The Oaks News
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.
Highlights from Mildred Bliss’s Autograph Letter Collection
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.
- The website Brightest Young Things published an appreciative article and photo essay on Dumbarton Oaks and its founders, Mildred Barnes and Robert Woods Bliss. Among other compliments, they write, “The most special part of what Robert and Mildred left behind is not what they kept for themselves, but what they wanted to give the world after the world gave them so much.”
- The Olmec Jadeite mask in our Pre-Columbian collection was featured as a “must-see artwork” in the nation’s capital by the Washington Post.
Medieval Studies Students
In March, Dumbarton Oaks hosted its third annual graduate student workshop in medieval studies. Doctoral students Henry Gruber, Polina Ivanova, Stephanie Leitzel, John Mulhall, and Jake Ransohoff traveled to Washington, D.C., on March 3 for a two-day visit.
The graduate student workshop arose from the class visits program, which allows Dumbarton Oaks to sponsor classes of Harvard students to travel to Washington from Boston so they can see the inner workings of the institution.
Upon their arrival, this year’s participants had a chance to visit the Power and Pathos exhibition at the National Gallery of Art and to attend the program lecture by Anthony Kaldellis on the use of classical bronzes in Constantinople. On the second day of the program, they received introductions to Dumbarton Oaks’ history as well as the museum and library. Then, they presented papers to a special session of the Harvard Medieval History workshop. “The comments we got were great, and the opportunity to engage with such a diverse group of Byzantinists was one I will not soon forget,” said participant Henry Gruber. Finally, students met with Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library and publications staff to learn more about opportunities for graduate students to work on the DOML series as well as online publication projects.
“The goal [of the workshop] is to allow grad students in related fields to get together outside of their normal departmental homes to engage as intellectual peers and also to gain access to the facilities and people at Dumbarton Oaks,” said Director Jan Ziolkowski.
A Lecture in Collaboration with the National Gallery of Art
On March 3 Anthony Kaldellis, professor at Ohio State University, delivered a lecture at the National Gallery of Art in conjunction with the exhibition Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World, which was on display through March 20. Addressing a packed auditorium, Kaldellis spoke of the fate of ancient statuary, primarily bronzes, after antiquity. According to Kaldellis, Constantine and successive emperors collected and used ancient statues as universal images of power that would be intelligible to those living in the city as well as guests and potential invaders. Kaldellis drew from a wide array of sources in history, art history, and archaeology to establish an image of what public spaces in Constantinople looked like over the centuries of Byzantine rule and how these spaces and the monuments associated with them were interpreted. At a time when there did not yet exist a visual idiom of Christian rulership, Kaldellis argued, the designers of Constantinople drew on the vast collection of bronzes throughout the empire to create imagery in the new city that would encapsulate Constantine’s imperial authority. Kaldellis is the author of the volume The New Herodotus of the Supplements to the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series.
The Dover Quartet Performs at Dumbarton Oaks
The Dover Quartet returned to Dumbarton Oaks on March 6 and 7 as part of the Friends of Music recital series. They performed Dmitri Shostakovich’s third string quartet, Mozart’s “Hunt” Quartet, and Caroline Shaw’s Plan & Elevation (The Grounds of Dumbarton Oaks). This appearance was the ensemble’s second at Dumbarton Oaks this academic year; the Quartet premiered Shaw’s piece at Dumbarton Oaks in November as part of the institute’s seventy-fifth anniversary celebration.
In Bloom, from the Arbor Terrace
In late March, all the blossoms came into bloom. The garden has sprung to life. See more spring photos on our garden blog, What’s Blooming at D.O.
James N. Carder (April 2016)
In early April 1941, Mildred Bliss received a letter from Elmer Drew Merrill (1876–1956), a member of the Dumbarton Oaks Administrative Committee and Harvard University Administrator of Botanical Collections and Arnold Professor of Botany. Writing to Mildred at Casa Dorinda, her home in Montecito, California, Merrill wanted to know whether his understanding was correct that the Blisses wanted Harvard to continue to maintain the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens. If that understanding was incorrect, he wondered whether the gardens might be turned over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “experimental stations.” In the letter, he also offered her rhododendrons from the Arnold Arboretum to be planted at Dumbarton Oaks.
