LL: I’m Lorena Lama. It is August 9th, 2011. I’m here at the Guest House of Dumbarton Oaks with Dr. Joanne Pillsbury, the current Director of Pre-Columbian Studies here at Dumbarton Oaks. Thank you for joining us.
JP: It’s my pleasure to be here with you.
LL: So just to begin, how did you first hear about Dumbarton Oaks or how did you first become involved with Dumbarton Oaks?
JP: I think I first heard of Dumbarton Oaks when I was an intern at the National Endowment for the Arts. I was an undergraduate and my parents were coming to town and I was trying to think of something fun to do with them. And so they suggested, “there’s this really interesting place that your parents might like called Dumbarton Oaks.” And I went, and I was just entranced. It was so different from other institutions in Washington. The museum portion certainly was quite different and so engaging – so different, and the sense of the importance of research there – it was here – was quite palpable at the time. Perhaps in part inspired by that visit but also by other factors I decided to pursue a doctorate in pre-Columbian art history and archeology. Then I came back fairly regularly to the symposia in the fall as a graduate student, and then I was a Junior Fellow in 1989–1990. So that was my first introduction.
LL: That’s really interesting. So you talked about the symposia, what were those like?
JP: The symposia in the early days – I think in the very early history of the program they were rather small. They were usually a sort of daylong affair. I think Sunday morning they often had what Betty Benson has referred to as sort of volunteer papers. But they were small; they were for an invited group of participants. And what is interesting is my year, fall 1989, I think the symposium broke all records at Dumbarton Oaks for attendance. It was a Maya topic – those Maya topics tend to bring the crowds in – but it had become a much larger, much more inclusive event in 1989. It was a great topic; it was on Lowland Maya civilization in the eight century. And the symposiarchs were Jerry Sabloff and John Henderson and they certainly know how to choose a good topic at a good time, so there was a lot of new archeological evidence. Juan Pedro Laporte, for example, had all sorts of new material from the Mundo Perdido Complex at Tikal and so forth. And so it really brought in people. And in those days the Music Room could accommodate around 200 people, so it really was a sort of standing room only sort of an event. So it was very exciting, lot’s of fun. My abiding memory – first of all the papers were really delightful and interesting and very intriguing – but what I remember most was the discussion and the participation, the way people really dove into the conversation. Ricardo Agurcia, you know, standing up and asking all sorts of good pointed questions or comments. My memory – this was over twenty years ago, but I think Bill Sanderson and Barbara Price were also there, and they could be always counted on for lively questions and comments, and really it was very stimulating. We created a very lively debate. I think Linda Schele was there, and she was also wonderfully outrageous in her comments. So for a young graduate student it was thrilling. I just thought, “wow, this is really, really important stuff that’s going on.” And Elizabeth Boone was the Director of Studies then, and she was very thoughtful about how she organized things, including the graduate students, the Junior Fellows, and trying to create a stimulating mix, a combination of what would be both good for you professionally and what would be fun. I remember the speakers’ dinner the night before that was actually held here, in the Guest House, which at the time was called the Fellows Building – it’s where we had lunch. And the speakers’ dinner was very lively and a lot of fun. And she had me seated in between Juan Pedro Laporte and John Rowe and then across, I think, from Trisha McAnany. Juan Pedro was an absolute delight as was Trisha. John Rowe of course was terrifying for me as a young Andeanist because he was the guy, you know – he was just so important to Andean studies. And I was terrified to sit next to him at dinner, but he was absolutely wonderful. And he became a great sort of unofficial mentor to me and helped me a lot before I went into the field in Peru at Chan Chan. And so it was very nice that she was so thoughtful about organizing that sort of thing and how to make it more than just simple dinner, but how it could be – how it could in some ways transform a young scholar’s career, which it did. The event itself was a lot of fun. Peter Harrison was a fellow that year and he had a wild cocktail party – he lived at the West Cottage next door – and all the Mayanists were there. It was really a lot of fun. It was a great way to start the year because, of course, pre-Columbian symposia are at the beginning of the year so you are really thrown into it. And it started things off at a gallop. It was great fun.
The other Fellows that year, my fellowship year, were: Ramiro Matos, who’s great, he’s now at the Smithsonian; Constanza Vega, who worked on Mexican manuscripts; Ross Hassig, who was working at the time, I think, on the book – he had just finished the book on Aztec warfare and I think his next project – finished the book on Aztec trade markets, and I think was just completing Aztec warfare – and was moving on to the book on time I think at that point; and, Peter Harrison. That was my cohort in Pre-Columbian Studies. I think I was the only Junior Fellow that year. So, I was one of the younger Fellows that year, I think, so – lots of fun.
LL: And how would you say the symposia have changed over the years?
