Elizabeth and Michael Jeffreys
ABF: We are Anna Bonnell-Freidin and Clem Wood and we have the great pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth and Michael Jeffreys on July 29, 2008, in the Guest House at Dumbarton Oaks, about their relationship with the institution over the years.
CW: So, we’ll begin with the question: what was your initial impression of Dumbarton Oaks or of the Blisses’ legacy – if you had any idea of that, arriving here from the UK in 1972.
MJ: Well, the Blisses’ legacy – everyone was talking about the Blisses’ legacy; they were talking about Mrs. Bliss who had just left the scene, sadly – talking about the occasions she held – especially afternoon tea, and so on, and contrasting it with the current and rather degenerate situation which they felt. Some of them would put it in another way: with the more relaxed and more normal situation which prevailed. From England, I’m not sure we had much of an idea of the Blisses.
EJ: No, we knew about the institution. It was this grand, as it were, Shangri La, to which all aspiring young Byzantinists hoped that they would come for a year. And we’d been particularly made aware of it from Ann Moffitt who was an Australian in London, writing her doctorate. And she had been at Dumbarton Oaks, in fact, in 1970 or ’69 and ’70. And she talked about the great pleasure of the marvelous library and the garden and just how useful and productive she had found it. So we had that image and we’d also crossed over the Atlantic on the QE II with Robin Cormack and his first wife and their two children. And Robin had been talking about what one should expect. And I don’t think he’d been to D.O. before but he’d certainly talked to a great deal of people – people like Hugo Buchthal who had been his supervisor – and had some idea of what to expect. So it was a slightly mythical quality that we thought we were coming to.
MJ: Don’t incidentally think that the QE II was a sort of grand gesture. We’d simply worked out rather hard-headedly that since we wanted to bring rather a lot of stuff with us, and since the QE II measured its baggage by weight –
EJ: No, by volume.
MJ: – no, no, by volume, by volume. While whereas the planes did it by –
EJ: We had a metric meter.
MJ: No, a cubic meter. A cubic meter of stuff we had.
EJ: – which was an awful lot and far more than one could bring on a plane. So that was pure, sort of, calculation. It was great fun, we enjoyed the QE II crossing.
CW: We hear you crossed with the Weitzmanns.
EJ: That’s right.
CW: We saw that in one of your letters.
EJ: Yes, goodness, you have been doing your homework. That was probably when we went back two years later – and with our daughter in a carrycot – yes, and a bright yellow outfit. And the Weitzmanns were also on board.
MJ: And the Weitzmanns were convinced that we called our daughter Katharine because of Sinai and I’m afraid it wasn’t true.
CW: It was a different spelling.
ABF: So what was it like to arrive at Dumbarton Oaks for the first time in the early ’70s?
MJ: I think we were so caught up in the business of arriving here – of getting all the details and going for the first time into air-conditioning. And the air-conditioning was enormously loud in our apartment and this was a really strange experience for us.
EJ: But I think it also was exciting – to go into the old house which was charming and quaint and delightful – with the books tucked around in various corners. You were the Fellow that year. I might say, I was, as the Fellow’s wife, something of an excrescence and a hanger-on and I was given a room – a desk – in the reading room, but absolutely refused any permission to come to lunch. So –
MJ: Well, there was no room. Let’s be fair. In the old – well, through there, wasn’t it.
EJ: There was room. There was room. But it was made quite plain I wasn’t to come to lunch and I could eat sandwiches in the basement if I wanted to or I could go to the drugstore down the road. So, it was slightly awkward. But what was marvelous was simply the array of books. And before coming, I’d been at the Warburg Institute, so had got used to this rather splendid library. Do you know the Warburg Institute at all?
EJ: It has a marvelous array of things on a broad selection of topics, but not particularly Byzantine focused. So, to come here and discover that any text one wanted was within reach on the shelves was very nice.
MJ: Well, I’d been a school teacher and I had done a part-time Ph.D. (in four years, I’m very proud of that).
EJ: Yes, I was proud.
MJ: And then after finishing, I wanted to do something different. Coming here was a logical way of – a transition from school-teaching to university life and university teaching which worked very well. So, my time here was more or less my post-graduate period because I had no period of research before then.
ABF: Was this the same for you, Elizabeth? Because I saw that you also taught at a girls’ academy, did you not, from ’64 to ’69?
EJ: Yes. No, I had had a period of post-graduate work at Oxford immediately after my first degree – went on and did – I was one of the last people who didn’t do a doctorate. Oxford had an attitude that, “Oh, what do you want a Ph.D. for? That’s a silly sort of mechanical degree.” And I was changing from being a full-on classicist to a medievalist, looking at French material too. So, it was very much a learning period and so that was what was going on. But I did have this period of full-time research. Then I taught, yes, at a girls’ school. And then I got this fellowship at the Warburg Institute which was a period of three years, full-time research. So, I was in a slightly different position from Michael. When in fact, Michael had taken advantage of my time at the Warburg because he would come in in the evening and – great concession – you were allowed to park the car in Warburg –
MJ: Well, it was pretended it was your car, you know, the fact that it arrived a long, long time after you every day. But it took you home. It took you home at night.
