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Annemarie Weyl Carr

Oral History Interview with Annemarie Weyl Carr, undertaken by James W. Curtin and Joshua Wilson in the Dumbarton Oaks Study on August 1, 2013. At Dumbarton Oaks, Annemarie Carr was a Junior Fellow (1970–1971), a Visiting Fellow (spring 1980), a Fellow (fall 1990), and a Visiting Scholar (2009–2010; fall 2018) of Byzantine Studies.

JWC: My name is James Curtin, and I’m here with Joshua Wilson, and today, August 1st, 2013, we have the great pleasure of interviewing Annemarie Carr about her relationship with Dumbarton Oaks over the years. Thank you so much for being here.

AC: Thank you.

JWC: How did you first come to be involved with Dumbarton Oaks?

AC: Well, it goes back a long time, because, I think, my first very clear memory of Dumbarton Oaks is 1955, I think – it may have been 1954 – when I was a junior high school student. My father’s cousin, Hugo Buchthal, had a fellowship here, and my father was very fond of Hugo, and so we came to visit him here; and I confess, my memory of that place, with its sort of owl-eyed, European-looking, terribly earnest people, seemed little short of bizarre. And had anyone told me at that moment that my future life would be involved with Dumbarton Oaks, I think I would have frozen in terror. But that relationship between my father and Hugo Buchthal was in fact very germinal for my own life. My father enjoyed his relationship with Hugo very much, was very interested in his work, and so when, as a college student, I became interested in the Middle Ages, it just seemed to me that everything I was taught in college was hopelessly incomplete, because, somehow, the crank that was making western Europe turn, I believed, was being turned farther east. And so I retained the sort of curiosity about what was happening in this place called Byzantium. Then, after I graduated from college, I went to the Walters Art Gallery and professed to be interested in the influence of Byzantium on the West; and Ernst Kitzinger, who knew my mother, said that I could come and use the library. And at this point, coming back, it was absolutely magic; it was just remarkable. He would let me sit up at the reading room, at a big table – I could surround myself with books – and he invited me to the 1964 symposium on the Crusader art, which was one of the great symposia. So, I went off to graduate school to study the impact of Byzantium on the West, but soon thereafter decided that you couldn’t really study the impact of Byzantium on the West without knowing what Byzantium was, and that’s been the question I’ve been pursuing ever since.

JWC: So, do you remember any of the things you encountered on that first trip you made here that may have come back when you started to study here, things that seemed inconsequential that you then realized would be instrumental to your learning.

AC: I think unquestionably the sense of intellectual commitment, which just pervaded – I got the sense that this was – if you wanted to be intellectually committed, boy this was the place for that. I found the objects in the museum just inscrutable. And at that point, in ’54, I liked anything the ladies wore – large, big skirts and lots of fabric. And sort of – some silver plates, some busted stones? I couldn’t understand what people were interested in.

JWC: And do you think that the interest you later developed in the West and then in the East was influenced at all by these early experiences you had, where you didn’t necessarily know but later, or was it something you developed on your own?

AC: I’m sure that, from the eager conversations between my father and Hugo Buchthal, that curiosity was instilled at that point. It took shape very, very slowly.

JWC: Now when you came back as an undergraduate, were there any other people who, like you, maybe knew a scholar here and just came to visit, or were the people you were interacting with primarily Fellows and visiting scholars?

AC: Actually, when I came back to use the library in ’64, I think the only person I really interacted with at all was Ernst Kitzinger once, and otherwise I just tried to make myself inconspicuous, because I did feel extremely exceptional and privileged. It wasn’t until I was a Junior Fellow in 1970-’71 that my fellow Junior Fellows – Gary Vikan, Leslie MacCoull, John Wiita – began to become a circle of Byzantinist acquaintances.

JWC: Now, before we get to the time you spent here as an actual Fellow, can you tell us a little bit about that ’64 symposium? Because, you know, there seem to have been a few rapid-fire ones in the early ‘60s where big things seemed to be happening.