JP: So, in the early years it was very small, an invited group. Under Elizabeth Boone they became larger. It became a day-and-a-half event, probably about twelve papers or so and a broad range of people. I mean, it was – as a no account graduate student, I was allowed in which was wonderful – it was a nice mix of disciplines, I mean I think it’s one of the great things that Dumbarton Oaks does. It offers an opportunity for scholars in different disciplines to mix it up. Often if you are in an anthropology department you go to the triple As, maybe you go to the SAAs as well, but you might not as often rub up against art historians or philologists or others. Dumbarton Oaks’s quite special in that sense, in its multi-disciplinary nature. The symposia have always been robustly multi-disciplinary. That year was, as I said, standing room only. That wasn’t always the case I think in the 1980s and 1990s. Some years the topics were more specialized, so it attracted fewer people, and other years I think they were equally popular. Now of course, they’ve grown still. And we’re two full days and with a speakers’ dinner the night before. And one thing I’ve started is we do a sort of a round up session hangover breakfast on Sunday morning now. The papers are Friday and Saturday, and then we gather on Sunday morning to sort of go over the oral papers and talk about transforming those papers into a publication. That’s actually been very helpful – I think it creates a better book. And you can sort of hash out some basic issues, who’s going to cover what, “no I’m going to cover that,” “no I’m going to cover that,” “no, no, you can’t talk about that.” So, they become a little bit more formal in that sense. I think in some years, in some previous years I’ve been – I’ve tried hard to foster as much exchange as possible, as much discussion. I think sometimes people of my generation and younger – I think they are little less accustomed to oral argument, just sort of standing on your hind legs and saying, “I think you’re crazy, I don’t think you should say that, I don’t think you have evidence for that.” In some ways we’ve become a much more polite society or a much more passive group. And I think, for example, most of our Fellows go to the SAAs, the Society for American Archeologists meetings, and that model, I think, has affected, has sort of spread out more because that model is, by and large, of stand up you give your paper, you sit down, and then someone might come in at the end of the session and be a discussant, but there is very little questioning after each paper. And I think it’s important to have those questions after each paper. So what we try and do is to limit the papers to no more than thirty minutes and then allow a good fifteen ideally twenty minutes after that to have questions for discussion of that particular paper. And there can be a general discussion at the end of the day, but I think that each paper really deserves its own attention. People have gone through tremendous trouble to write it and present it – usually they go through much trouble to write and present, not always. Sometimes they write it on the plane, sometimes they don’t write it at all. But, by and large, now they are pretty well trained and come with a prepared paper. And I think it’s good to really give that person’s ideas and their presentation the research it’s due and to explore some ideas at the moment. I’m trying to encourage that but, again, I think some people are – the first paper, especially in the mornings, Friday morning, still people are a little stiff they are not sure – and the Music Room is quite formal. It’s quite daunting for some people and they don’t really know that this is their forum; this is their opportunity to talk about issues and ideas. So we are trying to really foster that.
The other big change for our symposia is that they are wildly popular now. There were years in the past when you would get sixty to seventy people, eighty people, and they were really good meetings – they were very productive meetings and they became great publications. But something happened when we closed down. We closed down the main house for renovations for about four years, and we didn’t have our annual symposium on site. We had it elsewhere which was fabulous, which is something that I’ll talk about maybe later. But in the interim, when we opened back up two things happened: one was, I think, people missed us – I like to think people missed us – so, they were very excited to come back, and the other thing was that the Music Room went from being able to accommodate 200 people to being able to accommodate 125. So, all of a sudden seats were scarce, and that creates a dynamic on its own. And so now we sell out in minutes of announcing the topic. We give our former Fellows, as a particularly cherished affinity group, we give them first crack at registration. What has happened in the last two or three years is that those 125 seats are almost all taken now by former Fellows, and in some ways it’s a nice thing because it creates a dynamic, intense sort of gathering of people who have a certain similar basis from which to draw upon. So that’s nice. You don’t have many people in that room now who will say, “Who were the Maya?” On the other hand I wish we could reach more people. We’ve talked a lot about webcasting the papers. We’ve talked about having overflow rooms as well. But there is something nice about that intense discussion with a group of people engaged in advanced research. It’s quite special. It’s not that common. It is different from other places in that sense. So that’s one change, it’s become much harder to get into. We actually now set aside seats for graduate students because they are often the last people to hear about our conference topic, and it’s important to have them there – they are our future. So that has changed a bit. But I like to think that we continue to be robustly multi-disciplinary. I think it’s great to have a mix of levels of speakers at the symposia, going from very junior people. For the past presented symposium, I think two of the papers were delivered by graduate students, and they were fabulous. And they were two of the best papers at the conference. Lisa Trever in particular I’m thinking of. So from very emerging scholars, mid-career scholars, to very senior scholars, you want a diversity of perspectives on the topic. The budget for the symposium is a bit more generous than it is for some of our other meetings. Is Jan going to listen to this tape? And so we try and make it robustly international as well. I mean this is the one gathering were we try, within budgetary limits, to make sure we get the best people to speak – to talk on it – to speak about a certain topic. This is an opportunity to invite people form Latin America, from Europe, and from elsewhere. In that sense, it’s nice to have that mix of both ages, disciplines, and also national perspectives.
LL: That’s wonderful to hear. And you also mentioned the off-site symposia.
JP: The offsite symposia – those were great. And all credit should go to Jeff Quilter, my predecessor – that was his idea – that when the main house was closed down, that this was an opportunity to take Dumbarton Oaks on the road. And it was really a great idea. And we held, I think, four symposia off site, and they were fabulous. The Moche symposium in Lima was one of the most thrilling events that we’ve had. The symposiarchs that year were Jeff Quilter, Luís Jaime Castillo, and Andrés Álvarez Calderón, the Director of the Museo Larco. The events were held mostly at the Museo Larco in Lima and at La Católica in Lima. And it was great. It was lively. It was fun. It was a bit of the old Dumbarton Oaks, in the sense that people were really getting in there, they were arguing ferociously about various points. The Larco Museum could not have been a better host. It looked beautiful. They had sort of created a mini Music Room, like a new construction there at the Museum. And the food was fabulous. And it just was – it was a perfect gathering. And that was followed by a meeting in Mexico.
The second off-site meeting was held in Mexico City and that was organized of course by Bill Fash and Leonardo López Luján, and that was wonderful. The gathering itself was terrific and Leonardo showed us a great slice of Mexico City. Very well chosen speakers with lots of new evidence and new ideas. And it was just such a pleasure to have it in the Museo del Templo Mayor, which was beautiful. They have a beautiful auditorium and during the breaks you could go and see great things. It was a terrific gathering and they turned it around into a wonderful volume that, I think, has been one of our best sellers. I mean, we keep having to re-print it, so the volume has been a great success. That was a wonderful meeting.