EJ: It took me home. Yes, yes. So that you had sort of advantages there. But you certainly hadn’t had a period of full-on research and Dumbarton Oaks provided that.
MJ: So, D.O. was probably more of a shock to me than it would be to most people who had come from a university environment. I had been teaching in Dockland in London and this was different, very different.
EJ: But, I mean, it was marvelous to have all these books available and to have helpful library staff who would hunt things up for you, inter-library loan worked reasonably well, books would be fetched from the library of congress by Mr. Dixon, I think it was, a very nice person. It was just a sort of academically and intellectually exciting and luxurious time.
MJ: I had never met a library like this where there were people to help you. The librarians that I was used to would sometimes give a bit of help, but they seemed rather more aimed at protecting the books from my aggression or possible aggression towards them. So, to come here and to express a wish and to suddenly discover a book being brought to you which you had not been able to find or something like that – it was very strange.
CW: But as you mentioned, the books were still lying around basically anywhere there was space in the Main House. In the attic? Or I guess, maybe, the Fellows were working on the top floor?
EJ: No, they were up in the attic. And I remember with particular fondness the broom cupboard in which the catalogues of Greek manuscripts were kept. It was a fabulous collection of publications which had been brought together. But it was definitely the broom cupboard.
MJ: Were the brooms still there?
EJ: No, no. At that stage, the attic was not air-conditioned. It sweltered up there, actually. It can’t have been at all good for the books.
MJ: No, the books now have to be almost frozen. You know, there has to be a compromise between the temperature suitable for the readers and the temperature suitable for the books. And the books seem to get slightly better treatment. But not then, not then.
CW: We know that in the late ’60s there were a lot of changes at Dumbarton Oaks: there was the death Paul Underwood, one of the great Byzantine – he’d done the fieldwork in Istanbul, and the retirement of John Thacher, and the death of Romilly Jenkins, and Mrs. Bliss died in 1969. And were you aware of any of these larger changes at Dumbarton Oaks when you came in the ’70s or had…?
EJ: Yes, we were. When did Thacher die?
CW: I’m not sure when he died.
ABF: He had retired. He retired in ’69.
EJ: But he was still around.
MJ: He was still around, yes.
CW: He was an honorary associate for –
EJ: Yes, I’m sure he appeared at times. Now we were aware that these great figures from the past had moved on to higher things, as it were, and –
MJ: But it was only Mrs. Bliss that really left a shadow that we were able to see.
EJ: Yes, I suppose Underwood –
MJ: If we had art-historical interests.
EJ: Jenkins was missed because he had been in London before coming here. So, we were aware of that. I mean, he had been Cyril’s predecessor in London and Cyril Mango was now here. And yes, there were sort of shock waves still going on.
MJ: But it was not something for obvious reasons that everybody was talking about loudly or all the time. It was just a shock.
EJ: What was being discussed around the table in the sort of gossip sessions, as it were, was the fact that there were no longer many full-time resident faculty there. The only people here were Ihor Ševčenko and Cyril Mango and both of them were on the verge of moving on: Ihor, back to Harvard and Cryil, in fact, to Oxford. And it was plain that they weren’t going to be replaced. And this was, you know, “was this what Dumbarton Oaks should be doing? Should it just be the succession of annual Fellows?”
MJ: With one person in the Loerke position to look after them or should there be some great men around?
EJ: In which case, how are they to be chosen? So, yes, that was sort of thing that was being discussed and there was a feeling that Dumbarton Oaks was in a state of change and transition.
ABF: Because this was just around the time, I think, when there were talks of moving Dumbarton Oaks – the Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks – to Harvard, actually.
EJ: Was it at that point? Of did that not come later? Or was it an ongoing thing for some time?
ABF: I thought it was just around the early 70s.
CW: Yes, so when Ševčenko was here.
EJ: Yes, so that wasn’t so much impinging on the Fellows at that stage. From our point of view, I suppose what educated us a great deal, was the great emphasis on art history, material culture, the restoration programs that had been going on in Istanbul and Cyprus. And we are text people, not the sort of art and archeology people. But these were the things which were talked around – which were the subject of seminars, the subject of lectures. By osmosis, a lot of this rubbed off.
MJ: Well, it certainly broadened me out enormously while I was extraordinarily narrow from the background that we’ve just been talking about. And it made it possible for me to teach and to research on a much wider range of things. And I think you were a much better teacher eventually because of the Dumbarton Oaks situation.
EJ: Yes, because I, being at the Warburg Institute, had been exposed to Gombrich’s seminars and the huge range of topics that he dealt with there. So my mind had been stretched already. One thing I was going to say – the question of the Fellows meeting together: one of the strengths of Dumbarton Oaks over the years has been the way in which the Fellows in any given year – in a good year – have collaborated together, worked together, become good friends. And friendships have gelled over the years. An example of that – Ann Moffitt, whom I’ve mentioned already, we got to know even better when we went to Australia. And she came back from some trip to a conference or other and said, “Ah! I’ve just met Lennart Ryden who got to know you several years ago at Dumbarton Oaks.” And she said, “What’s nice, I felt I knew him too.” Because the friendships were going on, sort of linking, and through the generations, as it were. So, if a year gelled then the contact and the sort of intellectual networks that were set up then have continued to reverberate.