On April 10, 1941, Mildred sent her response in a letter that is preserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives. She dealt first with the rhododendrons:
In regard to the kind offer of rhododendrons, I submit that the only varieties we find desirable for planting at Dumbarton Oaks are the native species, since they are only needed as screens. The beautiful hybrids would only call attention to themselves and, frankly, I see no place for them at present.
She then went on to champion the continued maintenance of the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens:
Yes, your understanding is correct, it is our wish that the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks be maintained, and that, where consistent with their present form and development, they should be useful and productive. This they have been for many years.
Finally, she strongly endorsed the university’s decision to employ the gardens’ designer, Beatrix Jones Farrand (1872–1959), as “Consulting Landscape Gardener”:
Mrs. Farrand, whom I am sure you know and admire—as all do who have come in touch with her and her remarkable accomplishments at Yale, Princeton, Chicago, etc.,—has been, as you know, appointed what she is called by her various universities “Consulting Landscape Gardener.” This is most fortunate as it is she who has given form to my daydreams and has laid out the gardens with such ingenious understanding of the grades and seasons that they are now of unusual and harmonious beauty. In fact, the bones are so good that the flower planting can be decreased for economy and yet not seriously interfere with the picture that we have tried to paint and, thanks to her, have succeeded in realizing. It is fortunate that she can continue to give her counsel for the benefit of Dumbarton Oaks as no one can ever be as familiar with its problems as those who have worked upon them since the beginning.
- Joel Kalvesmaki, editor in Byzantine Studies, has coedited (with Robin Darling Young) Evagrius and His Legacy, now available from University of Notre Dame Press. The book grew out of a 2011 round table hosted by Dumbarton Oaks. David Brakke writes, “Joel Kalvesmaki, Robin Darling Young, and their colleagues have been leading a renaissance in the study of Evagrius of Pontus. . . . A collection that ranges as widely as its subject’s fertile mind.”
- The Online Seals Catalogue has been named in Oxford Bibliographies Online’s entry on “Seals,” which remarks:
The Dumbarton Oaks website pools together and offers easy access to vast resources essential to the study of Byzantine seals, including the Online Catalog of the seal collection . . .; a regularly updated bibliography; and two instructive expositions, one devoted to imperial seals, the other to a rare motif in Byzantine seal iconography: narrative scenes from the New Testament. . . . The permanent exhibit devoted to “Leaden Gospels” superbly explores seals as expressions of faith and of the ways that the Byzantines related to the New Testament.
The Mellon Initiative in Urban Landscape Studies and Dumbarton Oaks’ program in Garden and Landscape Studies jointly held a daylong graduate workshop on November 20, 2015, titled “Frontiers in Urban Landscape Research.” Four students from Harvard University and the University of Virginia were able to attend through support by Dumbarton Oaks’ Bliss Symposium Awards and Mellon Travel Awards. Three of them offered partial summaries of the day’s proceedings, which they were eager to share:
Angie Jo, a senior at Harvard concentrating in architectural studies, attended through the Bliss Symposium Award and wrote of the workshop:
Over the course of the day, I thought about the variety of relationships people of different places, eras, and cultures have had with their landscapes. The final conversation of the day asked how we were defining our terms—landscape, nature, place, and space are still nebulous even among those of us who are supposedly studying it. The fluidity and range of these concepts makes sense—landscape is made of the raw material of the world around us, and there are endless ways to understand, shape, and use it. In twelfth-century Marrakech, we saw locality and a sense of home; in Yaxha, political affirmation of kingly power; in Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon, a construction that may be the only “nature” most dwellers of this megacity will know. Such a variety of relationships dance around our own concept of “landscape” in a way that is only natural, and it was a great pleasure to see its range for an entire day.