There was also a terrific meeting in Antigua in Guatemala that was organized – yes – with Barbara Arroyo and Julia Guernsey and John Clark. And again it was a very well chosen topic. They gathered together people who were working on a body of material – at least in my mind, but again I’m an Andeanist – was somewhat inchoate. And they brought together people working on this topic, which was sculpture in the late formative and transition period. It was very lively meeting held in Antigua, and then again they turned the volume around lickety-split. And it’s just a wonderful, big, beautiful new book and we are thrilled, thrilled to publish that. So that was a fantastic meeting.
We also held smaller meetings. One in Santiago, which was great – a workshop organized with Mauricio Uribe and Bill Isbell and that was at the Universidad de Chile and one session was held at the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. And that was a lively, fun event. And that publication is probably going to come out with the Cotsen Institute of Los Angeles, and they were a co-sponsor, as well I should say, and very generous, and it was fun to do it with them. And then a smaller round table in Trujillo in Peru, and so forth. It was a great string of meetings and I hope we can return to it and do it again at some point. I think it had an impact beyond what any of us anticipated in terms of just making people aware of Dumbarton Oaks, the programs, also recognizing the tremendously international nature of our field now. The centers have expanded. There are extraordinarily exciting things being done in Mexico City now, in Guatemala, in Peru. I just got back from Peru; it’s amazing the field projects that are going on now there, directed by Santiago Uceda at Huaca de la Luna, Luís Jaime Castillo in the Jequetepeque Valley and then Huaca Cao Viejo. It’s a very exciting time to see these projects and to see also the development of research institutes and universities in places where the programs were good but not large. And now, it’s just exciting to see what’s going on, see everything that’s going on – great things going on in Chile as well. It’s been a lot of fun to see that develop and to see that really blossom in the last twenty years. It’s quite a change from when I was a graduate student.
LL: I’ve heard a lot about international foreign scholars, I’m sure people were really happy to have them participate, when it was off-site.
JP: It’s interesting, when we had the event in Chile, a lot of my Chilean colleagues said that they felt overlooked by pre-Columbianists elsewhere. They felt people got as far south as Peru, but didn’t go much farther. So that had surprised me about the event in Chile. It was great for us to be there because there are an extraordinary number of really interesting, innovative archeological projects going on in Chile – archeological field projects but also academic programs, both in Santiago and also in the North, what’s going on there in San Pedro de Atacama. And within the museum context, I mean, the Museo Chileno is doing thrilling work now in terms of their own meetings and their exhibitions and their publication program, but also expanding, changing – really innovative methodologies, theoretical contributions as well. There’s a terrific young archeologist, who was a museum fellow here at Dumbarton Oaks, Flora Vilches, who’s now doing really interesting work in terms of historic archeology in Chile. It’s great to see the transformation of the field, and it’s wonderful that Dumbarton Oaks is a part of all this. The director of the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, when I met him in Santiago, said that Dumbarton Oaks was very influential to how they created that museum, as a museum that is not just about exhibition, but is deeply involved in research as well and publication. And I think it’s something Dumbarton Oaks should be very proud of, that, in a small way, it played a part in that museum’s history and continues to do so, and I hope we can continue to do collaborative projects in the future.
LL: So, in 1989, as a Junior Fellow, what was everyday life like then?
JP: You know it was different than it is now. Dumbarton in fact was a little bit more informal – far less security – it was a different time – far more open in terms of various things. I mean the hours were much more expansive. I think one significant change is that a lot of people worked very late at the house. It was very common for Fellows to go to dinner and come back and work until all hours. I think you could stay till midnight or so and they really liked that. And the building was nice, and it was warm, and there were comfortable chairs around. It was really a place, it was a very pleasant place to be, and it was a place that you wanted to hang out. It really invited you to take a book off the shelf and find that comfortable chair, and read it, and discover something that you hadn’t anticipated discovering just wandering down the halls. Because our little carrels were amidst the library so you were really living among the books. It was sort of a humbling experience. I would walk down – kept passing those shelves of books on North Coast Peruvian archeology and kept thinking, “I better read that, I better read that.” But it was great; it was great living amongst the books in that way. And we were – Pre-Colombian Studies was in the basement, and one could only describe the accommodations as deeply unattractive. I mean our accommodations now are much nicer: we have windows; we are above ground; private offices. We had none of that. We were in a shared office, an office that flooded from time to time and no windows and it could be noisy there where it had a shared phone. But it was still very lively and it was very convivial, maybe being sort of on top of each other in the main house, there was a lot of exchange. Fellows of a specific group, but between programs – there was a lot of mixing it up. We tended not to go to lunch together as a group. Ross Hassig who was a Fellow my year, he was there at the crack of dawn and he went to lunch early with a group of Byzantinists, I think. And sometimes I would go early; sometimes I would go later. Elizabeth Boone tended to go later. A lot of the philologists and numismatists and sigillographers went later. You really mixed it up a lot more at lunch. And it was very cramped here for lunch in the Fellows Building so you sat wherever there was a seat. Very few would come as a group and sit together. That just wasn’t possible. And, Elizabeth was a wonderful Director of Studies, gently guiding the program, making it clear that she was available for advice and consultation. It was very helpful in that sense. If you were interested in a book on a certain theoretical approach, she was very helpful about that – or if there were people that you should to meet in Washington. She had a terrific presence of us, not monopolizing our time in any way. She was very mindful of the importance of these uninterrupted blocks of time. So she was – in no way did she over program us, but she was – she very gently made things available to make sure that it was the most productive year possible for you. There was a lot of mixing between programs. The Pre-Columbian Fellows were older for the most part. Socially, I tended to hang out more