MJ: Now I think our first year it certainly did gel, but after that, the fact that we had a child with us – that made it more difficult. That made it more difficult. We became family-centered rather than institution-centered, or certainly the balance tipped in the family way.
EJ: So, people and books are the things that we appreciate at Dumbarton Oaks.
MJ: And I think the most educational part – the most relevant Byzantine education I received at any stage in my life was a seminar run by Cyril Mango in the second year? Yes, it was the second year. Or was it the first?
EJ: Yes, it was the first.
MJ: It was the first. It was the first – on Ignatius the Deacon, the text that he eventually published with thanks to the people of that year and another year, I think, who had –
EJ: He subsequently did it at a seminar again in Oxford.
MJ: Yes. And this was just about as close to pure scholarship – the sort of scholarship that I was interested in. Another member of the group was John Duffy, for example. And so we were – it was quite an intense and extremely educative experience.
ABF: How did you feel the dynamic changed, Elizabeth, when you became the Fellow the second year you were here in the ’70s?
EJ: Well, on a sort of minor practical matter, I was rather irritated that Michael was allowed to have lunch when I hadn’t been allowed the previous year. But the complication factor was that I then produced a baby in January, 1974, which did rather flummox the set-up here. I don’t think a Fellow had produced a baby during a fellowship. Fellows’ wives had had babies, but not an actual Fellow. So, this was slightly puzzling for the administration. And we were coped with by being put into what is now the administration house – the security house – which previously had been Kazhdan’s house and before that, Ihor Ševčenko’s house. And it worked out very nicely because Ihor and Nancy had just had their daughter Elizabeth and so the house was full of baby things. And it worked out beautifully from my point of view.
MJ: And fortunately, everybody played their part and said, “Well, you know, here are people producing a baby. Here’s a house full of baby stuff. Let’s put them together.” Not everybody would have made that logical jump but –
EJ: And what it did mean was that I was actually able to get a great deal of work done that year and I was very kindly given a room – I haven’t explored it this time – just by the collection upstairs. Is it called the mezzanine? Anyway, there’s a series of studies up there and I had the one at the end. So, I was out of earshot and Katharine spent a certain amount of time in a carrycot on the floor.
MJ: And she regularly came to the Fellows’ presentations on the grounds that this was a period of the afternoon where she normally slept. And we were under strict instructions – if she woke up, to take her away immediately. But most of the time –
EJ: I think she attended her first seminar at the age of three weeks.
CW: So, was it a child-friendly atmosphere here – or at that time?
EJ: I wouldn’t say it was child-friendly, it sort of accepted the fact that there was this child around the place.
MJ: It was the first, and people were a bit baffled. But since we were there and – they made the best of it. But I wouldn’t say they went out of their way enormously to be helpful but when we suggested things, they sort of accepted them.
EJ: Yes, yes, yes. But I certainly – fortunately, Katharine was an easy child. And I did manage to get a lot of work done sitting up in that office there and popping backwards and forwards.
MJ: I can remember – what was it – on a Friday, you packed up all your stuff.
EJ: Oh, oh, yes, and then produced the baby on the Monday. Yeah.
MJ: As if you knew what was going to happen. Produced the baby on the Monday, and on the Wednesday, Katharine was asleep, and you were looking for something to do and you discovered that I had a paper which I had written which I was about to type up (this was the way one did things in those days – you wrote them and then you typed them). And you did it.
EJ: Yes, yes. Your notes were always very bad so I tidied up the notes. But –
CW: Two days after?
EJ: I think that’s probably slightly exaggerated. But so, yes, not a particularly child-friendly place. But we did cope and we did manage and that time I was working on the War of Troy edition which went on for years and years and years, but I did push it ahead quite a lot and wrote the paper on the attitudes to ancient history in the Chronicles. So it was all very productive and pleasant.
ABF: Were there any other academic couples here during any of your many visits?
EJ: Couples – when I saw that question on the paper quickly, what came to mind was Paul Magdalino and Ruth Macrides who were here afterwards. They were here for two years as we were here for two years. I think they consciously – or Ruth has told me this subsequently – saw what we had and Paul applied for a fellowship for one year and Ruth applied for a fellowship the following year. And so, yes, there’s that couple. Otherwise –
MJ: I can’t think of a couple but you know – but there has been a Fellow with an academic wife in this sort of direction, but not a wife who got institutionally involved, you know, who didn’t become –
EJ: There might have been. I haven’t looked through the list of Fellows. But from personal knowledge, I wasn’t particularly aware of it. Diether Reinsch has just been here with his wife. We do have overlapping interests and also we have different interests and I suppose we started collaborating together quite early on. Basically your thesis grew out of my thesis.
