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The World Beyond the City

2017 Pre-Columbian Studies symposium

Posted on Dec 15, 2017 02:59 PM by Bailey Trela |
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The World Beyond the City

Twenty-five miles northeast of present-day Mexico City, the remains of Teotihuacan still present a remarkable scene, the site’s monumental pyramids and wide, open avenues gesturing at its former significance. One of only two cities in the New World ever to number a residential population of more than 100,000, Teotihuacan’s influence extended widely over Mesoamerica, from central Mexico to as far away as the Maya lowlands.

On October 6 and 7, Dumbarton Oaks held its annual Pre-Columbian Studies symposium, “Teotihuacan: The World Beyond the City.” Organized by Barbara Arroyo of the Instituto de Antropología e Historia de Guatemala, Kenneth Hirth of Pennsylvania State University, and David Carballo of Boston University, the symposium was aimed at addressing Teotihuacan’s influence and evaluating the city’s internal organization and external interactions in light of recent studies, research, and data.

The first day of the symposium began with a series of joint remarks by Kenneth Hirth and Director of Pre-Columbian Studies Colin McEwan. McEwan emphasized that this year’s meeting moved on from previous thematic symposia, forming part of a series that encompasses “Chavín and its Neighbors” next year, followed by “Mesoamerican-South American Relations Revisited” in 2019 that together emphasize a hemispheric approach. Ken Hirth then offered a brief introduction to Teotihuacan’s art, religion, and architecture, pointing out themes and structures, like the city’s unique apartment compounds, that would appear frequently in the pursuant talks.

Michael E. Smith of Arizona State University began the symposium’s first session with a talk that clearly delineated the architectural, social, and political features that made Teotihuacan unique—and those that didn’t. “Teotihuacan: Urban Center, Global City, Mesoamerican Anomaly” noted, for instance, the “normal” presence of a great compound in the city and the “unusual” absence of a ballcourt or obvious palace structure.

New urban design ideas in the city’s layout, Smith explained, included orthogonal planning, organization around a central avenue rather than a central plaza, and the much-discussed apartment compounds, which numbered about two thousand at the city’s height. While apartment-based living arrangements in similarly advanced societies typically served as housing for the urban poor, the spacious apartments of Teotihuacan, replete with patios, drains, and murals, amounted to “luxury housing,” and were the standard in the city. The apartments were thus a sign of another unusual aspect of life in Teotihuacan: it was remarkably egalitarian, with surprisingly little wealth inequality.

The next talk, by David Carballo of Boston University, examined the conflicted scholarly understanding of political power structures in Teotihuacan. Debates on the city’s internal power structures often center around whether the city was ruled by a single sovereign individual or a committee. Carballo’s talk analyzed the city’s art and architecture to suss out the underlying ideologies that might have determined this structure.

Iconographical programs in the city, he explained, tended to “universalize, rather than individualize,” a trait that would have emphasized social roles over the individual. Monumental sculpture in Teotihuacan was often religious, “of and for the gods,” subordinating the human to the divine. Throughout his talk, Carballo discussed the constant reclassification of Teotihuacan—was it a tributary polity? A city-state?—while emphasizing that political “centralization does not equal autocratic or individualistic” rule, but instead should only connote “a powerful government with legitimate authority.”

Kenneth Hirth of Pennsylvania State University followed this with a discussion of Teotihuacan’s urban economy and its interregional interaction. “Teotihuacan Economy from the Inside Out” broke down the levels of production—the household unit’s production of small obsidian, for instance—and described the basic characteristics of the city’s urban economy, including its reliance on a central great compound marketplace and the fact that roughly two-thirds of the city’s population was engaged in farming.

Hirth explained that while a state-managed economic model should not be entirely discarded, external economic interactions were not as tightly controlled as has been supposed—Teotihuacan did not strictly control the export of green obsidian, for instance. Ultimately, Hirth proposed that Teotihuacan’s external economic relations are best explained by a model of corporate commercialism directed by elites.  

Debora Nichols of Dartmouth College began the day’s second session with a talk on the political, economic, and social factors that structured Teotihuacan’s interactions with its hinterlands: “Early States and Hinterlands: Teotihuacan and Central Mexico.” While these interactions have typically been interpreted as highly centralized, Nichols sought to reevaluate this view using recent surveys and research. The flow of individuals in and out of the city, she asserted, was constantly being affected not only by market-based concerns, but also by natural disasters that forced abrupt settlement pattern changes.

Nichols ended her talk by examining regional administrative centers, sites like Cerro Portezuelo that played a role in the distribution of goods. It remains unclear whether the sites were established by the city, and if their operations were directed by the state. Evidence of ceramic sourcing at Cerro Portezuelo, however, seems to undermine the solar model of economic distribution—wherein all goods flow in and then out of Teotihuacan, directed by an administrative hierarchy—and suggest that Teotihuacan didn’t necessarily direct regional economies.

