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Costas N. Constantinides

Oral History Interview with Costas N. Constantinides undertaken via Zoom by Anna Stavrakopoulou and Audrey Pettner on July 15, 2020. At Dumbarton Oaks, Costas N. Constantinides was a Summer Fellow (1981, 1988, and 1996) and a Fellow (2019–2020) of Byzantine Studies.

Audrey Pettner: Alright. Well, we’re here today, July 15, 2020, with Professor Costas N. Constantinides. He has been a fellow and a summer fellow several times at Dumbarton Oaks, throughout his career. We’re going to go ahead and jump in with the first question. When was the first time that you heard of Dumbarton Oaks and what were your initial impressions of the institution?

Costas Constantinides: Good afternoon from Greece and thank you for your invitation.

I first heard of Dumbarton Oaks as an undergraduate student in the University of Athens in the mid-’70s. Then, as a postgraduate student in London, I attended the Byzantine Spring Symposium at Birmingham in 1978. There, the new director of Dumbarton Oaks, the distinguished medievalist Professor Giles Constable, came too and attended the annual meeting of the Byzantine Committee for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies.

We were all there and Professor Constable came to present the projects of Dumbarton Oaks and seek advice for new fields and new projects by the distinguished British professors and other scholars in the audience. At that time, he circulated a leaflet, and I retained this leaflet myself. When I defended my thesis in 1979, I decided to apply to Dumbarton Oaks for a Summer Fellowship.

Thankfully, I had a very positive answer and in the summer of 1981 I crossed the Atlantic and went to Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC, for the first time, as a summer fellow. This was my first arrival and I saw in situ what I was informed of before, the lovely environment and community of Dumbarton Oaks.

Anna Stavrakopoulou: Wonderful. Who were some Byzantinists that you met during your many appointments at DO, Professor Constantinides?

CC: Well, let me first tell you my impression of this first Summer Fellowship because it was quite great for me. I felt extremely exceptional and privileged. I was a young scholar, a young PhD holder, and during this very hot summer I met very interesting people at Dumbarton Oaks, distinguished professors who either were researchers or connected with Dumbarton Oaks, like the celebrated Alexander Kazhdan. Then, of course, the eminent scholars Ihor Ševčenko and Cyril Mango, who joined us for a few days. It was during this fellowship that I gave my first informal talk at Dumbarton Oaks.

There were many other important people I became acquainted with that summer. Professor Averil Cameron was a summer fellow, who later became a Dean at the University of Oxford and ordained as Dame by the Queen. She was there to finish a book on Procopius of Caesarea. Many of the scholars I met during my fellowship had very distinguished careers thereafter. Let me mention Professor Timothy Miller, James Howard-Johnston from Oxford, then Robert Ousterhout, Leslie Brubaker, Helen Evans, now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and, of course, the young scholar Michael McCormick who was to become professor at Harvard.

CC: At that time, everything was housed in the main building, the library, the rare books’ rooms, the museums. All the administrators and scholars were there. That was all, but the fellows were very few. We used to have our lunches on the ground floor of the Fellows’ Building.

AS: Which is now the Guest House.

CC: Right. A few visiting scholars were staying on the upper floor of this building. I still remember people coming like Annemarie Weyl Carr, whom I met during that summer. I still remember that we had one concert in the Music Room, and another one in the small amphitheater in the beautiful gardens. It was a rainy day so we had to run at the end of the concert, to return to the Reading Room. As I mentioned, it was a very hot summer. We took some brief breaks in the swimming pool, which was another place we used to go together and speak and discuss various matters concerning our research.

This was my first experience, but I had the great privilege that summer to meet and discuss with the director, Professor Giles Constable. Shortly before, in 1980, Dumbarton Oaks published a valuable book by the distinguished paleographer Alexander Turyn on the dated Greek manuscripts from Great Britain. Therefore, during the discussion, I suggested that it would be a good idea to prepare a volume on the dated Greek manuscripts from Cyprus scattered all over the world.