MJ: Well, yes. I, being a friendly sort of person, tried to help you with you thesis and discovered that the bit with which I was trying to help you was very, very interesting indeed. And so I stole it.
EJ: And we’ve carried on ever since, collaborating in various things.
MJ: I think we’re the only married pair (or unmarried pair, for that matter) to have a combined variorum studies volume which means that –
EJ: We didn’t make it very clear which of us had written which paper in that volume so we’re always getting misattributed.
MJ: Yes, there is in fact a paper which I wrote which is attributed to you in Byzantion.
EJ: Yes, well, so –
CBW: The good thing is that the only person who would complain –
MJ: Well, you know, I thought, what does one do? Get them to –
EJ: It’s on the contents page that it’s wrongly attributed. The article itself has got the right name on it.
MJ: Are you sure?
EJ: I’m sure. I’m quite sure.
CW: Would now maybe be a good time to ask about the oral tradition?
MJ: Well, we, as Classicists, had been exposed to Homeric studies. I found myself working on a text like the Chronicle of the Morea which has got formulas – clearly formulas – they’re not complicated and abstruse formulas like the Homeric formulas – but they are repeated chunks of text which are always used for the same character. And it’s got a very mixed and complicated language – it’s got every linguistic element, it seems, in some cases, from antiquity through to modern Greek – all in the same text – which is another obvious parallel to Homer. And it just struck me that there must be something there. I found one of two articles – there’s one by Constantine Tripanis who was sort of your teacher in Oxford though he departed before you really got involved with him. But nobody had actually done the work of going through the text and seeing whether this was a significant statistical part of what was happening or whether it was just something you could observe – and maybe it was an imitation of something. So, I always liked making lists – you know, I was a train-spotter when I was young – and so I did this. And it was something which was necessary. Somebody had to go through this rather painful business to show that it was statistically significant and that in comparison with the texts that Lord had looked at, the Chronicle of the Morea had got the same sorts of numbers of formulas. It’s not an oral text, of course. One of its formulas is, in fact, far back in my book. In other words, one of the formulas is a sort of cross-reference to something that the person has talked about before – has written about before. And another formula is expressing extreme wonderment – is “what tongue could write of this.” I’m not sure whether there is a serious mix-up there or whether that is a natural form of expression. But I’m quite certain that somewhere in the background of this text there is an oral tradition with some of the characteristics that can be worked out from the surviving manuscripts.
EJ: This was brought to your attention through, as we were saying earlier, listening to Jeffrey Kirk’s lectures which was rising out of the sort of slight bombshell, as it were. It’s probably difficult now to realize that in the ’60s, Milman Parry’s work had been done and published in the ’30s, but it just simply hadn’t been taken on board. And it took Lord’s book to really ram it home. And it was a – scales were dropping from eyes, as it were.
MJ: In one direction, you know, some people, scales were dropping from their eyes; in another direction, people were absolutely furious. You know, “Homer, an unwashed illiterate?”
EJ: But this was also being spread through other medieval literatures too. I mean, French and German were also taking it on board. So, in some respects, Michael’s work in Greek was a slightly belated catching up with what was happening generally in medieval literary studies in other languages. And the reception of these discussions – I think actually it is now generally accepted that there was a great deal of skepticism and an awful lot of rather willful misunderstanding going on. So to some extent –
MJ: And you know, everyone assumed that if you counted formulas you were saying that the text you were working on was produced by an unwashed illiterate. And every now and then, I go back and look at what I wrote and that is not what I said. It was extremely – this problem had arisen in about six different literary situations: in French, in German, as well as in Classical Greek. And I was extraordinarily careful, I think, to get the mix of things right: that there was something in the background, but that the text itself was a written text. But people looked at the lists of formulas and came immediately to conclusions without reading the rest of what I wrote.
EJ: But I think that has now died down and I was very interested in the conference in Greece, two or three years ago, in the series Neograeca Medii Aevi, looking at the literature in the vernacular in Medieval Greek. And there, it was a background assumption that, of course, there is an oral literary tradition going on behind these texts. And discussion has moved on now. I think the work you did has sort of entered into the scholarly discourse.
MJ: And curiously enough, my thesis has just been, in one dimension, re-done by one of Elizabeth’s students – enormously better (she’s Elizabeth’s best student) – and not just better from the fact that thirty years have passed and an awful lot of thought has gone on in the area, but, you know, it is just qualitatively a better piece of work. And she says, at one point, I think, in the thesis, “Fortunately, I don’t have to do the counting of formulas to prove that this is something statistically valid because it’s been done.”
EJ: So, the argument can move on.
MJ: So, the argument can move on and can work out these decayed oral traditions –what conclusions can you draw from it about the connections between and the Greeks and the Morea in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
ABF: How did this original disagreement about orality affect how your work was received at Dumbarton Oaks?
EJ: I don’t think it really came up at all, apart from the fact that I submitted the main article here to D.O.P. And it was obviously read by Mango and Ševčenko which is what happened there. And Mango, I think, delivered the positive verdict so we now know a lot better in Oxford than we did then. And he said something like, “I’m not sure this is a valuable thing to do but insofar as it’s been done, it seems to have been done quite carefully and you’ve not made any outrageous statements or demands. So we’ve decided to publish it.” So, I think that was high praise.
