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Digital Humanities at Dumbarton Oaks

Tyler Fellow John Davis Creates Online Map of the D.C. Watershed

Posted on Jul 06, 2016 09:33 AM by Lain Wilson |
Digital Humanities at Dumbarton Oaks

As in so many other cities, water is everywhere in Washington, D.C.—and yet it remains largely invisible to most of us, taken for granted or ignored. But D.C.’s waterways and plumbing shape the civic, social, and even commercial lives of its residents just as much now as in the past: the Anacostia, the Potomac, the C&O Canal, Rock Creek. And the crisis in Flint, Michigan, has shown that the questions of where and how cities find their water have tremendous importance for public health, down to the last pipe. 

“It’s interesting to be able to visualize things that aren’t always apparent when you’re walking around the city,” says John Davis, Tyler fellow in Garden and Landscape Studies. “It’s a totally different conception of how the city works.” During his time at Dumbarton Oaks, Davis, a PhD candidate in history at Harvard working on the history of engineering and infrastructure, has created a digital atlas of Washington, D.C.’s watershed. The “Water Atlas,” as he calls it, shows the development of the city’s water infrastructure over time, from large features like canals to the sewer grid and water treatment facilities. 

Unlike a traditional atlas on paper, the online atlas gives the user a clearer sense of the relationship in scale between a city block and the course of an entire river. It also facilitates visualizing changes over time in layers or phases, rather than having to combine those phases into a single diagram or distribute them over several maps. Davis’s atlas further highlights how different the city’s landscape might have looked if certain rejected projects had been realized. One area of the map allows viewers to see how a proposed dam on the Rock Creek would have created an enormous reservoir in the north part of the city. 

Davis created the Water Atlas using a free open-source application called QGIS, which is widely used for cartography. By tracing information from scans of historic maps found in archives onto existing geospatial data from the United States Geographic Survey, he was able to create a single digital composite that could illustrate changes over time. Davis says that he could imagine this approach being adopted to illustrate infrastructural history for any city: “Every city has documents and maps—the exciting project is assembling the paper data and then digitizing it.” Indeed, he adds, if you had such data for multiple cities, the payoff for historians would be that you could “compare cities and their infrastructures.” 

Davis hopes that the Water Atlas will be useful for both the general public and professional researchers, and also that it might help bring the two groups together. Asked to envision an audience for the project, he describes “a range of people, from academics, or people who have an academic interest in D.C. history, to people in the D.C. area who might be curious about how their water gets to them.” It’s important for academics to invest time in projects like this, he notes, because of the likelihood that the skills of cartography and digital publication will continue to be important to future work in history and the humanities: “Digital maps increase accessibility. You don’t have to go to a library to use them.”

Davis and Dumbarton Oaks hope to release the Water Atlas to the public by the end of the summer. Please watch this space for updates about the project in the months ahead!

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Behind the Scenes

A Reading of Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia” in the Gardens

Posted on Jul 06, 2016 09:33 AM by Lain Wilson |
Behind the Scenes

On Monday, June 13, the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens became a main stage as actors from the D.C. area offered a stunning and lively reading of Tom Stoppard’s 1993 play Arcadia.

The gardens, last used as a performance space during a 2010 production put on by the Byzantine Studies department, were an ideal setting for Arcadia. The play, a tragicomedy that explores modern ideas in the context of the past, is centered around an English estate. One plot line tells the story of its nineteenth-century inhabitants, focusing on a young girl’s relationship with her tutor and with her family. The present, a twentieth-century storyline, acts as a foil for the earlier plot, tracing concerns of contemporary academia, including poetry, science, mathematics, and philosophy, back to these characters. It is a work that resonates with arts admirers and science enthusiasts alike, perfect for bringing together communities with a wide variety of academic interests.

The idea of staging the play in the gardens came from a discussion between Tyler fellow John Davis and Emily Townley, a local actress who would become the producer—and one of the stars—of Arcadia in the gardens. Townley and Davis spent two months putting together the reading.

“They call it a reading that is ‘lightly staged,’” Davis said. “They were reading from scripts, but there was a director who gave them direction on where to stand, when to enter, to actually make it more dynamic.”

Arcadia 2 Local actors Thomas Keegan as Septimus and Erin Weaver as Thomasina read a scene in the Fountain Terrace.

The dynamism of the performance extended to the setting, as Arcadia’s main stage separated itself into the Fountain Terrace, the Lovers’ Lane Pool, and the Orangery. The actors and audience moved from space to space as the production progressed. Davis and Townley, seeking to emulate the play’s original English country estate backdrop, chose these parts of the gardens strategically. Townley opened the play on the Fountain Terrace, utilizing its balconies and staircases to introduce the characters. From there, the scene transitioned into the Lovers’ Lane Pool. The amphitheater layout of the pool, which had been drained for cleaning, served its purpose as an area designed for entertainment. As the sun went down, the play moved to the well-lit Orangery for its final scenes.

At the play’s end, “the enclosed nature of the Orangery provided a level of intimacy that was especially appropriate for the changes in narrative and tone,” noted Kaja Tally-Schumacher, a student attending the Garden and Landscape Studies summer school. “The transition from very open spaces to such an intimate and small space really heightened emotion and the sense of community between the audience members and the actors.”

