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Autumn Leaves and Mums

James N. Carder (November 2017)

Posted on Nov 09, 2017 11:29 AM by James N. Carder |
Autumn Leaves and Mums

James N. Carder (November 2017)Fountain Terrace Mum Planting, 2016 (AR.DP.GP.18.048).

The Dumbarton Oaks gardens are closed until March while work continues to improve the gardens’ water-supply network. This means that garden visitors must miss the spectacular fall show of chrysanthemums and colorful deciduous trees, always at their best in November when the mums seem to mimic in shape and color the tree canopy that floats above them. Indeed, the fall gardens at Dumbarton Oaks have delighted visitors since the gardens were first opened to the public in 1941. On November 13th of that year, for example, Marguerite Allen wrote Mildred Bliss:

My dear Mrs. Bliss,

It was my very good pleasure to visit last Wednesday your lovely estate, as one among the gathering who assembled there. I wish to say my heart is full of loving appreciation and adoration for your generosity in opening your doors that the public might get a glimpse of “Very Close to Heaven.” For this is most certainly describing my feelings as I walked through the spacious grounds. As we entered the chrysanthemum garden so radiant in splendor, I wondered if paradise could be more beautiful.

In lieu of a visit, the Dumbarton Oaks Archives can offer a retrospective of the autumn garden from its collection of some 1,580 analog and digital garden images, which date from the 1920s to the present year.

Fountain Terrace chrysanthemum border, 1980 (AR.PH.GP.18.091).

View from Green Garden over the Pebble Garden to the distant Dumbarton Oaks Park, 2005 (AR.DP.GP.18.050).

View from the Urn Terrace over the Rose Garden, 2015 (AR.DP.GP.18.054).

South Lawn, November 18, 2009 (AR.DP.GP.18.055).

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Much Ado about Moche

Dumbarton Oaks’ collection of fineline drawings moves online

Posted on Oct 26, 2017 01:55 PM by Bailey Trela |
Much Ado about Moche

When Chris Donnan first set out to photograph Moche vessels in the 1960s, he met with a problem. The art, often a continuous scene around a vessel, lost more than just a touch of its beauty when converted to two static dimensions. It lost coherence, and, to the extent that it became more difficult to study, it lost some of its scholarly value.

It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that Donnan perfected his technique for photographing the vessels that captured all their iconographic detail. Moving around the vessels, he took several shots of each from a set focal point; once printed, he cut the photographs up and spread them out. The resulting flattened scenes made iconographical research faster and less arduous. Donnan’s research partner, Donna McClelland, then drew the newly arranged images on half-matte acetate, further “unwrapping” the scene and creating a final fluid depiction.

The Moche Archive, created by Donnan and McClelland and now housed at Dumbarton Oaks, has recently undergone another conversion aimed at enhancing its scholarly use: we are launching an online portal in English and Spanish to access nearly eight hundred of McClelland’s “rollout” drawings.

The physical archive, comprising over 100,000 photographs, slides, negatives, and drawings, has long been a significant scholarly resource, offering insight into aspects of the Moche world as diverse as flora and fauna, rituals and mythologies, and communication pathways. For nearly three decades, Donnan photographed painted vessels from more than two hundred public and private collections, resulting in a remarkable, and remarkably accessible, compilation of images.

The online portal provides access to high-resolution scans of fineline drawings made by McClelland. The rendering of a Moche vessel’s iconography presents an obvious set of challenges, similar in some ways to the production of a two-dimensional map of the world. Simply flattening the image is not enough; the original interplay of compositional elements has to be considered and attempts made to preserve it. “That’s one of these techniques McClelland was able to master,” says Ari Caramanica, a Tyler fellow who worked on the portal, explaining that it’s not easy to take a globular work and turn it into something easily legible, especially for scholars working from print or digital resources.

McClelland did, and she managed to create more than just a highly valuable scholarly resource. Her fineline drawings—precise, fluid, composed in stark black and white—are art objects in their own right. “She typically traced the imagery with a drafting pen in order to unwrap it, but then she did a lot of her work freehand too,” explains Pre-Columbian Studies Librarian Bridget Gazzo. “And the drawings are so beautiful, so llamativa—so attention-grabbing.”

McClelland’s drawings, which make the thematic content of the vessels’ decoration more apparent, were thoroughly categorized by Donnan and McClelland according to content and recognized figures in the images. Keeping this original categorization intact, Dumbarton Oaks has added terms and identifications from other well-known publications. As part of her institutional project, Caramanica created descriptive cataloguing and access terms for the nearly eight hundred digitized fineline drawings, a process that often relied heavily on Donnan and McClelland’s own published scholarship on Moche iconography.

Because Caramanica’s dissertation research, on agricultural landscapes of pre-Hispanic Peru, partly involves the Moche period (AD 200–900), the project allowed her to study the Moche’s unique environmental perspective. “The Moche are constantly depicting their natural environment and their daily life,” Caramanica explains. “And because it’s related to my research, I’m particularly interested in seeing how they depict the desert—how they conceive of it, what kind of activities take place there, and so on.”

One reason the fineline drawings—and Moche iconographical studies more broadly—are so significant is that we don’t have any systems of writing for the Andean region. In this absence, the art and iconography of Andean cultures take on a higher function, illuminating aspects of life that might otherwise have gone in a written record. Moche iconography, thanks to its stylistic choices, offers a particularly profitable set of images.

The vessels and their corresponding fineline drawings show an astonishing variety of figures and scenes. Animals, humans, and supernatural entities abound, as do scenes of ceremonies and quotidian tasks: deer hunting motifs, one-on-one battles, humans dressed for their everyday activities or garbed in highly stylized ritual attire, golden goblets being passed, and blood being let, spraying black droplets across the background.


Perhaps one of the most intriguing motifs centers around beans. In one scene, ritual runners, carrying bags in their hands, move through a field of vegetation. The scene is stippled with black-and-white amoeboid shapes: the beans. “We know at the time of Spanish arrival that the Inca had this system of runners to transmit messages or to deliver goods, and we think that’s what this represents,” Caramanica explains. Similar bags containing bicolored beans have cropped up during excavations. The ratio of black to white in the beans, likely connected to climatological factors, might have been used as a way of recording information; “the theory is that these beans may be some sort of counting device, or at least some sort of signaling device.”

Other scenes develop the bean motif further. Anthropomorphized bean warriors with delicate, dancer-like legs do battle with deer-headed figures. In running scenes, the runners themselves gradually morph into beans, or, as in a classic example of a spiraling scene, beans set off, slowly gathering human features as the images ascend.

“Most of the forms of iconography or expression ante- and postdating the Moche are either very geometric and abstract, or so supernatural and mythical that it’s difficult to interpret how the depicted figures might relate to the real world,” Caramanica explains. “The Moche are not only extremely realistic in their image-making, they also tend to repeat those images in different scenes, which makes it easier to identify, for instance, a husk of corn, or a particular character who reappears in scene after scene.”

These features—a lower level of abstraction than other Andean iconographical programs and a firm representational connection to the real world—are a large part of the style of Moche iconography. Prisoners are depicted with ropes around their necks, facial hair, and tattoos—descriptions that match up with mummies excavated at Moche sites. As Caramanica explains, with the Moche, “the archaeological record is so complete and well preserved that oftentimes we can excavate a tomb or architectural site and pull out objects we’ve seen in the fineline images, or even bodies that are depicted in some of these images.”

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Laws of the New Empire

Paolo Angelini limns the legal history of medieval Slavs

Posted on Oct 23, 2017 03:11 PM by Bailey Trela |
Laws of the New Empire

Paolo Angelini, a postdoc in Roman law and legal history at the University of Leuven, is a fellow in Byzantine Studies in fall 2017. His research focuses on the transmission and interaction of legal systems in the medieval world. On October 2, Angelini delivered his research report, “Introduction to the Medieval Legal History of the Southern Slavs,” which traced the adoption of Byzantine and Roman law systems by nascent Slavic states.

Q&A with Paolo Angelini

Talk more about the connection between commerce and law in this period, especially as it relates to Slavic cities on the Adriatic Sea, which you mentioned in your talk.

The idea I’m working with is that the Slavic population really came into civilization after it enacted a codification of laws—because it’s popularly supposed that only after codification can you be considered a developed civilization. Otherwise, before that, you have customary law, and so on. The case of coastal cities is really interesting because you can actually see how the development of trade with places like Venice, for example, improved their legislation. There’s always a very practical factor driving these changes. If you think about the Marxist concept of the superstructure, and how law is enacted—justice is a very noble idea, but it’s also enacted in order to improve trade activities, because it’s much easier to trade if you have common institutions.


You discussed the feud system in Slavic customary law, and specifically the concept of “vražba,” or the debt paid to make up for a crime. How does this concept compare to other feud systems?

Well, the Slavs share this concept—this common, or customary, system of blood revenge—with Germanic populations. While the Slavs have vražba, the Germans have wergild, but the system works the same way. For both populations, you have pecuniary compensations for homicide, rather than a death penalty imposed by the state. This is of course when we’re speaking of customary law. Among the Slavic tribes, these elements are really common. What I find interesting is that I was speaking with someone recently about the shared origins of the Slavic and Germanic tribes. And you know, during the Second World War, the Slavs were among those considered Untermenschen, subhuman, by the Nazis. But here you see the Germans and the Slavs share cultural elements, and—why not?—maybe roots. Of course, we don’t know, we’re speaking about very old times. This is just a hypothesis based on a few elements in the legal texts.


How does the adoption of legal systems in this period relate to Bulgarian efforts to form their own imperial identity?

It starts between the ninth and tenth centuries, as Byzantium’s strength begins to diminish. The Bulgarian emperor adopts the Greek term basileus Rhomaíōn, emperor of the Romans. It’s the same thing Charlemagne did at the beginning of the ninth century when he was proclaiming his own empire. Of course, there is a sort of competition to take this title. Simeon I uses it, but the Byzantines don’t agree with this. Once Bulgaria has become a strong state, however, and enacted a codification of laws, they claim the imperial title. It’s sort of the best way of self-legitimizing. The Bulgarians adopt a lot of Byzantine titles, and eventually the titles are used for rulers across Europe.

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Difference and Home

Jerry Moore investigates domestic architecture in ancient South America

Posted on Oct 18, 2017 11:01 AM by Bailey Trela |
Difference and Home

Jerry Moore, a professor of anthropology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, is a fellow in Pre-Columbian Studies at Dumbarton Oaks this fall. His academic and archaeological work focuses on prehistoric cultural landscapes and built environments. On September 25, Moore delivered his research report, “Ancient Andean Houses: Dynamics of Domestic Space in South America.”


Q&A with Jerry Moore

Could you give an overview of the relationship between ethnicity and architecture in the ancient Andean world, at least as it relates to your work?

