never got to know her very well. She seemed to me to be a very cold and at-a-distance person. She did not cultivate any friendship with me, and, in fact I ended up deciding she didn’t like me. She seemed to have a bee in her bonnet about the gender thing. She had her own ideas about gender which of course were coming from her experience as a Byzantinist, so she would contest what I would say about gender in the Americas. And she didn’t seem very supportive of the gender symposium. Moreover, when I was a Senior Fellow – I think it was maybe my third year, in February, 1994 – we had a terrible earthquake out here in L.A., and the building that I lived in was condemned. I had to move out of my condo and find an apartment. Because everybody in L.A. who had been thrown out of their house was looking for an apartment, that was a bit of a chore. My cat and I stayed with friends for a while until I could find an apartment. It was extremely, extremely traumatic and disruptive, and I just couldn’t get to Washington for that meeting of the Senior Fellows committee. So, I called D.O. and – I don’t know whom I talked to, but it wasn’t Angeliki – and said, “I’m really sorry, I just can’t come. My life is upside down here.” I don’t think anybody cared except her, but she clearly saw this as a real abrogation of duty and was angry about it. I very conspicuously was not asked to serve another three years, as were a number of people at that time. She just didn’t want me back.

AdC: Wow.

CK: So, I didn’t shed a whole lot of tears when she dropped out of the picture. I don’t think I ever really came to know her successor, whose name I’ve actually forgotten. But he’s –

AdC: Oh, Ned Keenan.

CK: Oh, Ned Keenan. I don’t think I’ve ever met him. After that gender conference, I went back to D.O. only as an attendee for a number of subsequent conferences, but I haven’t gone back recently. There have been one or two conferences there that I clearly should have gone to and I’m sorry I missed them, but there was a spate of conferences that just really didn’t interest me after Elizabeth stepped down.

AdC: Now did you make it to any of the offsite conferences that were held in Mexico City and – ?

CK: I didn’t go to those. No. I’ll tell you one of my problems. Dumbarton Oaks holds its conferences in October. Out here, because of the climate, UCLA doesn’t even start until the beginning of October.

AdC: Oh wow.

CK: So, those conferences always occur right at the time when you’re trying to get your classes settled in and students are all a fuss because they haven’t formalized their schedules and your grad students are breathing down your neck because they haven’t seen you for a while, and so it just is always a bad time. And then I’ve noticed that out here our institutions pay no attention to what’s going on at Dumbarton Oaks, so they sponsor things out here that are, if not the exact same weekend as D.O.’s annual symposium, the weekend before or after it. I just am not one of those people who can dart around from coast to coast like that. So, I just have not gone recently, and I probably won’t go this fall either. This year’s topic doesn’t sound terribly interesting to me. It’s very expensive to go from here and I have to be highly motivated.

AdC: So, to jump back a little bit to your time as a Senior Fellow, you touched on this a little bit but I was wondering if you could talk about what your responsibilities were as a Senior Fellow in addition to accepting proposals for the symposia and that sort of thing. What was the atmosphere like in those meetings? What were the discussions about?

CK: They were sort of theoretical because the applications and proposals raised issues that were important to the direction that the field would go in and the question of what D.O.’s role would be in all of this. I think everybody took their job very seriously, and I don’t think it was what I would call “contentious.” The exception was the debate over whether to have a conference on gender. That definitely created an interesting rift between the men and the women. I was surprised by it. But, it is what happened. By the time that symposium came to pass, Jeff Quilter was the Director and all of the organizers and participants and everything met at D.O. for a dinner the night before the conference, and he got up and gave a speech. I wish to God I’d had a tape recorder because I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I was shocked. I mean, he said something that indicated that he saw those of us who were involved in this conference as bra burners or something. I thought, “Dear God, this institution has just stepped backwards by leaps and bounds. It’s no longer progressive, it’s actually reactionary.” But you know, he stepped up to the plate and did the job. Those were interesting times.

AdC: Yeah. Sounds like it. Going back to the responsibilities of being a Senior Fellow, one of these responsibilities is picking the Junior Fellows and the Fellows for that coming year. What were the goals of the Senior Fellows committee in terms of picking particular applicants over other applicants? Were you trying to strike a balance between – ?

CK: Yes, definitely a balance. There always was the problem that the archaeologists would find more archaeology applicants that were, in their opinion, excellent, and the art historians would do the same for art history. I don’t remember there being any trouble, however. You sort of talked your way through all that. I think the single most important thing on everybody’s mind was quality. We wanted to pick the people that we thought had the best shot at ultimately making a real contribution to the field, and we did that. I think that overall D.O. has always made good decisions. But I frankly don’t remember any specific instances or applicants of that time when I was a Senior Fellow.