Arcadia 3 Kimberly Gilbert as Hannah and Jonathan D. Martin as Valentine read a scene in the Lovers’ Lane Pool. 

For Tally-Schumacher and other summer school students, the play evoked the themes they have explored in the two-week course, such as the origins and cultural practices of gardens and design landscaping. “The history of gardens is integral to the setting and plot of the play,” added Thalia Allington-Wood.

Similarly, Davis mentioned the inclusion of theories about order and chaos in nature that are studied by the students and elaborated on in Arcadia, specifically through the effects of staging. The temporality between acts, coupled with the unchanging nature of the play’s props and setup, also related to discussions on the memory of place and the passage of time within gardens. However, many noted that one of the greatest consequences of staging the play in the gardens was the intimacy experienced by the audience in such a setting.

“I was very happy that that’s the way it turned out,” he said. “Just because we were that close and just because there wasn’t the separation between a stage and an area for an audience, I think it became intimate . . . just by the way that it was done. And it was good in that way. I hadn’t planned it but it worked out very, very well.”

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“An Old, Old Problem Solved in an Up-to-Date Way”

Posted on Jun 14, 2016 02:20 PM by Lain Wilson |
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“An Old, Old Problem Solved in an Up-to-Date Way”
Joshua G. Wilson and James N. Carder (July 2013)

Recently, at the Georgetown Flea Market, the father-in-law of Director Jan Ziolkowski purchased a new artifact of relevance for the Archives. However, it is allied neither to the Byzantine, nor the garden and landscape, nor the pre-Columbian components of the institution. This new acquisition, in fact, at first glance seems outrageously distant from the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection: it is a 1940 Life Magazine advertisement (shown above) for Fletcher’s Castoria, a children’s vegetable-based laxative designed to accommodate their “delicate” systems.

In captioned black-and-white images, the advertisement plays out a disturbing domestic drama. A seated mother embraces her son, who cries out: “Don’t let daddy lick me again!” We are immediately assured, however, that the “old, old problem” (of childhood constipation, as it is eventually implied) will be solved “in an up-to-date way”—this drama will have a happy ending, namely with Fletcher’s Castoria.

As the panels unfold, the plot thickens: the son is constipated; Father mandates that the son take an adult-strength laxative for his own good and is prepared to lick him with a hairbrush if he resists. And yet the son does resist, on the grounds that he doesn’t like the taste of the laxative. Mother, disapproving of Father’s actions in the matter, informs him that her friend “Millie Bliss used to jam a bad-tasting laxative down her boy until her doctor put a stop to it. He said it could do more harm than good!” The one Millie Bliss now uses?—Fletcher’s Castoria. Father purchases the Fletcher’s Castoria, and the boy happily takes his spoonful of medicine.

But who is this “Millie Bliss?” Dumbarton Oaks founder Mildred Barnes Bliss had at one time been a major shareholder in the Centaur Company which was best known for manufacturing—you guessed it—Fletcher’s Castoria. Is the use of the name “Millie Bliss,” then, coincidental or purposeful? Mildred Bliss’s father, Demas Barnes, in 1878 had financially backed the Centaur Company, and its success had made him and his family quite wealthy. After his death in 1888, the press routinely referred to Mildred Barnes Bliss as the “Castoria heiress,” and it was widely known that the legacy of this and other investments had allowed the Blisses to fund their passions for collecting and gardening and, eventually, to inaugurate a research institution in Washington, D.C. in 1940, the very year that this ad appeared.

Interestingly, in other versions of this advertisement that appeared in 1940, the name “Millie Bliss” has been changed to “Doris Smith.” Is it possible that Mildred Bliss or someone acting on her behalf requested that Centaur pull her name from the ads?

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From Garden to City

Urban Landscape Outreach Launch

From Garden to City

By Jeanne Haffner, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Urban Landscape Studies

The Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies is located on the tree-filled grounds of the historic gardens at Dumbarton Oaks. But its mission, as its name suggests, is to extend landscape studies into the city. In April and May, the program did this literally, launching its outreach program for students from underserved schools in Washington, D.C. Over a hundred students were given tours of the new LEED-certified Fellowship House, the recently designed pollinator garden by the Garden Court, and the historic gardens themselves.

The first of these workshops, titled “Biodiversity from Garden to City,” built upon the landscape and architecture curriculum at Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School, located in northeast Washington, D.C. Students toured the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, paying particular attention to landscape design, topography, and water management, and met with Luís Mármol, gardener and horticulturalist. They were shown different types of plant beds—from the highly aesthetic Rose Garden to the more functional Kitchen Garden—and the Wilderness, an area located in the South Lawn, just before R Street, that serves to absorb water as well as to provide a contrast with more formal areas. Tyler fellow Deirdre Moore, who designed the new pollinator garden, discussed issues of water management as well as the connection between certain plants and the insects they attract. The field trip ended with a pop-up exhibit of Moore’s drawings and maps of the pollinator garden in the Lower Refectory, where students were given the opportunity to ask questions about the design process.

From Garden to City 1 Fourth graders from Achievement Prep learn about the role of trees in urban ecology.