That’s a tough place to start, because ethnicity is just one kind of identity that gets expressed in people’s homes. I think the starting point for an inquiry like this is to just be attentive to how much happens in the home. Rather than thinking of any example of domestic architecture as a straightforward and unproblematic reflection of a given dimension, like ethnicity, I’m trying to look at the multiple intersections between social dimensions and the different materials in Andean houses.

One of the things I wanted to make sure everyone understood in my talk is just how diverse the Andes are. The Andean cordillera stretches from the tropical Caribbean all the way to the sub-Antarctic Tierra del Fuego, so it should come as no surprise that there is a lot of diversity in the houses Andean people create, and the different materials they use—materials that come with their own properties. There are certain things you simply cannot do with a house made of bamboo that you can with a house made of stone, so your ability to use the house as an expression of ethnicity or social identity or whatever encounters that material limit. That’s why I think it’s so important to understand houses from a multifaceted perspective, rather than focusing exclusively on ethnicity—or any other factor, for that matter.


As for your archaeological approach, what kind of evidence are you looking for?

It differs by the material, and it also varies in counterintuitive ways. For example, I’ve worked in two different regions on the coast of Peru: the Casma Valley, an irrigated strip with arid desert on both sides, and the Tumbes Valley, a region of dry tropical forest. The houses in the Casma Valley were made of river canes, while those in Tumbes were in many cases wood, with really durable upright posts. If you think about that, you’d expect a much more robust archaeological signature to be left by the wooden house than the cane house, but it turns out that in fact the opposite is the case. The reason is that that wood tends to get reused and recycled by other people. The cane walls get eaten by termites and sandblasted, but the stubs of the walls are all left, because what are you going to do with that?


In your talk you mentioned an association between modular housing and enforcing ethnic anonymity. I was hoping you could speak more about that.

In my talk, I was trying to ask, did the Inca empire employ a modular housing strategy simply because that was an easy way to get buildings built, or was it part of a strategy to erase the distinctions between forcibly relocated populations? These are populations whose differences were actively signaled by different hairstyles, clothing, and whatnot, but for some reason they seem to have been largely erased when it came to building houses. I’m really intrigued by that. Why would the home be the target of that strategy? Why would you do it there and not, for example, require everybody to have exactly the same headdress, or the same clothing? I don’t have an answer to that; I’m only about twenty-five percent into the project, so there’s a lot of questions that I still don’t have answers for—but that’s the way the process works.

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Reissue of Byzantium and the Arabs

Irfan Shahîd’s history of the Arab’s interactions with Rome and Byzantium before the rise of Islam is available for download

Posted on Oct 06, 2017 04:21 PM by Lain Wilson |
Reissue of Byzantium and the Arabs

We are happy to announce that all seven volumes of Irfan Shahîd’s monumental Byzantium and the Arabs, published by Dumbarton Oaks Publications, are available for free download from our website.

Irfan Shahîd knew even as an undergraduate at Oxford that the role of the Arabs in Roman history would be his life’s work. Rome in late antiquity was caught between the German tribes in the west and the Arabs in the east. German scholars had engaged with “the German problem,” but the Arabs did not have their historian, Shahîd recalled in his 2008 oral history for Dumbarton Oaks. “No one has really dealt with Arabs as part of Roman history.”

From an early interest in the role the Arabs in al-Andalus played in the creation of Western Europe, Shahîd’s encounter with the medievalist Ernst Kantorowicz at the Institute for Advanced Study prompted him to start with the East—and to discover Dumbarton Oaks, where he was a Junior Fellow in 1954–55 and with which he would have a lifelong association. The outcome of this early shift in focus is the history of the Arabs’ relationship with Rome and Byzantium before the rise of Islam and the Arab conquests of the seventh century. If his work has one virtue, Shahid said, “it will be because I’ll be the first historian to have filled the gap of all these centuries with my gaze fixed on the seventh to know exactly what happened and why it happened the way it did.”

Shahîd’s project was originally conceived as a three-volume work, the first treating Rome and the Arabs from Pompey to Constantine, the second Byzantium and the Arabs from Constantine to Heraclius, and the third the rise of Islam and the Arab conquest. The eventual seven volumes cover the first two parts, with the final part, on the seventh century, left incomplete at Shahîd’s death in 2016. Sidney Griffith hailed the work as “a major step forward in our knowledge of the history and culture of the world in which Islam was born.”

Titles in Byzantium and the Arabs 

Rome and the Arabs: A Prolegomenon to the Study of Byzantium and the Arabs

Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century

Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fifth Century

Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 1, Part 1, Political and Military History

Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 1, Part 2, Ecclesiastical History

Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 2, Part 1, Toponymy, Monuments, and Historical Geography

Byzantium and the Arabs in the Sixth Century, Volume 2, Part 2, Toponymy, Monuments, and Historical Geography

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Oral History Interview

In Memoriam Irfan Shahîd

75th Anniversary Blog Post

Image: Mosaic at the church of St. George, Khirbat al-Mukhayyaṭ, Mount Nebo. Photo by G. Saliba.

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Unexpected Finds

James N. Carder (October 2017)

Posted on Sep 28, 2017 02:05 PM by James N. Carder |
Unexpected Finds



Floor Tile. Dumbarton Oaks Archives (AR.OB.Misc.085).

Recently, four decorative floor tiles were discovered during excavation work in the Dumbarton Oaks gardens north of the Catalogue House. The tiles came to light as workmen trenched the area to lay new water piping as part of the water-supply improvement project. The four tiles are accessioned in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives (AR.OB.Misc.085–088).

Floor Tile. Dumbarton Oaks Archives, AR.OB.Misc.087.

Back of floor tile AR.OB.Misc.086.

These unexpected finds are late nineteenth-century cement “encaustic” tiles made by the Belgian–French company, Boch Frères et Compagnie in Maubeuge (Nord), France. Each measures approximately seven inches square with a thickness of three-quarters of an inch (17.3 x 17.3 x 2.1 cm), and each is stamped on the back: BOCH Fres & Cie MAUBEUGE. Two of the tiles (AR.OB.Misc.085 and 086) have the same pattern.

The Boch ceramics company was founded in 1841 by Eugène and Victor Boch at La Louvière, Belgium. In 1861, the company opened a branch at Maubeuge in the north of France, which principally made floor tiles until the plant closed in 1936. The company made both ceramic and cement encaustic tiles (the latter called carreaux de ciment comprimé in French). Manufactured by hand, cement tiles used different colored cements instead of the clay used in ceramic tiles. The colored cement pastes – made of oxide pigments, white cement, marble powder, and water – were poured to a depth of one-eighth inch into the patterned sections of a metal mold (moule de cloissoné, in French) that had been inserted into a wooden or metal frame.

Side view of floor tile AR.OB.Misc.085.

When the mold was carefully removed, the colored cement pastes fused, producing the tile’s pattern. The remainder of the frame was then filled with cement as a backing. The completed tile was subjected to pressure by either a hand or hydraulic press, and after setting, the tile was removed from the frame and dried slowly for several weeks in a carefully maintained humid environment.

Process of making a cement and encaustic floor tile.

It is not known where the four Dumbarton Oaks tiles were used. A possibility is the Home for Incurables, the health charity that had been built in 1892 in the area where the Dumbarton Oaks library, greenhouse, and refectory and now located. In 1925, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss acquired this property and had it torn down. Possibly, these tiles and other debris became landfill as the gardens were developed in the later 1920s.

Floor tile. Dumbarton Oaks Archives, AR.OB.Misc.088.

Complete floor in France using tiles of the pattern of AR.OB.Misc.088.

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Dumbarton Oaks – First Postcards, 1945

James N. Carder (September 2017)

Posted on Sep 20, 2017 04:12 PM by James N. Carder |
Dumbarton Oaks – First Postcards, 1945

Main Building from South Lawn (AR.Misc.PC.021) In February 1945, the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection ordered twelve black-and-white postcards to be printed by the Washington, DC, firm Judd and Detweiler. The views on the postcards included three of the Main House, an aerial view of the property, and views of the principal garden areas. Each image was printed in an edition of five thousand in a small, 3½-by-5½-inch format. The postcards were made from photographs taken by Stewart Brothers Photographers of Washington, DC, and dated to the early 1930s.

Presumably, the success of the postcards lead to a reorder in June of five thousand prints of the Rose Terrace card and the addition of four new cards. The Dumbarton Oaks Archives has acquired copies of all sixteen cards.

Dumbarton Oaks offered guided tours of the gardens to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays beginning in May 1945. The postcards and, eventually, a printed guide were available to visitors at the gate house.

The Judd and Detweiler printing firm was established in 1868 in Washington, DC, by John Gough Judd (1824–1895) and Frederick May Detweiler (1830–1905). By 1883, they were joined by their sons George H. Judd and Fred F. and George H. Detweiler. In 1912, the firm moved to a new printing plant at Florida Avenue and Eckington Place NE called The Big Print Shop. Judd and Detweiler began printing the National Geographic Magazine in 1896.

South View Main Building and Driveway (AR.Misc.PC.001)

Herbaceous Border (AR.Misc.PC.002)

Herbaceous Border and Yew (AR.Misc.PC.003)

Pool (AR.Misc.PC.004)

Reflecting Pool (AR.Misc.PC.005)

Main Building - North Vista (AR.Misc.PC.006)

Bird Walk from Orchard Steps (AR.Misc.PC.007)

Fountain Terrace (AR.Misc.PC.008)

Herbaceous Border Slope (AR.Misc.PC.009)

Air-view of Dumbarton Oaks (AR.Misc.PC.010)

Rose Terrace (AR.Misc.PC.011)

Box Walk and Fountain (AR.Misc.PC.013)

Orangery (AR.Misc.PC.014)

Loggia and Corner of Pool (AR.Misc.PC.015)

Entrance to Orangery (AR.Misc.PC.016)

Post Card Verso



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Excerpting the Past

Laura Pfuntner investigates hermaphrodites in Byzantine and ancient texts

Posted on Sep 20, 2017 04:11 PM by Bailey Trela |
Filed under:
Excerpting the Past

Laura Pfuntner recently had a one-month research stipend at Dumbarton Oaks. A lecturer in the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s University, Belfast, she was here to pursue a new research project, “Between Science and Superstition: Photius, Diodorus Siculus, and ‘Hermaphrodites’.” The project, which arose from some of her previous research, examines treatments of hermaphrodites in the Bibliotheca historica of the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus. More than half of the forty books of Diodorus’s 1st-century BCE Bibliotheca historica have disappeared, though portions of the missing sections are reproduced in a book of excerpts compiled by the Byzantine scholar Photius a thousand years after Diodorus’s book first appeared.

Sitting down to parse these excerpts, Pfuntner was confronted with a constellation of questions. What did a given passage mean at the time it was written? What can it tell us about the individuals who thought it worthy of recording or preserving, and what does it have to say about the historical moments that led the authors to their respective decisions?