EJ: So, and then subsequently when Kazhdan was here and we were here, I don’t think it ever got discussed.
ABF: Was that in the ’80s also?
EJ: Yes, yes. That would have been ’84. That was before the dictionary had started. I was also here in the ’90s.
MJ: In the ’90s, I had a fellowship and Kazhdan was definitely here then. Our problem is that all these things collapse together. It’s a sort of – oral situation – this is an oral history project. So, you must realize that in all oral situations, the past is arranged to give a sort of easy framework for the present. So, what we are talking about – Alexander Kazhdan – whom we probably met on two occasions, but we may be thinking of only one.
EJ: The thing was, after the publications on the oral stuff in the ’70 s, we then went to Australia and moved on in other areas and though the oral interests were constantly there in the background and were very important when I was working on the War of Troy, trying to work out its style, we also moved on into other areas and started working on Malalas and that was a very different sort of thing. So, the oral stuff slightly fell into the background. It didn’t become a – wasn’t always a major interest. Coming here to Dumbarton Oaks, we wouldn’t necessarily have particularly wanted to talk about it – it wouldn’t have arisen very much.
MJ: I don’t think it was part of the program we offered, either in the ’80s or in the ’90s.
ABF: So, how did it work when you were working on the Malalas project and you were here in ’84 with Katharine –
ABF: – and you were in Sydney.
MJ: Yes. I came for a time, didn’t I?
EJ: The Malalas Project was a glorious piece of serendipity. We found ourselves in Australia through a whole series of accidents, and we then re-encountered some old friends – Ann Moffitt and then Roger Scott, whom I had known briefly as an undergraduate when I was in Cambridge and he was a graduate student – well, actually he’d come to take –
MJ: He was in Cambridge.
EJ: – he was in Cambridge. So, we sort of got together. And then the other person who appeared was Brian Croke who’d been a fellow at D.O. after his Oxford doctorate and had come back to Sydney. And he was lamenting – was Brian – that his hard-won knowledge of Greek was getting rusty. So, what could we do about it? So, I said, “Right, let’s have a sort of fun series of evenings reading Greek.” And he came ’round, and we found a few more friends and we wondered what to read and for some reason I thought Book 18 of Malalas might be quite interesting because Brian is a sixth century person and it’s an interesting linguistic thing.
MJ: And Malalas, just like the Chronicle of the Morea, and so on, acts the interface of the oral side of history – it’s the bottom level of written history, and so on. So we could see a link there.
EJ: We gathered up a group of friends – classicists and so on – to read this text and made a translation of it and at that point discovered that – Roger in Melbourne (you must realize that Sydney and Melbourne are very far apart) – Roger had also been playing around with Book 18 of Malalas to help out with some of his history courses. So we scratched our heads and thought, “This is a bit daft, let’s pool our resources.”
MJ: So, we got some money for it. We’re getting a bit off D.O. so we ought to – this is relevant to us but – this institution –
EJ: By the time we – in 1984 – there was a draft translation of Malalas which had been put together by a committee and it was in a very lumpy state and so we spent time here smoothing it out and we were the, as it were, front persons, for a team of about twelve people. So, you can imagine what state the translation was in.
ABF: You were working on an apparatus also, weren’t you, at the time?
MJ: But that was particularly my bit, I think – [EJ shakes her head quizzically] – you find that – [looks at EJ] Okay. You find that Malalas was taken up by all sorts of people all over the place and in about six or seven different language and that their take on Malalas, in each different language, is slightly different from the actual text of the Baroccianus manuscript in the twelfth century which is what we think of Malalas. There was obviously a much longer Malalas of which these – that these other adaptations in other languages are preserving bits – but that the whole thing is only held together by the Oxford manuscript which is shorter.
EJ: I suppose, in fact, in Sydney, we had been able to find most of the texts that we needed to construct this apparatus. But coming here to D.O. meant that we could polish off a lot of odd corners and complications and take lots of photocopies which we managed to take back so we could finish off the checking process.
MJ: This is one thing: D.O. viewed from Australia is very different from D.O. viewed from Britain. In Britain, the books are there. They are scattered all over the place, even in Oxford, they’re in six different libraries at least.
EJ: Yes, you’ll discover that you walk a lot.
MJ: Whereas in Australia, the books aren’t there. And all you can do is to get inter-library loans which were not earlier as developed as they are now. So, coming to D.O. was an absolute salvation from the Australian direction. We knew what was here and we were delighted to be able to come.
EJ: Yes, and at that point, coming from Sydney to Dumbarton Oaks was an absolutely essential life-line if one wanted to push a project which demanded lots of sources. Yes, it was very significant and very important to be able to do that.
MJ: We gradually brought up a moderate library of books in Sydney which, regrettably, now that we’re no longer there, is being neglected and – but still, that’s another matter.
ABF: So, besides the abundance of sources and the freedom from the distractions of the world at large, what did you find most valuable about the intellectual environment at Dumbarton Oaks?