He encouraged me to apply for a five-year project with this subject, which I prepared well, as I was working at that time in the Cyprus Research Center, and thus I submitted it in 1982. It was approved in 1983. The director asked me if I could suggest a collaborator to act on behalf of Dumbarton Oaks. I asked my tutor in London, Professor Robert Browning. He accepted, and together we ran this very fascinating project for five years.

This project took me to many libraries in Europe and the United States. I enjoyed it very much. In the end, in 1988, after the completion of the first five years, I was offered a second fellowship, to go back and finish the book for the project. This was my second visit as a summer fellow at Dumbarton Oaks.

AP: Dumbarton Oaks is, of course, an interesting mix of three very different fields. I was wondering how you would characterize the interaction among the fellows of these three fields during your various fellowships. Did you often have a dialogue with these scholars? Did you get a chance to meet with them during lunches?

CC: In the ’80s, there were mostly Byzantine fellows. Very few were from the other two fields. The great majority of visiting scholars were also Byzantinists. I think it was later that the other two sections of Dumbarton Oaks emerged, and I will tell you that, yes, in the ’90s, I had very good discussions with people from Garden and Landscape Studies and, of course, Pre-Columbian Studies.

However, in the ’80s, there were no computers, there were no mobile telephones. We used to photocopy rare works and sources in the Xerox machines of Dumbarton Oaks. It was later that computers were introduced to Dumbarton Oaks, but there were one or two electric IBM typewriters, where we could type our work or a letter to a friend or write down a note to leave for fellows or the director of Dumbarton Oaks.

AS: At the given stage in your relationship with Dumbarton Oaks, how did your experience differ from that of the other stages?

CC: I visited Dumbarton Oaks in 1986 to participate in the International Byzantine Congress. Many activities of the Congress were taking place at Dumbarton Oaks—and Georgetown University, of course. I still remember the concluding party in the Orangery for the Byzantine Congress.

I was back as a fellow to finish and complete my project in 1988 with a new director, Professor Robert Thomson, a distinguished scholar of Armenian studies from Harvard, who was very helpful to me. I remember that he provided me a computer to write down my introductory chapters in the book on the dated Greek manuscripts from Cyprus. It was a little apparatus with a very tiny screen. It remained there for years and when I went back they brought me the Mac Classic to carry on my work. Also, the director assisted me with one manuscript. It was a pentaglot liturgical volume with a section in Armenian copied by an Armenian bishop in Cyprus. I couldn’t read the Armenian text and the colophon and Robert Thomson did that for me, so I’m very grateful to this director for all he had done for me.

In 1988, there was a new group of scholars there. I still remember two with whom I discussed several times during lunches, Professor Melek Delilbaşı from Ankara University, and Alexander Grishin from the Canberra, National University of Australia. Every time things were different, but still, everything was in the main building. The library, however, started to expand on the basement of the building, which was a difficult task. By that time the compact stacks were introduced in the basement, but it was quite dangerous to go down there and stay within the stacks to find books because you might be pushed by somebody moving the stacks, and there were funny stories about that. This was my second visit.

I didn’t finish the book on the dated Greek manuscripts in 1988. It was a huge enterprise, with nearly 2,000 typed pages and around 500 photos. Therefore, the director advised me to come back when I’m ready for another two months, as a visiting scholar, to finish my work. By that time, I had moved from Cyprus to Ioannina in Greece, and eventually, I was appointed as a lecturer, and promoted to assistant, and associate professor at the University of Ioannina.

I was back in the winter, January and February, of 1990. It was the mildest winter ever recorded. People were very happy, saying that I brought Mediterranean weather in Washington, DC. In 1990, there was a new director, Angeliki Laiou, who was very pleased with the result of my project, in which I had the very close collaboration of Professor Robert Browning. We had various meetings in Greece, Cyprus, England, and Dumbarton Oaks itself, discussing various aspects of this difficult project.

When I finished my book in February 1990, Angeliki was so pleased that before my departure she organized together with other fellows a farewell Greek party. It was something I still remember. For one or two scholars got drunk during this party because I had brought quite a few bottles of ouzo and being unfamiliar with this drink they consumed it in large quantities.    

