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The Byzantine Self

Byzantine Colloquium, March 18–19, 2011, Colloquiarchs: Stratis Papaioannou, Brown University and Maria Mavroudi, University of California, Berkeley

The Byzantine Self

From at least the publication of Georg Misch’s monumental Geschichte der Autobiographie, the first volume of which appeared about a hundred years ago in 1907, the history—rather than the theory—of subjectivity has been the matter of much scholarly investigation. The Middle Ages and, especially, non-western medieval societies have always held an ambiguous position in such historiographical attempts, given the preoccupation with European modernity and Greco-Roman antiquity. In the late 1970s and with Alexander Kazhdan at the forefront, Byzantinists joined this debate and significant publications have appeared since then—including a history of Byzantine autobiography (Vienna, 1999) and a conference on the Discovery of the Senses and Personal Preferences (Athens, 2000). Nevertheless, compared to similar work on classical, late antique, and western medieval literatures and cultures, Byzantium still remains an uncharted territory for its place in the history of the self.

With an open-ended definition of selfhood, as constructed both by participation in collective identities and by individual choices, this colloquium explores aspects of the Byzantine self through different disciplinary perspectives applied to a series of Byzantine texts and practices. This is the second of three Dumbarton Oaks colloquia on the individual, personal relations, and social networks in Byzantium.

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