with the Garden and Landscape Junior Fellows – Elizabeth Kryder-Reid, who was a wonderful archeologist. In some ways, you also mixed it up across programs because of your discipline. Having come from an archeological background, it was a lot of fun to discuss archeology with Liz Kryder-Reid. Art history: Linda Safran, who was a joint appointment with Catholic University, an art historian – she was wonderfully helpful. I’m to this day very indebted to her for her recommendations on theoretical readings in art history and so forth. She intruded me to Irene Winter’s work, which ended up being very important for my own dissertation research. And the Director of Garden Landscape Studies was a wonderful guy by the name of John Dixon Hunt, who was a lively presence to say the least. He did something called Sherry and Theory. Sherry and Theory, I think it was Wednesday mornings at, get this, eleven a.m. So things have changed a bit. We usually try to wait till the afternoon before we start drinking at Dumbarton Oaks now. But it was fun; it was great. He was really very open to including people from other programs. There was a lot of, not just stimulating discussion about researches, but practical matters too. I remember, he invited John Davis over. John Davis was a Fellow at the National Gallery, and he was working on landscape issues in the Holy Land from an art historical perspective. And he came over and gave a great presentation. And John Dixon Hunt later said, “That’s what you should all be doing, you as Junior Fellows. You have to learn how to stand on your hind legs and talk about your dissertations in a direct and concise fashion.” And all of a sudden for us – as graduate students we’re just sort of wondering around – and it was great to sort of have that bit of professional training as well, just to see these are the next steps, and you are going to be facing these things. And again the mix of ages was very important – casual off-hand comments from people like Ross Hassig. I think I was trying to finish a chapter of my dissertation, and Ross Hassig was saying, “you know you’ll never have this kind of uninterrupted time again in your life.” But he was absolutely right, I never have. It was great to hear at the beginning of my fellowship year and to understand how magical a year that could be and how important it could be. So it was a wonderful mix. It was a transformative year for me in all sorts of ways.
LL: And you returned to Dumbarton Oaks in 1998?
JP: Yes, for a summer seminar. Susan Toby Evans and I organized a summer seminar on the subject of Elite Residential Architecture in Pre-Columbian America. Something like that – I can’t remember what the title was. And it was something of a run up to the symposium that fall, which was on Palaces of the Ancient New World. And it was a nice summer seminar; it was quite different from the fellowship years. First of all, much more casual – rich time by the pool – and there were no formal events, which I think was great so you didn’t have the research reports every week. We gathered, weekly, at least weekly I think, to discuss progress on our various projects. And it was nice to have people together who had a common interest. In that sense it’s different from the academic year when we are all working on very different topics. And I think it was a much better symposium because of that summer seminar. That book did pretty well. It was been re-printed and re-printed in paperback, and it continues to be used a lot. It was funny to put that together because you know those Mayanists. They jumped at the topic with alacrity, you know. “Yes palaces, we can talk about palaces, we’ve got palaces.” So the Mayanists were on board in a minute and the Aztecs of course have great evidence. The Andeanists – those counter-hegemonic Andeanists – were like “oh no, we didn’t have palaces in the Andes.” But there were Inka rulers. “Oh yes, yes, yes.” And, they did live somewhere. “Oh yes, yes, but we would never call them palaces, that’s far too Western a trope.” But it’s actually pretty interesting to come from that perspective and to a work through what is a palace, what does that mean. And to what degree is elite residential architecture important in the organization of complex societies and rulership and so forth. And it was a delightful project. And Craig Morris—wonderful guy who died a few years ago—Craig Morris was the Dean of Science at the American Museum of Natural History, and he was one of the speakers and a distinguished leading Inka specialist. And I remember talking to him about this, saying, “you know those Andeanists – they’re afraid to talk about palaces, they don’t want to talk about palaces.” And Craig said something really interesting. He said, “well I’ve been thinking about this for a while and you know, I think the Inka deserve it.” And it was such a wonderful sort of rethinking, and then after that it was, like, open the floodgates of studies on elite residential architecture and palaces. It was the first of a whole series of gatherings and publications concerning this. It really prompted – took advantage of and then prompted – a lot of subsequent work. It was a lively gathering. I think it was a very productive meeting. That’s always nice, gathering the Mesoamericanist with the Andeanist too.
I think one profound difference from the beginning of the program is that, when Betty Benson started, one could expect to be reasonably able to keep up on current literature in all pre-Columbian studies. And that is something that in no way, shape, or form could you do now. It’s a much bigger field – far more publications, far more projects, far more people. It’s hard to keep up on North Coast Peru archeology let alone all of Andean archeology, not even to mention all pre-Columbian studies. And one thing I’ve seen – I think at the beginning of the program there were a lot of topical symposia: death and the afterlife in the pre-Columbian world or the sea in the pre-Columbian world. And then we moved into a period when things became a little bit more specific: area specific, time specific. Like the 1889 symposium, you know, the Maya in the eight century in the lowlands – hugely successful, but I think it spoke to the burgeoning field and the huge growth of pre-Columbian studies that we saw in the late eighties and running through nineties and to the present day. But one thing we lost with that is a certain ability to speak across geographic areas and time periods. Particularly with the advice of Senior Fellows like Clark Erickson, a wonderful Senior Fellow from Penn, we stated to go back to the topical symposia. Let’s bring together and understand how looking at these problems from a hemispheric – to a certain degree global – perspective can we understand common problems and ways to think about these in new and innovative ways. So, in the last few years we’ve tended more towards topical symposia. That said, I think some of the more focused gatherings, Philip Arnold and Chris Pool organized a fabulous gathering on Classic Veracruz archeology. It was a pretty focused topic, but it was a wonderful gathering, and a wonderful publication that did very well. I was an example of taking advantage of new research but also calling attention to an area that sometimes is overlooked by the rest of us, and it shouldn’t be.