EJ: Listening to the other Fellows’ presentation – to hear what their work in progress was and to debate matters there – listening to visiting lecturers – I can remember hearing Peter Brown at one point which was interesting. I mean, that – the sheer passing-through of people who were at the cutting edge of the field was important.
MJ: And also the sense of a community of people in a slightly monastic framework, all doing the same thing – all working. You see what other people do – you see when they arrive in the morning and when they leave in the evening. And you try to do a little bit more yourself –
MJ: – at the beginning of the year. Towards the end of the year, you couldn’t care less. But at the beginning of the year, there’s a little bit of competition going on. And you find out how people work, what motivates them, how they turn off their academic pursuits and what they do when they’re not being academic and somehow the profession of scholar gets spread around a little bit. And I hope that it’s a sort of equalizing upwards rather than a dumbing downwards of all of us discovering that – I can remember, regularly, in this room, regularly watching the Redskins on a Sunday afternoon. But I suppose that’s a bit of dumbing down unless you’re Redskins supporters.
EJ: Yes, Robert Browning wasn’t very enthusiastic about that.
MJ: No, at the end of the year, they brought me a Redskins cap and awarded it to me at a special ceremony which I –
ABF: Did you still have very lavish lunches? Were there still these sit-down lunches or was it more cafeteria style as it is now?
EJ: It was cafeteria style with the food laid out in the room at the end – there. I think – at no time was it – I can’t remember from the early stage.
MJ: I don’t think we’ve ever had a lavish lunch.
EJ: No, it’s always been a buffet lunch of some sort. So, by 1972, if there’d been sit-down lunches before, that had changed. I was going to say, the other intellectual stimulus that one shouldn’t leave out are the symposia. If one happens to be in Dumbarton Oaks at the time of the symposium as a Fellow, that is usually quite an exciting experience.
MJ: And you get to meet an awful lot of people.
EJ: Yes, yes. So that should be good. Yes, the Fellows Building – it’s slightly sad to see it so empty now – being used as the guest house rather than having Fellows living in here.
MJ: I was a fellow living upstairs in the ’90s.
EJ: Well, this used to be quite a good venue for having parties.
CBW: Did you have parties with the other Fellows?
EJ: Sometimes, yes.
MJ: Usually in the course of the year, three or four Fellows would arrange parties here, in this room, usually, the people who were fortunate and came from Western countries, for whom it was easier to produce the little bit of expense that was needed.
ABF: Did you throw any parties during your time?
EJ: Yes, yes.
MJ: But very mild parties. We simply produced a few canapès and some alcohol.
EJ: Yes, we set things up in there and it went quite nicely. And actually, the year we were in the Ševčenko’s house, we tended to have gatherings on Wednesday evening.
EJ: Which was slightly carrying on what Ihor had done. It seemed to come with the house, as it were.
CW: Did the relationship with the other disciplines change at all – with the Pre-Columbian and Garden and Landscape Studies – from the early ’70s?
EJ: In the ’90s, the separate disciplines kept their separate groups and one sort of mingled at lunch but didn’t really have particularly serious discussions with them and certainly didn’t share in the seminars. We never went to any garden seminars or Pre-Columbian and –
MJ: It was never really expected.
EJ: No we weren’t.
MJ: They were advertised to us in a sort of pious hope. I must say, you know, I wouldn’t mind, as one of the Byzantine majority, going to one or two Garden Fellow presentations. But I do pity Garden Fellows who have to go to presentations of the majority numbers. That must be really rather difficult.
EJ: Well, I’m sure it’s very good for them.
MJ: Yes. Well, I think something that did lead to – was it a symposium or – there certainly is a volume which I think reflects some meeting on gardens in Byzantium.
EJ: Yes. But certainly it was a feeling that there were these three rather disparate groups clumped under the one roof and they didn’t really meet in any serious way.
CW: Has the Byzantine group always felt to you – I guess, since you’re part of that group, it would be natural – has it always felt to you to be the dominant –?
EJ: Yes, it did. I don’t know how accurate this impression is but my feeling has always been that the collection of books was larger and the number of Fellows around was more and the number of publications coming out. And certainly in the field of Byzantine studies, Dumbarton Oaks is known – is viewed as one of the most prominent institutions in the area. And I just don’t know whether, for example, Garden Studies has a coherency as a discipline and what role Dumbarton Oaks plays in that. And well, it’s my ignorance – I don’t know about the Pre-Columbian. But I certainly – having come and visited here – my feeling has always been that the Byzantine was the dominant one.
MJ: Though of course, if one takes a historical view of the United States and even of the Washington area, one would expect Pre-Columbian to overtake Byzantium eventually because it is such an appropriate discipline for this area – for this continent. But the dynamics of this, I don’t know. I will regret it in one way – but if that’s how things turn out, that’s it. Byzantine studies are, as it were, something which has been layered onto American academic culture whereas one feels that Pre-Columbian surely ought to be something which is growing out of the –
ABF: Why do you think that this has happened at Dumbarton Oaks – this dominance of –
EJ: That’s presumably the emphasis which the Blisses gave to it and where the thrust of their collection is. I suppose the intrinsic value of the objects will be with the Pre-Columbian gold, but the number of artifacts in the museum, for example, are far greater in the Byzantine area.