Pfuntner’s work as a Roman historian centers around Sicily. She uses diverse scholarly approaches to pursue her interest in the chronological “layering” of cultures and societies on the island (including Greeks, Romans, and indigenous populations), looking at both archaeological—her dissertation examined settlement patterns in Roman-ruled Sicily—and textual angles. Before starting her current project, she researched a series of Sicilian slave revolts in the 2nd century BCE, the only source for which are Diodoran fragments collected by Photius. During this study, she began to think about the ins and outs of Photius’s excerpting of Diodorus, and found herself interested in a handful of passages about hermaphrodites.

Photius likely had access to vast bodies of literature; even if he only possessed ten of the forty books of Diodorus’s monolithic Bibliotheca, that is still, as Pfuntner puts it, “quite a lot of text.” The scale of Photius’s own Bibliotheca (otherwise known as the Myriobiblos) is massive. In it, he summarizes, reviews, extracts, or abridges nearly three hundred works by classical, late antique, and Byzantine authors, the originals of which have mostly been lost.

“These are quite lengthy passages, so Photius was obviously interested in them and took great care to preserve them,” Pfuntner explains. “What I’m thinking about now is why he did that, and what his interests in these passages were.” In doing so, Pfuntner goes against traditional evaluations of Byzantine excerpters, who are typically viewed as either “passive and indifferent” in their selection of passages, or “only interested in fanciful anecdotes.” Instead, she looks for political, personal, or historical connections between Photius’s time and Diodorus’s that might explain the selection of passages. Her work on the Sicilian slave revolts, for instance, traced their similarity to the Arab takeover of Sicily during Photius’s lifetime, which likely inspired his excerpting.

Pfuntner’s project at Dumbarton Oaks looks at the preponderance of information in Photius’s excerpts on surgeries designed to “correct or confirm cases of ambiguous genitalia.” As Pfuntner admits, this precise information is a little out of place in both Diodorus and Photius; “it’s not really something you see a lot of in nonmedical texts.” She accordingly expanded her research to include Byzantine medicine in general, and particularly the treatment of ancient medical texts in Byzantium.

To understand why Photius reproduces certain passages, it helps to comprehend the reasoning of the author he quotes. Diodorus’s conception of hermaphrodites, Pfuntner explains, tends to eschew the superstitious, because “he wants to show that they’re not dangerous prodigies or portents, that they’re not monsters or inexplicable phenomena, but that they’re actually natural phenomena.” Descriptions of surgery play an integral role in this argument. For Diodorus, surgical procedures can help to “confirm” the “true sex” of a hermaphrodite that tends to emerge over time, and “once that true sex is confirmed, the individual can go on and live their life as whatever that true sex is.”

Nearly a thousand years later, in the hands of Photius, these passages confirm another supposition. “In a way, these cases confirm traditional gender roles, in the sense that there is a clear distinction between men and women,” Pfuntner explains. “For Photius, you can’t be both male and female; you’re either man or woman.” One of the main threads of Pfuntner’s investigation concerns the theological-political implications of this stance in Photius’s time.

Eunuchs often held powerful positions in Byzantine politics, a fact Pfuntner believes is difficult to ignore when examining Photius’s excerpting. A constant debate swirled around the propriety, or simply the wisdom, of having eunuchs in positions of power, a debate Photius seems to have engaged in. “Other statements Photius makes suggest that he thinks eunuchs are a sort of corrupting presence,” Pfuntner says. “Having this person around who is neither male nor female, but of an ambiguous sexuality, is very problematic for him.”

Studying the work of an excerpter depends, of course, on the nature of the excerpting. Heavy-handed work that alters sentences, tweaks word choice, or inserts and excises opinions leaves a clearer picture of the mind of the excerpter. But Photius tends to avoid such obvious alterations; his are sins of inclusion and elision, rather than wholesale modification. Besides the occasional reworking of event chronology, glimpses into Photius’s worldview emerge largely from the simple fact of what he chose to preserve.

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The Benton Gospels

Dumbarton Oaks Museum acquires rare Greek manuscript

Posted on Sep 20, 2017 03:58 PM by Bailey Trela |
The Benton Gospels

With support from the B. H. Breslauer Foundation, the Dumbarton Oaks Museum has acquired an early 10th-century Greek manuscript of historic and scholarly significance. Known as Minuscule 669 or the Benton Gospels, this Byzantine codex contains the partial text of the four Gospels of the New Testament. Brought to the United States in 1844 by Reverend George Benton, an Episcopal minister, it is likely the oldest Byzantine gospel book in the US.

It provides insight into Byzantine manuscript illumination and calligraphy, such as the use of an unusual script known as bouletée élancée. Only about thirty manuscripts written in bouletée élancée are known. Scholar Nadezhda Kavrus-Hoffmann has written a detailed codicological and paleographic study of the Benton Gospels, which is planned for publication in an upcoming volume of the Dumbarton Oaks Papers.

In addition to the Benton Gospels, the Dumbarton Oaks Museum holds five illuminated biblical and liturgical Byzantine manuscripts dating from the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. Access to the Benton Gospels at Dumbarton Oaks offers unparalleled opportunities to scholars conducting paleographic, iconographic, codicological, and biblical research, since the institution is uniquely suited to conduct and facilitate specialized inquiry and interpretation in those fields.

Dumbarton Oaks holds the premier collection of scholarly literature on the transmission of the Bible in Greek and seeks to expand the scope of sources available to scholars. Byzantium’s role in preserving and transmitting early versions of New Testament texts continues to be a prime subject of research and scholarly discussion. Dumbarton Oaks’ focused collecting seeks to advance rigorous and detailed study of topics in the aid of understanding the complexity of human thought and activity.

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The Treatises of Melchior Guilandino

Dumbarton Oaks acquires sixteenth-century botanical texts

Posted on Aug 15, 2017 04:07 PM by Bailey Trela |
The Treatises of Melchior Guilandino

In the middle of the sixteenth century, Melchior Guilandino journeyed east. As he made his way into Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, he hoped to discover new botanical specimens and, perhaps, to disprove, merely by his absence, the rumors back home that had begun to cast his relationship with the eminent anatomist Gabriele Falloppio in a scurrilous light.

Whether it was love or duty that drew Falloppio—already famous for his pioneering studies of the female reproductive system, among other advancements—to pay the price of two hundred scudi for the freedom of Guilandino when the herbalist was captured by pirates off the coast of Africa is difficult to say. Regardless, back in Europe, they were never parted again; their remains lie next to each other in the General’s Cloister of the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua.

It was after returning to Europe that Guilandino, previously an itinerant Italian herbalist, wrote two botanical treatises, copies of which were recently acquired by Dumbarton Oaks: On Pliny’s Natural History and Botanical Observations

On Pliny’s Natural History analyzes the Roman naturalist’s encyclopedic tome. Its careful examination of chapters and passages from Pliny that focus on medicinal plants and herbs parallels contemporary attempts to revitalize the materia medica. Other scholars, like Guilandino’s occasional rival Pietro Mattioli, had diagnosed the ignorance and disorder typifying sixteenth-century medical practice, especially as it related to botanical cures; many palliative plants mentioned in writers like Pliny and Dioscorides were no longer identifiable, or were sometimes being called by the names of entirely different plants, leading to pharmaceutical concoctions that were placebos at best, and poisonous at worst.

The two volumes also exhibit the influence of Guilandino’s disastrous though ultimately productive trip abroad, which was itself an example of the rising tide of botanical expeditions. On Pliny’s Natural History features a discussion of papyrus and Egyptian flora, which Guilandino had personally encountered, while Botanical Observations collects the observations Guilandino made during his voyage. Taking the form of a series of letters written to fellow naturalists (five of which find Guilandino commenting rather acerbically on the work of Mattioli), Botanical Observations delves richly into botanical nomenclature, providing deep insight into the intricacies of naming that occupied naturalists in the sixteenth century.

The title pages of the two volumes, which are otherwise unillustrated, feature woodcut devices that, though simple, are striking in their clarity and precision. Above the scrawled signature of the French scholar Étienne Baluz (1630–1718), from whose library Dumbarton Oaks’s copy of On Pliny’s Natural History comes, a bear rampant is set within a simple escutcheon that is itself encircled by an oval motif. The title page of Botanical Observations bears an image of the goddess Athena, elaborately garbed, grasping an olive tree by its branch.

In 1561, four years after the publication of Botanical Observations, Guilandino was appointed prefect of the botanical garden at Padua. Falloppio died the very next year, sending Guilandino into deep despair. Nevertheless, his commitment to his work continued until the end of his own life, for a 1591 catalog of the garden, compiled two years after Guilandino’s death, lists nearly twelve hundred plants in its living collection.

In addition to his celebrated reign over the botanical garden of Padua, Guilandino was appointed to a lectureship at the University of Padua—a remarkable rise for the herbalist who had grown up Melchior Wieland in poor circumstances in Königsberg.

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Dumbarton Oaks at Kalamazoo

Paper proposals for four sponsored sessions at the 53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies due September 15

Posted on Aug 11, 2017 09:56 AM by Lain Wilson |
Dumbarton Oaks at Kalamazoo

Dumbarton Oaks and the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML) are sponsoring or cosponsoring four sessions of papers and a film screening and roundtable discussion at the 53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University on May 10–13, 2018. Paper proposals are due September 15, 2017.

Topics in Byzantine Sigillography

Lead seals constitute one of the most important and numerous sources for Byzantine social and administrative history, and they are fundamental for the study of the aristocracy, of provincial and palatine institutions, and of personal piety. Seals themselves are also an object of inquiry, and research over the past half-century into their production and use has allowed scholars to employ them as primary sources in more varied and nuanced ways. Despite their importance as both historical sources as well as relatively prevalent Byzantine artifacts, seals rarely form the focus of sessions at general conferences for medieval and Byzantine studies. In addition to sigillographers and Byzantinists, we hope that this session will draw other medievalists, who may learn more about the specific methods of Byzantine sigillography, and who may provide insight into comparative approaches in medieval studies. This proposed session is open to papers that study seals from a material perspective, as well as to those whose argument is based primarily on evidence from lead seals.

Submit proposals to Jonathan Shea at

Topics in Byzantine Numismatics

Cosponsored with Princeton University Numismatic Collection

Byzantine numismatics is one of the oldest disciplines of Byzantine studies, one that has contributed not only to economic but also social, religious, commercial, and institutional history. As mass-produced, widely circulated, objects created by the Byzantine government, coins shed light on the priorities of individual rulers as well as dynasties. As artifacts with an archaeological context, coins allow us to analyze evolving economies, exchange networks, spheres of economic influence, and the movement of goods and individuals. Byzantine numismatics is a flourishing subset of the wider discipline which compliments and extends other areas of inquiry, and is of relevance not only to Byzantinists, but all those who study the medieval world. The proposed sessions are open to papers that study coins and seals from a material perspective, as well as to those whose argument is based primarily on evidence from coins and seals. In addition to sigillographers, numismatists, and Byzantinists, we hope that these sessions will draw other medievalists, who may learn more about these fascinating artifacts of Byzantine material culture, and who may provide insight into comparable approaches in medieval studies.