Gabriela Uruñuela of the Universidad de las Americas, Puebla, next delivered a paper cowritten with Patricia Plunket, of the same institution. “Interwoven Discourses” explored Teotihuacan’s interaction with Cholula, another great Classic period center in Mesoamerica’s central highlands. While we know comparatively little about Cholula and its size and internal organization, an analysis of its art and architecture in comparison with those of Teotihuacan, Uruñuela suggested, can help us understand how the two sites publicly demonstrated power and ideology.

Notably, Uruñuela described the relation between the two sites’ art and architecture as “similar rhythms but different lyrics.” A comparison of the Moon Pyramid and Tlachihualtepetl, the Great Pyramid of Cholula, for instance, shows that both underwent a multistage building period, with similar modifications made in each stage. And in mural painting, Uruñuela contended, the styles of the two cities were so similar that “the themes that each wanted to express resulted in the difference of the murals, nothing else.”

Nawa Sugiyama of George Mason University next delivered a paper cowritten with William Fash of Harvard University and Barbara Fash of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. “The Maya at Teotihuacan?” offered new insights into Teotihuacan-Maya interactions, examining evidence unearthed at the Plaza of the Columns Complex in 2016 and 2017.

While evidence of Teotihuacan influence in Mayan political centers is bountiful, evidence of the presence of foreign dignitaries in the Teotihuacan heartland is much sparser. Describing the exceptions to this state of affairs, Sugiyama discussed the discovery of three individuals with Maya jewelry inside a dedicatory cache at the Moon Pyramid, the second-largest pyramid in Teotihuacan, and mural paintings that depict numerous characteristically Mayan personages and glyphic elements. The largest section of Sugiyama’s talk focused on mural fragments recently discovered at the Plaza of the Columns Complex, exciting finds, Sugiyama explained, that “are so faithful to the Mayan tradition, they are almost certainly the work of Maya artists.”

Matthew Robb of the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles, closed the first day’s proceedings with a discussion of curious four-part composite sculptures discovered in Teotihuacan that link the city to contemporaneous sites on the Gulf Coast. “Interlaced Scrolls and Feathered Banners” offered a detailed analysis of the archaeological, aesthetic, and social contexts of these sculptures.

Suggesting that similar sculptures were in fact stone versions of feathered banners, Robb parsed their potential significance, dwelling on the modularity of the markers and positing that they might have been disassembled and moved about on a regular basis. As markers of space, the sculptures might have played a social and ceremonial role—“perhaps we’re dealing with a system where two individual markers had to be brought together from two communities to properly define a space”—while as markers of culture the sculptures signal interactions between Teotihuacan and sites like El Tajín, on the Gulf Coast, and Tikal.

Wesley Stoner of the University of Arkansas delivered a paper cowritten with Marc Marino of the same institution, opening the symposium’s third section. “Disembedded Networks of Interaction between Teotihuacan and the Gulf Lowlands” focused on the material evidence of Teotihuacan presence in the region.

Dividing manifestations of Teotihuacan-related interaction into five classes—political, economic, ceramic homologues, household religion, and state religion—Stoner and Marino schematized the interactions between Teotihuacan and several sites in the Gulf Lowlands, including Matacapan. Presenting a diversity index that showed greater or lesser assimilation of Teotihuacan culture at each studied site, Stoner and Marino dissected the unitary concept of Teotihuacan expansion, showing how some sites, for instance, exhibited a bias in appropriation, accepting some aspects of influence, like economic interaction, while rejecting others. 

Following this, Gary Feinman of the Field Museum of Natural History presented a paper cowritten with Linda Nichols of the same institution. “Teotihuacan and Oaxaca: A Synthetic Reevaluation of Prehispanic Relations” reexamined the city’s ties with Monte Albán, another monumental highland city. The Oaxaca barrio in Teotihuacan was a five-hectare zone that held roughly fourteen multifamily compounds and 800–1,000 people. With a long occupation history beginning around the year 200 and ending with the decline of the city, the barrio, Feinman asserted, is an important point of study when researching Teotihuacan’s external mechanisms of communication and interaction.

Feinman noted that high volumes of exotic pottery have been found in the barrio, suggesting exchange as a raison d’être for the colony. Ceramics, he contended, were used to connect the resident population to Oaxaca through rituals of birth, death, and perhaps even the solar cycle, as evidenced by the presence of ceramic whistles. Residential architecture in the barrio likewise related to contemporaneous architecture in the valley of Oaxaca.

Marcello Canuto of Tulane University and the Middle American Research Institute next delivered a paper cowritten with Marc Zender, also of Tulane University. “The Materiality of Hegemony” sought to investigate interactions between Teotihuacan and the lowland Maya by examining iconographic allusions and inscriptions on stelae. As Canuto explained, bountiful evidence in Maya art and writing suggests Teotihuacan influence throughout the Early Classic period. But how best to characterize this relationship?

In an attempt to answer this question, a large part of the paper considered stele inscriptions that tracked the progress of Siyaj K’ahk’, a Teotihuacan general, into the political landscape of the lowland Maya in the Early Classic period. The inscriptions recorded a variety of event types, including the subordination of local rulers to Siyaj K’ahk’; together, they allow for a general map of his route to be limned, one that manifests as a pipe-shaped path from Teotihuacan to Tikal. The arrival of Siyaj K’ahk’, Canuto and Zender suggested, would seem to presage a newly hegemonic relationship between Teotihuacan and the lowland Maya. 