This was the first phase of Dumbarton Oaks. I remember very vividly the famous gardens and many people working there. I became familiar with the chef, for instance, as he was selecting very good pieces to serve me. Then, after lunch, we had very pleasant gatherings for coffee, discussing with visiting academics and fellows various scholarly topics.

I can recall two distinguished persons, Philip Grierson, a great numismatist and John Meyendorff, the famous student of Byzantine theology and hesychasm. The three of us were staying on the upper floor of the Fellows’ House and we went out for dinner during the mild winter of 1990. I came to know these exceptional scholars better. Unfortunately, John Meyendorff passed away two years later, but Philip Grierson kept asking me to visit him at Cambridge and take as many books from his library as I would like to, something I have never done.

Now I can answer the part of the question by Audrey about discussion with people from the other fields. It was during this winter that I met a very good scholar, who was the interim director of Garden and Landscape Studies, Joachim Wolschke–Bulmahn. During lunches or walking together in the gardens, we started discussing an idea that I brought forward to organize a symposium, by the two sections of Dumbarton Oaks, the Byzantines and the landscape architects. After I left Joachim discussed this with Angeliki Laiou and Henry Maguire, who was the director of Byzantine Studies from 1991 onwards, and a good scholar from the University of Western Ontario in Canada, Professor Antony Littlewood.

They organized this very well. By 1996, I was back again as a summer fellow at Dumbarton Oaks to work on Byzantine gardens as they are referred to in secular sources. This was my paper for the symposium on “Byzantine Garden Culture,” that followed in November 1996. So, I think I was very pleased to see this interaction between two of the fields of Dumbarton Oaks to be materialized. I feel happy that I have contributed as much as I could to encourage this symposium.

AP: You’ve answered this a little bit already, but in what ways did you make use of Dumbarton Oaks resources, and how did the collection at Dumbarton Oaks uniquely contribute to your research?

CC: Oh, well, first of all, let me say that Dumbarton Oaks’ library is unique, and you can find everything there. If something was very old and missing, you could request these through the interlibrary loan. I’ve done this several times during my research. I have greatly benefited from Dumbarton Oaks in my career and publications. In 1981 I prepared my thesis on higher education in Byzantium for publication, which appeared in 1982. In 1988 and 1990 I completed the book on the dated Greek manuscripts from Cyprus, published by Dumbarton Oaks in 1993. Later, I finished another book of mine on the Narrative of the miraculous icon of the Theotokos Kykkotissa in 1999. I spent the summer there as an outside reader. My wife was a summer fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in 1999. Therefore, I was given permission by Alice-Mary Talbot, the director of Byzantine Studies, to work in the library. 

Thus, I participated in all events for the fellows community, and I enjoyed most of the lunches. I met very important people like the distinguished Professor Nicolas Oikonomides who was coming from Montreal to work on the Byzantine seals of the big collection of Dumbarton Oaks. I enriched my own vision on other parts of the Byzantine world with which I wasn’t very familiar. Seals was one of them. I still remember working in the basement with John Nesbitt on Byzantine seals coming from Cyprus.

Though the Byzantine library was quite adequate in books and periodicals with a good collection of Byzantine microfilms, there were resources in the Library of Congress as well. I went there several times to work on microfilms concerning either my manuscripts or sources which were not available at Dumbarton Oaks. In the latter library one could find very old material in the humanities and rare periodicals. They often provided Dumbarton Oaks with photocopies of rare material through the interlibrary loan.   

The visual resources, which again, were housed in the basement of the building proved very helpful to me. I can recall the curator Susan Boyd but also Natalia Teteriatnikov, the former director of the visual resources, we worked together on monuments related to monasteries from where my manuscripts came from. Dumbarton Oaks, as you may know, had various projects in Cyprus, and preserved and consolidated Byzantine monuments and their frescoes. Furthermore, a few volumes published by Dumbarton Oaks and pioneer articles in Dumbarton Oaks Papers refer to monasteries of Cyprus, and therefore, I could go through the archives and see photographs and other material of the fieldwork and get a better idea of the very places my manuscripts came from.

