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Calogero M. Santoro

Oral History Interview with Calogero M. Santoro, undertaken by Lorena Lama at the Dumbarton Oaks Guest House (Fellows Building) on August 12, 2011. At Dumbarton Oaks, Calogero Santoro was a Fellow of Pre-Columbian Studies (2009–2010).

LL: My name is Lorena Lama; it is August 12, 2011. I am here at the Guest House at Dumbarton Oaks with Calogero Santoro. He was a former Pre-Columbian Studies Fellow here. And, thank you for joining us.

CS: Thank you Lorena.

LL: So, to start of how did you first hear about Dumbarton Oaks?

CS: Well the first I hear through the books, especially because the Dumbarton Oaks has published and delivered a wonderful collection of books based on different topics on pre-Columbian and other topics of the kind of specialization that the center is devoted to. This includes most of the Collection related with the Maya area and some related with the South American archeology, especially the Andean archeology. At one point, because we always had a need to have books in our library, I wrote a letter to the former President, to the former Director probably ten or fifteen years ago asking for an exchange to get their books from here and in exchange we would send our Journal which is Chungara. After several – more than one letter of exchange, finally we get the agreement. We selected certain books because they said we cannot send the whole collection because there are too many books. You have to select the ones that you needed. So we did that, and we send them the whole collection of Chungara, which was already in the library. So that was the first main approach to Dumbarton Oaks. Then I visited here, Washington, in 1990 when I was trying to find a place in the United States to pursue for my Ph.D. studies. And I was in Pittsburg looking for the possibilities there with the Heinz Fellowship, that I finally get it in 1991. So, I took the opportunity to visit – actually took the opportunity to visit Dumbarton Oaks because especially came here because my friend Dan Sandweiss who was a Fellow in those days, he invited me. So I spent one or two days in La Quercia that already existed in those days. Jeffrey Quilter that was the Director of Pre-Columbian Studies in those days, he introduced me to other possibilities to be, to apply for a fellowship here. He was the first one that formally talked to me about that. But in those days for me to think of a fellowship, it was really hard. It was really hard and it was far away because my main goal in those days was to get my Ph.D., which I did in Pittsburg in 1995. Then I went back to Chile in 1996. So, since then I’ve been looking for opportunities to come back to the United States to do research because one of the big differences that we have in our countries is that we have good institutions, but libraries and spaces of the kind that Dumbarton Oaks offers to researchers – these wonderful spaces and a wonderful opportunity. I think it was about three or four years ago that I again know about these fellowships through Verónica Williams who was applying to be a Fellow here. I said to her, “Well, I will write a letter of recommendation for you so next year I will do the same, and you will write a letter for me.” So, both of us got the fellowship. In between I knew that Joanne Pillsbury was the new Director of the program. It happened that I met her when she was a Fellow here in, actually, 1990 too. So the world it tends to be smaller when you start to look at all the connections that are created when you move throughout your life. So now in Washington and especially in Dumbarton Oaks, I feel that I am home, you know, because I know my way around. I know people. I arrived last week and I feel so happy and so emotional because all the people recognize me. So, I said to them, “Well, you here, you salute me with happiness and friendly while in my University they say, ‘Finally you are going, you are leaving.’” So, it was a different feeling you know. So, that was the way that I have learned about this institution, and I feel so glad and so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be in this environment and to have had the opportunity to be in this environment to work on the topics and the research that I’m working with.

LL: So, what year did you do your fellowship?

CS: It was 2009–2010. It was just one year ago.

LL: And what was that experience like? What did you do everyday and –?

CS: Well, you know I used to say that as soon as I get breakfast at La Quercia I get free – free of doing nothing, you know. It was like this, you know, I’m going to think about it. That’s what’s the nice thing about being here, you know, the opportunity to think. That is a not happening for nothing, you know, because we don’t have appointments, we don’t have meetings, we don’t have to give lecture, we don’t have to – So, the only thing we have to do is just to do research. But research – an important part is thinking – thinking of other people’s thought, thinking of other people’s ideas, thinking of other people’s data, and how you can fit your ideas, your hypothesis, your data, your experience in the world that you are reading, that you are imagining, that you are thinking. It’s a wonderful opportunity to have the freedom to think and not limited – not limited in time, not limited in space, surrounded by a wonderful landscape and environment humanistically and naturalistic too.