Sonja Vangjeli, who is pursuing a master’s degree in landscape architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and also attended the workshop with funding from a Bliss Symposium Award, offered summaries of two especially interesting papers from the workshop:
Margot Lystra’s presentation, “Drawing the Hybrid Freeway: Urban Design and Non/Human Relationship” explicitly addressed the essential man–nature interdependency relationship within landscape through her study of the design of freeways as hybrid natural-technological landscapes. By thinking about freeways as driving experiences of sequential expanding and contracting vistas of the landscape, designers were able to elevate these mundane infrastructures beyond mere engineered objects, making them vehicles for experiencing the vast landscapes of the United States. She referred to Ian McHarg’s and Lawrence Halprin’s approaches of urban and landscape design as examples of “hybridity between the natural, the human, and the technological.” Lystra interpreted landscape design as an “interrelational process” driven by shifts in environmental science and society, pointing to the relational quality of landscape and its reliance on culture.
Abbey Stockstill’s paper “The Mountains, the Mosque, and the Red City: Locality in Twelfth-Century Marrakech” furthered this cultural relation by presenting a very interesting example of the role of landscape in creating cultural identity through references to geography and local materials. She studied the rise of the Almohad dynasty in Morocco and attributed its success to the creation of a specific geographically rooted cultural identity, achieved through design strategies such as orienting the primary mosque toward their place of origin—the Atlas Mountains—and their widespread use of the local red sandstone and orange-red clay in the construction of the urban fabric to create the image of Marrakech as the “red city.” The creation of local cultural identity through relations to local landscape is a particularly relevant idea in an increasingly globalized and standardized world. By studying how particular cultures in history in various geographies around the world have been able to adapt to their local context by mediating nature in order to settle and cultivate land, thereby creating their specific cultural identity, and strengthening it by articulating it in their architecture and urban design, the value of local cultural specificity can be rediscovered and allowed to inform and contribute to contemporary design.
Scott Shinton, a master of landscape architecture candidate at the University of Virginia and recipient of a Mellon Travel Award, offered another example of a paper presented at the workshop, as well as a sense of its wide topical range:
In papers presented from students in PhD programs in art history, architecture, landscape architecture, and the built environment, among others, it was clear that emerging scholars are focused on topics that engage landscape in a multidisciplinary, holistic fashion. Molly Briggs, for example, questioned the validity of contemporary and historic cartographic practices in her presentation, “Beyond the Path: Assessing the Transporting Capacity of Urban Landscapes with Dynamic Isovist Imaging.” By providing a historical framework for understanding diverse modes of mapping, and in turn presenting a new way of mapping, Briggs provided a new way of understanding and experiencing space.
Aside from the presentations themselves, the feedback from current scholars, such as Thaisa Way and John Beardsley, was particularly helpful in terms of situating the students’ projects within a wider range of topics germane to the field. As a master of landscape architecture candidate interested in pursuing a PhD, I was enlightened not only in terms of the content presented at the workshop, but more importantly the way in which the scholars present approached the work and pushed it into a new realm.
Orchids spring to life, sheltered from the elements in our greenhouse; taken by Gardener Luís Mármol on February 5. For more pictures, visit our garden blog, What’s Blooming at D.O.
Dumbarton Oaks Panel at the National Gallery
On February 11, Ioli Kalavrezou, the Dumbarton Oaks Professor of Byzantine Art at Harvard; Dimitris Kastritsis, a 2013–14 Byzantine Fellow and Lecturer at the University of St Andrews; and Jonathan Shea, Post-Doctoral Teaching Fellow in Byzantine History, presented perspectives on the “Afterlives of Alexander in the Byzantine World” at the National Gallery of Art. Dumbarton Oaks cohosted the panel in conjunction with “Power and Pathos,” the special exhibition of Hellenistic bronze sculpture currently on display at the NGA. Kalavrezou highlighted the Byzantine use of images of Alexander as imperial symbols that could be appreciated by both Christian and non-Christian audiences. Kastritsis analyzed Ottoman annotations to the image captions of a manuscript of the Alexander romance to explore how non-Greek speakers may have reinterpreted the story of Alexander for their own purposes. Finally, Shea discussed the appropriation of Byzantine-style iconography on coins made by emirs of the Artuqid dynasty, who ruled in Eastern Anatolia, Northern Syria, and Northern Iraq during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Following the panel, Director of Byzantine Studies Michael Maas led a question and answer session.
