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Frontier Spaces: Imagining Eastern Europe, ca. 750–900

Jakub Kabala, Harvard University, William Tyler Fellow 2011–2013

My year at Dumbarton Oaks significantly advanced my dissertation on the Slavic world between the eighth and tenth centuries. My project is a study of the imagination and representation of the Slavic world in early medieval western, Byzantine and Slavonic written sources. During my first year of the Tyler Fellowship I had the opportunity to delve into the material culture of the region as a visiting scholar at the Archaeological Institute of the Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt, Germany. During this second year, in residence at DO, I focused my writing on the written sources. The excellent library holdings proved invaluable to my research and ensured that I stayed current with the literature. My thinking also benefited greatly from the lively community of scholars in residence, many of whom, I was pleasantly surprised to learn, are also actively engaged in questions of space and mental geography in the Byzantine and pre-Columbian worlds. The representation of space in early medieval texts often seems to be a projection of power built on the ways in which societies managed their wealth and resources.

During this second year of the Tyler Fellowship in Byzantine Studies I also contributed to ongoing institutional efforts to catalogue the 17,000 Byzantine lead seals in the Dumbarton Oaks collection. I worked on building a digital map of the several thousand seals bearing geographical data. This project helped me think about my own research by giving me yet another angle on the early medieval understanding and organization of space and territory. I am undertaking a similar mapping project of seals, albeit on a smaller scale, in the part of my dissertation devoted to the Byzantine-Bulgarian borderlands.