LL: So you don’t have to follow a set schedule, you just went to the library when you needed to –?

CS: Yeah, well, I regularly came everyday – at around nine o’ clock, I was sitting in the library. At twelve sharp I was sitting in the refectory, and then we went back to the library and then about six or seven, at the most, I went home. At one point my wife showed up too – she’s an archeologist too – she’s Daniela Valenzuela. She started to eat early at night, which is a good practice that you have in this country. In our country we tend to go very late with our dinners. But here is a good practice to have dinner early at night so you have sort of the rest of a late night that you can do other things. You can go out for walking or you can do readings or whatever. You have sort of an extra part of the day, you know, for other things besides eating like we normally do in our country, you know. So, we got this routine, and it worked perfect for us. And during the weekends, I rarely went to the library. I preferred to enjoy the possibilities that this city offers. I think this is one of the few cities in this country that offers so many free things, you know. The museums, a lot of spectacles, musical, and then you have all these seasonal activities related with all the changes in the environment, because we have the fall, then we have winter, then we have the spring. And all these seasons come with different landscapes that you can enjoy just walking outside or by going to some activities that are outside too. So, we combine both this very intellectual activity in the library and the outside world offered by Washington.

LL: Did Dumbarton Oaks host any events during your fellowship that you attended?

CS: Well, a lot of them. First, we have this Pre-Columbian symposium, then there was a roundtable about the Maya, and besides that other activities, symposium or workshop related with the other programs. The Music Room was offering these concerts that we had the opportunity to attend the concert if there were empty spaces. And in our case, one or two times we didn’t have the opportunity to go, but most of the time that we put our names, we got a free space for concerts. They were superb concerts, all of them were superb, very fine, and the Music Room also itself is just a monument. It’s incredible and all. That was another value added to this Dumbarton Oaks opportunity. And besides there was this Pre-Columbian Archeological Society of Washington that they – I think that’s the name – so they also have lectures, and they invite some of the Pre-Columbian scholars to give a lecture there. I give a lecture there too and I give a lecture in the Chilean Embassy too. So, I tried to follow Joanne Pillsbury’s suggestion, see: “Don’t fill your agenda with a lot of activities because that will ruin your time, you know, at the library.” And I think we managed to do that, you know. I can say that I didn’t attend much activities so if I look at the eight months or nine months that we were here, most of the time was at the library activities.

LL: And prior to your fellowship, did you ever attend any of the symposia?

CS: No, no. I knew about them because I read some of the results. And, actually, this, I would like to be in one of the symposia because normally, you know, in our field it is hard to find – to attend symposium or workshops that are just concentrated in one particular topic. And everyone talk about the same major topic, but from different perspectives, and I think that produces a tremendous earthquake in your mind. You have the opportunity to see different trajectories in research, different ways of concluding or making explanations for the same phenomena or things like that. So, I think it’s a good thing that Dumbarton Oaks organizes these symposiums. I know these mega-congresses that tend to be – probably they are more visible in the world system, but in terms of impact, academic or intellectual impact, I think the symposia it has a better – the products are better. And also normally the symposia are producing a book or something. It’s a double effect.

LL: Going back to social life, during your fellowship were you able to interact with the Byzantinists or the Garden and Landscape Fellows?

CS: Yeah, you know that – at two levels. La Quercia created a good environment for communication and for interaction, so there we have interaction mostly by having dinner together, by having some wine. You know, we organized this dinner so everybody brought their own ethnic food. We did that several times. We did also a lot of activities outside. We went with other Fellows to eat outside. But also intellectually what we did is a reading group, and it was related with the people that were doing their Ph.D. So I decided to be in that group, despite the fact that I was not writing a dissertation. I want to know how people – young people in this country or from outside of the country – they are doing their dissertations – how they are managing all the problems. Because I belong to – I am a faculty member of a Ph.D. program in Chile. So, looking and hearing their experience, I think it was another way to understand the process of being a student in a Ph.D. program. So, and in that reading group, there were people from Landscape, Byzantine and form Pre-Columbian. And we were very strict – I think we get together every two or three weeks – everybody has to read the chapters. We were very – not nasty – but we were very strict, very sharp in our comments. Because that was the point just to make the other person see: “Well, this chapter, it doesn’t make sense. There are sections that should not be in this section because this section is related with this and this and this topics according to your definition at the beginning, you know.” So most people, I think, were pretty happy – they thought that this time that we spend once in a while was worth it.