AS: Thank you. The next question, you have partly answered it, but have you attended many symposia or conferences at DO which stand out in your memory for any particular reason?

CC: The only one I participated in was the one on “Byzantine Garden Culture.” You see these mostly were taking place in the autumn but I was a summer fellow there. Therefore, I didn’t attend any other, though I would like to, but obligations in the university and heavy commitments didn’t allow me to cross the ocean for the interesting symposia. Unfortunately, I missed the one you had organized this academic year, and the April 2020 one is postponed due to the pandemic.

Let me add that I was at Dumbarton Oaks during two presidential elections, in ’88 and ’96. It was the year that Clinton was reelected as president in 1996, and the Olympic Games took place in Atlanta.  

AP: Do you have any particular story or anecdote that stands out in your memory that you think should be part of our institutional memory?

CC: Yes, I do. This refers to one of my London tutors, whom I honor very much, Robert Browning. We met at Dumbarton Oaks in ’88 to discuss the details of how I was going to finish the book on the manuscripts from Cyprus. He used to go there a month every year for 10 years as a visiting scholar. 

People at Dumbarton Oaks kept telling me the circulated-around joke, that before going to the catalogue room and dictionaries, you could pose your questions and queries to Robert Browning, and it was guaranteed that you would have the right answer from this wise man who published in nine different languages and rumor has it that he could communicate fluently in more than twenty.

I can recall another anecdote. I was in the swimming pool in 1981 with a colleague from Great Britain, from the University of Oxford. It was our second or third week as summer fellows. Then he told me that, “I’m going back home.” I said, “But you just arrived and you have to finish your work here.” “Yes, but Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is going to apply to be granted a doctorate from our university and nobody wants her to do so because of her government’s cuts in research funding in humanities.” He left for England to vote against this, and it seems that Margaret Thatcher never got an honorary degree from Oxford University.

Let me refer to another story if you want. It was in 1996, Alexander Kazhdan invited us for a dinner. Angeliki Laiou, Nicolas Oikonomides, the Byzantine librarian, Irene Vaslef, myself and one or two other scholars. He told us the date orally, not with an invitation note. Therefore, on the 14th of July, Angeliki and myself appeared before the door with our wines and sweets and rang the bell of his house. He came down in his pajamas and told us, “No, tomorrow is the party.” We didn’t realize that he meant 15th and not 14th. And indeed, the following day we enjoyed delicious plates and homemade vodka.

AS: Lovely. From your experience, how does the relationship between Harvard and Dumbarton Oaks, as well as between Dumbarton Oaks and other Washington cultural institutions, like the National Gallery, affect your studies and those of your fellow scholars? You already, for instance, Costas, spoke to us about going to the Library of Congress, but let’s start with the relationship between Harvard and Dumbarton Oaks and the effect this has had on your work?

CC: It seems to me that in the ’80s this relation was not as strong as it became later. Dumbarton Oaks, as I understood it, was more independent from Harvard and perhaps in the decision-making. The senior fellows were there and the directors of studies for the three fields were there too. Gradually, these ties became stronger. I think now they are much stronger, because during the last decade of the 20th century, we were at the beginning of great changes. In 1999, for example, everybody working at Dumbarton Oaks had a mobile telephone and a laptop.

When I came back after 20 years, and this was my last visit this year, everything changed altogether. We are in the age of digitization. The ties between Harvard and Dumbarton Oaks are more and more close. The library now is digitized and goes through Harvard and you have the HarvardKey. With this key, you can go through the digital collections of Harvard and then see what is available in the various libraries of the university. These are great developments which happened in the 21st century.

There were other developments that took place in the 21st century. Let me say that in 1999, I met the new director, Professor Ned Keenan, who took over after the resignation of Angeliki Laiou in 1998. During that meeting he referred to two of his plans. The first was that the three separated libraries of Dumbarton Oaks should be united under one general librarian. The next point he raised was the need of a new building for the united library, because the space for the libraries in the central building was inadequate. I think he brought forward the idea of the new library we have today.