In May, we expanded outreach initiatives to include elementary school students through the D.C. Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative, a group that organizes field trips for public and public charter schools across the District. The “Tree Notebooks” workshop, given to fourth, seventh, and eighth graders from Achievement Prep in southeast Washington, D.C., introduced the basics of tree identification and emphasized the importance of trees in urban sustainability and well-being. Students were first asked to identify the uses of trees, ranging from wood and food to spiritual renewal in some cultures. Then they sketched particular trees in the garden—an exercise aimed at reinforcing some of the elements of tree identification as well as landscape design. Another workshop, “City of Trees,” was given to sixth graders from McKinley Middle School. Using the grounds of Dumbarton Oaks, students were shown various ways in which ecological issues enter the city, from gardens like the ones at Dumbarton Oaks to water management and biodiversity at the pollinator garden and LEED certification at the Fellowship House. Throughout the tour, students also paid particular attention the gardens’ topography and various strategies for controlling the flow of water from garden to park.

From Garden to City 2 The National Building Museum’s Teen Council visited the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens on May 14 to examine differences in landscape design between the historic gardens and neighboring park.

The National Building Museum’s Teen Council, a part of the museum’s Design Apprenticeship Program, came to Dumbarton Oaks in mid-May to explore design features, hydrology, and historical topography in the gardens and Dumbarton Oaks Park in a workshop called “Private Garden, Public Park.” As those familiar with Beatrix Farrand’s work know, the gardens and Dumbarton Oaks Park used to be connected, giving the visitor the experience of going from a manicured garden to a more “wild”—but just as designed—space. The more feral parts, which lay at the bottom of the hill by the creek, were given to the National Park Service in 1940, the same year that the gardens and museum collections were transferred to Harvard University. After an extensive tour of the gardens, students walked through the gate at the base of the Forsythia Dell to Dumbarton Oaks Park. They saw remnants from the pre-1940 era, including the stone bridge, dams along the creek, and stone benches along the path, and then imagined new transitions from garden to park.

Outreach is just one aspect of the Mellon grant, which was awarded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's “Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities” initiative and runs through 2018. The program also provides fellowships for scholars working on urban landscape issues all over the world and organizes a variety of events aimed at encouraging interdisciplinary dialogue. The outreach component of the grant, however, is unique. It provides an opportunity to foster new collaborations between Dumbarton Oaks and outside organizations, such as the National Building Museum, and to rethink the gardens as the basis for a series of workshops on landscape and planting design, urban sustainability, and biodiversity in cities. In addition, preparing for these events drew together people inside Dumbarton Oaks, from the gardens staff and Garden and Landscape Studies program to the Director’s Office.

The Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies is excited to build on these workshops with more events next year with these and additional institutions. Extending scholarly research in urban landscape studies to students in secondary education occupies an important position in Dumbarton Oaks’ overall mission to support the humanities and serve the wider public and to find ways for local schools to use the gardens and museum as an educational resource. Dumbarton Oaks might have some very old relics in its possession but they are being looked at through younger and younger eyes.

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Household Linen

Posted on Jun 02, 2016 03:45 PM by James N. Carder |
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Household Linen
James N. Carder (June 2016)

Preserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives is a pamphlet titled “Facts Worth Knowing about Household Linen and Collection of Recipes for Removing Stains.” Published in 1921, this pamphlet originally belonged to Mildred Bliss’s mother, Anna Dorinda Blaksley Barnes Bliss (1851–1935), and is inscribed on the cover: “Property of Mrs. W. H. Bliss, please return.” Apparently, Anna Bliss gave the pamphlet to her daughter, as the cover is also inscribed: “Valuable. Keep for Mildred.” Possibly, she gave Mildred Bliss the pamphlet to aid in the housekeeping of Dumbarton Oaks, which the Blisses had purchased in November 1920. The printed flyleaf of the pamphlet reads: “Dedicated to the Ladies of America who Admire Fine Linen.”

The number of linens needed for a household the size of Dumbarton Oaks was considerable. On November 14, 1921, Mildred Bliss dictated a memorandum, also preserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives, to her housekeeper, Amy Olney. She requested that Miss Olney acquire bed linens and towels for Dumbarton Oaks to include a sufficient quantity for “six masters bedrooms and fourteen maids and eight chauffeurs rooms.” Undoubtedly, knowledge about the removal of stains from this large number of linens would have been paramount for the successful running of the house.

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Good Ink

Dumbarton Oaks in the News

Good Ink

In the Washington Post, Michael Dirda calls Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau’s Letters of a Dead Man, recently published by Dumbarton Oaks as part of its ex horto series, a “classic of travel literature,” comparing the prince’s account of his time in Britain to Stendhal’s writings on Italy. “This richly illustrated edition of the Letters of a Dead Man is one of those books that bring an era to life,” Dirda writes. “En route to England, Pückler visits the aged Goethe in Weimar; in London, he dines with the great financier Nathan Rothschild; later, he flirts with the Duchess of St. Albans, a foundling raised by gypsies who slept her way to the top.” You can purchase Letters of a Dead Man on the Harvard University Press website.