This year marked the sixth annual Post-Doctoral Teaching Fellows’ Day, an event showcasing Dumbarton Oaks’ research to the local university community. This year’s topic, “Discovering Byzantine Lives,” looked to material, visual, textual, and archaeological evidence to understand lived realities. In the morning, Teaching Fellow Elizabeth Dospel Williams opened the discussion with a talk on dress and jewelry from early Byzantine Egypt, followed by Teaching Fellow Jonathan Shea, who spoke about the evidence Byzantine seals provide about those who commissioned them. Sigillography consultant Eric McGeer looked at ideals of military leadership as a window into the lives of the Byzantine military. After lunch, students handled coins with Shea and visited the Museum galleries with Williams and Assistant Curator John Hanson. Finally, Director of Byzantine Studies Michael Maas led a student panel discussion about the value of comparing different kinds of evidence to understand Byzantine experiences. The event drew more than ninety students and faculty from four universities, a record attendance.
What was life like for American expatriates in the early twentieth century? How did the Forty Martyrs micromosaic come to Dumbarton Oaks? Scholars, art enthusiasts, and readers across the world have a new online resource to help them answer these questions: in December, Dumbarton Oaks published the final chapter of the Bliss-Tyler Correspondence, the institution’s first large-scale online publication.
The Bliss-Tyler Correspondence comprises over one thousand letters and telegrams shared between Dumbarton Oaks’ founders, Mildred Barnes Bliss and Robert Woods Bliss, with Royall Tyler, the close friend and connoisseur who advised their art purchases, and his wife, Elisina Tyler. The collection reflects the frequency of their correspondence over a lifelong friendship: the earliest letters date to 1902, before the Blisses’ marriage, and end in 1953, the year of Royall Tyler’s death.
The online publication project was born in 2008, after Senior Fellow Rob Nelson examined the Blisses’ correspondence, held at Harvard’s Houghton Library, in order to complete a paper on their collecting of Byzantine objects. According to Archivist and House Collection Manager James Carder, Nelson suggested that Dumbarton Oaks transcribe and publish the materials. In 2009, Carder received permission from Houghton Library to do so, and he began making brief trips up to Cambridge to transcribe the thousand longhand letters held there—or “channeling Mildred Bliss,” as Carder called the arduous process of deciphering her handwriting.
As Carder transcribed the letters, he also began compiling information for the annotations and introductory chapters that would introduce readers to the broader context of the letters and their authors. “The letters made references to artworks, people, places, and events” whose connections to the Blisses might not be immediately clear without this background information, Carder said. For example, Edith Wharton appeared frequently in the letters as a close friend to both couples—in particular, to Elisina Tyler, who was at the author’s bedside upon her death in 1937 and who became the executor of her French will.
When he had completed three chapters—about the early lives of the Blisses and Royall Tyler, of the Blisses’ early collecting while living abroad during the 1910s, and on their return to D.C. and Robert’s subsequent posting to Sweden—Carder approached Publications about publishing the materials. The timing was fortuitous, according to Sara Taylor, managing editor of art and archaeology. “We had been planning for a website revamp, and we were thinking about a new online publication mode,” Taylor said.