I forgot to say that the director who purchased the first building for fellows was Angeliki Laiou. During the ’80s, we stayed up the hill at 1702 Wisconsin Avenue, in front of the Soviet Embassy, which is a mile away from Dumbarton Oaks. Angeliki purchased in 1994 and renovated 1619 30th Street, La Quercia. In 1996, we stayed there in this new building, which was brand new and very close to Dumbarton Oaks.

There was another change at the time, which I want to recall. There was more security in the ’90s and more today, of course. In the ’80s, there was very limited security. After five o’clock when the administrators left, one or two security guards were going around and seeing if everything was closed in the library and took extra care. There was also a porter on the main entrance. I recall him very much because he was an old person living in a house of the Salvation Army. He was taking care of the entrance, mostly in the evenings, listening to a gentle relaxing music from a tape recorder.

This security system of Dumbarton Oaks gradually changed and in the ’90s, when we were leaving the building during the nights, we were given advice to call one of the security people to follow us from a distance when going to La Quercia.

AP: Well, I’ll go ahead and jump in with the next question then. As an international scholar yourself, how would you describe Dumbarton Oaks’ role in the international context of Byzantine studies, and how has this changed over the years?

CC: I find it hard to imagine Byzantine studies without the fertilization which has emerged from Dumbarton Oaks. Yes, Dumbarton Oaks contributed greatly to Byzantine studies. Many young scholars were there, like myself and many others. I mentioned already a few colleagues during my first visit. If I go through my notes, I can refer to many others who all pursued distinguished careers in research centers or in universities. Also, Dumbarton Oaks contributed a lot in restoring and studying Byzantine monuments throughout the Byzantine world. There were many projects in Constantinople itself, Kariye Camii and Hagia Sophia, and Pantokrator monastery were some of the great monuments, where Dumbarton Oaks had projects for many years.

If one goes down to the visual resources, housed on the second floor of the new library today, he or she will find a lot of archival material concerning these projects of Dumbarton Oaks.

Another sector is of course, the great many publications of Dumbarton Oaks. Not only the prestigious periodical, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, but there are many, many publications by distinguished scholars. I am quite honored that Dated Greek Manuscripts from Cyprus were published by Dumbarton Oaks in 1993. Unfortunately, very soon, this book was sold out. It remains out of print until today. During my recent visit, the librarian, Joshua Robinson, told me that they are planning to prepare a digital form of the volume.  

Furthermore, the contribution of Dumbarton Oaks includes the various symposia that took place there, as well as the interaction of scholars and friendships that emerged from their presence as visiting scholars and fellows there. All these created a very good atmosphere and raised the prestige of Byzantine studies not only in the United States, but globally, all over the world.

AS: Wonderful. You have been at DO, as we already discussed, under the directorship of Giles Constable, Robert Thompson, Angeliki Laiou, and Jan Ziolkowski.

CC: Yes, and I met, as an outside reader, Professor Keenan as well.

AS: Keenan as well. How have the initiatives undertaken by each director impacted the larger field of Byzantine studies, if you would like to comment on that?

CC: Their initiatives concerned the actual building of Dumbarton Oaks itself. For instance, Giles Constable, who is still alive at the age of 91—I cross my fingers for him to be around for many years to come—introduced air conditioning at Dumbarton Oaks. This allowed summer fellows to work there.

I think Giles also introduced the first computers during his last year, or the year before in 1983 or ’84. Robert Thomson expanded the presence of computers at Dumbarton Oaks and introduced the field of Byzantium and Armenia to the projects of Dumbarton Oaks, because Dumbarton Oaks was famous for the fieldwork done in many places of the Byzantine world. Not only Cyprus but also Syria, Turkey, and of course Constantinople itself.

Angeliki Laiou introduced big projects like, the Hagiography Project, and concluded a project which started with Robert Thomson the preparation of the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium with Alexander Kazhdan as chief editor, and the assistance of Alice-Mary Talbot, Nancy Ševčenko and Anthony Cutler. It was published in 1991. Then Angeliki prepared the unique Economic History of Byzantium, these famous three volumes.

