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At the Center of Empire

February 25, 2017 | Byzantine Studies Teaching Fellows’ Day

The 2017 Teaching Fellows’ Day will focus on Constantinople, the capital city of Byzantium, and its place at the heart of the artistic, ceremonial, political, and ideological life of the empire. The speakers will consider how different categories of evidence—textual, visual, and material—offer multiple entry points into our understanding of Constantinople’s place at the center of empire.

Please note: This event is open to students from D.C.–area universities, and is by invitation only. The event will take place from 9:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Oak Room in the Fellowship House at 1700 Wisconsin Avenue NW.

Teaching Fellows’ Day 2017


9:15    Arrival and Coffee

9:30    Welcome by Jan Ziolkowski and Elena Boeck

9:45    “Reflections of a Capital City,” Elizabeth Dospel Williams

10:25    “Constantinople is Broken,” Jonathan Shea

11:05    “From Imperial City to Urban Empire: Constantinople in the Fifteenth Century,” Nathanael Aschenbrenner

11:45    Group Photograph

12:00    Lunch

1:00    Tours of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection

3:00    Discussion

3:30    Program Ends

Speakers and Abstracts

Elizabeth Dospel Williams, “Reflections of a Capital City”

To envision the bustling streets, majestic monuments, and elegantly attired citizens of Constantinople requires an active imagination. This paper draws from textual accounts, surviving monuments, and museum objects to call to mind the cosmopolitan center of early Byzantine Constantinople and to argue for its profoundly cross-cultural character.

Elizabeth Dospel Williams is Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in Byzantine Art History at the George Washington University. At Dumbarton Oaks, she works on the cataloguing and exhibition of late antique and medieval textiles.

Jonathan Shea, “Constantinople is Broken”

In the accounts of the political upheavals of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, much of the anger directed at the government was aimed at a system that was deemed to be failing specific groups. This paper will trace the building resentment toward the elite of the capital and examine the transformations that took place under Alexios Komnenos and his supporters.

Jonathan Shea is Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in Byzantine History, Sigillography, and Numismatics at the George Washington University. At Dumbarton Oaks, he works on the Byzantine seals online catalogue.

Nathanael Aschenbrenner, “From Imperial City to Urban Empire: Constantinople in the Fifteenth Century”

By the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, this “Queen of Cities” had transformed from the capital of the empire to the empire itself. This paper asks how the Byzantines perceived the city’s political, ideological, and metaphysical role in the context of the rapidly shrinking imperial territory and regional influence, and considers the ways both Byzantines and other Europeans reflected on the loss of the city.

Nathanael Aschenbrenner is a William R. Tyler Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks and a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Harvard University. As a Tyler fellow, he has worked as an assistant editor on the Byzantine Greek series of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library.