AdC: And so, at the end you would come to a general agreement about who the final Fellows were going to be and no hard feelings on either side?

CK: No, I don’t remember any hard feelings.

AdC: So, over the years – and this is a little bit more of a meaty question – but there has been tension between art history and archaeology within the Pre-Columbian branch. Did you – and I’m sure you did because you’ve alluded to it in our minutes so far – but did you ever get a sense of this tension and if so could you describe the conflict as best you understand it?

CK: You know, I don’t think that when I was involved it was really a matter of tension. People see the world differently. Each field has a culture and archaeologists are trained in one culture while art historians are trained in another. They’re very aware, obviously, that they’re speaking in some ways two very different languages and that they have to find some kind of common ground. What concerned me was the tendency after Elizabeth left for the archaeologists to seem to prevail more often than they had in the past. That’s one reason I don’t find the big symposia so interesting anymore; the topics often don’t “speak” to me. I’m just speaking now as somebody in the field who, from a distance, when I get an announcement of an upcoming symposium, thinks, “Oh, I don’t have to go to that.” But when Joanne came in, everything started to look rosy again. It has to do with what you think the big, big questions are. What are the issues? One of my criticisms of Dumbarton Oaks in past years is that the topics it would pick were too often not really – wasn’t in the avant-garde. It was waiting to see what everybody else is writing about and thinking about and then it would have a conference about that instead of trying to break some new ground. As contentious as the gender symposium was initially, I thought it did that. When I organized it, I didn’t rely on the same old gang because there have been a tendency in these symposia for the same people to show up. They were the experts in their field and whatever, but they were back yet again. And I was one of them – I’m not casting stones. During that period of – what? – twenty years or less, I was there as a speaker, I think, three times. But when you do that on a consistent basis you’re not really moving the field ahead. That is one thing that I feel very strongly about. So, when I went to invite speakers for the gender symposium, I got flak from D.O. I won’t say from where or whom, but they had their own ideas about who should be speaking in that symposium, and they were very upset because I didn’t invite some of the people they wanted, as well as about one of the speakers that I did invite. But I would say that nearly everyone I invited to speak at that symposium had never spoken at Dumbarton Oaks before. They simply had never been blessed by D.O. There are just some people who are kind of permanently shut out, and in the case of the gender symposium, one of them was a very distinguished, well-known, highly-regarded anthropologist, whom I got flak over involving. I think they’re doing a better job now of bringing in new and younger people instead of the same old fogeys, but the fact remains that there were a lot of old fogeys there for a while.

AdC: Now, I’ve heard this comment from some other interviews I’ve been listening to this year that – just – exactly what you were saying. Sometimes the topics are a little too safe, they’re not breaking ground, they’re not going into new areas. Do you think for that reason the Dumbarton Oaks publications have more of a problem of making an impact in the field today?

CK: Well, I didn’t know they were having troubles. I’d have to think about that. You mean they’re not selling well? Is that what you’re saying or – ?

AdC: No. I mean, I’ve heard from some people that they don’t think the publications are as exciting in that regard as they once were.

CK: Well, that’s interesting. There sure aren’t as many of them. But D.O. published just recently a book by my former student, the one who had been a Junior Fellow there when I was a Fellow, and it’s not like anything else that Dumbarton Oaks has ever put out. It charts a new direction for D.O., so more credit to them for that. I don’t know. I think things will turn around here with Joanne. She hasn’t been there that long, but she got that publications program up and running again and she’s getting things out. She’ll leave her mark on that. I buy almost everything that Dumbarton Oaks publishes – I just bought Susan Evans’ big expensive book – because I use that stuff in my research, although whether it’s cutting-edge, intellectually progressive stuff is another matter. When you’re doing a catalog like that you can’t really be very progressive. It would be a shame if Dumbarton Oaks were simply to produce catalogs. It’s the conference proceedings and books that are important. As was that monograph series that they used to put out; that was invaluable. Those were case studies. They tended not to be of equal interest to everybody, but, boy, if they produced one that was pertinent to your research or teaching, it was invaluable. So, I’m sorry they stopped that. Maybe it was too expensive or something. There’s a great need in the field for monographs. And I say that as somebody who writes horribly long articles, because most presses don’t want long articles. They either want a short article or they want a book, and some subjects don’t lend themselves to either. So, that would be one thing I would say I regret the cessation of. I don’t know if I answered the question, but –

AdC: Oh, no, no. That’s great. But also in a similar vein, how has, in your perspective, the field of pre-Columbian studies at Dumbarton Oaks grown and changed since you first became involved with the institution?