LL: Sounds like it was.

CS: Yeah.

LL: OK. And would people interact during lunches?

CS: Yeah. We interacted a lot during lunches. But at lunchtime we see always that each program was eating by themselves. There were a few people that were moving around. What I got from those days that the Pre-Columbian table was always the most noisy – people most of the time were laughing and making jokes and so on and so on. While on the other side the Byzantine—you look at people, and you would say, “You talk so calm, we got the impression from outside that you are praying or something like that.” They were having a good time too you know, but when we said that you could see the different personalities behind these programs, you see. Which is incredible how topics in some way or another makes your personality or your personally is so attached with your topic that there is sort of a dynamic relationship between what you do and the way that you behave. So, the Pre-Columbian was sort of the happy table you know the noisy table, but the hardworking table too.

LL: What were your impressions of the institution, how it’s organized?

CS: Just for this trip you know I was, I get a letter from Emily Gulick, and she said –  and Lee, the guy that is in charge of your check.

LL: Jonathan Lee.

CS: Jonathan Lee. Please send me some papers, my passport, blah blah blah blah blah. Send this in advance – your check will be here, we will start to deposit your check. And all that goes so smoothly. I send it, and I don’t have to be concerned about that the paperwork will be working, and that I am here I would not get an excuse: “Sorry, but something was in between that your check is not ready.” When any institution is working with that fine-tuning in the organization, I think it’s a great institution. You come from there, everything on top it’s a breather. It has a good breathing. Everything goes well you know. But when all these little things at the base doesn’t work and you see that each part of the organization are not connecting each other – so normally you have an organization that is loosing time, the workers they don’t feel that they are doing well, you know, because there is no good connection between them and that affects also the people that are receiving your service. I think this is a good example you know. So, I was telling my secretary there this is the difference between our university and this institution, you see. Here I send the paper and the check will be there. They said the check will be there in fifteen days, and the check will be there and it was here, you know, when I arrived. There, well it’s different. They are different kinds of institutions. But I think in that way you don’t have to be concerned about that, you have to be concerned about the reason why you come here. You came here to study not to be concerned about your paperwork, you know – about that. That I think I would say it’s an example of the how this organization operates. It might be possible that, like many organizations around the world, that it has some problems because it’s a human organization. But from the outside you don’t notice.

LL: And what would you say is D.O.’s greatest contribution to Pre-Columbian Studies?

CS: Well, I would say that in this moment, there is no other institution that is doing – I would say in the United States, and probably I’m right when I say in the United States, and in the whole Latin American and in Europe. So, I would say that this is the only one big institution, prestigious institution in the world that is creating a tremendous network because you have scholars coming in, with different levels – you know people just getting started in their career, postdoctoral, people at the end of their career. All these levels are coming together to sit together working together. But then you have the books, then you have the symposium, then you have the library you see. You receive a lot of books from – Dumbarton Oaks buys and receives books from these three different programs, in particular from the Pre-Columbian program so you are certain that here you will find one of the best collections for Pre-Columbian Studies too. So, if you have all these parts, I think this is a tremendous institution. And we have to be glad that this institution is still alive and in good shape beside all the problems that is in the outside world, you know, with the economy falling down not only in this country but in the outside world. So, we have to thank – I don’t know who – but again, glad to be part of this.

LL: Dumbarton Oaks and the Pre-Columbian Studies program focuses a lot on sort of Mesoamerican studies and Andean Studies, and I believe that you are doing Chilean archeology. So, how do you think that sort of D.O. – or what do you think D.O. can do to bring those sort of lesser-known fields such as Chilean archeology to D.O.?

