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Letter from Albert Friend to Paul Sachs, November 7, 1945

Letter from Albert Friend to Paul Sachs, November 7, 1945

November 7, 1945

Professor Paul J. Sachs

Chairman of the Administrative Committee

Dumbarton Oaks


Dear Paul:


It is my duty and pleasure as Henri Focillon Scholar in charge of Research at Dumbarton Oaks to make to you as Chairman of the Administrative Committee a brief general report of the work of the last academic year and to present for your thought certain considerations which, in the light of my experience, seem to me of pressing importance for the future development of Dumbarton Oaks. I regret only that I am not able to share in the responsibility for that future as fully as I could have wished.


In the past year the adoption by the Committee and Board of an articulated and comprehensive program of publication was the gauge that Dumbarton Oaks meant to become of age as a research institution. As much as possible during this last year the scholarly work was centered in the production of papers and books which will see light as parts of the fruits of that program. Dumbarton Oaks Papers No. 3, representing research before my incumbency, will be published before the end of this calendar year. The Papers No. 4, embodying some of the work of last year, is in my hands and nearly ready to print. Two of the Volumes have materially progressed and this largely because of that peculiar cooperation of Scholars, Fellows and Junior Fellows in various fields of learning, which Dumbarton Oaks makes possible.


In the last of the war years, by the happy fortune that other institutions were willing to release certain of their scholars to Dumbarton Oaks, a not unfruitful year was made possible. I put it this way to emphasize the temporary and precarious character of the whole scholarly personnel of this institution. This year we made every effort again to maintain or gather together a homogeneous group to carry of the work. In what has turned out to be the first post war year we have managed to get a smaller but more mature collection of scholars. Yet even in the first week of the new year I was forced to relinquish a man on whom I had counted heavily for the scholarly program. Alexander was called to a position which may become permanent at Hobart College. So we lost, I hope only for a time, a first rate Byzantine historian, because of the obviously temporary and improvised nature of our research structure. We can hardly expect to attract or to hold scholars of power on a system of one year appointments unless other institutions can always be counted upon to supply our needs by granting successive leaves to their best men in our field. And with the coming of peace those same men may well prefer to spend their leaves in Europe and in the Near East, collecting first hand material for your studies. No comprehensive or significant program of scholarship can be inaugurated or continued at Dumbarton Oaks until the method of appointments and tenure of the scholars has been put on a more permanent basis. Each year the improvisation becomes more difficult and now the end of the war makes it imperative to decide as soon as possible what the long range future and aim of Dumbarton Oaks is to be.


I hope I shall be pardoned, since I am not to be the Director, if from now on I may seem over-explicit or even presumptuous in any or some recommendations, but my deep interest in Byzantine studies and desire to be of any service to Dumbarton Oaks, to which I already owe so much, must plead in excuse of my temerity.


For the successful future of Dumbarton Oaks as a scholarly institution there is needed, so it seems to me, three essentials aside from physical resources.


  1. First there must be a comprehensive program of research which steadily contributes to an attainable and significant goal.
  2. There must be a continuing permanent and semi-permanent group of scholars to carry on this program.
  3. There must be an even closer relationship with Harvard University which and which only, can guarantee the prosecution and completion of the program of research and make possible the academic careers of the scholars engaged in it.


Last year in connection with the program of publication I raised the subject of a History of Byzantine Civilization. It was not my idea but had been thought of as fundamental from the beginnings at Dumbarton Oaks. I see in it the attainable goal for a comprehensive program of research. It is sufficiently comprehensive, involving, as it does, all fields of the East Christian humanities. To widen the base further by the inclusion of other periods and cultures or subjects would, it seems to me, dissipate the enterprise by losing both focus and limits. In Washington the library situation would hardly admit of such an expansion. On the other hand the earlier program of research in Dumbarton Oaks which eventuated in the formation of the Research Archives and of the Fontes, while excellent in itself, was not sufficiently creative, in my estimation, to attract and hold for any length of time the more able scholars.


The History of Byzantine Civilization seems to me, as it would, a significant and worthy goal. This peculiar Greek and Christian civilization exhibits in a most sharp and arresting manner these classical and religious values which are at the root of our civilization and from which now the world is, to its own confusion, sadly adrift. In a certain sense Byzantium is still today the palladium of the humanities as it was throughout the Middle Ages. It is not lacking in significance to exhibit this powerfully conservative, fundamental and inclusive civilization in an accurate picture to the world of our times.


In the learned world Dumbarton Oaks, in spite of the handicaps of war, already holds a reputation as the center for the Byzantine studies in this country and the hope has been expressed outside that it will, in the course of time, publish such a history as outlined above. To-day it is the only institution in the world that could undertake such a thing.


The ultimate publication of the History is the reason for and the coordination of the many special studies and monographs which must be made. With the History as the goal the studies ought not to dissipate themselves in trivialities nor be done in the isolation that stultifies the specialist. We have already made a good start in that kind of cooperative research by which one humanity fertilizes another. That is one of the advantages that Dumbarton Oaks has afforded me.


A more detailed report of the divisions and subjects of the History will be presented by Professor Vasiliev, Miss Der Nersessian and me at the meeting of the Board of Scholars.



The second essential is the most pressing. As you realize from the first part of this letter and as I know you realized when you called me as Director, we must place the scholarly personnel on a more permanent basis. Had I been able to have come to Dumbarton Oaks as Director my first requests would have been very much like these which I offer now as suggestions.


To begin at the bottom, I would keep the system of Junior Fellows much as it is at present but I would reduce the number, as I have had to this year, to three or four. We could then get the best young scholars who would profit by working at a higher level of efficiency than in the past. I don’t think there are, at any one time, more than four or five in the country in the Byzantine field who would be worth having, yet in order to get new blood their presence is essential.