To begin the symposium’s final section, Diana Magaloni of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art delivered a paper cowritten with Megan O’Neil of the same institution and María Teresa Uriarte of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. “The Moving Image” delved into the relationship between murals and stucco-painted vessels in order to illuminate the nature of artistic exchange between Teotihuacan and Maya cities. At Teotihuacan, stucco vessels and murals were intimately tied to the apartment compounds, and shared the same color schemes. Magaloni’s paper contended that the stucco vessels constituted a hybrid form integrating ceramics with the mural tradition, capable of transporting the image of the city to distant lands.

Magaloni’s talk also dissected the composition of the vessels, presenting the results of technical analysis carried out at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Most vessels were finished twice, and received their coloring from substances like cinnabar, malachite, and hematite; carbon black was used to emphasize incised lines in the stucco. Overall, Magaloni explained, the artists crafting the vessels privileged color over permanence.

Claudia García-Des Lauriers of the California State Polytechnic University at Pomona next delivered a talk that examined Early Classic period (AD 250–650) interactions between Teotihuacan and the southeastern Pacific coast of Mesoamerica. “Gods, Cacao, and Obsidian” looked at material evidence linking Teotihuacan and coastal sites, including Teotihuacan-style vessels and green obsidian beads found in Izapa, Chiapas—evidence, as García-Des Lauriers contended, that elite goods were being imported, and not simply ceramics. She also highlighted the importance of shells gathered from coastal cities that were used in Teotihuacan murals and warrior trophies, as well as being abundant in the city’s famed apartment compounds.

While the presence of cacao in Teotihuacan is difficult to document archaeologically, there is abundant evidence that the bean was important to the city. García-Des Lauriers closed by discussing the exchange of incensarios between regions as evidence for the circulation of religious ideas and practices, a ritual economy that would have encouraged consumption of certain goods.

Barbara Arroyo of the Instituto de Antropología e Historia, Guatemala, delivered the final talk of the symposium, “Teotihuacan, Kaminaljuyu, and the Maya Highlands: New Perspectives on an Old Question.” Working with recent research and new composite data sets, Arroyo sought to update our understanding of the interactions between the two sites, which have been intensely studied since early excavations in the 1930s unearthed Central Mexican ceramics in mounds at Kaminaljuyu.

Kaminaljuyu’s important strategic position in the Maya Highlands, as Arroyo explained, meant it stood in the path of important trade networks; the site’s long history of occupation, from roughly 1000 BC to AD 900, meant its interactions with other societies were extensive. Structural similarities between Kaminaljuyu and Teotihuacan, like their agricultural canals, layouts, and architectural compounds, probably facilitated interactions: “the symbolic meaning of landscape was an important factor shared between these cities.” As Arroyo contended, these symbolic first steps might later have materialized into strong commercial connections.

After Arroyo’s talk, William Fash of Harvard University presented an insightful summary of the symposium’s key issues.

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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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Of Plants and Power

New from Dumbarton Oaks Publications: The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century

Posted on Jan 09, 2017 10:35 AM by Press |
Of Plants and Power

A Swiss doctor pens the first survey of Russia’s fauna. A British opium trader builds an opulent garden with plants culled from Indian and Chinese ports of call on land bought from the Maori in New Zealand. A Mongol monk writes a medical manual in Tibetan on the fringes of the Qing Empire. A Prussian naturalist takes field notes on Peruvian rafts used to haul massive loads of fruit up rivers.

Welcome to the world of The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century, where plants prove even more globally mobile than the people and politics that set them in motion. Imperial geopolitics meets the systematic study of plants—transformed by new discoveries, inventions, and taxonomies—in this book of essays by sixteen scholars working across five continents. Plants were the focus of cutting-edge experimentation, and botany was big business. Opium could build, or topple, a nation; so could the ginseng that cured an addiction. The ability to identify, document, ship, and transplant the right plants built fortunes and projected power. Trading in plants and exploiting their properties became a key way to grow and run an empire.

The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century investigates the ambitions of the nations that sought to use this power; documents some of the “agents of empire” who were its sometimes ambivalent enablers; charts the routes traced by people and plants around the globe; and examines how people and nations alike used plants to fashion identities for themselves. Featuring 183 full-color illustrations reproduced at high quality from prints, books, and paintings, many drawn from the rich collections of the Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection, this book also highlights the artistic merits of the thousands of botanical publications of this age of empires.

The book grew out of a symposium held at Dumbarton Oaks in fall 2013 to celebrate the Rare Book Library’s fiftieth anniversary. Editors Yota Batsaki, Sarah Burke Cahalan, and Anatole Tchikine have brought together contributors from disciplines that include landscape architecture, media studies, comparative literature, archaeology, history, and art history. Readers can also sample its contents through an extensive online exhibit developed in conjunction with the 2013 symposium. Together, The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century and the accompanying exhibit provide indispensable resources for anyone interested in the history of science, the eighteenth century, imperial studies, and the history of globalization.