Publishing the many letters in print might have been “unwieldy,” as Carder suggested, but the online project provided the unique opportunity to experiment with new publication methods. Presenting the letters online also showcased the interconnectedness of the people and objects that appeared across the fifty years of correspondence. Building the ideal platform was a significant institutional project: from 2010 until 2012, the Publications department worked to devise a host of online tools to aid the reader experience, including a full-text search feature; a database of people, places, and objects linked to each letter; an interactive timeline of artwork purchases; and detailed annotations for each piece of correspondence. “The idea was to move beyond a static book presentation to create something that’s more dynamic,” said Lain Wilson, who began migrating the content to the public website in 2013.
Despite the considerable departure in presentation, Taylor emphasized that most aspects of the publishing process—rigorous editing, constant communication with authors, constructing a cohesive design scheme—remain the same, no matter the media in which a publication is released. Even so, crafting and disseminating an online publication differs from publishing a book, in which all content must be complete before it is laid out on the page and sent to the presses. “We could put the first three chapters online while James and Rob completed their work,” she said.
Perhaps the most substantial difference, however, is in the wider audience that an online publication has the potential to draw. Unlike the relatively limited reach of most scholarly publications, the Bliss-Tyler Correspondence will be available to anyone who types in related keywords during an online search. This is particularly significant in the case of primary sources like the letters between the Blisses and the Tylers; such artifacts may be utilized for purposes as varied as determining the provenance of an artwork or understanding the operations of the League of Nations in Hungary, where Tyler served as the organization’s financial advisor. At the most basic level, Carder suggests, the letters serve as a window into the time during which they were produced. “With seventy years distance, these become unspoken stories of how the wealthy in America conducted their lives,” he said.
To those who brought the Bliss-Tyler Correspondence to completion, the opportunities for day-to-day communication offered by online publishing are key benefits of the medium. An online publication is a product and a work-in-progress: it is a serious, scholarly work that invites collaboration and constant reevaluation. “Scholars throughout the world can help shape how subsequent chapters come together,” Taylor said. “We can continue to research, to put that research out in the world, and to edit and update it.”
James N. Carder (March 2016)
On March 7th and 8th, 1941, the East Coast was blanketed by a late winter blizzard, much like the one that occurred this January. New York City received eighteen inches of snow and Washington, D.C., was covered with eleven inches, bringing transportation to a near standstill. The Byzantine historian Henri Grégoire, whom Dumbarton Oaks had engaged to deliver a public lecture on March 7th, travelled by train from New York City on the day he was to deliver his lecture, “On the Eve of the Crusades: the Chanson de Roland and Byzantium.”
In correspondence dated March 9th and preserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives, librarian Barbara Sessions wrote the Blisses, who at the time were in California:
Friday came a great and beautiful snow. Traffic was completely disorganized, and poor Grégoire, who has himself, as you know, been ill, arrived just in time for his lecture after an hour and a half spent in getting across the city from the station. Only a hand full of people managed to get to the lecture [but] there was a small band of the faithful—who were richly rewarded!
She continued with news of what she termed “this fantastic blizzard,” allaying possible fears that the storm had caused harm to the gardens. She told the Blisses that head gardener, James Bryce
says the snow and ice have not done much damage. Tree buds were not far along; in fact, it will be one of the years, so he says, when everything comes out suddenly and all at once.
The inevitable “calm after the storm” was reported in the March 10th issue of the Underground Courier, the occasional newsletter that the Dumbarton Oaks staff sent to the Blisses in California:
Weather Report. After a week-end of magnificent storm, today it is as if nature had stopped all the wheels for a while to show how benign she can be. The sun is high and warm, the air still and limpid, with no wind. All about is a peculiarly gentle sound of quietly melting snow: little settlings and shiftings—a “noiseless noise.” The snow slips off the trees and bushes. The winter jasmine shows its bright yellow blossoms again, and the faint blur of coming buds softens the outline of most of the trees. (The snow and sleet, by the way, did no damage. At least, so far as one can see.)
Dumbarton Oaks after the Snowstorm; taken by Gardener Luís Mármol on January 26. For more pictures, visit our garden blog, What’s Blooming at D.O.