Submit proposals to Jonathan Shea at

Teaching with Translations

As medievalists we place a premium on original-language research, and yet in the classroom we habitually rely on translations. Today the pedagogic side of this divide is undergoing revolutionary changes thanks to the proliferation of translations in print and on the internet. This new range of choices forces us to confront questions about the role of translation in the classroom. To choose between, let’s say, a poetic paraphrase and a literal prose rendering is to privilege one pedagogic method over another.

It’s not that such questions have never crossed our minds before, but they had less urgency when teachers had fewer alternatives. The pedagogy is implicit, for example, when instructors single out key words in the original for special explication, which has the advantage of putting our training to good use. As a time-honored tactic the rhetorical move of saying “let me tell you what this word really means” has the appeal, for students, of gaining privileged access to inside knowledge, but at the same moment it generates a shared suspicion because the translation doesn’t convey what the original says.

This session has both a theoretical and practical focus. What is the role of translation in the classroom? Is one kind of translation preferable to others? How does the relation between original and translation change from one discipline to another? From one genre to another? Is there an advantage to showing the original along with the translation even if students lack the competence to read it?

Submit proposals to Daniel Donoghue at

Encountering Muhammad in the Latin West

Sponsored by Platinum Latin

“Encountering Muhammad in the Latin West” is inspired by the forthcoming publication in the DOML series of Julian Yolles’s Latin Lives of Muhammad. The panel will examine the nature of Christian Latin encounters with Muhammad, exploring in the process how Latin Christians understood such concepts as “religion” and “heresy,” how they viewed the origins of Islam in relation to that of Christianity, what sorts of engagement with cultural and religious “Others” they promoted, and how the image of Muhammad in medieval sources became the predominant model for Early Modern authors. While the panel will focus primarily on textual encounters, the appearance of such confrontations in literature, art, and religious polemic, and across such diverse regions as medieval Iberia, France, Italy, and the Crusader States, should make this panel relevant to a wide range of medievalists, including scholars of history, literature, religious studies, art history, and intellectual history.

Submit proposals to Gregory Hays at

Juggling the Middle Ages

sponsored by the Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University

The objective of this event is to bring home the values of studying medievalism and of integrating that study with medieval studies. The heart of this event will be a screening, roughly one-half hour long, of two clips from the early 1950s. The first will be the Terrytoons cartoon of R. O. Blechman’s “The Juggler of Our Lady,” the second the same story as performed on The Fred Waring Show. Ziolkowski will introduce the medieval story (first attested as an Old French poem and later as a Latin exemplum) and its modern reception (concentrating upon the scholarship of Gaston Paris, short story of Anatole France, opera of Jules Massenet, and later versions). The upcoming exhibition Juggling the Middle Ages that will debut at Dumbarton Oaks in DC from October 2018 through February 2019 also will be briefly introduced. The rest of the session will be given over to a roundtable on medievalism, taking the screening as its point of departure, with Richard Utz (Georgia Institute of Technology) and Elizabeth Emery (Montclair State University). 

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Rethinking Empire

The 2017 Byzantine Studies symposium

Posted on Aug 10, 2017 04:30 PM by Bailey Trela |
Rethinking Empire

Published a little more than a century ago, C. P. Cavafy’s haunting allegorical poem Waiting for the Barbarians is a particularly malleable elegy.

Set in a nebulous, vaguely imperial state on the day it is to be turned over to an encroaching barbarian horde, the poem describes the pendulous moment of transition when the pomp of rhetoric and glamor of an empire ascendant have given way to uncertainty, hollow dread, and ceaseless, destabilizing questioning. The purpose, meaning, and identify of the particular state is no longer the important concern; rather, the notion of empire itself, once so solid and a priori, has come into question. The poem might very well serve as a shorthand description for the aims of Dumbarton Oaks’s most recent Byzantine Studies symposium.

“Rethinking Empire,” held at Dumbarton Oaks between April 21 and 22, 2017, sought to situate Byzantine studies within a broader historical discussion, taken up by scholars of other hegemonic civilizations in recent years, about the nature of empire and imperialism as they’ve existed across different periods and geographical areas. Primarily, the symposium was aimed at interrogating Byzantine culture and imperial institutions, relations between core and periphery, and questions of ethnic diversity and territoriality. Coinciding with the centenary of the First World War, it was also concerned with comparisons over time and across space, and the competitive dynamics of imperial powers.

Former Director of Byzantine Studies Elena Boeck set the course for the symposium’s proceedings, describing their focus on the manner in which imperial identity was articulated and the mechanism of authority, and, on the other hand, the substructure beneath it all—the bureaucrats, image-makers, and lecturers who supported the empire.

The day’s lectures began with two brief presentations delivered by cosymposiarchs Paul Magdalino, of the University of St Andrews, and Dimiter Angelov, of Harvard University. Magdalino’s talk sounded the necessity for rethinking empire, calling it a “necessary step in the exploration of Byzantine political identity.” Examining the political states, or empires, that existed in the years leading up to the First World War, Magdalino teased out the remnants of the Roman conception of empire as they manifested in, among other things, architectural presentation.

The monumental architecture of capital cities was, and still is, dominated by triumphal columns and arches, and imperial leaders still claimed descent from Rome in their titles, like kaiser and czar, that are vernacular derivatives of caesar. As Magdalino attested, successful definitions of empire tend to involve comparison, and in that vein, he contended that kingship and empire are inseparable. The ritual consecration and establishment of heirs central to kingship are a first step in the establishment of empire.

Dimiter Angelov’s talk followed by attempting to define empire in a much more literal sense. His lecture analyzed the conceptual vocabulary of statehood. Examining the relative prominence of terms like arche and basileia, Angelov asserted that the diversity of appellations, and the lack of consensus on which to use and when, is revealing. Among the nuances of usage discussed by Angelov were the rise in frequency of basileia in the ninth century as a response to Charlemagne’s rule in the west, the relative rarity of autokratoria, and the perennial popularity of arche—used by Thucydides to describe the Athenian Empire, the persistence of arche in Byzantium marked a desire to claim continuity with the ancient world.

The symposium’s proceedings were divided into five thematic sections, the first of which, on “The Roman and Late Antique Matrix,” was chaired by John Duffy, of Harvard University. Emma Dench, also of Harvard University, examined contemporary scholarly approaches to understanding how the “premodern empire” of Rome functioned. Limning the history of traditional thought that viewed the Roman Empire as a singular belief system—and empire itself as a conversion process—Dench described the consequences of these theories. When one considers the Roman Empire as a belief system, with individual buy-in, rather than as a top-down model of ruling, Dench explained, the distance between rulers and subjects is minimized, and the importance of power structures is downplayed.

The next lecture, delivered by Sylvain Destephen, of the University of Paris, sought to analyze the effect of the gradual sedenterization of Byzantine emperors on imperial authority. Over time, Destephen explained, the figure of the peripatetic emperor—continuously travelling across the empire for diplomatic purposes and to reinforce hegemony visually—began to disappear, as imperial sojourns after 450 were limited more and more to the areas directly surrounding Constantinople. Various developments in the administrative structure of the empire, including a complex system of grants and privileges that helped to bolster authority in the provinces, led to the obsolescence of showy manifestations of dynastic legitimacy. In effect, as Destephen concluded, the emperor went unseen because there was no longer a need to be seen.

Ruth Macrides, of the University of Birmingham, chaired the next session, on “Territoriality and Ethnicity.” John Haldon, of Princeton University, began the afternoon’s talks by asking whether the realities of the Byzantine Empire’s geographical layout corresponded with how the empire perceived its borders. Haldon argued that eastern Romans understood their empire as a territorial entity with fluctuating boundaries whose mission was to reclaim lands lost to other powers and, in so doing, extend the territorial sway of Christianity. Over time, as the empire contracted, it still made concerted efforts to fit its conception of its imperial self to the territorial circumstances it found itself in.  

Tapping into a subject that would recur throughout the symposium—the status and role of the Byzantine Empire’s provincial elite—Vivien Prigent, of the French National Center for Scientific Research, outlined the ways in which Byzantium, using local elites, managed a relatively small pool of resources and ever-decreasing territorial holdings. The lynchpin of imperial control, as Prigent argued, was the locally supreme, nonaristocratic official who most likely would have held little sway in Constantinopolitan society. Using surviving seals to gauge the proliferation of titles and the number of provincial elites from the seventh to the eleventh century, Prigent described the complex relationship between local elites—who wanted their property protected and their power legitimated—and the imperial center of Byzantium, which linked an increasingly state-dependent elite to destabilization of the empire.

Questions of identity—the identity of an empire, and the identities of groups living within and constituting the empire—were central to the symposium. Accordingly, Anthony Kaldellis, of the Ohio State University, delivered the final lecture of the day, which asked a simply worded, though difficult to solve, question: Was Byzantium a multiethnic empire? Positing that one of the best methods for inserting Byzantine studies into the broader imperial turn in historical studies is to focus on the concept of ethnicity, Kaldellis began by outlining some of the difficulties in discussing ethnicity in Byzantium.

Previous studies documenting an alleged ethnic diversity, Kaldellis argued, in reality simply pointed to nonresidential communities as evidence of this diversity: prisoners of war, foreign ambassadors, itinerant merchants, and a small Muslim community, also possibly mercantile. Once this “Potemkin diversity” is brushed aside, Kaldellis claimed, it becomes clear that Byzantium, as a culture, has been denuded of its ethnic connotations—the Romans of Byzantium, as contemporary sources make clear, were once seen as an ethnic group.

Michael McCormick, of Harvard University, served as commentator for the first day of the symposium, leading a nearly hour-long discussion session on the day’s proceedings.

The second day of the symposium was given over to comparative approaches. Derek Krueger, of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, chaired the day’s first thematic section, on early medieval empires in the Roman world. Jennifer Davis, of the Catholic University of America, began with a talk entitled “Rethinking Empire: The Carolingian Perspective.” Charlemagne’s reign, Davis contended, was shaped by the process of empire itself—rather than imposing policies from a center onto a periphery, Charlemagne employed a heuristic approach to empire, starting from pragmatics and developing policy from there. In the realm of political economy, for instance, there is little to no evidence of consistent, direct taxation in the Carolingian world. Rather, Davis said, the Carolingians combined multiple sources of irregular income, including tributes and plunder, that only became significant when aggregated.

Angel Nikolov, of the University of Sofia, continued to expand the territorial reach of the symposium, examining the conversion of Bulgaria into an Orthodox empire at the turn of the tenth century. His talk centered around Symeon I, the Bulgarian emperor who oversaw an escalation of military and political conflicts with the Byzantine Empire. Nikolov traced the origins of Symeon’s policies to those of his father, Boris-Michael, who converted the Bulgarians to Christianity, and the formative years he spent as a youth in Constantinople in the 870s.