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New from Dumbarton Oaks Publications

Sign and Design: Script as Image in Cross-Cultural Perspective

Posted on Aug 03, 2016 09:12 AM by Lain Wilson |
New from Dumbarton Oaks Publications

In 2012, an international conference held at Dumbarton Oaks considered cases where image and script were fused into a hybrid sign. Tackling a range of examples from an assortment of cultures, especially those with a natural home at Dumbarton Oaks, the ideas planted then have flowered into a publication, which is being released this month. Editors Brigitte Miriam Bedos-Rezak and Jeffrey Hamburger explain that Sign and Design: Script as Image in Cross-Cultural Perspective marks a shift away from an interest in text and image to a concern for the dialogic role of image in writing.” The book groups its essays into three suggested directions for examining the systems of representation that give script-images meaning: the iconicity of script, text as “imaging the ineffable,” and performativity. Scholars from disciplines including history, art history, and anthropology work in concert to bring together subjects as different as Aztec pictographic writing, Sumerian and Akkadian monuments, and medieval Jewish book art. You can find out more about Sign and Design and purchase it on the Harvard University Press website.

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Notes on the 2016 Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium

Thinking About “Landscape and the Academy”

Posted on Jun 02, 2016 03:44 PM by Lain Wilson |
Notes on the 2016 Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium

The 2016 Garden and Landscape Studies symposium explored the many landscapes of the academy. John Beardsley and Daniel Bluestone presided over four groups of talks that considered not only central campuses but also designed landscapes managed by universities such as gardens, arboretums, and forests. The conference provided opportunities both to reflect on the importance of landscape to Dumbarton Oaks and to explore the complex and constant management of landscape and its larger role in our lives.

The first section of the symposium considered the role of the core campus in the lives and education of students. Joseph Claghorn discussed the monoculture of elms and the significance of their departure from Harvard’s central landscape during the twentieth century and addressed the shifting landscape of the university and the commons. His talk suggested that more diverse communities—whether of plants or students—are also more robust communities.

John Davis and Karen Van Lengen discussed the pedagogical landscapes of vastly different educational institutions on either side of the Hudson River. Davis spoke about West Point and its attempt to use a particular landscape, the “engineer’s garden,” to address a national lack of expertise in military and tactical knowledge in nineteenth-century America. He discussed how nineteenth-century military educators used the “engineer’s garden” at West Point to teach soldiers and citizens to judge a multitude of varying situations. Davis discussed how cadets internalized the landscape of West Point and used its lessons in their later careers. 

In contrast, Van Lengen stressed a different connection between pedagogy and landscape at Vassar College, which was an all-female institution until the late 1960s. Van Lengen focused on how Vassar students made their own landscaping program in response to their surroundings and interests in the environment. Students’ interaction with the landscape at Vassar helped shape the college as an early leader in ecology and conservation. As at West Point, students of Vassar carried conceptions of landscape into their future endeavors. But in the case of Vassar, this was more often in roles of stewardship and preservation of natural landscapes and habitats. Both Davis’s and Van Lengen’s talks addressed the gendered aspects of landscape in American education. They also opened questions about the difference between managing a landscape for practical education as opposed to research.

The middle of the symposium gestured at Garden and Landscape Studies’ continuing effort to bridge history and practice. These sections were crucial in incorporating the perspectives of those who consider themselves primarily practitioners rather than scholars, educators, or historians. Mark Hough and Linda Jewell discussed the various conflicts and compromises involved in reconciling typologies between the campus and the garden at Duke University. Their talk delved into the challenges of balancing the different needs of student use, ecology, pedagogy, and the general public as they interact on the modern campus in America. Hazel Ruth Edwards spoke of the role of landscape as a nurturing force on the Howard University campus. Her talk was strengthened by images drawn from her own familial connections to the institution over generations. Gary Hilderbrand delivered a talk about the Olmsted brothers’ work in designing two campuses, which they hoped would have a transforming effect on the students and university by creating an atmosphere of quiet good taste for the development of character. Hilderbrand’s interest in the Olmsted brothers is informed by his current work developing the same campuses and extending their tree canopies. He noted his role has changed from theirs, as he needs to give voice to a larger number of interested parties involved in these spaces without sacrificing either the intention or the conviction of the projects. The speakers in this section often addressed the question of how to build flexible landscapes. They also concentrated on the need to predict the spaces of the future.

Another session of speakers addressed the role of campus and landscape in changing social and political contexts outside America. John Dixon Hunt spoke of the symbolic and literal changes in the design of buildings and landscapes in the new British universities, in contrast to the older Oxbridge models. Tianjie Zhang discussed the reconfiguration of Chinese university landscapes in the early twentieth century during the period of intense educational reform. Burak Erdim gave an extensive discussion of academy and landscape in Turkey during the Cold War. Finally, Hilary Ballon added a twenty-first-century perspective by speaking about her instrumental role in building NYU Abu Dhabi’s new campus. Her talk raised multiple issues around globalized education and the advantages and limitations of the exported American campus. She also suggested possibilities for the American campus model to adapt to different cultures and contexts around the world. 