Harvard Undergraduates Study Art and Power in Washington
This past month, Dumbarton Oaks hosted its second annual Wintersession course on “Culture and Power: Art, Philanthropy, and Diplomacy in America,” led by Director Jan Ziolkowski. Over the course of one intense week, thirteen Harvard undergraduates explored salient questions pertaining to the practice of cultural philanthropy from the Gilded Age to the present. In addition to discovering the many resources at Dumbarton Oaks, students visited a range of cultural organizations around Washington, D.C., where they talked to senior administrators, curators, archivists, and other professionals about careers in the humanities. Click below to watch a brief video featuring students’ reactions to the week and a glimpse of what they learned.
If you love Dumbarton Oaks, are looking for a way to volunteer, and have always wanted to be part of a museum team, consider applying to be one of our Visitor Service Volunteers! Visitor Service Volunteers welcome visitors to Dumbarton Oaks, recommend things to see and do within the museum, and answer general questions about the collection, special exhibitions, and museum facilities. Find out more and apply on our website.
Literary Identity in Latin Poetry
My first six months as a Tyler Fellow in residence at Dumbarton Oaks have been among the most enriching and productive of my academic career. This year, I am working half-time as an assistant editor of Latin texts and translations for the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML). My first assignment was to comb meticulously through a draft translation of the poetic works of Venantius Fortunatus, who flourished in sixth-century Merovingian Gaul. The opportunity to conduct such a close reading could not have served me better. Fortunatus is an author central to my dissertation, which focuses on the social roles Latin poets played in Mediterranean communities of the early Middle Ages, ca. 500–700 CE. Besides allowing me to develop an auxiliary editorial skill set that will likely serve me later in my career, my institutional project has contributed directly to my dissertation research.
Even outside of my work on DOML, I have made great progress in my dissertation. To reframe my study more broadly, I am grappling with manifold transformations of literary identity and with the dynamic interworking of intellectuals in the aftermath of empire in an attempt to answer one overriding question: what became of the Latin poet, a cornerstone figure of the Roman cultural tradition, in the two hundred years after the erosion of the Western Roman Empire? This question carries me to various Barbarian kingdoms scattered around the Mediterranean, and to Byzantine lands as well—to Constantinople and western provinces reconquered under Justinian, where Latin poets continued to thrive.
At Dumbarton Oaks, the library’s tremendous resources in late antique and early medieval studies have met my Latin-centric project’s every need. But it is the people here that have advanced my ideas and scholarship most of all. Having the opportunity to dialogue with such an impressive and diverse community of scholars has expanded my academic horizons and provided fresh insights that have already added dimension to my research. I am proud and grateful to be a member of such a friendly and engaged community and look forward to seeing what further fruit it will bear.
James N. Carder (February 2016)
Although the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection had transferred to Harvard in November 1940, the first Junior Fellows did not take up residency until early February 1941. They remained at Dumbarton Oaks through May. This first class of Junior Fellows was five in number. All but one had recently received a doctoral degree in a Byzantine or Byzantine-related field, unlike present-day Byzantine Studies Junior Fellows who come to Dumbarton Oaks as graduate students to research and write their doctoral theses.
In this first term, the stipends were $800 per semester for those Junior Fellows who did not reside at Dumbarton Oaks and $640 for those who were in residence. No meals were provided that first semester, although plans were underway to open a kitchen and dining room in the fall of 1941.