LL: When did you begin your directorship? How did that come about?
JP: At the time I had a joint appointment with the University of Maryland and Dumbarton Oaks. My official title was the very grand Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Pre-Columbian Art and Archeology in the University of Maryland, which was a bit too grand for my position at the time. I loved it. So I was half time at the University of Maryland – taught two classes – and half time here at Dumbarton Oaks, which, of course, I adored – working on a research project on the early modern sources for the study of the Inka and their friends. Huge multi – That project was some twelve years in the making. So I was working on that while I was here in Dumbarton Oaks. Then the opportunity came up to be Director of Studies, and I had decided not to apply because I had this great job at the University of Maryland – it was a tenure-track job. And I think conventional wisdom was that I’d be crazy to leave that. So I decided not to apply. And then Richard Burger – Richard Burger from Yale – called me up – and he was on the Senior Fellows, I think he was chair of the Senior Fellows Committee – called up, and he said, “Rumor has it you are not applying.” “That’s right.” He said, “Let’s talk about it.” Richard is one of the most persuasive people I’ve ever met, and by the end of the conversation I think he pretty much had convinced me to do it. So I threw my hat into the ring and then got it. I think, in part, my decision to do it had a lot to do with this decade – twelve-year long research project on Inka sources – that Dumbarton Oaks was such a good place to do that kind of long term project – that I thought that it was a good place to finish that project up. Also, there’s so many possibilities here at Dumbarton Oaks in terms of how can you shape the field, how can you enhance the field. And it’s also an institution to which I was absolutely devoted – I mean, my junior fellowship here changed my career, and I loved it. So, I thought there were a lot of possibilities, so I agreed to do it. And that was I think six years ago.
LL: What are your duties as Director?
JP: As Director of Studies? As Director of Studies, I’d like to think that I oversee sort of four areas: the fellowship program for Pre-Columbian Fellows, the program of scholarly meetings – so our symposia, roundtables, workshops and the like – that leads in of course to publications and then research projects. So those are the four principal areas that I’m concerned with. Of course all of those have tremendous help form the rest of the staff at Dumbarton Oaks – you know Kathleen Lane has just started as Fellowship Coordinator and then, of course, Kathy Sparks and Sara Taylor in publications. These responsibilities bleed across different departments. I certainly try and create as productive an environment as possible for the Fellows during their time here. And try and get that perfect mix and making sure that these opportunities are available for them. But also try to protect their time. Many of our Fellows come from institutions where they have huge teaching loads, and they have many meetings – faculty meetings – that they have to go to. And this is a really precious year for them, and so I don’t want to pile on more meetings, if they’ve applied to get away from those meetings to finish that book. So, I’m very mindful of that and I tell them straight off the bat that they can use me as the Grinch to tell other people no – “that no, I can’t speak to your class at Georgetown;” “that I can’t give a talk to your community group.” I feel it’s an important part of my job to protect them, but also to make them aware of the opportunities that are available not just at Dumbarton Oaks, but in the Washington area. I hold a reception at the beginning of the year at my house and invite the people from the Science Foundation, the Smithsonian, other universities, and it’s funny how the conversations – the casual conversations at a cocktail party in September – can have ramifications through the rest of the year and beyond, but it does. It’s very nice. And certainly the people in Washington are very excited to meet these Fellows. I send out information on who the fellows are. And they come often specifically, “Oh, I really want to meet so and so,” or “I really need to meet so and so.” And many a collaborative project has begun in a very small back garden. So I try and make those opportunities available. If people want to try out a talk before they go to a conference or if they have a job talk, they want to do a mock interview, we try and be available for that sort of thing. And sometimes interest groups sort of grow spontaneously. One year there will be a dissertation completion-writing group or there’ll be a material culture group. So these things spring up, and they tend to be different every year. And I try not to micromanage those because, again, I want it to be something that they want to do. I don’t want them to thing it’s an obligation. So on a day-to-day level, there’s a lot of interaction with the Fellows. Then you know publications – those wax and wane and when those come on deadline, everything else has to drop and focus on those, as you have probably heard of with the Maya catalogue this summer. We are in the middle of the first pages, so that’s really taking most of my time right now. It’s very, very exciting to see those projects through. My predecessor, Jeff Quilter said, the great thing about being the Director of Studies is that you don’t know what’s going to happen when you walk in in the morning – absolutely right. So, I like to thing of these as possible opportunities. It’s an incredibly stimulating position to be in and an enormous pleasure to be part of this scholarly community and participate in a broader series of projects and activities and just the day to day interactions and the unexpected conversations that you have with scholars from a range of backgrounds, with a range of interests – terrific discussions with the numismatists in the pool. Who knew? But anyways, it’s been an absolute delight.
LL: Do you think your time as Director has changed your opinion or your understanding of Dumbarton Oaks?