The last section discussed community, conservation, and environmental landscape. Peter Alagona talked about the role of field stations in American university research and academic life. He addressed the importance of these spaces in conservation and ecology, particularly in light of California’s ongoing water crisis. Dino Martins from the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya stressed the importance of making scientific research applicable to the lives and challenges of small farmers in East Africa. He also spoke of the importance of understanding the effects of population growth and its impact on wildlife and conservation in the coming century. In conclusion, David Foster spoke about the history and legacy of Harvard Forest and Farm. Foster’s work spans multiple communities across the ecology, research, and education sectors, and both his and Martins’s talks addressed spaces that work as hubs of knowledge negotiating between different interest points.

Speakers at the symposium emphasized the importance of stewardship and ecology. They also noted the opportunity to teach students these concepts and values within the landscapes of the university campus. Among other topics, the symposium raised questions about the limitations of the neoliberal university in the twenty-first century, the increasingly urgent issues of elitism, and the treatment of women. They particularly highlighted the necessity of adaptation as the needs and uses of university landscapes change. Dumbarton Oaks, which transformed from a residence into a research institute with the transfer to Harvard in 1940, is representative of this need for continual adaptation.

As a complement to the symposium, the gardens staff recreated an early modern physic garden once planned on paper by Beatrix Farrand, which she based upon a physic garden in Padua.

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The 1948 Symposium on the Church of the Holy Apostles

The 1948 Symposium on the Church of the Holy Apostles

Beginning in 1941, Dumbarton Oaks has hosted an annual symposium for each of its three fields of study (Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and Garden and Landscape) at which leading specialists unite to present their work on a single topic. In 1948, the focus of the symposium was the Constantinopolitan Church of the Holy Apostles, which was leveled by the Ottomans in 1461. The topic emerged from a joint project begun in 1945 by the professors in residence at Dumbarton Oaks. They sought to reconstruct the monument using literary sources and surviving buildings and their interior ornamentation that possibly had been modeled after the lost Holy Apostles church.

Seeking to build a comprehensive reconstruction of the monument, the Dumbarton Oaks symposium, organized by Albert Mathias Friend Jr. and presided over by Sirarpie Der Nersessian, brought together leading Byzantinists with different specializations. Glanville Downey focused on texts discussing the Church of the Holy Apostles, particularly the work of Constantine the Rhodian and Nicholas Mesarites. Paul A. Underwood studied architectural features and reconstructed possible plans and elevations. Milton V. Anastos worked on the theological aspects of the monument, concentrating on Justinian I’s restoration of the church in the sixth century. Guiding much of the project, Friend had acquired copies of necessary manuscripts for the scholars in addition to photographs of mosaics and wall paintings that might offer evidence supporting their work. He gave two lectures on the reconstruction of the lost mosaic cycle, and Der Nersessian gave two lectures on church mosaics of the period. With each individual providing his own expertise, the project was the fruit of much collaborative labor. Byzantine art historian Kurt Weitzmann summarized the symposium: “It was a very unified program, demonstrating how Friend had been able to get every scholar at Dumbarton Oaks involved in his project.”

Speakers at the 1948 Symposium: Sirarpie Der Nersessian, symposiarch, seated, Milton Anastos, Glanville Downey, Albert M. Friend, Jr., Father Francis Dvornik, and Paul Underwood Speakers at the 1948 Symposium on “The Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople,” left to right: Milton Anastos, Glanville Downey, Albert M. Friend Jr., Francis Dvornik, Paul Underwood, and Sirarpie Der Nersessian (seated)

The structure of this interdisciplinary study roughly followed the model of the 1946 symposium on the Church of Hagia Sophia, which in turn used a collaborative research methodology put in place by Wilhelm Koehler, senior fellow in charge of studies at Dumbarton Oaks between 1941 and 1944 (see posts on Koehler and the Research Archives). Indeed, Friend admitted that the synergetic work on the Holy Apostles church was “not so much an innovation as an attempt to bring into focus what was inherent in Dumbarton Oaks.” Hoping to release a multi-volume publication on the Holy Apostles, the speakers intended to continue work on the project after the symposium was over. However, the scholars’ commitments to other projects and Friend’s illness and eventual death prevented this work from coming to fruition, although the meticulously assembled documents for the symposium remained in the Dumbarton Oaks Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives. Sixty-seven years later, the Byzantine Studies program again took up the topic of the Church of the Holy Apostles for its annual symposium, held April 24–26, 2015, with Margaret Mullett and Robert Ousterhout as symposiarchs. Materials from the early collaboration were made available in an exhibit in the Orientation Gallery and online to coincide with the 2015 symposium.