AC: Yes, they were very dramatic, and – well, I mean, just from walking into the Music Room and discovering an audience in which people, when they arrived, got into the middle of the row. Rows were very close together, and it was difficult to crawl over – and I thought, this must be the most intelligent audience I’ve ever seen. So, I went into the middle of a row and sat there; and a tall, handsome, white-haired man in the front of the room came striding down the central aisle crying, “Kurt! Kurt!” And I suddenly realized, that was Ihor Ševčenko, and “Kurt” had to be Weitzmann! I watched with enormous, you know, just fascination; and then to watch with this sense of incredible newness of every paper, and the hush and then the babble of curiosity which followed them, I found quite remarkable.

JWC: Have you seen things like that since, or was that a unique experience that’s difficult to recreate?

AC: I think that I’ve seen symposia in which portions became that incandescent, and I guess one keeps coming back looking for that. In this past symposium, I found the sequence of Parker’s paper and then Maxwell’s paper produced for me that kind of incandescence – that suddenly very disparate things came together with combustion, which is very exciting.

JWC: So, can you tell us a little bit about the developments you think have occurred in this field that couldn’t otherwise have come about without symposia like that, where you had these minds in the room that collaborate and just come up with something new.

AC: I think that – for me, I find it hard to imagine Byzantine studies, really, independently of the sort of fertilization, which has emerged from Dumbarton Oaks. The sort of Crusader development was certainly one of the major things. Then there was the work on Justinian; Van Nice’s work on Hagia Sophia that generated extraordinary interest; the emergence of the seals projects has been just remarkable to follow. I think that the, for me, very germinal was, for instance, a colloquium which Angeliki Laiou had, “Byzantium in the Modern Greek Tradition,” which sort of opened up an entire tradition in Byzantine studies which I found extremely dynamic. The Dumbarton Oaks Summer Institutes, paleography and numismatics, I think, have been, again for me, just sort of points of, for one thing, meeting other people who are interested in it, but also just opening up dimensions of questions that hadn’t been there before.

JWC: So, with all this background, you came to Dumbarton Oaks in – ’77 you said?

AC: ’70-’71.

JWC: ’70-’71, I’m sorry. Now, with the other Fellows that you were studying with at the time, had any of them had similar experiences with Dumbarton Oaks in the past, or were they being introduced to the institute for the first time?

AC: I don’t know with Leslie MacCoull and with John Wiita. I know that Gary Vikan, through his work with Kurt Weitzman, probably had been in and out of the place before.

JWC: And knowing all of what Dumbarton Oaks had to offer, how did you first start to pursue your studies? Was your study here influenced in any way by the resources that you knew were here?

AC: I think that the first Junior Fellowship –  I think I came to understand –  I arrived here after I had a fellowship year abroad pursuing my dissertation topic, in which it became clear to me that I needed to do things that I was unprepared for. I think it was getting here that I began to understand what it was that was going on, that I would come into – I was working on manuscripts – come into manuscript studies thinking it was art history, because you look at the pictures – if a book didn’t have pictures I would turn it back – and at that moment, was just really on the point where, thanks to Hugo Buchthal, who agreed to ride herd on my dissertation even though I was not his student, the practice of codicology was sort of taking over the study of manuscripts; and it was coming here that – particularly Cyril Mango and Ihor Ševčenko made me realize, no, you really have to take a book as a whole, you really do have to settle down, you need to learn paleography, you need to learn much better Greek, and I came to understand what the study of a book is. So, I think it was kind of an answer to a prayer, in a sense. Fortunately the next year my husband got a fellowship abroad, and I was able to go back and look at many of the manuscripts again, and approach them in whole new way.

JWC: That’s very interesting. Do you feel that Dumbarton Oaks plays a similar role for a lot of scholars here, where they come in and it revolutionizes their way of thinking, or was that something that you felt was unique to your situation and the people you were working with at the time?

AC: No, I don’t think it’s unique at all. I would love to be able to give you some examples. I don’t think that I’ve ever talked to my colleagues in that framework. I’ve asked them about ideas, but never about how did Dumbarton Oaks stand on that path. I think that different people have felt differently comfortable at Dumbarton Oaks. I think that I have – I feel as though I’ve probably felt less the pressure of other people, because I’m a bit of a lone ranger. I come in here, I don’t really see who’s there; I do see wonderful books. This said, it was wonderful to have colleagues as a Junior Fellow. When I came back in 1980 for another fellowship, again, two friendships that have been absolutely fundamental to my life, Alice-Mary Talbot, John Louden from the summer paleography seminar, Rob Nelson, intensely valued colleagues – have come out of friendships nurtured while I was here.