The Washington Post’s Adrian Higgins meditates on the role of designed landscapes in academic life, including a mention of Dumbarton Oaks and a few words from John Beardsley, director of Garden and Landscape Studies: “Harvard University’s research center at Washington’s Dumbarton Oaks provides the sweetest blend of landscape and academia, even if the Georgetown garden started life as a private paradise.”

In another piece, Higgins features an installation on the Arbor Terrace that recreates a sixteenth-century physic garden in Padua. He also explores Dumbarton Oaks’ links to the Paduan model through Beatrix Farrand and the Rare Book Collection.

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Spectroscopic Analysis of Museum Objects

Dumbarton Oaks Collaborates with the Walters Art Museum

Posted on Jun 02, 2016 03:44 PM by Lain Wilson |
Spectroscopic Analysis of Museum Objects

In preparing the forthcoming catalogue of Pre-Columbian objects from Central America and Colombia, Dumbarton Oaks has collaborated with the Walters Art Museum in the analysis of greenstone artifacts—primarily pendants and beads—from the Nicoya Peninsula and the Central Caribbean region of Costa Rica. Typically these objects are labeled as jadeite, but the team, including Bryan Cockrell, Colin McEwan, and Juan Antonio Murro from Dumbarton Oaks and Glenn Gates and Julie Lauffenburger from the Walters, sought to nuance our understanding of the objects’ compositions.

A number of minerals may be present in a greenstone object, and jadeite may be entirely absent. Atoms of one element may substitute for those of a different element in the crystal structure of the mineral, giving the material a range of colors. The team used two noninvasive techniques with equipment brought to the Dumbarton Oaks Museum study room—Raman spectroscopy and X-ray fluorescence spectrometry—in order to learn about the mineral and elemental compositions of forty greenstone objects in the collection. Raman spectroscopy involves the application of a laser beam to induce molecular vibrations in the material being studied; as a result, the frequency of the photons of the laser beam changes and is measured by a detector, revealing information about mineral composition. X-ray fluorescence spectrometry uses an X-ray beam to ionize atoms in the material, leading to the release of energy (fluorescence) that is characteristic of the material’s elemental composition.

The team is currently comparing this data to reference materials, but a number of objects have compositions different from those that have been ascribed to them in the past. There are greenstone sources known in Costa Rica, including serpentine, but so far not jadeite, while there are other sources in Guatemala and in the Caribbean. By combining mineral and elemental information and comparing it to published data, the team can work toward a longer-term goal of identifying the greenstone sources present among the objects.

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Chinese Ambassador Visits Dumbarton Oaks

Thirty Young Diplomats Also Visit Birthplace of the United Nations

Posted on Jun 02, 2016 03:44 PM by Lain Wilson |
Chinese Ambassador Visits Dumbarton Oaks

On the occasion of China’s “Youth Day” on May 4, Dumbarton Oaks received a visit from Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai, who was accompanied by thirty young diplomats from China. The group was eager to see the Music Room, where the conversations that laid the groundwork for the United Nations were held in 1944, and also were given a tour of the museum and gardens. Dumbarton Oaks presented the ambassador with gift copies of its new publication, Thirty-Six Views: The Kangxi Emperor’s Mountain Estate in Poetry and Prints. In the picture above, the ambassador presents Dumbarton Oaks with a gift book from the Embassy of China.

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Notes on the 2016 Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium

Thinking About “Landscape and the Academy”

Posted on Jun 02, 2016 03:44 PM by Lain Wilson |
Notes on the 2016 Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium

The 2016 Garden and Landscape Studies symposium explored the many landscapes of the academy. John Beardsley and Daniel Bluestone presided over four groups of talks that considered not only central campuses but also designed landscapes managed by universities such as gardens, arboretums, and forests. The conference provided opportunities both to reflect on the importance of landscape to Dumbarton Oaks and to explore the complex and constant management of landscape and its larger role in our lives.

The first section of the symposium considered the role of the core campus in the lives and education of students. Joseph Claghorn discussed the monoculture of elms and the significance of their departure from Harvard’s central landscape during the twentieth century and addressed the shifting landscape of the university and the commons. His talk suggested that more diverse communities—whether of plants or students—are also more robust communities.

John Davis and Karen Van Lengen discussed the pedagogical landscapes of vastly different educational institutions on either side of the Hudson River. Davis spoke about West Point and its attempt to use a particular landscape, the “engineer’s garden,” to address a national lack of expertise in military and tactical knowledge in nineteenth-century America. He discussed how nineteenth-century military educators used the “engineer’s garden” at West Point to teach soldiers and citizens to judge a multitude of varying situations. Davis discussed how cadets internalized the landscape of West Point and used its lessons in their later careers. 

In contrast, Van Lengen stressed a different connection between pedagogy and landscape at Vassar College, which was an all-female institution until the late 1960s. Van Lengen focused on how Vassar students made their own landscaping program in response to their surroundings and interests in the environment. Students’ interaction with the landscape at Vassar helped shape the college as an early leader in ecology and conservation. As at West Point, students of Vassar carried conceptions of landscape into their future endeavors. But in the case of Vassar, this was more often in roles of stewardship and preservation of natural landscapes and habitats. Both Davis’s and Van Lengen’s talks addressed the gendered aspects of landscape in American education. They also opened questions about the difference between managing a landscape for practical education as opposed to research.