MJ: Particularly if you count all the seals and all the coins separately.
EJ: Yes, so I assume this is reflecting their interests.
MJ: And certainly the early people employed here – the great men were mainly Byzantinists. I suppose this is the effect of World War II and the scholarly refugees who – refugees is not quite the right word – displaced – whatever the vocabulary is.
ABF: – émigrés –
CW: – diaspora –
EJ: Yes, yes. People like Weitzmann – Buchthal wasn’t really here but – Ihor Ševčenko.
MJ: Et cetera, et cetera. There are plenty of them, yes.
ABF: Did you feel their presence very strongly – even the ones who were deceased or retired by the time you came? Was their presence very strong?
EJ: I think so and – yes it was. One was conscious of their publications, one was conscious of Weitzmann and the art index and their students were around – and so, maintaining the tradition. And this was also a sort atmosphere which I was familiar with from the Warburg Institute where Gombrich and Kitzinger and so on had been. It was all part of the movement of academic populations – of scholars – around the world. So, yes, I think we were attuned to the thought that there were these great names who had been around – Treitinger and so on.
MJ: I remember Father Dvornik the day after the birth of Katharine here. This Catholic Monseignore came up to me, gave me a big kiss, and said, “Daddy!”– which I found really nice.
EJ: Rather ridiculous. He was another very noticeable personality around the place and resource one could turn to for advice and comments.
ABF: Were there any other big personalities you remember very distinctly?
MJ: Well, the dominant personalities were Ševčenko and Mango. I can remember coming and sitting in the room there at lunch and the only chair being right next to them, I went and sat there, early on in the fellowship period, and I was wondering what sort of excitements I was going to hear, and they suddenly decided to speak in Russian. I don’t know whether they were saying something which I shouldn’t have heard or whether they just felt – Russian was certainly the native language of one and the near-native language – well, one of the five native languages – of the other. So, why shouldn’t they speak in Russian? But this sort of thing would happen. They were the star personalities.
EJ: Yes, dominant personalities, certainly. And yes, Loerke was trying to round everybody up and make sure that we behaved ourselves and so on. Yes. Well, Dvornik – who else was senior around? From that period, certainly, it was contact, as well, amongst the Fellows. I mean, Fellows in our year – Robin Cormack and John Duffy, Lennart Ryden from Sweden.
MJ: None of these were dominant personalities but this was what was important to us as well as sitting by Mango and Ševčenko – it was long discussions with the others that we were interested in.
ABF: S,o who was particularly important to you?
MJ: Lennart Ryden who was a Swede – we were both up in the apartment building –
EJ: – 2702 Wisconsin Avenue –
MJ: – which was much used then by D.O. And he was obviously fairly lonely here. He plainly lived in a very close family situation and he used to come and tell us about what was going on in Sweden at the time, “This is the time in the year when the girls go round and wear crowns with –”
EJ: – candles –
MJ: “– candles in their hair.”
CW: Santa Lucia.
MJ: Sounds very dangerous. It would never happen nowadays because –
EJ: He was working on his edition of the life of Andreas the Fool so hagiography came much into discussion.
MJ: He was the closest friend that we made. He died about four or five years ago. It was a serious – lack.
CW: And have you noticed any differences in the atmosphere or style that were attributable to the different Directors of Studies? Since you been here in every decade, there would be natural differences, you would think.
EJ: I suppose one had a feeling – the first time we came – this was a very structured and hierarchical place. And the administration kept a very tight eye on what people were doing and you couldn’t really step out of line. And I’m not sure that that changed much. And I’m not sure that it was the Directors of Studies that had so much impact but the personalities of the Directors, generally. When Giles Constable was Director there was a constant feeling that at that stage, D.O. was about to be moved up to Harvard. And if it wasn’t going to move up to Harvard, it was going to be opened up to western medievalism and that would be the end of Byzantine studies as we know it – and a great deal of agitation. And there was concern about the directions that D.O. was going, most of which was based on total rumor, and the Fellows didn’t really know what was going on. It was just gossip and invention most of the time. One had no idea what was really being planned for the institution.
MJ: One Director of Studies who I think has had a very strong influence and entirely for the good is Alice-Mary who has been carefully looking after lots of your students who have come here – about four or five have –
EJ: In recent years – recent Ph.D.s from Oxford have come to D.O. for a year and yes, I have a feeling that Alice-Mary has been keeping an eye on them in which eyes have not been kept in the past.
MJ: In other words, there’s a kind of nurturing situation here where the people who come here – okay, they’ve got Ph.D.s and so on, but they’ve not quite reached the stage of going out on their own in the big world, especially if they don’t have English as their first language. It’s useful to know, as we have known, that here there was somebody who would look after them (if they needed it).
EJ: It’s not entirely fair to say that’s different from the past because from Australia I think only one of our students came to D.O. That was Suzanne.