JWC: Can you tell us anything about what you took back from your second fellowship that you didn’t get out of your first, either through just spending more time here or through having a little more perspective?

AC: The second one was a period of crystallization, and out of that fellowship came a spate of articles and a couple of the articles which I still prize very much; and also the basis for the publication for the dissertation came out of it. I think it was in that fellowship – in 1974, there had been a paleography workshop when Linos was here. He was enormously helpful to me. I think it was 1980 that Robert Browning was here, again, working on paleography; and, once again, the opportunity to work with a very, very skilled paleographer was wonderful for me. But I think that the 1980 one really crystallized the opportunity to take ideas which had been germinating and set them into place.

JWC: What was the main product – you said that it was your dissertation that came out of –

AC: Out of the Junior Fellowship.

JWC: That was your Junior Fellowship. What about in ’80? What were some of the articles that you were working on at the time?

AC: At that time I was working on an article for the Art Bulletin, a manuscript by the great late Byzantine paleographer Ioasaph – it’s at the University of Michigan – and the article on the manuscripts of Ioasaph and the illuminations that came with them. I wrote an article, which ultimately came out in Gesta on frontispieces in gospel books that continues to be a subject of great interest to me. And I wrote an article on the daughter of a late great Byzantine scribe, Theodore Hagiopetrites, who was herself a paleographer. And I think, since then, Rob Nelson has argued that she was not working, as I thought, in Constantinople, but in Thessaloniki where her father did. But it was the beginning of an interest which I also carried on for quite a while: the role of women in the production of Byzantine art. And that was the interest where I crossed paths with Alice-Mary Talbot.

JWC: And how would you characterize paleography at Dumbarton Oaks as a whole, as compared to some of the other sub-fields within the study of Byzantium? Are there a lot of people here who focus on that, or –?

AC: No, it’s been very sporadic. I think that paleography sort of flickered in during the period of the sort of establishment of codicology as a manuscript technique. I think since then, since about 1980, the interest in the summer institutes, if it’s language-oriented, has been simply with reading Greek, and they’ve been text seminars more than they’ve been paleography studies.

JWC: So, you’ve said that your main goal was to understand the East. What made you choose the study of these books as sort of the key to understanding the East?

AC: I think that what made me choose those books was that my professor, Ilene Forsyth, agreed to take on a Byzantine dissertation if I could get a card-carrying Byzantinist to ride herd on it, and Hugo Buchthal agreed to do this, even though I was not his student in any way. He was working on manuscripts and suggested that, well, here was an issue in manuscript studies which was craving attention, and because it was there I took it, and it – I think neither of us, neither he nor I, when I took it on, had any sense where it was going to lead, and it continues to be a very enigmatic group of books, but it did lead me very deeply first of all into Byzantine book culture, which is a wonderful way – something Byzantines themselves took very seriously, but it also took me into the peripheral areas of Byzantium, which have been of interest to me ever since.

JWC: Have you found your study ever intersecting with other areas of Byzantine history, or have you ever at times thoughts that it would be, you know, nice to sort of do some research into something else, or have you just stuck with the –?

AC: Well, I’ve been very much an art historian. I’ve tried to be, as much as I could, a social art historian, placing art into its historical and, to the extent that I can, literary context. But, no, I’ve been very much an art historian.

JWC: What can you tell us about the museum here and some of the artifacts that they have relative to your studies?

AC: Well, actually, relative to my studies, I think that the manuscripts, although there are not many of them, have been a constant thread. Since about 1990, I’ve turned more toward wall painting and icons. And although I’ve been always appreciative of just the visual delight of having some very fine icons, particularly the mosaic icons, there to look at, my particular interests have sort of gone in other directions.

JWC: What can you tell us about the actual physical collection of the manuscripts you were just talking about? How many of them are there? Do you know if they’re used very often? Has there been much scholarship which has emerged from the materials that we hold here?

AC: Well, until recently there were four, and now there are five. And the Dumbarton Oaks 3, the New Testament and Psalter, is a manuscript, which has been infinitely used and delighted in. The others have not been as much studied, but I think that recently Gudrun has brought them out several times – and it’s been wonderful – and beautifully displayed them, also with the computer images beside them, which has made them much more eloquent.

