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“Report of the Committee on the Future of the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, 1970”

Posted On June 15, 2017 | 15:26 pm | by Dumbarton Oaks Archives | Permalink

Ernst Kitzinger (1912–2003).

In 1970, Ernst Kitzinger, as director of the Center for Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, was asked to chair a ten-member committee that would evaluate the “Future of Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks” and report to the president of Harvard University, Nathan M. Pusey. The other committee members were Giles Constable, professor of history at Harvard University; Merle Fainsod, professor and library director at Harvard University; George H. Forsyth Jr., professor and director of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan; Oleg Grabar, professor of art history at Harvard University; Richard Krautheimer, professor of art history at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University; Cyril A. Mango, professor of Byzantine archaeology at Dumbarton Oaks; George C. Miles, executive director of the American Numismatic Society; Ihor Ševčenko, professor of Byzantine history and literature at Dumbarton Oaks; and Robert L. Wolff, professor of history at Harvard University.

It was perceived at the time that Dumbarton Oaks was at a crossroads. The first director, John S. Thacher, had retired the previous year. The permanent faculty was reduced, and the previous director of studies, Romilly Jenkins, had unexpectedly died on September 30, 1969. The institution’s last surviving founder, Mildred Bliss, had also died in 1969, and Dumbarton Oaks was about to receive from her estate a substantial increase in its endowment funds. There had been discussions about the possibility of relocating the research apparatus of Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but as President Pusey’s letter to the committee makes clear, he did not consider the move of Dumbarton Oaks to Cambridge a practical possibility. He wrote: “It was the Blisses’ distinct intention that the program in Byzantine studies be conducted principally at Dumbarton Oaks in the District of Columbia.” He, therefore, directed the committee “to consider the program for Dumbarton Oaks within this limitation in the light of what is being done and can be done for Byzantine studies at Harvard and other places.”

In her address at the “Kitzinger Colloquium,” held at Dumbarton Oaks in March 2005, Alice-Mary Talbot, then director of Byzantine Studies, summarized Kitzinger’s work on the report:

Despite the disappointing outcome of the Report on the Future of Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, Kitzinger performed a great service to this institution by presiding over a wide-ranging discussion of the future identity and mission of the program in Byzantine studies at Dumbarton Oaks; the document he authored provides important insights into the workings of this institution at a troubled and transitional period in its history. It is indeed a great pity that he never managed to take advantage of his unparalleled relationship with Dumbarton Oaks over a twenty-five-year period to write the history of Byzantine studies here, as he had planned. I am sure, however, that if he had composed such a history his modest nature would have precluded an honest description of all the contributions he made to the Center; it is therefore perhaps best that this task has been left to some future historian.

The committee’s one-hundred-page document made forty-four explicit recommendations, including the maintenance of the positions of the director of studies and of the permanent faculty. Only a few of these recommendations were implemented, although of note was the acceptance of recommendation number twenty-eight that “Dumbarton Oaks should endow at Harvard three Chairs in Byzantine Studies in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Bliss, respectively in the Departments of Classics, Fine Arts, and History.” The following are excerpts from the committee’s unpublished 1970 report:

Dumbarton Oaks was founded by Mr. and Mrs. Bliss as a center for “the Byzantine and medieval humanities.” The civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire has, indeed, been its primary concern from the outset. The founding of Constantinople in the early fourth century and the fall of that city to the Turks in 1453 have served as guideposts in the chronological sense, but the limits in both space and time have been loosely interpreted. The Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern roots of Byzantine civilization have been taken into account, as have its ramifications in the medieval world as a whole, specifically, in the Islamic and Slavic spheres and in the Latin West. The prospect of a substantial increase in endowment funds gives rise to the possibility of a major expansion whereby one or another of these adjoining fields might be made a full equal of Byzantium in terms of projects, research facilities, and personnel. Our committee is agreed in advising against such a step. Great as the financial resources of Dumbarton Oaks will be, they will not be unlimited. If the institutional changes which will be proposed in this report are carried out they will already add considerably to current expenditure. Taking on in full earnest a second field might prove exceedingly costly, to say nothing of a possible loss of focus. We affirm, however, our conviction that the area the Center has staked out for itself should continue to be defined in the broadest terms. While keeping a firm base in the Eastern Empire the Center should continue to include in its sphere of interest all civilizations which influenced Byzantium and all those which in turn were influenced by Byzantium. Indeed, work on the periphery—both temporal and geographic—could well be intensified. More than many other civilizations that of Byzantium requires for a full understanding of its origins, growth, and decline—and for a full appreciation of its importance—a vision of its global context.

In theory Dumbarton Oaks is concerned with all aspects of Byzantine civilization. In practice some have been cultivated much more actively than others. Art has always in the past occupied a prominent place. This is due to the fact that the institution has grown around Mr. and Mrs. Bliss’ collection and, indeed, owes its existence to the founders’ love of and interest in Byzantine art. But since one of Byzantium’s major creative achievements is, in fact, its art, the prominent role art history has played among the scholarly pursuits at Dumbarton Oaks is fully warranted and should not be diminished; indeed, the subject should be speedily restored to the level it occupied until quite recently in the life of the institution. Other areas of intensive cultivation are history, literature, theology, numismatics, and—in recent years—epigraphy. Theology, however, has not of late been represented at the Center with sufficient strength. Work in disciplines which have received relatively less attention in the past—notably music, law, and science—should also be encouraged.

The basic problem of Dumbarton Oaks is that it was conceived by its founders essentially as “a way of life,” a kind of latter-day Medicean Academy, while to the scholar associated with it it must inevitably and primarily be a base of operations for his professional pursuits. We see no practicable way of resolving this fundamental conflict. Our proposals are, however, intended to mitigate its effects within the limits of what we consider feasible in the decades ahead.

The profile of the Center for Byzantine Studies which emerges from this report looks as follows. The Center will still be concerned with the Byzantine and medieval humanities in the broadest sense; and research and publication will still be its most important activities though work on some of its projects may be carried on mainly elsewhere. It will offer some teaching, either in term time or in vacation periods or both. It will have a large circle of scholars of different ranks associated with it for limited periods of time under various arrangements—as Fellows, Visiting Scholars, Research Associates, or (mostly non-resident) holders of work contracts. It will provide some financial support for scholars working elsewhere on their own projects. To ensure continuity in the conduct of big enterprises and programs; proper maintenance of research facilities; and adequate service to the temporary scholarly population (as well as maximum benefit from its presence) there will be a permanent resident faculty of about five scholars representing among them the major disciplines within the Byzantine field and headed by a Director of Studies. The faculty members individually and jointly will have clearly defined responsibilities pertaining to the Center’s activities and facilities (publications, field work, fellowship program, Library, research files, Collection). Most of them will be periodically engaged in teaching at Dumbarton Oaks and also in Cambridge. At Harvard there will be three Robert and Mildred Bliss Chairs in Byzantine Studies, respectively in the Departments of Classics, Fine Arts, and History, and an interdepartmental committee for Byzantine studies with which the Dumbarton Oaks Center will maintain close contact.