The same applies to the Typika project. It was prepared successively by Robert Thomson and Angeliki Laiou, the publication completed in 2000. Keenan, it seems to me that had great ideas about expanding the buildings of Dumbarton Oaks. He introduced the idea of a new library, which he inaugurated in 2005. The new Fellowship House at 1700 Wisconsin Avenue, at a short distance from Dumbarton Oaks, was acquired by his successor, Jan Ziolkowski, in 2010, and nicely completed and renovated a few years later has become available to fellows.

After these buildings were completed, Jan renovated La Quercia and expanded greatly the number of fellows at Dumbarton Oaks, including young musicians pursuing a career in humanities as well, which wasn’t the case before.

The expansion of Dumbarton Oaks and the number of people—especially young and promising scholars—was one of the goals of Jan Ziolkowski.

I don't know who bought the new Director’s Residence, in 3240 R Street, which was, before, the house of the great actress, Elizabeth Taylor in the 1980s. I can recall weekend parties taking place there with the initiative of Liz Taylor, for the promotion of the political career of her husband, Senator John Warner. Thankfully, this house came to the possession of Dumbarton Oaks. It was renovated and became the director’s house. What happened to the former house of the director? This is the very place where the new Refectory of Dumbarton Oaks is now housed, just opposite the new library. Scholars can leave the library and go directly to the great Refectory, which has a Lower Refectory as well for meetings and discussions of projects or presentations. Visiting scholars have lunch there with their guests, which happened once or twice during my recent visit to Dumbarton Oaks in the spring term of 2020.

AP: You’ve spoken a little bit about how some of the different directors opened up the institution maybe a little bit more to other scholars and the public but I'm wondering, do you think that Dumbarton Oaks, has an academic duty to launch public outreach initiatives, particularly in regard to its role in Byzantine studies?

CC: Yes, I think Dumbarton Oaks has continued its traditional role for 80 years now on the promotion of Byzantine studies. But certainly, events taking place there were open to the public, like events in the Music Room, for instance. I still remember, the President of the Friends of the Music Room of Dumbarton Oaks bringing people and organizing concerts and other musical events in the splendid Music Room where also many lectures and symposia took place in the past. The same applies to the Museums and the unique Gardens, which are open to the public at certain hours.

I think this traditional role will be there for many generations to come. It's a unique place, a unique library with great resources nowadays, digital and otherwise, and these all must continue because Byzantium was one of the greatest empires ever that lasted for a millennium. Thanks to the Blisses, Byzantium became the heart of Dumbarton Oaks for 80 years now.

AS: What projects or fields of study would you like to see the Byzantine studies program support or emphasize in the coming years?

CC: Well, there are many fields that can be cultivated better. Let me mention Jan Ziolkowski’s initiative to start the [Dumbarton Oaks] Medieval Library for the publications of texts and translations into English, which is the continuation of the Loeb Classical Library, with more than 60 volumes published so far, related to Byzantium and medieval Europe, and the Latin West, being a distinguished Latinist himself.

I think this is one of the fields that must be cultivated further. The interaction between the Greek world of Byzantium and the Latin world of medieval Europe. How much Latin did the Byzantines know and how much Greek did the Latin world know at certain centuries and who were the leaders who cultivated the rapprochement between these two Christian worlds, which were dogmatically different for centuries with enmity to the very end?

Another field that needs to be examined further concerns medieval Europe and Byzantium. The aggressive behavior of the Latin world towards Byzantium during the Crusades. There are plenty of material sources both in Greek and Latin as well as monuments for new studies on the Crusades. The American scholar Kenneth Setton was a leading figure in the study of Byzantium and the Crusades.

It seems that after 40 years, we need to look at it again, study it with more archival and other sources and different approaches and rewrite Byzantium and the Crusades.

Another field where Dumbarton Oaks plays a leading role again, is Greek paleography. It seems to me that a number of younger scholars are not able to go through manuscripts and documents, or to read the original sources. Therefore, this is a field that needs to be cultivated further. I was very pleased to get my last fellowship working on a catalogue of Greek manuscripts, which was quite unusual for Dumbarton Oaks in the past. However, thanks to very good specialists on the subject, this has recently become a summer school offered by Dumbarton Oaks for young scholars from all over the world. This shall continue. Perhaps, relevant projects on scribes and manuscripts ought to be sponsored.

