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Rethinking Empire

Byzantine Studies Symposium
Rethinking Empire

April 21  –  22, 2017

Music Room, Dumbarton Oaks Museum

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What do we mean when we call Byzantium an empire? A flurry of studies in recent years by historians of other hegemonic civilizations have situated empire and imperialism as historical phenomena across different periods and geographical areas. Until now, the involvement of Byzantinists in this reevaluation has been relatively marginal.

This symposium frames the issue of Byzantium’s imperial identity by setting it within wider contexts in the light of new research by Byzantinists as well as the approaches and methods profitably used by historians of other premodern and modern empires. The speakers will tackle fundamental problems of definition and will question Byzantium’s culture and institutions of empire, relations between core and periphery, territoriality, and ethnic diversity.

The centenary of the First World War, which has stimulated research on the competitive dynamics of the imperial powers that went to war in 1914, makes this symposium particularly timely. There is something highly symbolic in its venue, Dumbarton Oaks, whose founders, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, were close eyewitnesses to the bitter end of the modern “Age of Empire” during Robert Bliss’s diplomatic service in the U.S. Embassy in Paris (1912–19). Thirty years after the outbreak of the First World War, as the Second World War drew to a close, the Blisses and Dumbarton Oaks hosted the conference of world powers that led to the foundation of the United Nations.

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