MJ: I think we can more or less say that if they had come they would have got different treatment.
CW: The only other thing I can think about asking is about – you mentioned that the structure, when you first came – that you felt a sense of structure and hierarchy here, and how did that evince itself?
MJ: As we were moving around from office to office – l can remember when we were first taken round, it was as if we were going up from one sphere to another to another. In fact, we were going downwards to the Director and so on, but it was made quite plain to us that we were moving up a hierarchy as we were going down the stairs. This impressed me, and I think there was also a sense that you didn’t directly talk to some people at the very top of things if you were just a Fellow, you know. It’s not the same as it is now. You don’t talk to people now – you don’t go and address the Director unless you have something to say to him. There was then a real difference.
EJ: Could it be you’re slightly older?
MJ: Yes, maybe I was then a very callow youth, and now I’m equally callow but no longer young.
EJ: Yes, yes. No, but one felt that the – I suppose it’s a perfectly reasonable feeling that the Fellows are impermanent, are here just for a year, and that there is a great structure which is moving on in which they are just simply flotsam, which is at times – one felt put in one’s place.
MJ: Yes, but that can happen even now, over things like laundry rooms in La Quercia. When they want to redo them, they give you a day or two’s notice and then don’t necessarily worry too hard about keeping to their side of the bargain. But that’s a particular anxiety at the moment, because all our clothes are dirty.
EJ: I think you ought to expunge that bit of the tape.
EJ: Yes, did you have other thoughts that you wanted—
ABF: My final question is, are there any particular changes in style and just in the general environment that have struck you over the years, and that could be attributed to who’s Director, or to anything else?
EJ: Well I suppose the biggest change in style is the new library building, and what this has done to the atmosphere. I mean, it’s an extremely efficient library building, and one can blissfully walk along rows of periodicals and find them all very straightforwardly, but it has a slightly impersonal feel to it, where the old building was quirky and somewhat on a more human scale. Now that is, I suppose, absolutely inevitable – well, this must be the result of a Director’s vision as to how a building should be. I suppose it’s absolutely inevitable that there’s a new building, one had to be found, because the House was just –
EJ: – crammed, and it wasn’t designed to hold a major research library.
MJ: In the old building you used to fall over people, literally. In the new building, you can wander around quite a lot and just occasionally see somebody in the distance, and it’s a different experience. My first reaction was that it was better. When Elizabeth came – she came sometime after me at this time – she immediately decided it was worse and persuaded me in that direction. Now, it’s just a different experience. Rather than rubbing shoulders with somebody, literally, when you are trying to look at the catalogue, now you sit quietly in your room and get the catalogue on Hollis. It means that the various users of the building stay separate. One considerable shock I had – there was a meeting to greet the new head of the garden library—
ABF: John Beardsley.
MJ: – yeah; and there were about fifty people in the room, and I thought, “Where did they come from?” You know, I’ve been wandering around the building, I’m interested in seals, therefore I’ve been wandering around the basement of the old building as well, and I haven’t seen all these people. Where do they hide? You know, I was walking down a corridor in the basement and suddenly a door opened and I saw there were two people in there, and I walked past that door. It would never occur to me that there was anybody working there.
ABF: Us. That’s where our office is.
MJ: Oh I see. Well, it may have been, I don’t know. But in the old building you would pass people constantly. It’s the image, the cliché: you did fall over people at times getting in and out of the broom cupboard. Now you don’t meet people. You meet them at lunch. And it’s a difference which takes some getting used to. I’ve not worked out whether it’s better or worse.
CW: Is there anything that you’ve thought we would have asked that we did not, or –
EJ: No, no. What I would like to reiterate is that Dumbarton Oaks has been very formative for us at various stages of our –
MJ: Especially for me.
EJ: – Especially for you; but our academic careers have been in England, in Greece, in Australia, and then back in England again, but as sort of a punctuation point throughout there has been Dumbarton Oaks and visits to it and also its publications. And it really has been influential, and one would like to think that the institution will maintain its standards and carry on into the future.
MJ: Yes, I think both of us were pushed, or, in your case, held, in a Byzantine direction because of the existence of Dumbarton Oaks. In my case, I needed to get out of a situation that was not really appropriate, I had decided, and this was the only easy – well, it turned out to be easy. I applied and was given a fellowship, and that was good. I didn’t apply anywhere else. Maybe I could’ve become something else if I had applied somewhere else. But here it worked and it has made us both into Byzantinists. And we’re pleased. We like being Byzantinists, though, unfortunately, if you’re married to a Byzantinist, it’s sometimes difficult to get two jobs in the same place, especially as you get more senile.
EJ: Well, that’s another matter.
MJ: This is a pair who, for four years, both held excellent jobs, one in Sydney and one in Oxford, and we commuted.
EJ: Often, often.
ABF and CW: Thank you very much!
EJ: Well, thank you for your questions.
MJ: Goodness knows how that will come out when –
ABF: It’ll come out beautifully!
EJ: You’ll have to edit –
MJ: Well, we’ve said quite a lot. We’re finished, I think, yes?