It is with the grade of Fellow that I am very concerned. These men are usually married and it is essential not only to give them a stipend on which they can live, but also to make it possible that a Fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks is part of a scholarly career. Therefore I propose that they be given a proper salary, and that the Fellows have the rank of instructors in Harvard University on five year appointments. Certain of these men will be excellent scholars. If we are to keep them we must be able to promote them in the usual academic way. I can think that two, perhaps, might be carried at the rank of associate professors in Harvard University on permanent tenure.


Over and above these Fellows should be the Director and one other senior member. You can conceive how lonely and dictatorial a director in solitude can be. Equals have a good effect on each other, if they get on, as you and Edward know. The Director and fellow senior should have the rank of Professor in Harvard University.


I feel that years of research without teaching dries up any man, so that all the Fellows and Seniors at Dumbarton Oaks except the Director should be obligated to give a course or a series of lecture in Harvard in the field of their specialty, or in the general field of the Humanities. It would be good for them to have to do this one term out of four or some such arrangement. Harvard University could then build up instruction in the Byzantine Arts and Humanities without duplication with Dumbarton Oaks. Both parts of the University, the humanities in Cambridge and Dumbarton Oaks in Washington would benefit by this arrangement.


These two Seniors should be charged with the direction of and the responsibility for the research having as its goal the ultimate completion of the History of the parts thereof. They, with the addition of a few members of the Board of Scholars, should be the Committee for publications, but they ought to be aided by the younger Fellows, since I feel that all the permanent and semi-permanent members should be responsible, in the enterprise, through the process of publication. All research that is worth while should eventuate in publication. When this is realized by all concerned, the trivial and the isolated types of work which have plagued the humanities are not likely to waste the energies of scholars and the funds of Dumbarton Oaks.



All the above is possible only if Harvard University can take the full responsibility for it. Such a long range program of research is a major undertaking dependent on the good will and confidence of the whole scholarly world in the humanities. The scholars must be reassured that the University means to make every effort to see it through. When that is apparent it will not be so difficult, as it has been, to interest men in Byzantine studies.


It is the University which makes possible a career for scholars and teachers and unless the Scholars and Fellows at Dumbarton Oaks are integral members of the Harvard faculty, no Director of Dumbarton Oaks can assemble or retain scholars of ability, promise and achievement to carry on the work of the institution, He must be in a position to preserve the set-up in personnel in its key points or he is defeated in his administration from the start.


The closer the relationship with the University the better. Dumbarton Oaks provides for the University an institute where all the various fields of humanities can be studied in relation to one another in a continuing culture. It is, as I think, a unique entity in the University system of departmental division by subjects. It could be hoped that other members of the Harvard faculty would find it to their advantage to work for a time at Dumbarton Oaks in order to open up or perfect their knowledge of East Christian culture. As an entity in the University structure Dumbarton Oaks has, I venture to think, a different contribution to make.


The University alone can give to Dumbarton oaks that stability and permanence which is alike necessary for the continuance of any large program of research and the maintenance of a group of scholars to carry it on.


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It seems to me that with the goal and the program of research as suggested above and with a more permanent and healthy framework of scholarly personnel such as I have indicated, it will be much more possible to attract and keep the kind of men we need for the work of Dumbarton Oaks. I can assure you that such a set-up will be a boon for the new Director. I well remember with what trepidation I started on my brief career in Washington, knowing the uncertainty of the situation. And I am far from desiring to bequeath such years of improvisation, happy though it has been, to my successor.


The time for the establishment of the more permanent structure of Dumbarton Oaks is as soon as possible. Indeed if we are to find and to keep the personnel for next year the sooner the decision is made the better. We cannot afford to lose any opportunity to get hold of the persons who can direct and contribute to the work in our studies. As we all know too well, the number of such is, for the time being, all too few. There is no blinking on my part at the difficulty, but I am equally sure that, once the crisis is weathered, Dumbarton Oaks will be able to build up Byzantine studies to the position they have never previously occupied in the cultural life of this country although the tradition for them in America is far from negligible as our foreign critics have already frequently told us.


As you know, Paul, I am ready to do all I can for Dumbarton Oaks, but perhaps my best service as temporary Director is to bring to you and to the Administrative Committee this my considered advice as to what I think ought now to be the framework for the functioning of the institution. I am fully aware that there are many details that need study, that perhaps there are policies in the University which would make certain features difficult, and that the persons of the Director and some of the Fellows must still be found, but I am also aware that unless some more permanent and far-reaching program is put into operation in the very near future, we will lose for Dumbarton Oaks the personnel and the opportunity which the institution richly deserves.


I hope that neither you nor anyone else in Harvard will take amiss all these suggestions which are offered for discussion in all humility by one who has the welfare of Dumbarton Oaks much at heart and who can claim, with some degree of truth, to know the situation fairly well.


Sincerely your friend,




P. S. I add two observations which are vitally germane but which are better here than in the body of the letter. The first is the question of financial costs. I figure out that with the scale of Harvard instructors and professors the yearly budget of salaries for the above scheme would come to approximately $60,000, which does not seem to me an excessive allotment in proportion to the income of Dumbarton Oaks. This is arrived at by taking four Fellows as instructors at $3,500 each, i. e., just what this grade is getting in Washington now. It is, of course, unlikely for the time immediately in the future that all the appointments would be made. So the scheme as presented approaches a maximum rather than a minimum.


The second observation has to do with the relationship with other Universities. It would be wise to hold out a number of appointments from the permanent category in order to be able to call scholars on leave from other institutions for a year of more exactly as has been done in the past. This would allow the research program to have the services of some of the best scholars not connected with Harvard and would preserve a certain fluidity of personnel which, in the permanent framework, becomes a necessary asset. The trouble up until now is that the personnel was all fluid.