JWC: So, this is something that I’m curious about, the way that they’re displayed. Now, I don’t know if you’ve seen the actual exhibit, where they’re out in what used to be the courtyard. They’ve been made very accessible for visitors who come in, and maybe especially for children. They even have a little part of the exhibit where people can take an actual piece of parchment and touch it and feel what it actually is. As somebody who came here for the first time as a young student in junior high and didn’t fully understand or appreciate what you were looking at the time, how do you think the exhibits that are in Dumbarton Oaks may impact the future generation of Byzantinists? Is there a duty that Dumbarton Oaks has through its public outreach to build the discipline?

AC: Yeah. It has obligations in a number of directions, and I think that the direction which has been most exciting is making not only the museum, the exhibited objects, but the full body of its objects available to professors who wanted to bring their students to examine them, to talk with the curators, and to get the sense of really what it is to be in the presence, even tactile presence, of objects. And I think Dumbarton Oaks has been very exciting on this score, also for the various Fellows. They have wonderful sessions in the museum. I think that the museum publications have been fabulous for teaching. Gary Vikan’s Byzantine Pilgrimage Art remains one of my favorite teaching tools altogether. Byzantine Security is also just a wonderful introduction to the eloquence of everyday objects. So, I think that that’s been done marvelously. I think it’s just much more recently that I’ve sensed an invitation to younger people, and with the manuscripts, I think that manuscripts are really a kind of object that is resistant to the whole museum scenario because they’re like movies. They’re an art of time, and you can’t make them move in a museum. You can’t go and turn the pages. One page is only – it doesn’t really give you the excitement of manuscripts. On the other hand, the interactive medium, which are absolutely fabulous for students is also opening up manuscripts in an exciting way.

JW: Speaking of outreach, in 1987 I believe, you were a Dumbarton Oaks visiting scholar at Syracuse University giving public lectures and presentations. How would you say that contributes to that outreach? – the obligation, the Dumbarton Oaks obligation to outreach?

AC: I did the Dumbarton Oaks visiting lecture series, and I was also a Phi Beta Kappa visiting lecturer. I would love to see something like the Dumbarton Oaks lectures happen again because – the impact is very – it can have tremendous “spot impact.” That can also be seen as very small impact, because it can make a tremendous impact on only a few people. In my case, I think I was at a – I tend to get mixed up with the Phi Beta Kappa lectures, but I think I went to several schools. In each school, there would be for instance one person who really caught on [snaps her fingers]. Later on, I’ve had a couple of people say, “Oh yes, I’ve heard you,” which makes me think, yes, its something which can work. I think that it probably is a very expensive form of cultivation. The Dumbarton Oaks junior positions which they’ve cultivated in universities may have had a more durable impact on what I think has been one of the great challenges, which has been getting a place, getting positions within academia.

JWC: I’m not sure what the exact year was, but I know there was a similar program or maybe even the same program where individuals – I can think of two offhand, Ioli Kalavrezou and Herb Kessler. It was a similar public lecture series. When they discussed it, they may have been going at times to address the public, not even a university audience. Is this the same thing that you were doing?

AC: I don’t know. I’m not sure, but I was not aware that the Dumbarton Oaks lectures were done very often. I’m not sure what the relationship was.

JWC: Can you tell us about some of the individuals you interacted with here from the administration – directors of the institution, directors of study? How do you feel that things – directors – have changed over time, the direction of Dumbarton Oaks and the focus on different areas of Byzantium has changed?