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Good Ink

Dumbarton Oaks in the news

  • The role of Dumbarton Oaks—and of Director of Byzantine Studies Margaret Mullett—in the continuity of Byzantine Studies and in fostering the field is mentioned in G. W. Bowersock’s review of two recent books by Judith Herrin, “Storms Over Byzantium,” in The New York Review of Books 60, no. 18.
  • The Friends of Music concerts of November 3rd and 4th by pianist Joel Fan were recently reviewed in the Washington Post.
  • The October symposium on "The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century" and Linda Lott's Four Seasons of Flowers were reviewed by Patricia Jonas in the Newsletter of the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries, no. 131 (November 2013).

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Bliss Symposium Award Recipients

Five Harvard students received Bliss Awards that allowed them to attend the "Sign and Design" symposium

Posted on Nov 07, 2012 02:40 PM by lisaw |

Dumbarton Oaks awarded five Bliss Symposium Awards to Harvard students to facilitate attendance of "Sign and Design." The Bliss Awards are intended to enrich students’ academic experience through attendance at Dumbarton Oaks symposia that relate to their fields of studies. Below are reports from four of the award recipients about their experiences attending "Sign and Design."

Emma Langham Brown

Emma is a junior at Harvard University concentrating in Medieval History and Literature and pursuing a secondary field in French Language and Literature. She is particularly interested in medieval materiality, and in conjunction with her department is currently designing a course called Taking Place: Medieval/Material/Culture that has an accompanying blog. Emma writes:

I am honored to have had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C in mid-October for "Sign and Design." I'm fairly certain I was the only undergraduate student there, and I felt a little nervous in the presence of such an array of scholars. But as it turned out, my questions were welcomed. All of the brilliant scholars I met at Dumbarton Oaks were more than happy to talk about medieval scholarship with me, despite my 20-year-old novice-ness. I came away from the conference with 12 pages full of notes, a head full of ideas, some wonderful new friends, and a thesis idea. I was so inspired by the last segment of the conference, "Instrumental Images," in which Ghislain Brunel of the Archives Nationales in Paris and Beatrice Fraenkel of the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales gave brilliant papers that both played on the idea of the signature or the logo in medieval texts, that I would like to consider medieval insignia in tandem with the modern logo for my thesis next year. I am thankful for such a mind-opening experience.

Denva Jackson

Denva is a third-year PhD candidate in the History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University.

While at Dumbarton Oak’s "Sign and Design" symposium this weekend, I was reminded of the reverence given to the word in the medieval and early modern period. Christ was the word made flesh and even though we and theologians of the Middle Ages turn to his representation time and time again, it is actually the word that preceded everything.

Yet, how can we as art historians talk about words? Should we not leave this to our friends in the study of history and literature? I am reminded of the talks given by Katrin Kogman-Appel and Irvin Cemil Schick on Jewish and Islamic art in which words are not only used as signifiers to create meaning but also, through their careful rendering, are meant to be seen in the same light as images. They illustrate reverence; they presence the sacred. We also see that texts can be frames or storehouses for images. Cynthia Hahn in her talk on the Gellone Sacramentary showed us that not only do images punctuate the text, they stand as markers for our attention, focusing our gaze and centering us in the moment.

It has been suggested by scientists that we use the right side of our brain to process images and our left to process text. What, then, should we make of this slippery collision of two different forms of signification? Must we tease them apart as our brain does or can we see them as constantly referring to each other in a sort of dance? I believe the scholars at the "Sign and Design" symposium would suggest the latter and I think those who took part in the creation of the objects wouldn’t disagree.

Erika Loic

Erika is a fourth-year PhD student in the History of Art and Architecture. Her dissertation research is on medieval manuscript illumination, monasticism, and Bibles in medieval Spain.

Prior to October’s "Sign and Design" symposium, I had visited Dumbarton Oaks on two occasions. Each of these prior visits had been organized as a full-day session for a group of students looking at some particular part of the collection, in one instance Byzantine ivories and in another a whole variety of objects from the Pre-Columbian Collection. These sessions were focused, intense, and very much object-based. They also benefited from the participation of fellows, who led us through discussions of objects they knew particularly well.

I bring up these previous visits to give a sense of the great variety of my experiences at Dumbarton Oaks. In contrast to these single-day sessions, the "Sign and Design" symposium offered me something of a very different nature. The speakers who presented papers during these two and a half days were selected meticulously and with an eye to fruitful discussions between scholars in different disciplines. Shared themes emerged elegantly in talks that were—at least superficially—very different. The potential for interdisciplinarity is inherent in the nature and mission of Dumbarton Oaks, but this was the first time that I had been able to participate in it so fully.

My participation in this symposium had almost immediate effects on my teaching and my own studies. Within a week, I was already incorporating some of the images and discussions from "Sign and Design" into the course I am teaching currently, “Picturing the Bible, 300–1300.” In particular, talks by Herbert Kessler and Katrin Kogman-Appel helped me to widen the scope of what I had been teaching.

My one-on-one interactions with the symposium speakers during lunches and evening receptions were also wonderfully and unexpectedly beneficial. I will relate but one single example out of many: although Irene Winter is a Professor Emerita in my own department, I had never had the chance to speak to her until this symposium. Although I am not working in her specific field, she was amazingly generous with her time, offering me some very thoughtful advice on starting (and ultimately finishing!) a dissertation.