The middle of the symposium gestured at Garden and Landscape Studies’ continuing effort to bridge history and practice. These sections were crucial in incorporating the perspectives of those who consider themselves primarily practitioners rather than scholars, educators, or historians. Mark Hough and Linda Jewell discussed the various conflicts and compromises involved in reconciling typologies between the campus and the garden at Duke University. Their talk delved into the challenges of balancing the different needs of student use, ecology, pedagogy, and the general public as they interact on the modern campus in America. Hazel Ruth Edwards spoke of the role of landscape as a nurturing force on the Howard University campus. Her talk was strengthened by images drawn from her own familial connections to the institution over generations. Gary Hilderbrand delivered a talk about the Olmsted brothers’ work in designing two campuses, which they hoped would have a transforming effect on the students and university by creating an atmosphere of quiet good taste for the development of character. Hilderbrand’s interest in the Olmsted brothers is informed by his current work developing the same campuses and extending their tree canopies. He noted his role has changed from theirs, as he needs to give voice to a larger number of interested parties involved in these spaces without sacrificing either the intention or the conviction of the projects. The speakers in this section often addressed the question of how to build flexible landscapes. They also concentrated on the need to predict the spaces of the future.

Another session of speakers addressed the role of campus and landscape in changing social and political contexts outside America. John Dixon Hunt spoke of the symbolic and literal changes in the design of buildings and landscapes in the new British universities, in contrast to the older Oxbridge models. Tianjie Zhang discussed the reconfiguration of Chinese university landscapes in the early twentieth century during the period of intense educational reform. Burak Erdim gave an extensive discussion of academy and landscape in Turkey during the Cold War. Finally, Hilary Ballon added a twenty-first-century perspective by speaking about her instrumental role in building NYU Abu Dhabi’s new campus. Her talk raised multiple issues around globalized education and the advantages and limitations of the exported American campus. She also suggested possibilities for the American campus model to adapt to different cultures and contexts around the world. 

The last section discussed community, conservation, and environmental landscape. Peter Alagona talked about the role of field stations in American university research and academic life. He addressed the importance of these spaces in conservation and ecology, particularly in light of California’s ongoing water crisis. Dino Martins from the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya stressed the importance of making scientific research applicable to the lives and challenges of small farmers in East Africa. He also spoke of the importance of understanding the effects of population growth and its impact on wildlife and conservation in the coming century. In conclusion, David Foster spoke about the history and legacy of Harvard Forest and Farm. Foster’s work spans multiple communities across the ecology, research, and education sectors, and both his and Martins’s talks addressed spaces that work as hubs of knowledge negotiating between different interest points.

Speakers at the symposium emphasized the importance of stewardship and ecology. They also noted the opportunity to teach students these concepts and values within the landscapes of the university campus. Among other topics, the symposium raised questions about the limitations of the neoliberal university in the twenty-first century, the increasingly urgent issues of elitism, and the treatment of women. They particularly highlighted the necessity of adaptation as the needs and uses of university landscapes change. Dumbarton Oaks, which transformed from a residence into a research institute with the transfer to Harvard in 1940, is representative of this need for continual adaptation.

As a complement to the symposium, the gardens staff recreated an early modern physic garden once planned on paper by Beatrix Farrand, which she based upon a physic garden in Padua.

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A Report on the Proceedings of the 2016 Byzantine Studies Symposium

Konstantina Karterouli on Reconsidering the “Worlds of Byzantium”

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:20 AM by Konstantina Karterouli |
A Report on the Proceedings of the 2016 Byzantine Studies Symposium

The 2016 Byzantine Studies symposium reconsidered the identity and character of Byzantium, especially the traditional understanding of an empire with a fixed center and periphery. It emphasized the plurality of cultures and multiple centers of action found in the Byzantine world and the connections that once existed among the various Eastern Orthodox Christianities. The symposium presentations painted a picture of complex interaction, and drew on a range of linguistic, theological, and visual material. Islam featured centrally in the discussion, while the Arabic language was also highlighted as a medium for Christian writings.

Scott Johnson put forward the model of a Byzantine “commonwealth,” based largely on a Greek theological legacy of integration and sharing across Christian denominational lines, as one that could prove more apt than that of an “empire.” Originally coined to describe Slavic peoples’ relation to Byzantium, Johnson, along with Stephen Rapp, proposed to apply the commonwealth model to the Caucasus and other areas in the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East, which were seen in the symposium as an integral part of this broader Byzantine world. Rapp and Robin Darling Young showed that not only Greco-Roman traditions of rulership and Byzantine Christianity, but also the Persian government and its Iranian past, were central aspects of both Georgian and Armenia’s cultural identities. Averil Cameron raised the related question of where Byzantium fits in transnational and global historical narratives, especially in the binary context of East and West. Kostis Kourelis moved the discussion of Byzantium’s identity into the modern period, exploring the extent to which the political agendas of the Second World War might have stripped Byzantium of its multicultural character, replacing it with an overtly Greek imperial hegemony.