AC: One of the big changes that I’ve been very aware of was the withdrawal from archeological engagement. The center of my research in the end became the island of Cyprus, where the Dumbarton Oaks Conservation Consolidation of the Byzantine churches marked a tremendous threshold in our knowledge of Byzantine art, has made an enormous difference to the island of Cyprus itself, and has a considerable afterlife in my own life because I just finished up the publication of Asinou, which was one of the churches which Dumbarton Oaks had consolidated back then. I felt that as archeology ebbed at Dumbarton Oaks, engagement with the visual also tended to shift more and more toward the verbal. I think that Henry Maguire was extremely deft at weaving the visual into the projects of Dumbarton Oaks, sort of keeping it there. I think that Margret Mullett has been very conscientious to see to it that there is a visual dimension to things. I think that in some ways, the visual engagement of Dumbarton Oaks has ebbed, at least in the Byzantine world. On the other hand, I think the commitment that someone like Alice-Mary Talbot has maintained to making Byzantine texts available through study, through study projects, and through translation has made an enormous impact on what we have available to teach with. If we want to make Byzantine studies part of the Byzantine world, we need to have texts to teach with. She’s made a tremendous difference in that respect. I think that – I can remember being very much exercised in Giles Constable’s period when he suggested that it was fatal for Byzantine Studies to try to sever themselves from the West. I happen to work on the Crusades. One would have thought – I think fundamentally he is right, but I think he was premature. I think we needed to establish ourselves as worthy of independent academic lines, and once we had those, than absolutely knit the world back together again. I think Giles nowadays would have been perfect. I think Dumbarton Oaks has been, has brought people from Islamic studies, from Syriac studies, I’m from Western studies, all into the program.

JWC: There were two things from that I wanted to discuss. One, you mentioned the visual studies. As an art historian you’ve really dedicated your life to that. What do you think Byzantine Studies is missing if they forget the commitment to the visual, when people delve too deeply into the text and don’t study the originals?

AC: The Byzantine culture was one which put tremendous emphasis upon visual presentation. Things needed to be to reflect the grandeur, the impressiveness of their church, particularly, and of their state. This dimension, to me at least, is absolutely fundamental to understanding where they put money. I just ran across what I think is a wonderful word. It’s “iconomics.” The iconomics of Byzantium needs to be taken into account [laughs.]

JWC: The other thing was when you were mentioning an evolution in what was being studied here, and bringing in people who studied the Islamic world and Western world. How do you believe that relates to the original mission that Dumbarton Oaks was charged with by the Blisses? As the academic world changed, we’ve changed along with them. How do you remain centered on the mission at Dumbarton Oaks?
AC: I’ve not seen this in any serious way in contradiction, so long as one remembers where the center of the world is, which happens to be Constantinople. I think Herbert Muller is absolutely right when he said Byzantium is the empire of the new middle. In this sense, the Islamic world, the Western world, the Slavic world are absolutely a part of the way in which Byzantium is in the world. One has to understand these things too. I would be distressed if I learned the center of the world was slipping into one or another of those.

JWC: What about some of the other areas of study here that are unrelated to the Byzantine: the Garden and Landscape or the pre-Columbian?  In your time here, have you had the chance to interact in any –

AC: For me, that was the big threshold of my 1990 fellowship. That was a great fellowship of friendships. Nancy Ševčenko was here, Engelina Smirnova was here, Chrysanthe Baltoyianni was here. But Nancy and I decided that we were going to get to know the other communities. She particularly became engaged with the landscape community. I became absolutely captivated by the pre-Columbian. What this brought for me was this was the period in which I discovered anthropology. It was the pre-Columbianists who introduced me to this. The discovery of the pre-Columbianists was tremendously valuable for me. It led me to my determination to get a pre-Columbian line in my own university. Adam Herring, who is also a Dumbarton Oaks person, came to fill that position. The ability to look at visual things in anthropological rather than with a strictly art historical point of view has been critical. I found that really exciting and I am delighted that the communities are much more together now.

JWC: A lot of time it seems that in the different fields, scholars are studying similar topics in parallel - the history of the art and architecture in the Byzantine world and the art and architecture in the pre-Columbian world, for example. Do you think that there is opportunity for the knowledge that has been cultivated in one field to substantively impact the other? Or is there a reason why they’ve never been studied together?

AC: I think that in a sense, by and large they are going to be studied as specialties in their own paths, and yet pre-Columbianists and Byzantinists are living in the same twenty-first century and we’re going to have common curiosities about the body, about ecology, about the visual, and these should produce points in which in the end, conclusions are convergent or divergent. But it has been very exciting to look at them together.

JWC: That’s very interesting. Can you tell me anything about the social life at Dumbarton Oaks? You said in the 1990s you started to interact a bit more with the other areas of study. Is the academic life at Dumbarton Oaks aided in any way by the social activities that occur outside of the 9 to 5?