As Nikolov demonstrated, Symeon was driven by a desire to supplant Byzantium as the center of eastern Christendom, a goal that manifested in such initiatives as the construction of churches and the prolific translation of patristic texts. Ultimately, Nikolov contended, a reinterpretation of the imperial project of Symeon I is overdue. For Symeon I, empire was not simply an instrument to abet the expansionist policies of his forebears, but a method of formalizing Bulgaria’s status as a religious center and, thereby, laying claim to the reins of the Eastern Roman Empire.

The next thematic section, chaired by Ioli Kalavrezou, of Harvard University, examined the culture of empire. Neils Gaul, of the University of Edinburgh, returned to one of the well-trod legends of Byzantium: its sprawling, top-heavy, and hopelessly complex bureaucracy. Analyzing the roles civil servants played as “agents of empire,” Gaul discussed the recruitment and educational practices that helped to develop the bureaucracy from the seventh century on. Trained in the basics of rhetoric and classicizing grammar (and aided in this process by schedography, the learning of impromptu rhetoric), budding civil servants were often put to display their learning in both written and oral form. Indeed, as Gaul explained, surviving evidence suggests that students were subject to elaborate and ceremonial oral entrance exams before they were allowed to enter the ranks of officeholders. Such contests, at least by the twelfth century, were even presided over by the emperor—though it’s likely, Gaul ceded, that a senior civil servant was tasked with the actual examination.

Civil servants were relied upon to link the empire, and to some degree, as Gaul attested, their reach defined the rather porous borders of the eastern Roman politeia. In this vein, the day’s proceedings continued with a more focused rumination on the nature of borders, delivered by Annabel Wharton, of Duke University. Centering her talk on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and attempts, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to replicate it in the form of texts, diagrams, drawings, and models, Wharton interrogated the significance of imperial peripheries, positing that these liminal spaces, rather than simply offering up their resources to imperial centers, can in fact define and challenge them.

In particular, Wharton analyzed the drawings of the Franciscan father Bernardino Amico, whose elaborate and precise architectural renderings of the Holy Sepulchre amounted to a printed walking tour. Employing craftsmen in Bethlehem, Amico even produced three-dimensional models of the structure, made of polished olive wood and camel bone and inlaid with mother-of-pearl—exploring the scaled models was, in a way, a surrogate pilgrimage. Throughout her talk, Wharton sought to draw parallels between the mimetic possession of the Holy Sepulchre, as offered by Amico’s artifices, and the general Christian desire to reclaim the Holy Land—a desire manifested, from time to time in history, by the violence of the crusades.

The symposium’s final thematic section was chaired by Robert Ousterhout, of the University of Pennsylvania, and focused on comparative contexts. In his talk, “The Long and Winding Road to Empire,” Cemal Kafadar, of Harvard University, looked at evidence for the gradual transformation of the Ottoman state into an empire over the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. Kafadar began his exploration by analyzing transformations in the usage, over time, of the epithet “Rumi,” which denoted an individual from Rûm—that is, Rome.

With time, as Kafadar explained, “Rumi” began to be used to refer Muslims living in the (former) lands of Rûm; by the early thirteenth century, it was being used to describe Turkish-speaking Muslim urbanites and to distinguish them from Turks who had remained, so to speak, “ethnic.” As Kafadar made clear, his analysis arose from instances of Ottoman self-representation. Around 1500, he pointed out, Ottoman authors began to write collective biographies of the poets and artists of Rûm—in their own critical discourse, they began to speak of concepts like Rumi temperament, Rumi nature, Rumi manner, and Rumi comportment. As Kafadar argued, the development of the sense of empire was tied to this emotional and affective relation to the inhabited lands themselves.

Continuing the emphasis on comparative contexts, Michael Puett, of Harvard University, delivered an analysis of a rarely considered pairing of empires: those of Chinese late antiquity and the early Byzantine Empire. While comparisons between the Roman Empire and the Han dynasty of China have long fascinated scholars, Puett argued that subsequent regional empires, though less studied comparatively, share striking similarities, not the least of which is a traditionally skewed historical perspective. Just as the narrative of the fall of the Roman Empire has resulted, in part, from a later dominant western Europe reading history backward, so the history of China’s other regions has been elided by the latterly dominant southern coastal regions.

Running through a sketch of Chinese imperial history, Puett touched upon a number of familiar strategies in the consolidation of power, including the creation of a bureaucratic class to undercut aristocratic power. Eventually, as the imperial system overtook China, a new cosmological and ritual viewpoint superseded the paradigm of the divine right of kings; the ruler, rather than being a divine figure, was demoted, and became simply a son of heaven. Consequentially, as Puett explained, in a move redolent of the Byzantine emperors’ gradual confinement to Constantinople, rulers could no longer move through the entire realm or offer sacrifices in the provinces; this practice was instead enacted by local elites.

Paul Magdalino delivered the final lecture of the symposium, a wide-ranging reflection on the religious dimension of empire entitled “Rethinking Theocracy.” As Magdalino contended, the development of theocracy required monotheism; while countless political regimes throughout history have acknowledged the sovereignty of supernatural power, it is only beneath the brace of monotheism that the political articulation of obedience to an all-powerful deity is truly exemplified—and, thus, theocratic. Centering his discussion on the conversion of Constantine and his attempts to Christianize the cult of the Roman emperor, Magdalino described the “ideological repackaging” of the Roman state within an aura of sacredness, and the rhetorical articulation of this process.

The development of Byzantine theocracy, as Magdalino evinced, amounted to a repackaging of empire as an anticipation of the kingdom of God. It was deeply eschatological, an orientation that had its strengths in maintaining order but that lost its appeal when the end of the world lost its urgency. For theocratic Byzantium, inheriting the kingdom was more important than conquering the world.

Hearkening back to his previous talk, which had opened the symposium, Magdalino closed by reflecting on the concept of the “elect nation,” its remarkable success, and its cultural and historical survival into the modern age. In doing so, he touched upon nationalism, the perpetual play of borders, and the motifs developed by the Byzantine theocratic regime that have been redeployed, time and again, to justify empires.

Following Magdalino’s lecture, Maya Jasanoff, of Harvard University, served as commentator, leading a discussion that, while focusing on the second day’s talks, ranged over the entirety of the symposium’s proceedings—that is, centuries, continents, and empires.

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Landscapes of Pre-Industrial Cities

The 2017 Garden and Landscape Studies symposium

Posted on Aug 10, 2017 04:30 PM by Bailey Trela |
Landscapes of Pre-Industrial Cities

On May 5 and 6, Dumbarton Oaks hosted the 2017 Garden and Landscape Studies symposium, “Landscapes of Pre-Industrial Cities.” Organized by Georges Farhat, of the University of Toronto, and Garden and Landscape Studies Director John Beardsley, the symposium set out to examine processes of urbanization in pre-industrial environments, questioning longstanding definitions of urbanism and ranging across continents and centuries in search of a renewed understanding of how early urban environments formed, developed, and interacted with the natural world.

The symposium began with opening remarks by Beardsley and Farhat. Describing our historical moment as an urban one, with half of the world’s population firmly ensconced in cities, Beardsley suggested that “one of the great challenges of our age” will be the managing of these cities, and the social and spatial inequity their forms produce, into the future. Farhat argued that the phasing-out of traditional conceptions of urban landscape, premised as they often are “on late Western divides, like rural and urban, that prove less and less applicable in our age,” has generated a need to interrogate these outmoded theories, to determine whether they might be tweaked and salvaged—to examine, for instance, if and how “nature-culture binaries might remain efficient” to address developing urban landscape regimes.

The symposium, divided into six thematic sections, kicked off by examining “Invisible Ecologies.” In his talk, entitled “What Constituted Cahokian Urbanism?,” Timothy Pauketat, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, examined the pre-industrial landscape of the titular Pre-Columbian site, one of the few large urban sites in North America. Pauketat argued that the environment of Cahokia, as experienced by its residents at the time, could best be understood as an “affective field” of natural materials and phenomena that pulled its human inhabitants into strange new relationships.

Located across the Mississippi River from the modern location of St. Louis, Missouri, Cahokia was ascendant during a medieval warm period. Its inhabitants lived in a “muddy, pernicious climate, where rain fell in torrents and without cessation.” Their lives were richly interwoven with the natural world: “the auditory effects of frogs” in the surrounding marshland, the frequent environmental signs that harbingered rain, the haloes that hovered round the moon all contributed to a pre-industrial landscape that, in the words of Pauketat, “embodied non-human agencies.” Ultimately, Pauketat posited that the materiality of the city—made of wood, not stone—might indicate its extemporality. In other words, the relatively porous city of Cahokia, home to insects and waterfowl and amphibians whose numbers rivaled its human inhabitants, might have been intentionally fleeting. “It might have been made to be forgotten, and left behind,” Pauketat explained. Such an inbuilt mechanism, he closed, would have acted as a “material dimension of the short-term prophetic movements” that periodically reoriented the spiritual aims of the city and its inhabitants.

Suzanne Preston Blier, of Harvard University, continued the day’s proceedings with a similar emphasis on materiality. Her talk, “Walls that Speak: Landscape Factors in Early West African Urban Centers,” looked primarily at the emergence of planned walled cities in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Nigeria, particularly the ways such cities conformed to preexisting landscapes and incorporated them into their eventual designs. While we customarily think of walls as defensive entities, Blier argued that what was held inside the walls of West Africa was ultimately more important than what fell outside of them. Proceeding from several case studies, including later developments in Ketu, a site located in the modern-day Republic of Benin, and cities in the Kingdom of Dahomey (which existed from around 1600 to 1894), Blier analyzed the complex inward divisions along political, economic, and religious lines that arose behind city walls and ordered life within them. Dwelling on Ile-Ife, in Nigeria, Blier traced its development, including its planning by King Obalufon, the production of Ife glass in the fourteenth century, and the environmental factors, like the large hill it rests on and the marshes that surround it, that altered its development. After noting the tendency within similar cities to divide the walled-in space according to sovereign deities or the movement of annual ceremonies, Blier closed by proposing a shorthand definition for urbanism: “the encoding of a belief system in spatial form.”

The complexity of internal ecologies was likewise a theme pursued by Priyaleen Singh, of the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. Her talk, “The Weave of Natural and Cultural Ecology: Ekamrakshetra—The Historic Temple Town of Bhubaneswar, India,” examined the evolution of public space over hundreds years at the site of Bhubaneswar in east India. Initially developed from the sixth to ninth centuries CE as a pilgrimage center, the greater part of the town’s present urban form descends from this period. As a result, the “sacred geography” of the space—its arrangement of temples and stone water tanks—came to determine the arrangement of social life. “Temple festivals guided the community life, in fact the temples were the epitome of social and cultural life,” Singh explained. “The open-space systems” where socializing took place “were informed by and structured around the temples.”