CS: I talked about this topic with the Director, with Joanne too. And I said what you should do – what you could do is that instead of bringing people over for certain events, move outside of Washington, move them all to different countries. And it doesn’t have to be something that D.O. has to fund 100 percent. So, in that way you create alliances, you know, with countries and being in Washington, here are all the embassies, all the countries in Latin America, you know. So, it’s around the corner, all the connections are around the corner. And I’m pretty sure that the ambassador and the cultural attaché would be happy to organize activities were Dumbarton Oaks would be involved with their particular country. I would look in the CVs of the embassy here and it would be great for our country, but it would be great also for Dumbarton Oaks because it would move their network too, physically, to the rest of the continent. We talked about this. I think it’s difficult because all institutions have their own procedures. It’s one way to move the organization. Again, it’s a suggestion, and it’s my impression because it’s another way of sort of to promote this institution because in our country people tend to be afraid to apply to these great institutions because you say, “Well, will they consider my application? What about if they say no to me?” But if you are there, if Joanne is there and explaining what is going on, I think you would also – it will give Dumbarton Oaks – and it would be the people over there – to get Fellows that probably – the best Fellows, good Fellows – but they don’t make the connection you know. And probably being there physically – that would create a different scenario for people that have been thinking, that never have thought of the possibility of come over and so on.

LL: It would be great to have more Latin American scholars here. It would be wonderful. And you are here now as a reader. What do you think the difference is between a fellowship year and your time as a reader?

CS: Well, people have been asking me about the privileges, if I feel sort of down if I have – You know for me the most important thing is to get access to the library, and I have said all institutions have regulations, security. And so if you are invited to an institution and you accept that invitation, you have to follow the rules of that institution. I learned that from my mother. My mother was a very strict and firm woman. I learned that every time I went to her house I have to follow her rules, all the problems disappear because I sit here, you sit there, because your legs – if you start looking at all the – you loose why you want to be here. I want to be here because I want to use the library. And the library – there is not question that I can use the library. I haven’t lost my privilege to use the library. It is not a big, big difference. The privileges that you have as a Fellow, I don’t think they are qualitatively different from being a reader. There are little things you know. For instance, the other day I couldn’t apply to have a document scanned through the library because – But, there are ways to go around with that. It’s not a “big deal,” as you say here. No, I don’t see any important difference, besides – One difference is to be living here near in La Quercia – this is not an intellectual or academic difference, it’s sort of a domestic difference. I think Washington, D.C., as many capitals in the world, you know, it’s hard to find a place – in Buenos Aires it’s the same – in Paris it’s the same – in Santiago de Chile is the same. It’s not the problem of Washington – it’s just being in the capital, and this is the capital of the world, the capital of most important country in the world. You have to expect that to find a place to live. In my case I have to thank Reiko and Carlos for having me in their place you know.

LL: What’s the next question? Sorry. How do you think that the field of Pre-Columbian studies has changed over the years, and, maybe, how has D.O. been involved in that – it has played a major role?

CS: This is my impression, but maybe I’m wrong. I think that the world of archeology and anthropology have been going through a change throughout, getting more and more science involved in the discussion, in analyzing data or producing new data. I was reading, for instance, in a – it was here in this museum in Washington, in the American – no the National – the American History Museum, the one in the Mall. They have this spot from the Pueblo Indians, and by doing this chemical analysis they realized that spot contained chocolate in the past. And those spots have been sitting in those collections probably for hundreds of years – I don’t know how many. But I don’t see that kind of thing happening in D.O. I would say that’s a big difference. But again, science it doesn’t mean that you have to follow all of the possibilities – that’s the good thing with science that one line of activities related with putting a lot of science into archeological remains. But also there is the world of thinking – the world of ideas – that will be relying on this data. So, Dumbarton Oaks doesn’t need to produce that data, doesn’t have to have the labs to produce or to create that data, but you can have the people coming over here with this data in their hands to produce their paper, to produce their book, or whatever. So, that’s, I will say, the sort of the separation, the division between what is going on in the inside of Dumbarton Oaks and what is going on now in the outside world, in the archeological world.