AC: I must confess I participated in them rather little. I am a bit of a lone ranger. This said, I mentioned as we went along friendships which have germinated here, which for me have been pure gold – just really wonderful friendships.
JWC: What about any of the different aspects of the estate? Have you been able to take advantage of the garden or the pool?

AC: For me, the garden has been – I adored the garden. I recently had a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, which has hundreds of acres, and living in space I find wonderful. The space is smaller here, but having the garden I found really wonderful. I really loved it. And I enjoy having the art installations in the garden too.

JWC: They didn’t have those when you were first here, right?

AC: That’s right.

JWC: Has your experience in the garden changed at all over the periods you’ve been here?

AC: No, it’s remained one of wonder. I love, on Mondays for instance, often the back gate is open and one can just wander in. Every now and again I’ve gotten locked in [laughs.] I can remember one spring lamenting the passing of the cherry blossoms. Giles Constable found me wandering among the drifting petals and I said, “Oh Giles, it’s so terrible to watch them go,” and he said, “Annemarie, it’s just the beginning. Spring in Washington goes on forever.” I find the gardens wonderful to participate in.

JWC: Do you have any other stories like that? Things that you can remember being particularly wonderful about your time here?
AC: I remember one morning coming scuttling in the front door in my usual mouse-along-the-floorboards way. As I left the door to come into the corridor, there was Angeliki Laiou in all her magnificence. I was so startled, I just turned to her with all with the excitement I had coming in with this big smile and she looked at me and said, “Well, you look happy.” And I looked back and said, “Oh yes, I am. I always find something new.” She looked at me and said, “That makes me very happy.” It was a very warm moment. I feel very much that way about Dumbarton Oaks. I always find something new, and no matter how seriously it takes itself, I find that it brings a certain amount of excitement – positive energy and excitement, and it welcomes you with that.

JWC: Have you found excitement like that at other places, or is there something at Dumbarton Oaks with that spark

AC: I confess I found the Institute for Advanced Studies a very wonderful experience. My feeling is particularly strong for Dumbarton Oaks because ever since 1955, I’ve kept coming back. I’m like old pennies. It’s very hard to exterminate me. I keep turning up again.

JWC: You didn’t happen to meet the Blisses or anyone the first time you came, did you?

AC: No, I didn’t. My parents, I think, had met the Blisses because they lived in Washington. I only heard about the teas.

JWC: What did you hear?

AC: Well, how important propriety of behavior was.

JWC: Are there any things that you think are important to talk about that haven’t been touched on at this point?

AC: Gosh, we’ve talked on a great many things.  I think that the big question which lies ahead of us all is where it’s going – where it’s going in the future. I think that I have great admiration for Margret Mullett for the openness which I think she’s brought in terms of feeling easy among people and being somewhat more relaxed here. I think that here I fail Dumbarton Oaks. I have an enormous hope that the vitality of the institution continues to grow. And then comes the question, what are your recommendations? My only recommendation can be that you can’t look to the past. You have to move with the direction in which the ideas are moving. For that, I think I’m still trying to finish up what I did.  One has to trust younger people to take over.

JWC: Do you have a prognosis for Dumbarton Oaks? Have you seen the vitality growing, has it come in ebbs and flows?

AC: What I sense is a greater warmth toward it. I feel there have been ebbs and flows in the sense that Dumbarton Oaks stands in the way of younger ambition and at times where it felt it was more open to younger ambitions. I sense more warmth, and that makes me very hopeful.

JWC: You have a great wealth of knowledge, both about the field and the institution. For someone in the future, what would you tell them about Dumbarton Oaks, and what should they keep in mind to ensure this resource is here for posterity?

AC: To someone who is interested or –?

JWC: To someone who is interested in Byzantine studies as a whole, and in particular here at Dumbarton Oaks.

AC: My sense is that it’s a wonderful place to be able to take seriously what you’re interested in. My advice would be to concentrate on that. I pay rather little attention to social dimensions – the way in which one lives, whether one can have pets, whether one can have children, things like that. I have found it a wonderful place to go and really take seriously and take the opportunity to really sink into what is a serious interest to you. You are liable to find other people who are similarly interested.

JW: Thank you so much.

JWC: Thank you for being here today.

AC: Well, thank you.