CK: Well, back in the days when I first started interacting with Dumbarton Oaks, the archaeologists and anthropologists who were very closely involved were a different breed from the ones we have today. A lot of archaeologists now, probably most of them, are much, much more rigorous, scientific, and specialized in their focus and analysis. It’s a different kind of archaeology, in particular. So, I think that because of D.O.’s commitment to archaeology, the changes that have taken place in that field have really affected D.O.’s own trajectory. Overall, the changes have probably been for the good because archaeology is a much better discipline now. However, it’s also harder to find that common ground between archaeology and art history. So, that old problem is still there, but it’s also probably contributed to this impression I have of so many of these conferences being downright boring. They are too heavily conceptualized and controlled by archaeologists. It’s often not easy to figure out how I as an art historian can relate to them. On the other hand, there have been conference topics that I think were absolutely fabulous. The one that I most regret missing, because everybody said it was so good, is the one on scripts and writing, which I guess was Joanne’s just a few years ago. And previously Elizabeth and Tom Cummins did one on native traditions, which really moved D.O. into the colonial era, and raised very timely and important questions re: methodology. That is the kind of topic that you wouldn’t have seen on the table back in the ’70s. You know, in those days they lumped pre-Columbian America into one little pot, so you had, for example, a symposium on Death and the Afterlife in pre-Columbian America. I did that too with the gender thing because it was a very new field, but I don’t think you could do that today. We’ve reached a point where it’s ridiculous to assume that there is such a thing as the pre-Columbian world (although D.O. just published what I think is a very uninteresting book called The Pre-Columbian World). I think D.O. needs to watch that it doesn’t continue to essentialize the field. The important questions in the end are: what is the intellectual purpose of this publication? What intellectual questions is it attempting to answer?

AdC: And if you were to look towards the future, what role do you hope Dumbarton Oaks would take in the field of pre-Columbian studies in general?

CK: Well, the word on the street in higher education is that pre-Columbian art history is dying, that this is a field that has not proved its mettle, that it hasn’t made itself important. And certainly in academe it’s being gobbled up in terms of jobs by colonial or early modern (and modern) Latin American art positions. What’s happening is that when you look at the jobs that are being posted, you see that what schools want are people who do colonial or modern Latin American art history. They know they need a Latin Americanist. They’re living in the twenty-first century now, so they realize the importance of having on the faculty at least one person who can do something Latin American. But they don’t want a pre-Columbianist. So, anybody who trains in pre-Columbian art history – I can’t speak for the archaeologists – can’t get a job no matter how good they are. Our students, happily, are trained in both colonial and pre-Columbian, so I’ve never had a student who didn’t get a job, but they’re getting these jobs now because they can do colonial. In one case a university has told one of my former students, “We don’t want you to teach pre-Columbian. We only want colonial.” She’s fighting that because she knows that you can’t do colonial without pre-Columbian. Forget it. But I think that the powers-to-be in these art history departments haven’t caught on to that yet. They don’t quite understand it. And they see pre-Columbian as unnecessary, even esoteric. With the death of Linda Schele there’s really been nobody out there who has been trying to bridge that gap between the specialists who speak to each other in what must seem to others a foreign language and the larger public, which includes educated art historians who just happen to work, for example, in Italy or the Netherlands. They’re curious about our field but they can’t make heads or tails of anything we write. So, in the end, when they look at a publication by one of us, and it’s all about glyphs and peoples fingernails and things that don’t make any sense to them, they just write it off. I think one thing that Dumbarton Oaks could do is take on as a mission this task of trying to make this field more relevant within the broader field of cultural studies. You know, D.O. is a club. Everybody who is part of the club understands why she’s there. Everybody in the club loves it; they love each other; they pat each other on the backs; they write for each other. But the bigger picture is that the humanities in general are in terrible, terrible shape, going down pretty fast in flames. Thus, pre-Columbian studies, as a relatively insignificant field within the humanities, is doomed if somebody doesn’t do something. I think in the social sciences they’ve got a better shot at it because they are in the sciences, but in the humanities some pre-Columbian art historians are not getting jobs. I know some – fortunately not mine – who have just come out of grad school in the last year or two, and there’s been nothing there for them. They’re not getting hired. Part of that is because some schools aren’t training them properly, but the schools would be more inclined to train them properly if D.O. could show them what needs to be done to produce a good early Latin Americanist scholar. I don’t know how you do that exactly – how you bring that to people’s attentions – but D.O. cannot go on pretending that this is going to last forever. It’s not. For my students’ sake, I make them do colonial even when they don’t want to. After about a year, they say, “I’m so glad you made me do this.” And our colonialist does the reverse with her students. If she has a student working on early colonial art, she says, “you have to minor with Cecelia Klein. Have to.” Otherwise, they will just produce nonsense and they won’t have an optimal chance at getting a job. So, that’s one thing that I think Joanne is doing and it’s a very positive thing. It was something Elizabeth also had tried to do – that is, calibrate what D.O. is doing with what’s happening not just among pre-Columbianists but out there in the realm of higher education. I know that Joanne monitors this; she knows perfectly well what’s happening. Because if these kids can’t get jobs, what’s the point?