Redesigned after Indian independence by the German planner Otto Koenigsberger, the city “literally turned its back on the old town,” and assumed secularized Western forms. “The old town was based on human movement and scale,” Singh explained, “its open spaces blurring the boundaries of work and recreation.” Under the spatial regime of the new design, new road networks created barriers to water flow, frustrating the ecological balance the temple-based life had fostered. Public spaces were reduced to traffic islands; pools putrefied, and some of the abandoned tanks today face the threat of being replaced with parking lots. Arguing that “living historic towns and cities embody timeless concepts of sustainability” that are currently reentering scholarly and design vocabulary, Singh closed by advocating for the benefits of a socialist ecological perspective, one that recognizes the profound “synergy between natural and cultural ecology” and that is “worshipful, rather than religious, valuing nature and the options it offers for a better way of life.

Hendrik Dey, of Hunter College, the City University of New York, continued the day’s interest in the alteration of ceremonial space. His talk, “Landscape Change and Ceremonial Praxis in Medieval Rome from the Via Triumphalis to the Via Papalis,” uncovered the repurposing and restructuring of monumental corridors in Rome in the late antique and medieval periods. Around 500 CE, as Dey explained, “the bones of the ancient city [were] still there,” though they were occupied by a dramatically diminished population: “The built environment of Rome is so comparatively massive that it can be treated almost like a geographical factor, a natural occurrence.” The Via Triumphalis, or Triumphal Way, the central parade route in Rome, steadily accreted “a strange assemblage of monumental architecture,” porticoes and arcades that served to mask the decline tucked just out of sight. It was only in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that the Via Triumphalis was abandoned as the central route for ceremonial processions in favor of the Via Papalis; the bulk of Dey’s talk was devoted to excavating the environmental and human factors, including increased flooding and human activity, that precipitated this switchover.

In the next talk, “The Phnom Kulen’s Capital: A Singular and Early Case of Urban Planning in Ancient Cambodia,” J.B. Chevance, of the Archaeology and Development Foundation’s Phnom Kulen Program, sought to uncover ancient landscapes near Angkor, the capital city of the Khmer Empire. While scholarly research has often focused on the standing temples of Angkor, most notably Angkor Wat, recent research, aided by technological advances including the LiDAR surveying method, has made a number of important discoveries, including an early urban network located on the top of the Phnom Kulen massif, roughly forty kilometers north-east of Angkor. While the agrarian plain of Angkor has long been subject to spatial modification, the mountainous terrain of Phnom Kulen, and its quickly abandoned development, has left researchers a unique snapshot of urban adaptation to a constraining environment. Chevance’s talk set out to schematize the more than twenty square miles of urban landscape left at Phnom Kulen, focusing on water elements within the landscape—the dikes, canals, dams, and ponds that allowed for the cultivation of rice and moved outward along a strict geometric design from the source of the Angkorian hydrographic network at Phnom Kulen.

Christophe Pottier, of the Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient, Paris, also discussed the Angkor civilization, aiming, like Chevance, to move beyond traditional conceptions of Angkorian urban environments that were evolved mostly by studying monumental remains. Likewise utilizing remote sensing techniques (aerial photographs, satellite imagery, and LiDAR), Pottier described recent research that has looked at the “human and environmental context” of the temples, that is, the networks of sites and infrastructure surrounding the temples that have, in the past, gone unseen and unconsidered. Within this larger spatial perspective, Pottier showed, new aspects of Angkorian civilization come under consideration, including habitat densities, hydraulic and agrarian systems, and pathways of production. Since the 1990s, when new surveying methods became widely available, a different narrative of Angkorian urbanism has emerged, one in which monumental temples appear as the spectacular outgrowths of a complex engineered environment developed over centuries yet always capable of altering itself and adapting permanent sites, like the temples, to its new form. Rather than exhibit a clear and periodic sequence of urban development, with large but fleeting secular and religious centers cropping up over time, Pottier contended that Angkorian civilization was typified by a “resilient” and large low-density urbanism.

Timothy Murtha, of the Pennsylvania State University, closed the first day of the symposium with a talk that considered the fluidity of the meaning of “urban.” “Landscape and City in the Ancient Maya Lowlands: Regionalism, Settlement, and Ecology” countered the “low-density” narrative of Mayan cities, with Murtha arguing instead that they are now largely considered urban—though he added that “what urban means in this context is highly debated.” As new urban models are developed by scholars, population estimates for the Maya continue to rise, though Murtha contended that normative conceptions of pre-industrial urbanism, which link population density to sustainability, shouldn’t define the way we analyze the Mesoamerican urban tradition. Describing his method as “landscape regionalism,” Murtha explained the importance of studying Classic Mayan cities, like Tikal and Caracol, with an eye for how region—the spatial patterns of land, water, and agrarian systems—is expressed within the cities. Ultimately, Murtha concluded, Mayan cities might best be described as “landscape mosaics.”

The symposium’s second day commenced with a pair of talks on the subject of water management. In “Monsoon Landscapes and Flexible Provisioning in the Early Historic Cities of the Indian Subcontinent,” Monica L. Smith, of the University of California, Los Angeles, discussed early landscape management practices in the monsoon belt of Asia. Focusing on three ancient sites—Kausambi on the Ganges plain, Sisupalgarh in eastern India, and Anuradhapura—Smith traced the ways in which knowledge of regular annual flooding (so-called “normal floods”) allowed for the development of distinct agricultural strategies. These strategies in turn produced an infrastructure comprised of both permanent and temporary structures; reservoirs were permanent, while land boundaries and bunds (embankments) often disappeared in the summer rains, and were continually being rebuilt.

Jordan Pickett, of the University of Michigan, next delivered “Hydraulic Landscapes of Roman and Byzantine Cities,” which looked at Roman methods of water management from the first to third centuries CE, before moving on to examine shifts in these inherited methods from the fourth through eighth centuries. As Picket explained, differing approaches to water management in fact signaled broader ideological shifts in governance and imperial self-perception. The freighting-in of distant spring water via visually imposing aqueducts, and its eventual public display in the form of fountains and baths, served as a manifestation of power and linked territorial hinterlands to the burgeoning cities in a plan redolent of the network of cities that typified the High Roman Empire. Late antiquity, however, saw a reversal of Roman hydraulic orthodoxy; as aqueducts became more difficult to manage with the broader collapse of imperial structure, cities began to rely on stored water, or were simply subjected to resettlement. These changes also saw a reversal in the hierarchy of water-source potability; where once aqueducts had “produced the miracle, or thalma, of flowing spring water where it did not naturally belong,” spring water lost ground to the rising importance of stored water.

In an elemental shift, J. Cameron Monroe, of the University of California, Santa Cruz, began the symposium’s section on urban forests. “Seeing the Forest for the Trees: Cities and Their Hinterlands in Tropical West Africa” suggested once again that the study of pre-industrial cities stands to benefit from an emphasis on the “broader constellation of settlements” that contribute to urban sites. Limning preexisting scholarly opinions that have posited sub-Saharan Africa as inherently unable to support autochthonous urban development, Monroe asserted that while the influence of external forces—Near Eastern and European contact—was undeniable and integral in the development of urban centers, deeply rooted archaeological evidence suggests that homegrown urban networks existed and contributed to urban development. Urban centers were profoundly integrated with rural hinterlands in a “dendritic pattern,” Monroe claimed, though research into these networks has been hampered by a relative paucity of sites because of dense vegetation and poor site preservation.

In “Xingu Garden Cities: Domesticated Forests of the Southern Amazon’s ‘Arc of Fire,’” Michael Heckenberger, of the University of Florida, proposed approaching the unique landscape configurations present in tropical environs by using the pioneering work of British urban planner Ebenezer Howard. Howard’s 1902 tract Garden Cities of To-morrow considered the city as an “organism,” or “organic form,” a conceptual tilt that Heckenberger believes works well with Amazonian urban environments, which, because of the aggressive and unceasing growth of flora, were not so much carved out of the surrounding environment as “woven” into it. Nature was not tamed, but nurtured, and the urban planning that resulted—dense networks of roads, for instance, that worked with and around the encompassing forest—enacted this shift. Heckenberger closed by suggesting that this pre-industrial approach to living with Amazonian flora could provide insights into modern dilemmas of biodiversity and sustainability as they pertain to the Amazon.

Jason Ur, of Harvard University, continued the reevaluation of early urban models in his talk, “Space and Structure in Early Mesopotamian Cities.” While the development of Mesopotamian urbanism has long been treated as a “classic” model standing in contradistinction to the diversity of urban forms present in other early cities, Ur contended that this view of Mesopotamia is deeply reductive. Drawing inferences from new research at sites in Syria and Iraq dating from the late fifth to the early first millennium BCE, Ur traced the transition from Ubaid village societies through more extensive and nonnucleated constructs to the initial strains of truly urban environs. While Ubaid sites are rarely larger than a few hectares and, like Tell Surezha, appear in field surveys and satellite imagery as “small vertical mounds,” other sites, like Khirbat al-Fakhar, extend beyond a core of mounds to take up roughly three hundred hectares. Questions of settlement density gave way to matters of urban planning as Ur analyzed the great Sumerian city-states where “powerful elite forces reacted to emergent forces.” A city wall commissioned by a king, for instance, was a response to emergent urbanism, while also further accelerating bottom-up urban growth.

Alan L. Kolata, of the University of Chicago, delivered the final talk of the symposium. “The Autopoietic City: Landscape, Science, and Society in the Pre-Industrial World” repurposed a term first introduced in the 1970s by biologists and used by them to distinguish between living and nonliving entities, applying it instead to cities. Centering his discussion on the indigenous cities of the Americas, Kolata contended that a city is “an open and self-reproducing system” that is nevertheless enmeshed in complex connective webs with its surrounding hinterlands and other cities. While his talk sought to examine the ways in which pre-industrial cities integrated natural resources and social processes of production on “an expansive, landscape-scale”—for instance, the reticulated canal and aqueduct system through which the Chimú maximized their economic production—Kolata ceded the occasional deficiencies of the autopoietic view. “Autopoiesis frames society in totally macro terms,” he explained. “The challenge for us in analyzing cities is to integrate or at least to juxtapose in productive ways the macrosociological features of urban life with the microrealities of lived human experience.”

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New Acquisition: Le Temple du Soleil

James N. Carder (August 2017)

Posted on Aug 10, 2017 03:50 PM by James N. Carder |
New Acquisition: Le Temple du Soleil

Hergé, Le Temple du Soleil (Paris: Casterman, 1977). Dumbarton Oaks Archives (AR.EP.BK.0559).

The Dumbarton Oaks Archives Ephemera Collection recently acquired an adventure comic book set in Peru and involving the ancient Inca civilization. Le Temple du Soleil (The Temple of the Sun) is the fourteenth book in the comic series Les Aventures de Tintin (The Adventures of Tintin), created by the Belgian illustrator Georges Prosper Remi (1907–1983), known as Hergé. First published in serial format between 1946 and 1948, Le Temple du Soleil was a continuation of Les Sept Boules de Cristal (The Seven Crystal Balls), and was first published in book format in 1949. The Ephemera Collection copy is from the 1977 reprinting.