LL: And speaking of the Collection, what is your impression of the Dumbarton Oaks Collection? Do you think –? I’m not sure if it’s liked, used enough or –

CS: For me, I didn’t have – I didn’t use, and I didn’t apply for the Collection. And that was one of the reasons because before I didn’t apply, because I thought I have to be involved with the use of the Collection. All of the sudden, I think it was Joanne that said, “No, no, the Collection is one thing, and if you don’t need the Collection it doesn’t mean that you cannot apply and you cannot be a Fellow here.” And, I think that’s a very important piece of information. I think people think that Dumbarton Oaks is “the Collection”, you see. It is not “the Collection.” It’s just a group of nice pieces of art that are on display. And again, there are people that have the imagination, have trajectory, have the formation to extract knowledge from that. And I think that’s another good thing of this. We have the same thing in Santiago in the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino – the collection coming from all over Mesoamerica and the Andes. And they are nice pieces of different cultures and different times. They don’t have that possibility, for people to go and study their collection. Most of the good stuff is on display, but they haven’t created a program to study that collection. And I think that makes a big difference with Dumbarton Oaks. So, the Collection is not just for admiring, but if you want to study you are welcomed to do it. I think that has important value too.

LL: What direction would you like to see Dumbarton Oaks or its role in Pre-Columbian Studies take in the future?  Maybe how it could expand or –

CS: Well, I will say, again, you always, like I said before, I would like to see more people from my country coming over, from other countries in Central America, from the country of Mexico. More young Fellows coming, I don’t know if, let’s say, grad students from Latin America have been coming to Dumbarton Oaks; probably there are few of them that have had the opportunity to come over. I think Dumbarton Oaks should put some effort in the young generation because this field of this sort of exotic topic in science, especially during the economic crisis, tends to be put aside. Young people say, “Well you know, would it be good to take the risk and to go into this field?” And I think an experience here – it may trigger people, it may put people to say, “Well, I was in doubts, but now I’m sure I want be in this career.” I think probably that would be – to open more space to create other kinds of fellowships for young Fellows to come over to have the experience to be here to see other Fellows, to be in a sort of round table discussing certain topics. That’s my suggestion, you know, my impression.

LL: Very good. Those are actually all the questions that I have, but are there any other stories that you want to tell about Dumbarton Oaks or anything that you want to add?

CS: Well, everybody has been asking to talk about the Dean and Deluca story. Because as soon as we got here – when you get to a new city you ask for information about how to get around and so on. So, one day they said, you know Dean and Deluca is giving away a hundred and thousand of bottles of wine because there was a problem with the refrigerator in the basement. So, a bunch of us went there and it was a case of twelve bottles of wine for twelve dollars, you know. And the prices of the bottles of wine was between – the cheapest one was about fifty dollars up to two hundred fifty dollars the bottle. So, we get crazy, everybody get crazy to get the opportunity at Dean and Deluca – this very fine store in this neighborhood. So, we went there, and so we have a nice quota of wine for our gatherings at La Quercia. So, we started to have gatherings and meetings and food opportunities with different kinds of wines at La Quercia almost every week. And they lasted. I think, in my case I bought two cases, twenty-four bottles. And I think I managed to keep them even until Christmas or New Year’s Eve time because we enjoy drinking wine but we didn’t have a sort of bacanales. Another good experience was to be here by Halloween – I think it was a very interesting cultural and social and cultural experience because I was in Halloween when I was in Pittsburg first and when I was in Ithaca when my daughters were young girls. So, I enjoyed and I knew about the Halloween through them. But in this case I saw – I participated as an adult with the whole city involved in Halloween, which was amazing. You don’t see much of this kind of going out – you know the whole city going crazy, especially Adams Morgan. So, I think that was an interesting way how the city transform for one or two nights, people get really mad. Actually they dress themselves. Everybody was dressing, walking on the streets and so on. And it was cold. It was not summer. It was really cold. It was snowy. So, there are many different short stories like that. And also, I took a lot of pictures. I became famous because I was recording every single minute of what was going on here. It’s probably one point in my life I will make sort of an album of photos of Dumbarton Oaks at the beginning of the twentieth century – no the twenty-first century.

LL: Well thank you.

CS: Thank you too.

LL. It was really wonderful.