Another major focus of the symposium was the period of Late Antiquity, both its expansion as a field of study in recent decades and its strengths and limitations as a scholarly framework. The questions concerned its geographical and chronological limits and the areas of study that this encompasses—for example, how the Arabian Peninsula fits in this discourse, and whether, as Antoine Borrut discussed, Late Antiquity requires a shared antique past. 

The symposium stressed the importance of religion and language for making sense of these “worlds of Byzantium,” as opposed to the traditional focus on political structure and the state. For instance, the pairing of languages in a one-to-one relationship with specific religious communities was shown to be untenable: Jack Tannous highlighted Syriac as a liturgical language for Chalcedonian Christians, contrary to an established understanding that these mainly wrote in Greek and Arabic. Arietta Papaconstantinou discussed multilingualism within the empire itself, and not only in its periphery. In the realm of religion, Daniel Galadza explored the gradual Byzantinization of the Jerusalem liturgy after the tenth century, when scribes in Jerusalem, Palestine, and Sinai saw Constantinople as a guarantor of Orthodoxy and a paragon of right faith and liturgical practice.

Speakers also highlighted artistic pluralism, emphasizing the need to shift attention away from Constantinople to other centers of production and microregions of exchange. Elizabeth Bolman juxtaposed visual material culture with language as a shared cultural tool that challenges the traditional divide between “Constantinopolitan” and “provincial” art—as manifested, for example, in the coexistence of styles in the Coptic art of Egypt. Alicia Walker showed that different networks of communication and particular socio-historical contexts allowed for varying patterns of cross-cultural emulation in the Middle Byzantine period, as seen in the use of pseudo-Kufic ornament in the decoration of the tenth-century church of Hosios Loukas in mainland Greece. Cecily Hilsdale discussed style as a carrier of meaning, with an emphasis on stylistic eclecticism (for example, thirteenth-century liturgical fans with Syriac script that are prime examples of Mosul metalwork) and its ability to suggest political and other affiliations.

Columba Stewart, director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library’s digitization project of over thirty thousand eastern manuscripts threatened with destruction, closed the symposium with a discussion of the importance of recording for the future of the field.  He drew attention to the richness of textual evidence in the various eastern languages—Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Arabic, and Hebrew—and how this promises a better understanding of the interaction between the various Mediterranean, Near Eastern, and Middle Eastern communities that once participated in this broader Byzantine world.

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75 Years / 75 Objects: Revealing

A Dumbarton Oaks Video

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:20 AM by Lain Wilson |
75 Years / 75 Objects: Revealing

This month brings the museum’s celebratory special exhibition 75 Years/75 Objects to a close with its ninth and final rotation, “Revealing.” In this video, museum director Gudrun Bühl and exhibitions coordinator Renée Alfonso talk about how they found a way to allow museum guests to look inside objects that are normally closed—without ever touching them. (“Revealing” is on display from now until May 22.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziAHdZ4Dgss

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Museum Closure Announcement

Renovations from May 23 through the End of 2016

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:20 AM by Lain Wilson |
Museum Closure Announcement

Please note: The Dumbarton Oaks Museum will be closed to the public from May 23 through the end of 2016. We are excited about the reopening of the museum galleries with state-of-the-art lighting and upgraded exhibits. We regret that we cannot accommodate scheduled tours of the museum and Main House during this period. However, the gardens will be open, and both introductory group tours and booked private tours will be offered. During renovations in the museum, the Museum Shop will move to the Orangery in the gardens on June 1, and will be open during the gardens’ hours (2:00–6:00 p.m., Tuesday–Sunday). The “Pop-Up” Garden Shop will offer a limited selection of books and merchandise. The fall Friends of Music concert series will also continue, but will be held in an alternative Dumbarton Oaks venue. More information will be provided to subscribers in advance of the new season.

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From the Garden Blog

Wisteria Lane

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:16 AM by Lain Wilson |
From the Garden Blog

Wisteria blossoms along the amphitheater that overlooks Lovers’ Lane Pool and Mélisande’s Allée below.

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Dumbarton Oaks Publication Discussed at German Embassy

Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau’s Letters of a Dead Man

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:16 AM by Lain Wilson |
Dumbarton Oaks Publication Discussed at German Embassy

On April 13, German Ambassador Peter Wittig and his wife, Huberta von Voss-Wittig, hosted a book discussion of the recent Dumbarton Oaks publication Letters of a Dead Man, the first full English translation of a remarkable volume by the early nineteenth-century traveler, landscape designer, and author Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau. Consumed by his desire to finance an ambitious English-style landscape park on his estate in Saxony, Pückler amicably divorced his wife (who remained behind to look after the estate) and embarked on a tour of England in search of a wealthy bride. His romantic search failed, but produced instead a best-selling mix of memoir, travelogue, political commentary, and epistolary novel that served as an alternative source of support for the magnificent Muskauer Park, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Director of Garden and Landscape Studies John Beardsley and Linda Parshall, the book’s editor and translator, discussed aspects of Pückler’s career and letters. Parshall then read excerpts from the book ranging from descriptions of the British landscape and the comforts of its nineteenth-century inns to notable political figures and events of the period.