Le Temple du Soleil finds the boy hero, Tintin, and Captain Haddock in Peru in search of Professor Tournesol. As the adventure unfolds, a young Quechua Indian, Zorrino, reveals the existence of the temple of the sun, the last retreat of the ancient Inca civilization, where Tournesol is held prisoner and condemned to be sacrificed. Captain Haddock, Tintin, and Tintin’s dog, Milou, enter the temple but are taken prisoner themselves by the Incas. However, they are saved from sacrifice by a providential solar eclipse which Tintin proclaims he has brought about. They leave the temple promising never to reveal its existence.

In Le Temple du Soleil, Hergé fairly accurately depicted Inca artifacts and costumes due to his use of available scholarly books, including Conrad de Meyendorff’s 1909 L'Empire du soleil: Pérou et Bolivie. Hergé especially borrowed from the engravings in Charles Wiener’s 1888 Pérou et Bolivie, including the image of the creator god Viracocha from the sun gate at Tiahuanaco. He also relied on the illustrations in two National Geographic articles of February 1938 (73, no.2): “The Incas: Empire Builders of the Andes” and “In the Realm of the Sons of the Sun (Incas),” which reproduced eight paintings by H. M. Herget representing “scenes of pre-Columbian life.”

Viracocha Engraving by Charles Wiener.   Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Milou break into the Temple of the Sun.

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New Acquisition: Loire Valley Poster

James N. Carder (July 2017)

Posted on Jul 26, 2017 11:53 AM by James N. Carder |
New Acquisition: Loire Valley Poster

The Dumbarton Oaks Archives Ephemera Project has acquired a poster promoting train and bus visits to the Loire Valley in France. Designed in 1967 by the graphic artist Bernard Villemot (1911–1989) for the SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français), France’s national state-owned railway company, the poster foregrounds one of the Renaissance formal gardens at the Château de Villandry. Seen in the distance across the Loire Valley is the Château de Chaumont, relocated by the artist from its true location further down the river. The Château de Villandry and its gardens were arguably the star venue of tourism in the Loire Valley as it regained momentum in the mid-twentieth century. The poster’s purpose was to further increase visitation to the area by means of the formal garden image’s allure.

Villandry had been acquired in 1906 by the Spanish doctor Joachim Carvallo (1869–1936). Between 1908 and 1918, he restored the chateau and transformed the then-existing English-style informal gardens into formal gardens more consistent with the history of the chateau. For his Renaissance garden reconstructions, Carvallo employed the sixteenth-century book Les dessins des plus excellents bâtiments de France by Jacques Androuet du Cerceau, a copy of which is also in the Rare Book Collection at Dumbarton Oaks.

The poster’s artist, Bernard Villemot,  was a graphic artist who, between 1932 and 1934, had studied in Paris with the artist Paul Colin. In the mid-1940s, he began designing posters, including a famous series of travel posters for Air France. Villemot is known in France as one of the last great poster artists of the twentieth century and for his ability to distill an advertising message to a memorable image with simple elegant lines and bold colors. Three books have been published that survey his art: Jean-Francois Bazin, Les affiches de Villemot, (1985); Guillaume Villemot, Villemot: l’affiche de A à Z (2005); and George H. Bon Salle, Embracing an Icon: the Posters of Bernard Villemot (2015).

Château de Villandry Renaissance garden as it exists today Château de Villandry Renaissance garden as it exists today.


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The Records of Life

Dumbarton Oaks acquires colonial Latin American manuscripts

Posted on Jul 18, 2017 03:46 PM by Bailey Trela |
The Records of Life

We’re excited to announce the acquisition of two richly documentary colonial Latin American manuscripts. Featuring vivid illustrations and painstakingly detailed maps, the manuscripts contain enough material to satisfy a bevy of research interests and pursuits.

Relación de gobierno del Excmo. Sor. Virrey del Perú Frey D. Francisco Gil de Tobada y Lemus is a work whose extensive title does a good job of encapsulating its reach. Composed by Francisco Gil de Taboada y Lemos, the governor of the Viceroyalty of Peru from 1790 to 1796, as a detailed report on the operations of the colony, the text was meant to provide the viceroy’s successor, the Irish-born Spanish colonial administrator Ambrosio O’Higgins, with a guidebook of the region, in the hope of ensuring a fluid transition.

While such transitional reports were not uncommon, the sheer length of this piece and its comprehensive detail of colonial life makes the Relación de gobierno a sui generis acquisition. In it, carefully sketched charts abound, and while customary tabulations of population, natural resources, and tax collecting fill up much of the page space, Taboada y Lemos’s other inclusions offer insight into a naturally curious personality bent on fully educating his successor.

In addition to copious notes on the organization of the hacienda system and a discussion of the operation of the Inquisition in the Viceroyalty, for instance, Taboada y Lemos includes descriptions of Lima and of the commerce, mineral wealth, and architecture of Peru. Two well-preserved folding leaves reveal colorful fine-lined illustrations of the twelve indigenous ethnic groups of Peru as they were understood by the colonial power at the time. Variously cross-legged, bow-wielding, or pointing, garbed in light cloth or tunics or capacious furs, the detailed figures show differences chosen by the eye of the colonizer—a thin waist tightly bound in woven material; broad, muscular shoulders; pale white skin—standing out.

These images, executed by an unknown hand, are kept company by two fold-out maps at the end of the text showing the interior of Peru and the west coast of South America—depicted, curiously, horizontally. Drawn in lines faded, blurred, and expanded with age, the maps yet offer up the familiar names of mountain ranges, rivers, and cities.

The second manuscript is an eighteenth-century ejecutoria, a certificate that legally accredits the nobility of a family or individual. A petition of sorts, the ejecutoria is concerned with the title and coat of arms granted by Prince Philip II of Spain in a 1545 cédula (order or decree) to Felipe Tupac Inca Yupanqui and Gonzalo Uchu Hualpa as grandsons of the Inca emperor Tupac Inca Yupanqui. The provenance of this particular ejecutoria, however, is unknown.

In 1800, María Joaquina Inca, claiming descent from the royal families of Mexico and Peru, submitted a series of documents to the Council of the Indies, among them a similar ejecutoria now held in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville. It was common practice to create a copy when drafting these application packages in case anything should happen to the documents sent to court. Thus, it’s possible that the ejecutoria acquired by Dumbarton Oaks is the personal copy of Maria Joaquina Inca, or one that belonged to her family. Support for this theory comes from the illustrations in the ejecutoria, which remain bound to the text, meaning the manuscript was likely never held in a state archive, where images were often removed and catalogued separately.

The images in question are full-page illustrations. Two facing illustrations depict the coat of arms granted to the descendants of Gonzalo Uchu Hualpa and Felipe Tupac Inca Yupanqui. Crowns and helmets and castles blare out from a majestic red ground decorated with light blue vine-like tracery; a golden mask dangles from a chain formed by twelve pairs of crowned snakes. Notably, Inca symbols (crimson tassels, for example) are mingled with Spanish (the helmet, the castle, the crown).

A full-length portrait of Tupac Inca Yupanqui, flanked by two figures who are likely his descendants Gonzalo Uchu Hualpa and Felipe Tupac Inca Yupanqui, occupies a full page. Standing in a mountainous landscape, Yupanqui is garbed in a regal tunic (uncu), a headdress (mascaypacha) and a red cloak (llakota), and covered in gold—gold kneepads, headdress, earmuffs, and weapons.

The ejecutoria is a particularly valuable acquisition because it contains far more than document-collections of the sort typically do. Whereas many collections simply comprise the cédula describing the coat of arms to be granted once proof of lineage is provided, the Dumbarton Oaks ejecutoria contains the surrounding necessary documents—in short, it is claim and proof. Accordingly, scattered throughout the manuscript are carefully constructed stamps and signatures so elaborate they sometimes seem absentmindedly scrawled curlicues.

Both “new” manuscripts offer up an abundance of information that still needs much sifting. Francisco Gil de Taboada y Lemos’s report, oddly prolix and encompassing, provides a stunning firsthand account of the particularities of governing a colonial state, while the ejecutoria—thanks to the differences from its official counterpart, and its relation to previous applications—is ripe for comparative research and studies of the evolution of self-representation.

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Celil Refik Kaya

Third recipient of Early-Career Musician Residency

Posted on Jul 18, 2017 03:40 PM by Bailey Trela |
Celil Refik Kaya

We’re pleased to announce Celil Refik Kaya as the third recipient of the Early-Career Musician Residency, which provides time and resources to young musicians and composers who show promise in transmitting traditions of classical music to younger generations. The residency was previously held by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and violinist Caroline Adelaide Shaw and opera composer Matthew Aucoin.

Photo by Orhan Cem Çetin, courtesy of Celil Refik Kaya.

Kaya, trained as a classical guitarist from the age of six, has studied with the Grammy-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin and in the studio of Michael Newman, himself a disciple of Andrés Segovia. A prolific and decorated performer, Kaya has received numerous prizes at international competitions, including first prize in the 2012 JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition. As a soloist, Kaya tours internationally and in the United States, working with a number of professional orchestras, including the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Brevard Festival Orchestra, and the Istanbul State Symphony. Over the course of his career, he has presented the premieres of concertos by artists like Roberto Sierra and Suleyman Alnitemiz.

Kaya comes to Dumbarton Oaks from the University of Texas at Austin, where, as the recipient of a Harrington Fellowship, he is pursuing his PhD in the studio of guitarist Adam Holzman. When his residency begins this fall, he will continue work on a number of compositional and recording projects, cataloguing and publishing an ever-growing oeuvre of compositions while working on an upcoming CD. (His first CD, released by Naxos in 2016, explores the guitar music of the Argentinian guitarist and composer Jorge Morel, with whom Kaya maintains a close working relationship.)

This balancing act between performance and composition manifests in his concerts, which typically include one or two of his own pieces. Likewise, when Kaya sits down to compose, the resulting works bear a number of disparate influences. “I usually write in different styles,” he explains. “Sometimes I’m using quarter tones—sometimes I’m working in a more neo-romantic style. I’m also writing for different combinations of instruments, like kota and guitar, or rebab and guitar. I recently wrote a piece performed at the Sydney Opera House that was based on a Japanese folk song, so there was a story embedded in the piece that would attract the audience.” Making use of familiar elements to introduce audiences to unfamiliar styles is a common tactic of Kaya’s: “I try to mix different concepts according to the circumstances.”

For Kaya, a willingness to mix and experiment while staying grounded in the tradition of Western classical music is paramount to revitalizing interest in the genre. Ultimately, in his opinion, classical music “should be something people can relate to,” neither too modern and abstract nor trapped “in the style of an era remote from the present.” Kaya believes engagement should be a central goal of classical music, and that “the best way of continuing the Western classical music tradition and of influencing the audience is performing not just the works that only the composer will understand and appreciate, but works that the audience can grasp and appreciate as well.”

