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Dumbarton Oaks/HMML Syriac Summer School

July 10 to August 6, 2016

Dumbarton Oaks, in collaboration with the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library  (HMML), announces a new intensive four-week introduction to Syriac language and paleography in summer of 2016. The program, sponsored and funded by Dumbarton Oaks, will be hosted at HMML, located on the campus of Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota. The summer school will include a long weekend in Washington, D.C., to visit Dumbarton Oaks and other institutions in the area to learn more about their resources for Byzantine and Eastern Christian studies. The school will run from July 10 to August 6, 2016. The audience is doctoral students or recent PhDs who can demonstrate a need to learn Syriac for their research.

Approximately ten places will be available. All costs apart from travel to and from Saint John’s University (nearest airport: Minneapolis–St. Paul) will be covered by Dumbarton Oaks. Students will be charged no tuition fees for the summer school, and will be provided with housing and meals. During the visit to Washington, their travel expenses, accommodations, lunches, and entrance fees will also be covered by the program.

The program welcomes international applicants, but does not sponsor J visas.

Course Offerings

The Summer School will consist of morning and afternoon sessions Monday-Friday, complemented by guest lectures and other learning opportunities, as well as social events and enjoyment of the beautiful 2,700-acre campus and its woods, lakes, and notable architecture.

Each morning session will be devoted to the study of the Syriac language. The first two weeks will focus upon J. F. Coakley’s sixth edition of Robinson’s Paradigms and Exercises in Syriac Grammar (Oxford, 2013). Classes will entail grammatical instruction and review of forms. Prior familiarity with basic Syriac grammar is not a prerequisite, but would be advantageous. The second two weeks will concentrate upon in-class reading of Syriac prose texts from the Peshitta New Testament, supplemented with short selections from Aphrahat, Ephrem, and Jacob of Serugh.

Each afternoon session will provide orientation in the reading of Syriac manuscripts of all periods from the major script-types. It will incorporate Syriac language learning alongside instruction in paleography and codicology. Examples will be drawn from HMML’s vast collection of digitized Syriac manuscripts. Students will have the opportunity to hone and challenge the language skills acquired in the morning sessions by reading snippets of text, including colophons, while gaining a foundational experience in deciphering Syriac manuscripts from various communities and time periods.

Following this intensive course, students will be fully equipped to continue reading on their own or to enter Syriac reading courses at other institutions.


Scott Johnson, University of Oklahoma (Syriac language)

Adam McCollum, University of Vienna (Syriac manuscripts)

Accommodation and Costs

Students will be housed in shared apartments on the Saint John’s University campus. Each participant will have a private bedroom and bathroom, with shared kitchen and laundry facilities. A meal contract at the student Refectory will be provided.

Requirements for Admission

Applicants must be enrolled doctoral students in good standing with a demonstrated need to learn Syriac for their research, or recent PhDs, including early-career faculty members, who can demonstrate the value of Syriac for their teaching and research. A basic familiarity with the Syriac alphabet and principal script-forms will be presumed. Those accepted into the program will be informed about resources to help them in their preparation.

Application Procedure

Applications are due January 15, 2016. The application letter should include a description of the applicant’s academic background (including language skills) and an explanation for why learning Syriac is important for future research and teaching. Letters should be no more than two single-spaced pages in length. Along with those, the applicant should send a curriculum vitae. Graduate-student applicants should also supply a transcript of the graduate school coursework (or undergraduate transcript if the former is not available). Two letters of recommendation should be sent separately.

The application letter and recommendations should be addressed to Fr. Columba Stewart, OSB, Executive Director of HMML. Letters and other materials may be sent as email attachments to with “Syriac Summer School” in the subject line.

Applicants will be evaluated on the basis of previous academic achievement, demonstrated need for intensive study of Syriac, and research promise. Awards will be announced in late February 2016, and must be accepted by March 15, 2016.

About Dumbarton Oaks

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection is an institute in Washington, D.C., administered by the Trustees for Harvard University. It supports research and learning internationally in Byzantine, Garden and Landscape, and Pre-Columbian studies through fellowships and internships, meetings, and exhibitions. Located in residential Georgetown, Dumbarton Oaks welcomes researchers at all career stages who come to study its books, objects, images, and documents. It opens its doors to the public to visit its historic Gardens, designed by Beatrix Farrand; its Museum, with world-class collections of art; and its Music Room, for lectures and concerts. The institute disseminates knowledge through its own publications (such as Dumbarton Oaks Papers and symposium volumes) as well as through the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (published by Harvard University Press). Dumbarton Oaks also makes accessible ever more of its resources freely online.

The founding donors, Robert Woods Bliss and Mildred Barnes Bliss, called upon future policy-makers “to remember that Dumbarton Oaks is conceived in a new pattern, where quality and not number shall determine the choice of its scholars; that it is the home of the Humanities, not a mere aggregation of books and objects of art; that the house itself and the gardens have their educational importance and that all are of humanistic value.” These ambitions continue to guide Dumbarton Oaks, but with close attention to ensuring that the Blisses’ “new pattern” retains its vitality through constant renewal.

About Saint John’s University

Saint John’s Abbey and University is located in central Minnesota approximately 90 miles northwest of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Set amid 2,700 acres of varied terrain, the campus is remarkable in its natural beauty and includes wetlands, several lakes, an oak savanna, a restored prairie, and hiking trails that wind through an extensive pine and hardwood forest.  The natural beauty of the landscape inspires spiritual and artistic reflection and fosters the Benedictine traditions of creativity, scholarship, education and environmental respect. The buildings at Saint John's date from the 1860s and are arranged in a series of quadrangles and courtyards. The Abbey Church, one of 10 campus buildings designed by renowned mid-century modernist architect Marcel Breuer, commands a central presence. With its towering bell banner and three-story wall of stained glass, the Abbey Church is among the most striking pieces of 20th-century architecture in the world.

Saint John’s University has an undergraduate college for men in partnership with the College of Saint Benedict for women, as well as a graduate School of Theology.  Saint John’s is also home to Saint John’s Preparatory School, the Liturgical Press, the Episcopal House of Prayer, the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, Saint John’s Pottery, and the Saint John’s Arboretum. Saint John's is also the home of The Saint John's Bible, the first handwritten, illuminated Bible commissioned in the western world in more than 500 years.