JP: I think from the time I was a Junior Fellow, wet behind the ears, and hadn’t experienced a whole heck of a lot, I see Dumbarton Oaks quite differently now, and probably cherish it all the more. Since I was a Junior Fellow, I’ve been involved with fellowship programs, research institutes – in England, the Sainsbury Research unit, where we set up a new fellowship program there after I finished my fellowship here. That was my first job. But I also was a Fellow at the Met, and then running the fellowship program at the Center for Advanced Study at the Gallery, and then being involved with the fellowship program at the Getty. I have a better sense about Dumbarton Oaks’ place in the world a bit more and what makes it unique and so important. As Director of Studies, you’re bound to have a different perspective than as a Fellow. You’re constantly trying to think about what makes a research institute work well and what makes a successful research institute and why is a year here – an academic year here – different for a scholar than it would be by giving him the $40,000 grant to stay at home and write their book. What is it that we do here that could make that book more interesting or more important or reach a broader audience or get us to a new place in terms of research? So, I think I’m more aware of that and also the quirkiness of Dumbarton Oaks. I cherish that. And I think particularly having spent time at the National Gallery Center for Advanced Study, which was a heavenly place – and you know the Andean guide project, you know, that started there, that was a project of the Center for Advanced Study. And my four years with them are invaluable – I mean, just extraordinarily wonderful. But I think I’m reminded of how different a place the Center for Advanced Studies is compared to a place like Dumbarton Oaks. And the pre-Columbian Americas at many of our major museum and research institutes, they’re often not a major part of the programming at a place like the National Gallery. Now the National Gallery was more than willing to take up a pre-Columbianist and let her get away with all sorts of scandalous meetings and research projects – so all credit should go to them. But I recognize how important Dumbarton Oaks is in terms of developing a research area that was quite small before Dumbarton Oaks came on the scene. And in this sense, this brings us all the way back to Robert Woods Bliss and what he did – his recognition of the importance of an ancient American history for contemporary culture in the United States and elsewhere. He was somebody that was very interested in this issue of pan-Americanism and a greater culture exchange across the Americas. Now he – this is something that became particularly important to him in a poignant way in the interwar years – he had lived in Paris in the First World War and he had been in Argentina in the twenties and thirties and I think they were terribly worried that European fascism would enter Latin America in that period. So, I think there was certainly – he was a different man, and he had certain political interests in fostering cultural exchanges. But I think also he also had a sense of what remained to be discovered in terms of an ancient American history and how that history more and more is a common history in the United States and enriches our lives internationally now. As a Director of Studies it gives tremendous pleasure to have a small part or sometimes a larger part in fostering the importance in the understanding of the ancient Americas in the academies, in the universities – but also in the museums and to a certain degree a broader public. The broader public is not our direct brief of course. We are engaged in advanced researched, but it ultimately does have a very important role in that sense.
JP: I’m very lucky or unlucky, depending on how you look at it. They were tough acts to follow, but I feel lucky to have had such great models to begin with. Betty is terrific and still very involved in our programs. I think her broad vision and her graciousness was fundamental to the creation of the program. So many of the things that we do now go back to what she created, in terms of the lecture program, the publications, the scholarly meetings. She was fundamental to laying the foundation for all of that. And then under Elizabeth Boone, the program grew by leaps and bounds, and I think it became a much more – much larger – much more inclusive program under Elizabeth – and very excieting. I think she really took on big topics that had an impact beyond pre-Columbian studies as well. You think about some of the meetings she organized such as – it was a little roundtable that became the book Writing Without Words, and it’s hugely important in comparative literature. People pay attention to it much farther away from pre-Columbian studies than I think any of us initially anticipated. I think a lot of these meetings have had an impact beyond just pre-Columbian studies. It’s been exciting to see that. And then of course Jeff was fantastic. I think Jeff’s incredible enthusiasms for all sorts of things – the meetings in Latin America – I think the project grants may have developed under Jeff, as far as I know. That was terribly important. It repositioned things for Dumbarton Oaks in a very important way. As you probably know, Dumbarton Oaks – we are a reformed institution when it comes to collecting archeological material. So we stopped acquiring objects actively in 1970 and started putting our money into fellowships and meetings and publications and the support of the research of the ancient Americas rather than the ownership of actual objects. The idea to have the projects grants go towards helping to protect archeological sites at risk has been wonderful. And I think it’s gone a long way to changing the perception in the field. There was a deeply entrenched vision that Dumbarton Oaks was a museum that acquired objects, and, therefore, acquiring archeological objects contributed to the destruction of archeological sites. I think programs such as that – the project grants – have been very important to try and remedy that perception in the field.
LL: How do you think the field of pre-Columbian studies has changed over the years?
JP: It’s gotten much bigger – I mean, that has been great. In the early years there was only one fellow, Arthur Miller – Arthur Miller in one room – and then for many years, somewhere between three or four fellows. When I started I wrote a memo, an official memo, to the Administrative Committee at Harvard about the importance of increasing the number of Pre-Columbian Fellows. I felt that was important in recognition of the importance of Latin American studies in the United States now. Our Fellows have been doing very well in terms of getting jobs. I mean a few years – there’s been a couple of bad years particularly recently – but by and large our Fellows have been in demand, so there was a need for Dumbarton Oaks to participate in the broader sort of shaping, fostering, training these young scholars. It also has an impact in the scholarly discussion too. Sometimes if you only have three Fellows, and one person is working on formative settlement patterns and one person is working on early colonial Mexican manuscripts and somebody else is working on textiles in Argentina, it could be hard – it’s hard to get a critical mass together for conversation. And now, fortunately, our petition has been successful and Jan Ziolkowski, our current Director, has been a great friend of Pre-Columbian Studies. And I think that under him the program has just blossomed, it’s just expanded. We now really can have that sort of critical mass for discussion, and after our research reports on Monday I started gathering people again the next day after lunch giving them a night to sleep on it. And then we’d gather again over coffee in the lounge, at the refectory, and we were able to get a very good conversation going and a rehash of the presentation research the day before because not only do we now have six or seven fellows, in fact I think this fall technically on paper we may have eight or nine. Two are not in residence. We have this new program of Tyler Fellows. With the curators in the Museum, Miriam Doutriaux, Juan Antonio Murro, and others it’s quite a good group for a lively discussion. But the program has also expanded in other ways, not just by the number of Fellows. For example, the interns – it’s a great program, and it’s been a wonderful addition to the community. And again you are the future of our field, and its great to have you here. Again, that was one of Jan’s ideas. And to bring young scholars in – we’re always slightly nervous that we may be turning you off eternally from pre-Columbian studies. Fortunately, I don’t think that has happened. We have some great interns, you, Lorena, and Alex Mendez this summer. And last summer Ari Caramanica, who was a fabulous intern. I’m thrilled she’s starting the Ph.D. program at Harvard in anthropology this year. And she’s one of the most extraordinary young scholars we’ve seen. We also now have these short-term, month-long stipends for more senior scholars, and they add to the mix in a wonderful way. Sometimes museum curators or others can’t get away for an academic year, but they can come for a month. It’s great to have them in residence. And the other innovation has been the addition of post-docs to the community, which has been great. And it’s a nice bridge between – in particular – between the staff and the fellows, because for a while there was a bit of dynamic – you know, a certain resentment of the Fellows on the part of the staff. And so it’s been nice to break that down a bit. And the post-docs have been a terrific addition to the program, and it has been a nice bridge and also been terrific for the nice projects we’ve embarked on since then. It’s grown dramatically since I was a Junior Fellow. And, it’s been a pleasure to see.