Describing the arrival of the first Junior Fellows to Mildred Barnes Bliss, who was then in California, Director John Thacher wrote on February 5, 1941:
Lester Houck, the first student in residence, arrived last Friday, and is apparently very happy in the quarters [Fellows Building, now Guest House]. Several members of the American Council of Learned Societies who were here last Saturday for tea and to see the collection spoke very highly of him and said that he was exactly the type of person who should be here and that if all of our students were of the same quality, Dumbarton Oaks would be setting a very high standard in scholarship. Then yesterday, Miss Florence Day, who is chiefly interested in Persian and Islamic art arrived. I put her into the room formerly used by Miss Godden as a sitting room, as Miss Godden assured me that she did not need the room at all. As it has its own bath and is separate from the other rooms on the third floor, it was most convenient to be able to use it. I did not want to put her down in the garage [now Refectory] all alone. Professor Morey is scheduled to arrive on Sunday with two of his pupils [Edward Capps Jr. and a Mr. Kendig; the latter never arrived]. Morey, of course, will be in the house, and the two students will be in the quarters with Houck. This will fill up one end of the quarters. I doubt whether there will be any more resident students this year. [Henri] Focillon is particularly happy about this as he, as well as [Wilhelm] Koehler, feel that for this year at least it is wise not to have too many. [There would be, in fact, two additional Junior Fellows that first semester: Alison Frantz and Virginia Grace Wylie.]
Who were these first Junior Fellows? The Fellows dossiers and related documents in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives provide the following information.
Lester Clarence Houck (1911–1980)
Lester Houck, the first Junior Fellow to arrive at Dumbarton Oaks, studied classical philology at the University of Michigan, receiving BA (1934) and PhD (1937) degrees. He came to Dumbarton Oaks to prepare his dissertation, “The History of Leo Diaconus, An Edition,” for publication. In 1937, Houck had received the Prix de Rome, and he was a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome between 1937 and 1940. His work on the tenth-century Byzantine historian, Leo Diaconus, which consisted of translations and annotations, was intended for publication by the Société d’Édition Les Belles Lettres under the direction of Henri Grégoire. The Second World War, however, foiled this plan, and Houck never brought the work to press.
All of the following descriptions of the Junior Fellows are quoted from the Underworld Courier (Vol. 1, no. 17, June 5, 1941), the occasional newsletter that the staff of Dumbarton Oaks wrote for the Blisses in California. Houck is described thus:
As previously mentioned in an earlier issue of the Courier, he is six feet, six inches tall. He lowers his head when going through many a door; is lean—as so tall a person is apt to be—with a head which is distinguished in an intellectual way. The written word, the recorded thought, is his absorbing passion. Perhaps his selections from the research library are along certain definite lines, but from the general literature sections, he borrows, 4 or 5 at a time, books ranging from Dante and Gerard Hopkins to Harold Nicolson and Maurice Baring. His humor is plentiful, if pedagogic, and though his scholastic opinions appear to be quite firmly established, he has a pleasant receptivity to the potential usefulness of books with titles such as: - Mazes and Labyrinths . . . Origins of Applied Chemistry . . .
Florence Eli Day (1908–1990)
Florence Day was an Islamic art specialist who had been born in Beirut, then part of Syria. She was educated at Vassar College (AB, 1930) and Radcliffe College (MA, 1931). She had worked on the 1936 Princeton Institute for Advanced Study’s excavation at the Islamic site of Gözlükule at Tarsus in Turkey before receiving her doctorate in Islamic art from the University of Michigan (1940). She came to Dumbarton Oaks to work on a paper, “The Islamic Finds at Tarsus,” which she published in Asia in 1941 (vol. 41, pp. 143–46). At the time of her fellowship, the male Junior Fellows inhabited the Fellows Quarters (later called the Fellows Building and now called the Guest House), and it was thought unseemly for both men and women to live in the same building. For that reason, Day occupied a bedroom in the servants’ quarters on the third floor of the Main House at Dumbarton Oaks. Florence Day was the only one of the first Junior Fellows to continue her fellowship into the 1941–42 academic year.
Called “Flossie” by her colleagues and “Florence, mon enfant” by Maître Focillon. Above average height. Square lines. Her long blond hair cascades over her shoulders and falls across her forehead in a heavy bang. Behind thick glasses is discoverable a pair of very blue and smiling eyes. Her teeth are white and even, and her voice, which is without any trace of harshness, carries, usually, in its flow an agreeable mixture of words and low laughter. She was born in Beirut, where her father was head of the American College, and where she lived till she was eighteen years of age. Her parents are now both dead, and one gathers that she is very much on her own and has, at times, had a hard time making two ends meet. Her clothes are simple and often delightful. For example, little straight coats of some Eastern cotton material, in beautiful colors, sometimes quilted in a free design.
