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Class Visit: Dimiter Angelov

Posted On May 19, 2015 | 11:00 am | by meredithb | Permalink

“What makes you think this is a coin?” Museum Director Gudrun Buehl asked a group of Harvard undergraduates assembled around the study table in the Dumbarton Oaks Museum’s object storage space, on April 10. The students passed a circular, metal object around the table, examining it with magnifying glasses and describing what they saw. “There’s a central figure here, holding what might be a staff,” one student offered.

The seminar was part of the class visits program, through which Dumbarton Oaks sponsors travel and lodging for Harvard students; in this instance, fourteen undergraduates from Professor Dimiter Angelov’s “Byzantine Civilization” course. Instead of their usual weekly discussion sessions in Cambridge classrooms, Angelov and his students addressed the week’s theme, “Images of Power and the Power of Images,” through a hands-on exploration of the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine collections.

Buehl and John Hanson, Assistant Curator of the Byzantine Collection, led a tour of the museum to expand on brief student presentations on important objects, including the Emperor’s Roundel, and took the students to object storage for a lesson in how to decode material culture. The class was introduced to the format of the seal at a Seals Collection seminar, led by sigillographer Jonathan Shea. Shea walked the class through the process of reading a seal and spoke of the ways in which seals are used by Byzantinists to reconstruct historical lineages as well as to understand the self-perception held by Byzantine nobles.

During his lecture, Shea also touched on career prospects in Byzantine Studies. “I was actually a student of Dimiter’s once,” he told the class. “This may be exciting or terrifying to you, depending on how you feel about basement offices,” he joked.