I am filled with gratitude toward Dumbarton Oaks for hosting such a rewarding event and for making my visit possible through the Bliss Award. If "Sign and Design" is any indication of what one can expect of a Dumbarton Oaks symposium, then I look forward to many more years of symposium attendance.

Natasha Roule

Natasha is a second-year graduate PhD student in Historical Musicology. Natasha is also pursuing a secondary field degree in Medieval Studies. Her research interests include troubadour music and its reception history, as well as modern interpretations of Early Music.

The rich and sensuous spectacle offered by the gardens, the Music Room, and the presentation slides emphasized one of the symposium’s conclusions: to question the meaning of signs, designs, words, and symbols to engage all the senses. As a student of historical musicology—and in particular of the music and culture of medieval troubadours—this conclusion is especially meaningful to me. Auditory entities, particularly when inscribed and ornamented on the page of a manuscript, also function as signs that provide meaning unique and immediate to their cultures. While presentations recognized that symbols and signs are crystallized in the surface onto which they were inscribed, discussion returned these signs to their human creators and to their original status as objects deeply embedded with immediate meaning.

I am deeply appreciative that I had the opportunity to participate in the "Sign and Design" symposium, and will forever remember the unique feeling of interdisciplinary, scholarly, and humanistic community that it fostered.

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Script as Image at Dumbarton Oaks

A summary of the proceedings of the Sign and Design Symposium

Posted on Nov 07, 2012 02:36 PM by lisaw |
Script as Image at Dumbarton Oaks

Organized by Brigitte Miriam Bedos-Rezak (New York University) and Jeffrey F. Hamburger (Harvard University), the symposium placed the phenomenon of script as image (as opposed to text and image) in a cross-cultural perspective. Participants presented research on the medieval Latin West, the Byzantine East, the Islamic world, Jewish manuscript illumination, and both Pre-Columbian and post-colonial Latin America.

Our age, in which computers have taken over all forms of textual production and promise to give new meaning to late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century concepts of “automatic writing,” has witnessed a widespread nostalgia for, or at least sympathetic interest in, older, more personalized forms of writing, such as calligraphy, glyphs, and graffiti. The relationship between word and image has long been a staple of scholarship. Of these, ut pictura poesis is only the most familiar. Ekphrasis is another. Variations on the text-image paradigm include oppositions between oral and written, hearing and seeing, and, in the medieval West, Latin and the vernaculars -- a hierarchy of languages, both spoken and written, that varies in its relationship to visual forms of expression. Whereas semiotics insisted on the linguistic nature of all systems of representation, and Derrida’s deconstruction, building on Saussurian linguistics, emphasized the logocentricity of Western thought, the anthropological turn in the Humanities has redirected attention to the ways in which images and imagistic modes of presentation augment and enhance the primacy, presence, and power of speech. The symposium sought to tap into and interrogate the newfound interest in presence, or in the production of effects of presence; in issues of agency -- the agency, not only of human actors, but also of objects; and in the role of materiality in the production of meaning.

Contributors explored ways in various cultural traditions have organized the relationship between image and letter, whether in terms of equivalency, complementarity, or polarity. Papers explored those situations in which letter and image were fused, forming hybrid signs that had no vocal equivalent and were not necessarily bound to any specific language. It emerged that while imagistic scripts work on the visible, troubling representation, they also challenge the legible in terms of linguistic signification. The incorporation of figures, objects, colors, even events, within the letter insists on the material dimension of the sign. As the iconicity of the letter transforms reading into gazing, the script-like character of the image compels consideration of the co-signification of sign forms. In mediating each other into altered formats, the script-image disrupts a-priori models and ideas and thus redefines both text and image in terms of their signifying and representational processes. The disruptive effect of imagistic script inheres in a suspension of meaning that defamiliarizes the system of representation and signification in which it was produced and circulated.

Looking at the material and visual dimensions of script, including pictographic, ideographic and logographic writing systems, as well as alphabetic scripts, the contributors offered a variety of ways to consider this entire nexus of issues. Are the visual dimensions of script essential or extraneous? Do they merely shape expression or are they constitutive of meaning? Such questions go to the heart of the relationship between representation and reality.

Participants pictured above are (back row) Irvin Cemil Schick, Ivan Drpić, Cynthia Hahn, Didier Méhu, Ghislain Brunel, Elizabeth Boone, Tom Cummins, Anne-Marie Christin, Beatrice Fraenkel, Antony Eastmond, Vincent Debiais, Herbert Kessler, Irene Winter, (front row) Katrin Kogman-Appel, Brigitte Bedos-Rezak, and Jeffrey Hamburger.