Edward Capps Jr. (1902–1969)
Edward Capps received his AB (1924), MFA (1927), and PhD (1931) degrees from Princeton University and came to Dumbarton Oaks to prepare his dissertation on late antique and early Christian ivories for publication. At Princeton, Capps had been the student of Charles Rufus Morey. However, he had disagreed with Morey’s view that Byzantine art stemmed either from neo-Attic or Alexandrine models and declined to have Morey supervise his dissertation. After his fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks, Capps became a member of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies and continued to teach at Oberlin College, where he held a joint appointment in the classics and art history departments between 1927 and 1968. He never published his work on ivories.
Not tall. Round lines, ever a suggestion of a paunch. Looking rather like an accountant, or a clerk—a Dickensian clerk. He bounced a little. Apparently, a methodical and self-serving worker. (We cannot remember his ever asking for anything.) That his specialty and love should be Byzantine ivories is—at first glance—surprising. One might have surmised that he would have turned to coins, or counting threads in fabrics, or determining the alloy content of metals. His sister is married to an Englishman, a Mr. Hill, who was the British representative of the American Express Company in Athens, and also one of the distributors of the Vanderbilt supply fund. His story of their escape from Athens, not neglecting to dole out supplies as they fled, was heard over the radio and was printed in the newspapers. A cable was received from Cairo telling of their safe arrival there.
Alison Frantz (1903–1995)
Alison Frantz studied Latin at Smith College (AB, 1924) and Byzantine archaeology at Columbia University (PhD, 1937). Before and after becoming a Junior Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks, she was an excavator and the staff photographer on the American School of Classical Studies’ excavations of the Agora in Athens, from 1933 to 1968. In the early 1940s, after her Junior Fellowship, Frantz worked closely with the Washington, D.C. Office of Strategic Services to keep them informed about the political and military situation in Greece. With the conclusion of the Second World War, she became a cultural attaché of the United States Embassy in Athens (1946–49), helping to establish the Fulbright program in Greece. At Dumbarton Oaks, Alison Frantz also resided in a bedroom in the Main House.
Dark and powerful. A short face with beetling brows and a small but determined chin. She drives her own car, a convertible roadster, and to see her drive up to the museum entrance, park her car, stop the engine, slam the door, walk swiftly across the sidewalk and up the steps is to be convinced once and for all of the coordination of her reactions and the economy of her movements. She has sufficient composure to be silent and unsmiling for long periods while in a group; on the other hand, she may be seen striding along with, for instance, the long-legged Dr. Houck, talking with apparent conviction and eagerness. She wears very good sport clothes; sweater and tweed skirts, low-heeled shoes.
Virginia Grace Wylie (1912–1998)
Virginia Wylie was the last of the Junior Fellows to arrive at Dumbarton Oaks. As there was no accommodation available for her in the Main House, she took a boarding room in Georgetown. She attended graduate school at Princeton University but did not complete work for her doctorate. A student of Charles Rufus Morey at Princeton, Wylie came to Dumbarton Oaks to work on a late medieval Flemish shrine. She published her research in an article, “A Copper-Gilt Shrine in the Museo Sacro of the Vatican Library,” in the Art Bulletin 27, no. 1 (March 1945), 65–66. In 1946, Wylie married the medievalist art historian Donald Drew Egbert. She later became a member of the research staff of the Index of Christian Art at Princeton University.
Small: very pretty and dainty. Blue-gray eyes and dark hair which she wears low at the nape of her neck. Finally modeled profile and well-proportioned figure. She was born in Iowa, spent some early years in Philadelphia and the later ones in New York. Her voice has a surprising resonance and her speech rhythm is distinctly individual. Our only 1941 fellow who has not a doctorate, but one can sense that her eager eyes and fixed on that goal and that her energy and will are in service to transport her along the road.