LL: What would you say is Dumbarton Oaks’ greatest contribution to pre-Columbian studies?
JP: There are many. But I think in terms of an overall contribution, in terms of fostering this understanding of the ancient Americas both nationally and internationally, I think this has been its greatest contribution. In some ways Dumbarton Oaks is also particularly important for its role in the development of pre-Columbian art history. I think it’s really something that Dumbarton Oaks had a major role in and did something that nobody else was doing – again, largely growing out of Bliss’s interest in developing the collection. But I think in terms of strengthening the field and expanding the field, Dumbarton Oaks, through these four areas, through fellowships, through meetings, through publications, and research projects, it has strengthened, expanded, and enhanced the field. For example, through fellowships you think of taking a flier and giving a certain high school student a fellowship here – Dave Stuart, he was a high school student when he applied. What other research institute is going to give a kid a fellowship. Look, it was a kick off to an extraordinary career. You think of these fellowships, how important these fellowships can be in a career. You also think of someone like Jerry Moore who was a Fellow – he’s an Andeanist/archeologist – he was a Fellow, I think, the year after me. And I remember Jerry telling me that where he was teaching, he was teaching eight classes a year – four a semester something like that – and it was just a crushing teaching load. And he got a fellowship here, and he worked like the devil when he was here, and he produced a book on studies of architecture and space that is cited all the time. You see it all over the place. And it’s cited by – I’m happy to say – by Mesoamericanists as well as Andeanists. And has had a huge impact, and I think Dumbarton Oaks made that possible in many ways. I think some of our meetings – again I mentioned Writing Without Words – a symposium organized in Elizabeth Boone’s time with Tom Dillehay called Tombs for the Living. You know, that was a meeting that caught a theoretical concern at a good time, took advantage of great new archeological material that was coming in, and it was a book that was tremendously successful, and continues to be cited again and again and not just by Andeanists. It’s a source that’s used – a lot of Mayanists tell me how much they love that book. I think these meetings and these publications can in turn transform the field.
We are in a good position here in Dumbarton Oaks. We have the luxury of doing things that other institutions don’t. And I think of the study series; it’s a place where we can do publications that are little bit outside of your university press academic titles. We can do things that are a little bit shorter, we can do things that are a little bit longer. We can pay extra attention to the quality of the illustrations. I think we’re embarking on a period of expansion for our website, and I’m excited to see what we can do with that in terms of making things even more broadly available. But also in terms of research projects, Dumbarton Oaks – again we can do things that nobody else can because of the nature of this research institute – this sort of – the idea that an interest in pre-Columbian studies will outlive all of us or the particular whims of any Director of Studies or so forth. And so it’s a great place to do this sort of occasionally tedious, but very important, very time consuming, very expensive, long-term research projects. That when you are in a university position, its not that easy to do that kind of thing, it’s not that easy to get the sort of sustained funding for that. I’m thinking not just of the Andean guide – that it was started, it was a project of the Center for Advanced Study, but Dumbarton Oaks was very much a collaborating partner for that project. Nothing quite like it existed before that was created, and I don’t know many institutions that would be able to support such a project, such as the Center for Advanced Study and Dumbarton Oaks has. The catalogue projects – again those are long-term, very labor-intensive projects, but they’ve been incredibly useful for the field, particularly again for art history. Tom Cummins tells me all the time that the Andean catalogue, he says, is his major reference work for his courses in pre-Columbian Andean art history. Dumbarton Oaks, again, is a place where we can transform the field in an interesting way. The Maya catalogue – one of my great interests was to look at it, look at our collection at a good time, when a lot of really important advancements have been made on epigraphy, so we can understand what’s written on these objects a bit more, but also to take advantage on the new scientific analysis, and bring together people from different disciplines to look at the collection. For the workshop, the basic workshop that was over three weeks here, we gathered together people that were specialists in epigraphy, people who were specialists in soil chemistry, who were doing neutron activation analysis, art historians, archeologists, and getting them together in the room to look at the collection. And it was very interesting, because you know you would have the art historian who would say, “Well, the painting style is absolutely characteristic of this site here,” and then the epigrapher would say, “Well, the text would actually say that it’s closer to this site here, that this was a gift – a royal gift – from this ruler to this person,” and then you got the soil scientist, “Well, it couldn’t have been made anywhere but here.” How do you now align these very disparate lines of evidence to understand the life history of these objects? It was a hair-raising gallery. You know, every time you get a lot of people in a very small space with very delicate, valuable objects is always scary. But it was transformative, and the research was very different than it would have been if everybody came in individually and just wrote about what they knew. And so that kind of innovative gathering is something that Dumbarton Oaks can do, and we can do it well. And I think it’s thrilling for the field.