AdC: And so, you see Dumbarton Oaks helping this situation by expanding into colonial studies and perhaps even expanding its – ?

CK: Well, I don’t think it wants to go into the modern period. I think it’s probably right about where it should be. There is a period of time there in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in particular, where you can’t really do much unless you know something about both pre-Columbian and colonial history, and that I think that D.O. is catching on to that. But what I’m suggesting is that Dumbarton Oaks should not proceed without being very aware of, and discussing, what is happening to the field nationally. In this country the humanities are in very bad shape and pre-Columbian studies – art history, certainly – is threatened to become extinct. I’m not saying it’s going to happen in the next five, ten years, but that’s the direction it’s going, and if anybody doubts it all they have to do is look at the College Art Association job listings. The students are very aware of it. I think this is happening in part because pre-Columbian art history has not made itself relevant to the larger academic and educated lay person’s world. It no long speaks to anybody outside the club. As much as Linda Schele was maligned – and I was one of those who helped malign her – that was something that she did very effectively. She made the country – indeed the international intellectual community – care about pre-Columbian art and history. That was an astonishing moment to see:  interest in our field came alive in people who had had no previous interest in the field, or had had some interest but couldn’t penetrate the literature. That’s what The Blood of Kings did for this country. It brought the importance of pre-Columbian art history to people’s attention. And unfortunately that was – what? – ten, fifteen years ago now. Widespread interest in Pre-Columbian art is now dying. So, how do you fix that? I don’t know. Outreach, maybe.

ADC: Outreach to – ?

CK: Well, these conferences that D.O. holds are so high-level, professional, and closed. D.O. keeps the group small, so the public never really hears about what happens there. I’ve been working with a website in the U.K. called Mexicolore which aims to make its information about pre-Hispanic Mexico available to anybody who wants to go to that website. It seems to be pretty reliable because they have reputable scholars writing essays. If you look at the list of participants, it’s impressive. There are a few things that their staff had written that didn’t carry a byline – that is, there was no name attached – but I told them, that I’ll let my students cite a document on a website only if they can prove to me that the person that wrote the article is a reputable scholar. If they don’t know who wrote it, I won’t let them use it. So, Mexicolore has now started putting the authors’ names to all these articles. What they do at Mexicolore is read what you send them, and then, if you’re using a word that’s a little too big and there might be some readers who wouldn’t know what that meant, they ask if they can change the word to something easier to comprehend. It is a way of getting reliable, good quality scholarly information out to the public in a minimally compromised way. I think that these days websites like Mexicolore, FAMSI, and Mesoweb are how you reach more people. Not with conference volumes, which appeal to a limited readership. So, as long as Dumbarton Oaks is only interested in the scholarly in-group – and that’s a real service, I’m not putting it down, I think that’s fine – they aren’t going to in any way impact the larger problem, which is waning interest in pre-Columbian studies. Byzantinists would never admit that this was happening to them as well, but a lot of them are art historians too, and they’re going to go down with the rest of the humanities if nothing interferes to stop the process.

AdC: Well I think you’ve pretty much answered all the questions I have here. Is there anything else you’d like to add or any other stories or memories from your time at Dumbarton Oaks that you’d like to share?

CK: Who’s the Director there now?

AdC: Jan Ziolkowski.

CK: And he’s a Byzantinist, right?

AC: Yes, or a medievalist.

CK: It’s always a Byzantinist. That’ll be the big day, you see, when the Director is a Pre-Columbianist. When I was there just a couple of months ago, they said that the Landscape program – what is it called now?

AdC: I believe it is called Garden and Landscape Architecture Studies, or Garden and Landscape Studies.

CK: Yes, that program was miniscule when I was there. It barely existed. But it seems to have grown very well and become a major part of the program. That’s great.

AdC: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for taking your time and joining us today. We really appreciate it.

CK: Alright.

ADC: Take care.

CK: You too.

Document Actions