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New Books in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library

Hermit’s Lives, the Latin Timaeus, and Old English Psalms in Spring 2016

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:16 AM by Lain Wilson |
New Books in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library

This spring, the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML) adds to its growing series of facing-page translations of important medieval literature with one new work in each of its current languages. Holy Men of Mount Athos assembles a number of accounts of the lives of hermits associated with the Byzantine Empire’s most important monastic center. Calcidius’ Latin translation of and commentary on Plato’s Timaeus was the only Plato available in Western Europe for a millennium. The Old English psalms of the Paris Psalter were a centerpiece of Anglo-Saxon religious life. All three volumes provide English translations of these texts for the first time.

Holy Men of Mount Athos

Often simply called the Holy Mountain, Mount Athos was the most famous center of Byzantine monasticism and remains the spiritual heart of the Orthodox Church today. This volume presents the Lives of Euthymios the Younger, Athanasios of Athos, Maximos the Hutburner, Niphon of Athos, and Philotheos. These five holy men lived on Mount Athos at different times from its early years as a monastic locale in the ninth century to the last decades of the Byzantine period in the early fifteenth century. All five were celebrated for asceticism, clairvoyance, and, in most cases, the ability to perform miracles; Euthymios and Athanasios were also famed as founders of monasteries.

The Greek text has also been substantially improved for one of the accounts, which was last edited in 1903. Alice-Mary Talbot, editor for the Byzantine Greek series, coedited and cotranslated the individual accounts that comprise Holy Men of Mount Athos along with Richard Greenfield. She emphasizes that producing the volume was a team effort: editorial board members Alexander Alexakis and Claudia Rapp, in particular, helped substantially with their endeavor. Talbot says that the project, which began at a weekly reading group during her time as Director of Byzantine Studies, is the fruition of fifteen years’ work.

Besides the textual improvements, Talbot adds that these life stories are important for any student of Byzantine culture and religion to consider. “For one thing, they show the many varieties of Byzantine monasticism, the different ways that one could be a monk: alone, in a group—the difference between communal and hermit life,” as well as the tensions between the two, she notes. On top of that, Holy Men of Mount Athos includes stories of hermits’ daily lives and their practical struggles: one account describes men who “constructed huts of wild grasses and lived in these summer and winter, scorched by the sun and frozen by the cold.” Talbot says that the life of Athanasios, in particular, offers “the best description anywhere” of the founding of a Byzantine monastery. Holy Men of Mount Athos offers an exceptionally clear look at these central institutions in Byzantine life from the ground up.

Calcidius’ On Plato’s Timaeus

Until the Renaissance, the work of Calcidius offered the medieval West almost the only direct access to Plato’s corpus not dispersed in fragments. Sometime between the mid-third and late fourth centuries, Calcidius translated into Latin an important section of Plato’s Timaeus, complemented by extensive commentary and organized into coordinated parts. Volume editor John Magee observes in his introduction that “Calcidius’ influence spanned much of Western Europe over the course of a millennium.” This medieval volume altered perspectives on Plato by drawing on other philosophical traditions, particularly the Stoic and Peripatetic, while including Judeo-Christian cosmology and anthropology.

The publication of Calcidius’ On Plato’s Timaeus complements other important literature in the history of medieval Western European Platonism already published in DOML, particularly the Poetic Works of Bernardus Silvestris and the Literary Works of Alan of Lille.

Old English Psalms

The Latin psalms figured prominently in the lives of the Anglo-Saxons, whether sung in the Divine Office by clerics, studied as a textbook for language learning by students, or recited in private devotion by lay people. They were also translated into Old English, first in prose and later in verse. Sometime in the middle of the eleventh century, the prose and verse translations were brought together and organized in a complementary sequence in a manuscript now known as the Paris Psalter. The prose version, traditionally attributed to King Alfred (d. 899), combines literal translation with interpretative clarification. In contrast, the anonymous Old English verse translation composed during the tenth century approaches the psalms in a spirit of prayer and devotion. Despite their differences, both reflect earnest attempts to capture the literal meaning of the psalms.

The complete text of all 150 prose and verse psalms is available here in contemporary English for the first time. With this translation, readers encounter the beginnings and the continuation of a long tradition of psalm renderings in English.

About the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library

The Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library presents original Byzantine Greek, Medieval Latin, and Old English texts with facing-page translations designed to make written achievements of medieval and Byzantine cultures available to English-speaking scholars and general readers. Aimed at a global audience, it offers familiar classics of the medieval canon as well as lesser-known texts of literary and cultural value in accessible modern translations based on the latest research by leading figures in the field.

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Celebrating 75 Years of Scholarship

A Selection of Books and Projects Supported by Dumbarton Oaks

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:16 AM by Lain Wilson |

Looking for something to read? To celebrate our seventy-fifth anniversary as a research institute, the directors of all three programs of study, with the input of staff and former Fellows, compiled lists of influential books and articles produced with our institution’s support. Explore the list and learn about Dumbarton Oaks’ support for scholars over the past seventy-five years in a special online feature.