LL: What direction would you like to see D.O. and the Pre-Columbian Studies Program take in the future?
JP: Grow even more! There are a number of ways that I think we can and should explore in the future. A number of things – I mentioned digital initiatives. That’s a big area. We’ve made a first step in terms of webcasting the public lectures. Steve Bourget was the first person to webcast, talking about the new finds from the north coast of Peru. So I hope that we can continue with that. We don’t collect objects now, but I think we can also start to think about collecting and developing new sorts of scholarly resources – not just books, certainly not objects, but new types of archives for example, that are essential for scholarly research in certain areas. For example, as you may know, Justin Kerr and Barbara Kerr who have spent a lifetime creating an archive of roll out photographs of Maya painted vessels, cylindrical vessels, they have promised us that archive, and it already exists in a wonderful online form. So that’s a new project for us and again, accessible to a much broader range of people that we could ever hope to reach through our usual channels – very much available to the public, it’s used by school children, which is great. But it’s also terribly important for scholars. So that’s one area that we’ll be expanding. It hasn’t been announced officially yet but I’m very happy to say that the Moche archive which was developed by Chris Donnan will be coming to Dumbarton Oaks. And again, that’s a hugely important resource, it’s sort of the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum for pre-Columbian studies in that it’s a catalogue of all the known Moche objects. And it’s organized in a wonderful way. It’s organized by theme, by topic. So what we are looking at right now – it exists in hardcopy now – and we are looking at how we make that available in a digital environment to the broadest possible audience. So those are two areas where we hope to expand. I would put those under the category of research projects.
The fellowship program – the fellowship program is interesting, and Jan and I have talked about this a lot. At what point do you achieve a critical mass for a scholarly community. At what point can you not have one Fellow give a research report a week. Are there not enough weeks in the year? At what point do you no longer know who the other Fellows are, and does that matter? So we have to think of ourselves, we are a bricks-and-mortar institution to a certain degree, and at what point do we achieve the perfect number for the number of Fellows? That doesn’t mean we can’t expand the fellowship program. So Jan and I this last year talked about that. And so the Tyler Fellowship was our first foray into non-residential fellowships. In some ways, these fellowships are fun to think about and to dream of because you think about “what do I really want? What kind of fellowship would I like to have?” And so, the Tyler Fellowships are for Harvard graduate students at the moment, and it’s a year in the field and then a year at Dumbarton Oaks. I think it’d be fabulous to think about that model for somebody mid career because again it comes back to what Ross Hassig told me as a Junior Fellow, that you’ll never again have this unencumbered time. How could it change the field to give some mid-career scholars the opportunity not just to have one year off – you sit here running from behind – got to finish that book for tenure or for promotion to full professor, whatever – what if they got two years off? And what if they could have a year in the field and then a year here to write something that is entirely new? Something that is much more innovative than what they might have done otherwise with just a year off. There are many ways in which we can probably expand the fellowship program too. Jan may want to edit this out too. But there are also ways in which we can explore and innovate in our program of scholarly meetings. Again, with Jan we bought this wonderful townhouse know as The Oaks a couple of years ago, and with Bill Fash we organized a wonderful workshop this last year in January. Not the best time to bring people to Washington, but still. And they all lived in that townhouse and some people live here as well. And you have these archeologists who have worked – archeologists and epigraphers and art historians – I think, they all had different specialties, one was a ceramic specialist, one was a texts specialist and so forth – basically locking them up together for a week and see what happens after. But it was great because they are all scattered in institutions across the Americas now. They’ve worked on the site for twenty years, I guess. And it was fantastic to gather them together and see where are they in understanding what is one of the ancient world’s most spectacular cities, Copán, and planning the next phases of their research. How will this be published? What are the conventions? A lot of it is just very nuts and bolts. What accents are they going to use? Are they not going to use accents? What’s the color of the cover going to be? You know, things that in some ways seem very superficial, but actually have a huge impact in terms on conventions on spellings and so forth. And stratigraphy – I mean Rudy Larios, his participation and understanding the rompecabezas of the stratigraphy of that site was fundamental. And it was thrilling. I’m not a Copán specialist, but being a fly on the wall, I never knew how exciting ceramic analysis could be, but it really was. It was fabulous, and one of the most exciting meetings I’ve attended. And it’s a new model for us. We tried not to keep people captive for too long, but it worked vey well. I hope we can continue to innovate and transform the field and see how our community grows and expands internationally in the coming years.
It’s great to have the Fellows come back so often now for the symposia. One other thing that we started innovating again – seems superficial, but it’s been one of the great successes of the last few years – is that we started a reunion of the Fellows at the Annual Archeology meetings, at the SAAs. And its great to see these fellows from across the years come back and talk about what they are working on now, talk about possible ideas for future meetings or things we should be paying attention to. It’s been a lot of fun. The program – depends on how you want to assess the birth date of the Program in Pre-Columbian Studies – 1963 when the galleries opened, 1967 when the first lecture happened, 1969 when the first symposia – whatever those specific dates were – we are coming up to half a century of pre-Columbian studies. The field is huge and robust and exciting now, and one has to think that Dumbarton Oaks had a lot to do with that.
LL: I have no more questions, but do you want to talk about any stories –
JP: [Laughs] Turn the tape off and tell you the good stories? No, I’ve really enjoyed talking to you Lorena. It’s been a lot of fun.
LL: Thank you so much.
JP: Thank you.