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In Praise of Everyone

The Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library adds two new volumes

Posted on Jul 11, 2017 03:55 PM by Bailey Trela |
In Praise of Everyone

We’re excited to announce the publication of two new volumes in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series: the Latin Poems of Venantius Fortunatus, and a selection of six Christian novels from the Menologion of Symeon Metaphrastes. Both texts, in full English translation for the first time, trace the lives of political and religious figures, with special attention to women testing the gender boundaries of their societies.

Christian Novels from the Menologion of Symeon Metaphrastes, edited and translated by Stratis Papaioannou, director of the program of medieval studies at Brown University, brings together six narratives that were not so much written by Metaphrastes as heavily revised and standardized.

The contemporary fame of Symeon Metaphrastes was difficult to match. As Papaioannou attests in his introduction, more than seven hundred surviving manuscripts contain different segments of the tenth-century Menologion, and even four hundred years after his death, pilgrims flocked to Constantinople to visit Metaphrastes’s relics.

Metaphrastes—whose name refers to his mastery of the practice of metaphrasis, the rewriting, in a rhetorical register, of preexisting stories and texts—owes his popularity in part to the political and ideological significance of his literary project. Papaioannou explains that “Metaphrastes’s Menologion fits well into a period when the Byzantine ruling elite encouraged efforts to reorganize and essentially reinvent the early Byzantine tradition for ideological purposes, for internal consumption as well as for cultural export.” The standardizing of religious narratives—likely done in a workshop, with various assistants laboring under style guidelines—served the broader imperial project.

Biographically, little is known about Symeon Metaphrastes. It seems likely that references in the historical literature placing him, later in life, as a high-level functionary in the imperial court are largely accurate; drafting the ten-volume Menologion would have required the powerful patronage that such a position afforded. Otherwise, Metaphrastes comes down to us as a bundle of stylistic quirks—a careful attention to rhythm and wordplay, vivid descriptions that lean melodramatic—on full display in the six Christian novels excerpted in the present volume.

But what is a Christian novel? The “Christian” part of the equation, as Papaioannou sees it, is self-evident in a collection of hagiographical texts, where “the reader is confronted with [Christianity] at every turn of the page.” The applicability of “novel,” he says, derives first from the fictional nature of the subjects—they are largely imaginary, not historical—and, more importantly, from traits like rhetorical forms and narrative patterns that link Metaphrastes’s tales to the late antique Greek novel. Beyond this, the six chosen tales share an interest in the lives of rebellious women who push back against the bounds of social expectations. For instance, Saint Ioustina, one of the protagonists of the first novel in the collection, ignores familial and societal pressures to pursue her commitment to the Christian faith. When, already sworn to the nunnery, she is abducted by her spurned suitor Aglaïdas and a gang of ruffians, the following scene plays out:

As soon as news of this outrageous daring spread in the city and to the household of [Ioustina’s] mother, many strong men, armed with weapons, rushed to meet the brigands. With their appearance alone, they made those appalling abductors flee out of sight—not so much because they yielded to force but rather because they were driven powerfully away by the shame of the deed. Yet Aglaïdas (as his passion was more violent than any feeling of shame) cared neither for the swords nor the crowd nor anything else; instead, he embraced the maiden and was ready to suffer anything rather than be separated from her. Ioustina became instantly like Joseph, that most chaste and most courageous man; holding the sign of the cross before her like a weapon—not against Aglaïdas, but rather against the one who was stealthily attempting to wage war against her through him—, she immediately repelled and pushed back that abominable man. She also poured all sorts of curses upon him and rained blows and spittle upon his face that deserved it.

Like a scene from an old western, the anecdote combines melodrama and acts of derring-do; Ioustina becomes a scrappy heroine, both brave and wise, sensing the presence of greater evil behind the deeds of Aglaïdas.

The Poems of Venantius Fortunatus, edited and translated by Michael Roberts, the Robert Rich Professor of Latin at Wesleyan University, are similarly focused on the lives of individuals. Born in Italy around the year 530, Fortunatus’s poetry, preserved in twelve books collected in this volume, nevertheless found its true subject in the people of his adoptive homeland, Gaul. His poems, varying dramatically in length, take many forms, most frequently panegyrics to the virtues of ecclesiastical or political figures.

Fortunatus often ordered the poems in each book by the status of their subjects; Book III, as Roberts points out, moves along a steady declivity from bishops to deacons. Yet Fortunatus does experiment from time to time with a broader set of subjects. He often praises the buildings about him—especially when doing so is an effective way of praising the buildings’ owners. A poem on Vitalis, Bishop of Ravenna, begins with a sturdy description of a church: “The mighty church is aglow, finished with panels of metal, where without any night day is always present. With its perpetual light the very site bids welcome to God, that he may lovingly enter his home with gracious step.” Of the fourteen poems concerned with Leontius of Bordeaux, Roberts writes, three are dedicated to “describing villas owned by the bishop and the landscape in which they are set,” which conveys “a sense of the status of the villa owner and the order and prosperity his episcopal oversight provides.”

Like the Menologion, the Poems sometimes concern themselves with rebellious women. Fortunatus dedicates a group of poems to the women of the Convent of the Holy Cross in Poitiers—notably, its founder, Radegund, Thuringian princess and erstwhile wife of Chlothar I. Radegund, a friend to both Fortunatus and his mentor and patron Gregory of Tours, is celebrated in early poems as a royal ascetic; in later poems, Fortunatus explores his more intimate personal relationship with her.

Roberts notes that the poems also have their comic moments, displaying a humor that “typically . . . derives from the poet’s supposed appetite for food and drink.” Singling out a scene in which Fortunatus attends a “lavish banquet provided by Mummolenus, an important figure at Sigibert’s court,” Roberts writes of how “Fortunatus suffers an attack of indigestion that he compares, in Virgilian language, to a storm at sea or the blast of a bellows.” The passage, imaginative and rife with overstatement and ironic solemnity, is a sterling example of self-deprecating humor:

Large platters were piled high with generous helpings; the dish was laden and piled up like a hillside. A mountain reared on every side, with a kind of valley in the middle, a convenient space for a fish to pursue its course. It swam in a world where oil was water, where the dish was turf, and the table took the place of the sea. Before anything else, though, I was presented with delicate fruit that bear the name “Persian” in common parlance. He grew weary with the giving (but I did not grow weary of eating), as he urged me on with his words, pressing on me more food. Soon enough my belly suddenly grew large as if I was about to give birth, and I marveled that my stomach had so swelled in size. Inside thunderclaps sounded with varied reports; east wind and south were throwing my belly into turmoil. Not so is the sand stirred up by the storms of Aeolus nor a ship driven adrift on the sea so shivered, not so are bellows inflated by the blast of winds, the instruments the fire-scorched smith uses to service his hammers.

Accustomed to describing others, Fortunatus eschews self-reflection in depicting himself. He finds convivial foibles and a dash of absurdity, nothing too laudable. And yet, the beauty of the language, the playfulness of the register, and the ease with which he slips into it—the pleasure taken in writing, the adroitness of the execution—are a song of praise in their own right.

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Jan Ziolkowski Elected to the American Philosophical Society

Posted on Jul 06, 2017 10:11 AM by Press |
Jan Ziolkowski Elected to the American Philosophical Society

Jan Ziolkowski, director of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection and Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Medieval Latin at Harvard University, has been elected to the American Philosophical Society. The oldest learned society in the United States, it was founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin for the purpose of “promoting useful knowledge.” The Society has inducted 5,573 members since its inception.

Jan Ziolkowski (AB Princeton University, PhD University of Cambridge) has focused his research and teaching on the literature of the Latin Middle Ages. Within medieval literature his special interests have included the classical tradition, the grammatical and rhetorical tradition, the appropriation of folktales into Latin, and Germanic epic in Latin language. More comparatively, he has developed broad interests in medieval revivalism down to the present day. At Harvard he has chaired the Department of Comparative Literature, the Committee on Medieval Studies, and (fleetingly) the Department of the Classics. He founded the Medieval Studies Seminar, which continues to hold regular meetings open to the public in the Barker Center. Ziolkowski teaches courses mainly in classics (medieval Latin) and medieval studies. He also currently directs Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, a Harvard center in Washington, DC, with programs in Byzantine studies, Pre-Columbian studies, and garden and landscape studies.

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Dumbarton Oaks Newsletters

James N. Carder (June 2017)

Posted on Jun 27, 2017 11:17 AM by James N. Carder |
Dumbarton Oaks Newsletters

The newsletter that you are reading, The Oaks News: A Monthly Bulletin from Dumbarton Oaks, is the latest in a succession of news bulletins dating back to 1941 that have been published at Dumbarton Oaks. The Oaks News had its first digital issue in February 2012 and continues to be published monthly for the staff, alumni, and friends of Dumbarton Oaks in order to inform them of the institution's varied activities in all departments. Copies of all newsletters, both historic and current and both in print and digital formats, are preserved in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives.


The Underworld Courier Vol. I, No. I (January 11, 1941) The Underworld Courier Vol. I, No. I (January 11, 1941)

The earliest newsletter, the Underworld Courier, was a private publication produced by Dumbarton Oaks staff to keep the founders, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, then residing in California, abreast of developments and happenings at the nascent research library and collection. Twenty-one issues were printed between January and November 1941.


Dumbarton Oaks Newsletter Vol. I, No. 1 (January 1979) Dumbarton Oaks Newsletter Vol. I, No. 1 (January 1979)

Between January 1979 and April 1982, nine issues of the Dumbarton Oaks Newsletter were produced for staff. The 1979 issues are interesting as they chronicle the ever-increasing need for library shelving space, a need that was never completely solved until the completion in 2005 of the Robert Venturi-designed library. As construction began to install third-floor shelving stacks in the Main House, the newsletter of January 1979 stated:

It’s estimated that the renovated third floor stacks, the compact shelving in the basement, together with shelving in the Reading Room, Reference Room, Catalogue Room, second floor halls and the Library offices, will accommodate close to 130,000 volumes. This will allow for a growth of approximately 40,000 volumes, which means that at the average annual growth rate of 2,500 volumes, the Byzantine Library Collection will have enough space for about sixteen years. As far as the future in concerned, we can safely predict that with new technologies, especially microform holdings of periodicals, more space can be obtained after the initial sixteen years’ growth will be used up. [Vol. I, no. 1 (January 1979)]

A hiatus in newsletter production occurred between 1982 and 1994, at which time the Byzantine Studies program began publishing its own digital newsletter, first annually and later intermittently until its last issue in January 2015. Similarly, the Garden and Landscape Studies program initiated Landscape Matters: News from GLS @ Dumbarton Oaks in 2008. This annual digital publication occurs each fall.


In the Know at D.O. Newsletter, Vol 1, No. 1 (July 2009) In the Know at D.O. Newsletter, Vol 1, No. 1 (July 2009)

In July 2009, the first institutional digital newsletter was launched, In the Know at D.O., which was issued monthly until February 2013.

And most recently, the Dumbarton Oaks Communications Manager began publishing a digital staff newsletter on April 14, 2017, the Director's Office Weekly Bulletin.

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