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The Measure and Meaning of Time in the Americas

A summary of the 2012 Pre-Columbian Studies symposium

Posted on Nov 07, 2012 02:36 PM by lisaw |
The Measure and Meaning of Time in the Americas

Pre-Columbian Studies was both honored and delighted to host 130 scholars over the Columbus Day weekend for its annual symposium, The Measure and Meaning of Time in the Americas. Organized by Anthony Aveni of Colgate University, the program brought together a group of scholars from diverse disciplines to address the ritual and calendrical representation of temporal existence in the Mesoamerican and Andean worlds. Speakers included Alfredo López Austin (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), William Barnes (University of St. Thomas, Minnesota), Harvey Bricker (Tulane University), Victoria Bricker (Tulane University), Linda Brown (George Washington University), Jahl Dulanto (DePauw University), Markus Eberl (Vanderbilt University), Richard Landes (Boston University), John Monaghan (University of Illinois at Chicago), Stella Nair (University of California, Los Angeles), Juan Ossio (Universidad Pontificia Católica del Peru), and Tristan Platt (University of St. Andrews). The meaning of time in the ancient Americas was compared with both conceptual and functional meanings among other cultures. Pre-Columbian Studies looks forward to the resulting publication.

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Now on View: The Ancient Future

Mesoamerican and Andean Timekeeping

Now on View: The Ancient Future

The Aztec, Maya, and Inca civilizations used complex and multiple timekeeping systems for purposes of agriculture, worship, and political authority. Because little of the material record of the pre-Conquest peoples of the Americas survived, scholars through the ages have had limited primary sources to study in order to reach a comprehensive understanding of timekeeping in the Americas.

The Library’s newest exhibit was prepared to coincide with the recent Pre-Columbian Studies symposium, "The Measure and Meaning of Time in the Americas." The online exhibit further explores these themes.

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Sign and Design Symposium

Posted on Jul 06, 2012 09:55 AM by lisaw |
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Sign and Design Symposium

Dumbarton Oaks is pleased to announce the symposium Sign and Design: Script as Image in a Cross-Cultural Perspective (300–1600 CE), which will take place at Dumbarton Oaks from October 12 to October 14, 2012. During the three-day conference, co-organized by Brigitte Bedos-Rezak (New York University) and Jeffrey F. Hamburger (Harvard University), scholars of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Arabic, and Pre-Columbian cultures from numerous disciplines—art history, history, literature, religion, linguistics, and law—will come together to consider the purpose, operations, agency, and specular forms of iconic scripts. Please visit the symposium’s webpage for further information, including abstracts, the program, and a registration form.

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Food and the City

2012 Garden and Landscape Studies Symposium

Posted on Jun 01, 2012 03:55 PM by lisaw |
Food and the City

The intricate interrelationship between urban context and food production, central to the current debate on sustainability, was the focus of the 2012 Garden and Landscape Studies symposium at Dumbarton Oaks. The conference explored the links between culture and cultivation, with particular attention to the modern era and urbanization schemes that engaged the production of food, either as a means to achieve self-sufficiency, or as part of a ruralist perspective. As the city displaced food production further from its center, the relationship between living, working, and eating became more abstract. Today, this relationship is tested across planning and community design schemes: American suburban developments include agricultural land as a conservation measure and a nostalgic nod to a pre-agribusiness countryside; European designers focus on the suburban-rural interface to develop a new type of productive landscape, one performing simultaneously as an open space system and an agricultural laboratory; and in cities like Kampala, Uganda, or Rosario, Argentina, urban agriculture is part of a participatory design process that integrates housing programs.

Organized by Dorothée Imbert, the symposium provided a critical historical framework for today's urban agriculture by discussing the multiple scales, ideologies, and contexts of productive landscapes, from allotment gardens to regional plans. Topics included the production and distribution of food in relation to human settlement and urban form, from German Siedlungen to Italian Fascist new towns, and Israeli kibbutzim to contemporary Tokyo. The conference placed particular emphasis on the efforts of modern and early-modern landscape architects, garden designers, and architects/planners to reconcile the demands of feeding cities and regions with the exigencies of urban expansion.

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Rome Re-Imagined: Byzantine and Early Islamic Africa, c. 500–800

2012 Byzantine Studies Symposium

Posted on May 04, 2012 05:10 PM by lisaw |
Rome Re-Imagined: Byzantine and Early Islamic Africa, c. 500–800

The short period of Byzantine rule in the Maghreb belies the region’s importance to the empire in the sixth and seventh centuries. Given the profound economic and strategic significance of the province of “Africa,” the territory was also highly contested in the Byzantine period—by the empire itself, Berber kingdoms, and eventually also Muslim Arabs—as each of these groups sought to gain, retain control of, and exploit the region to its own advantage. In light of this charged history, scholars have typically taken the failure of the Byzantine endeavor in Africa as a foregone conclusion. The symposium sought to reassess this pessimistic vision both by examining those elements of Romano-African identity that provided continuity in a period of remarkable transition, and by seeking to understand the transformations in African society in the context of developments in the larger post-Roman Mediterranean. An international group of researchers from North America, Europe, and North Africa, including both well-established and emerging scholars, addressed topics including the legacy of Vandal rule in Africa, historiography and literature, art and architectural history, the archaeology of cities and their rural hinterlands, the economy, the family, theology, the cult of saints, Berbers, and the Islamic conquest, in an effort to consider the ways in which the imperial legacy was re-interpreted, re-imagined, and put to new uses in Byzantine and early Islamic Africa.

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