Also, epigraphy is neglected. Dumbarton Oaks has the means to sponsor the publication of thousands of epigraphical materials in Asia Minor, for instance, which are mostly unknown. Projects must be organized to publish all these unknown original and informative sources.

The relations of Byzantium with the Slavonic world is another field, or the relations of Byzantium with the Arab world. Dumbarton Oaks published a series of volumes prepared by a great scholar, Irfan Shahîd, who was connected with Dumbarton Oaks and Georgetown University. I had the great pleasure of meeting Irfan several times at Dumbarton Oaks and enjoyed fruitful discussions with him. These volumes stopped in the sixth century, but the relations between these two worlds continued for centuries. It must be cultivated again.

Byzantium and the Middle East also, and the world before the arrival of the Arabs. The Syriac world, the Hellenistic and Roman Egypt and Alexandria, and the role of Byzantine Egypt must be studied further. We have plenty of new evidence in papyri published in recent years. This material remains available for Byzantinists for studying and improving the picture of Byzantine Egypt, until the arrival and conquest by the Arabs in the seventh century.

The survival of the classical world in Byzantium that interests both art historians and the students of education and learning could also be considered.

I don’t refer to Byzantine art because you may ask art historians to give you their ideas on the particular monuments that need to be studied, preserved and published.

AP: In a post COVID-19 world, how do you envision Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks changing for both scholars and for the public?

CC: Before that, let me say a few words for my last visit to Dumbarton Oaks because I came, and I met with a new world altogether. Everything is digitized, including the library. Many materials are digitized and made available to scholars. Of course, the interaction between the three fields of Dumbarton Oaks has now become bigger and bigger. Many lectures are taking place on the fourth floor of the Fellowship House, and fellows are attending Pre-Columbian, Garden and Landscape, and Byzantine Studies lectures, and discussing more and more the three fields together. This is a new development that I observed during my 2020 visit.

Everything was going on very, very well for two months. I came in January, and until March, everything was excellent. We enjoyed the food culture of chef Hector Paz and we had many discussions in the refectory , meetings with visiting scholars, like Dimiter Angelov, Eurydice Georganteli, Anthony Kaldellis, but even people invited by Dumbarton Oaks, like the librarian of Sinai, Father Justin, who was invited by Anna Stavrakopoulou, who organized a very special lunch gathering in the Founders’ Room to honor the librarian of the Justinianic Monastery of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai.

Suddenly, everything was interrupted by an unpredictable enemy that spread all over the world and all over the United States from the end of February onwards. I still remember the closing of the refectory on the 13th of March, and the very sad news that the library closed on the 20th of March 2020, for the first time in its long and glorious history. I understand that it still remains closed to this moment.

This was very sad news. Harvard and Dumbarton Oaks worked quickly to adapt to the new situation, and many things continued to happen via Zoom, as we’re doing now this interview from a distance. Project presentations and discussions were taking place and continue to do so via Zoom. Even concerts were taking place via Zoom, but this is something quite different from what we used to have and do at Dumbarton Oaks.

It’s the community of scholars and the lively interactions that brought new ideas and new projects for Dumbarton Oaks. I understand, and I hope—I cross my fingers—that this soon will come to an end, and the community of Dumbarton Oaks and Harvard will come back because this is part of their long and glorious history.  

Therefore, my hope is that COVID-19 comes to an end soon, and that Dumbarton Oaks reopens for research for all the scholars of Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and Garden and Landscape Studies.

Well, I think we covered most of it, but let me conclude this interview with the very sad news that the Great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, which had become a museum thanks to American pressure in 1934, and where many scholars from Dumbarton Oaks worked for many years, will be turned to a mosque by decree of the present Turkish government.  

I think that now is the time for Dumbarton Oaks and other Byzantine studies institutions throughout the world to raise their strong voices and ask for the unique Christian monument included in the UNESCO heritage to retain its traditional role as a museum open to all religions, and to all people of the world.

Thank you very much!