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Watch Dumbarton Oaks Lectures Online

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:16 AM by Lain Wilson |
Watch Dumbarton Oaks Lectures Online

Dumbarton Oaks is excited to begin offering online recordings of some of the many lectures and talks that happen at the institute. This month, we are happy to share two recent talks. The April 8 lecture delivered by Inge Reist, director of the Center for the History of Collecting at the Frick Art Reference Library, on “What’s Mine Is Yours: Private Collectors and Public Patronage in the United States, 1870–1950,” launched a two-day conference on “Private Collecting and Public Display.” Also available is the April 14 Garden and Landscape Studies Public Lecture, “Olympic Landscapes: Green and Greenest,” delivered by Mary Margaret Jones, president and senior principal of Hargreaves Associates and Hargreaves Jones Landscape Architecture. Stay tuned for more videos to come, including further talks from the museum conference! For updates, you can subscribe to our YouTube channel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3UHMLkfTlk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9AAzySsgPg

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Fellows for 2016–17 Academic Year

Dumbarton Oaks Announces Forty-Five Award Recipients

Posted on May 05, 2016 11:16 AM by Lain Wilson |
Fellows for 2016–17 Academic Year

Dumbarton Oaks is proud to announce its fellowship awards for the 2016–17 academic year. Twenty-four fellows and junior fellows have been named for the fall and spring terms, as well as nine summer fellows, four Tyler fellows, three Mellon fellows, and five project grant recipients. The full list of incoming fellows and project grant recipients can be found on our website.

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75 Years Ago This Month: The Change from Domicile to Institution

Posted on May 04, 2016 11:35 AM by James N. Carder |
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75 Years Ago This Month: The Change from Domicile to Institution
James N. Carder (May 2016)

Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss’s gift of Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University in November 1940 included two recently constructed exhibition and library pavilions which were to be the functional center of the new research institution. The Blisses envisioned that the Main House, however, would remain a residence and provide housing for senior scholars and distinguished guests as well as spaces for teas, dinners, and receptions. The house would continue to be managed by a live-in staff of six who had their own living quarters, including bedrooms, a communal kitchen, and a staff dining hall.

By May 1941, it was clear that this arrangement was not going to work. The library had already outgrown the space originally provided for it, and scholars and fellows needed more office space in which to do their work. In a letter dated May 20, 1941 and preserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives, director John Thacher wrote Mildred Bliss, who was in California:

What would you think of conceiving of the main house as a whole as the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library? This would seem to me to give added dignity to the library and would stress even more the importance of the library and research activities. It would mean giving up actual living in the house and having all the servants live out and making the six servants’ rooms on the second floor into individual study rooms for the fellows – a space for which they are constantly clamoring. Such a change, it seems to me, would put the emphasis very definitely on the importance of the Research Library and the research activities.

Thacher envisioned housing the ever-expanding library as well as the necessary library staff offices in the Blisses’ former bedrooms and guest rooms on the second floor. On May 27, 1941, he wrote a similar letter to Paul Sachs, Chairman of the Dumbarton Oaks Administrative Committee:

The important thing at this time to decide is whether, in principle, you and the Committee would be sympathetic with the idea of visualizing the main part of the house as the Library. I hasten to say, however, that as I see it, the music room, the oval room, the present library [Study] and the drawing room [Founders Room] would remain unchanged, but it would mean that the service end of the house, as well as the second floor bedrooms, would be completely altered. Therefore, the house would cease to exist as a domicile. As I have dreamt about the possibilities resulting from such a change, I can see both a permanent solution to our Library and Museum problems, as well as giving to the whole institution added dignity and seriousness of purpose.

Predictably, the Blisses were opposed at first to Thacher’s suggestion, although they eventually came to see the wisdom of his plan. On May 27, Mildred Bliss wrote Thacher:

. . . it will save on housekeeping expenses, of course, but lose an important imponderable: it is the Home of the Humanities and not merely a brick building holding books. Either it will be a Day Institution with no sleeping or eating and second-rate servants coming in from the rain to dust the first floor rooms and running out, ill-humoured, to meals. Or it can keep a few beds, a kitchen and a few (3 perhaps or 4) good servants.

Perhaps the Blisses’ opinion of altering the main house from a domicile to a research library was changed by a night letter sent to them on June 2 by their long-time friend, Beatrix Farrand, the designer of the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens and a frequent resident at Dumbarton Oaks:

After talk with Thacher feel deeply happy as alterations suggested will give needed working library and study space and leave beauty of library [Study] and drawing room [Founders Room] and music room unimpaired. Heartily approve wisdom of making new library the heart of establishment. Hate to see our bedrooms go but believe solution farsighted and in Oakly spirit. Trix.

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Letters from William Cowper and John Ruskin

Highlights from Mildred Bliss’s Autograph Letter Collection

Posted on Apr 12, 2016 04:05 PM by Meredith Baber |
Letters from William Cowper and John Ruskin

Among the many autograph letters collected by Mildred Bliss over the years and currently found in the Rare Books Collection are letters from the poet William Cowper and the art critic John Ruskin. Both show the writers at their most characteristic: Cowper exults in the recovery of King George III, and Ruskin sums up his great love of the Middle Ages. Though previously published, the letters were often abbreviated, and we are glad to make the full text, along with high-quality images of the original documents, available online.

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