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Elizabeth Bolman

Oral History Interview with Elizabeth Bolman undertaken via Zoom by Anna Stavrakopoulou and Audrey Pettner on July 29, 2020. At Dumbarton Oaks, Elizabeth Bolman was a Fellow (2004–2005) and has been a Senior Fellow of Byzantine Studies (since the fall of 2018).

Audrey Pettner: When was the first time that you heard of Dumbarton Oaks, and what were your initial impressions of the institution?

Elizabeth Bolman: It must have been when I was at Smith College in the ’80s. I went to my first Byzantine Studies Conference, which was held in Boston. That’s the first time I saw Angeliki Laiou. I was extraordinarily impressed because she was in a room full of men with various kinds of Orthodox (religious) clothing on, men of the church, and she held her own with them and wasn’t in the slightest bit intimidated by them.

I thought, “My gosh, how does she do that?” Then, of course, 20 years later, I was doing it myself with my Coptic monastic colleagues. Anyway, so it was a long time ago that I first heard about it. As far as first impressions, I was first I think terrified of it.

Anna Stavrakopoulou: Maybe you want to give us your first impressions the first time you visited the place. Would you like to address this now?

EB: Yes, sure.

AS: Probably it was before you became a junior fellow, isn’t it?

EB: I was never a junior fellow. I was turned down several times, Anna.

AS: Sorry, you were a fellow.

EB: Yes. Right. I was a fellow.

AS: That’s okay. You’re a senior fellow now.

EB: No. It’s an interesting part of the story. I don’t want to jump over that. As far as first impressions, of course, it’s just breathtakingly beautiful and libraries always fill me with joy and the packed shelves, the stacks of the Byzantine library that were in the Main House at the time were just so deeply satisfying to me knowing that there was just pretty much anything there I could possibly want. The archives were amazing, the photo archives and of course the house itself and the gardens. I’ve always been so deeply moved by the inscriptions of quotations on the exterior wall that address the mission of Dumbarton Oaks. They moved me then and they move me now.

The Dumbarton Oaks that I first encountered was very Greek-oriented. Since I was working in Egypt—even though Egypt was part of the early Byzantine Empire, and in fact, a hugely important part because that’s where all the grain came from for the dole—I was not considered to be an insider and I think because I was working on Coptic projects, my applications were declined.

I applied again after I got my PhD for funding to work on my 13th-century monastic project also in Egypt. I was put on the waiting list, but I never got off of it. Then I applied once more to work on the second half of my book, which is on the Byzantine Nursing Virgin.

I told the people who were writing letters for me, “This is the last time I’m going to ask you to write for me for Dumbarton Oaks. If I don’t get it this time. I’m never trying again.” Of course, that time I got it and I don’t think it’s an accident that I was going to study with the middle and late Byzantine material that was not Egyptian.

Two people who stand out for me as extraordinary leaders at Dumbarton Oaks in my time are Alice-Mary Talbot and Margaret Mullett. Their importance for the field, I think, cannot be over-emphasized. That was recognized with Alice-Mary who was director of Byzantine Studies for over a decade and who’s one of the hardest workers, and most fair people I’ve ever encountered. I think that was recognized because she was given at least two edited volumes in her honor. Some people hope for one and she got, I think, at least two and maybe there’s a third, I don’t even know about.

AS: Also, there was a panel in her honor at Kalamazoo last year. Maybe the speakers are preparing something.

EB: Right. I’m being pretty candid with this interview, which I think is important for posterity as a historian. I just want to say on the record that I heard recently that Alice-Mary Talbot was not allowed to eat in the Refectory anymore. Now that we’re in COVID and everything shut down, of course, that doesn’t seem to have much relevance, but it’s an indication of lack of respect for one of the pillars of the institution. Alice-Mary worked from early in the morning until late at night during the week. Then she came in again on the weekend and worked on her own projects. She also edited Dumbarton Oaks Papers, and Joel Kalvesmaki also did exceptional editorial work. You never ever found a typo of any kind in that volume. They were just exceptional.

I think Alice-Mary’s fairness is also something that I really want to recognize that academics sometimes become elitist. They sometimes become arrogant when they’re successful. Alice-Mary Talbot was one of the people who founded the Byzantine Studies Conference, as a counterpoint to the Byzantine spring symposium at Dumbarton Oaks because the symposium, of course, is all by invitation. Junior scholars are not always represented very well. Certainly, graduate students are not at all.

The Byzantine Studies Conference for decades has given graduate students an opportunity to give papers and receive feedback from senior Byzantinists and has just provided a much more congenial community less by invitation only. It really, I think, has had an unbelievable impact on the field in a positive sense. This is not to detract in any way from these spring symposia, which are extraordinarily important for the field. I think that Alice-Mary’s more inclusive approach is something that I personally benefited from, and I felt really good about Dumbarton Oaks in her hands.

Another thing that she taught me, in many ways, was to be a mentor for junior scholars.

She mentored me and then when I would come to visit for a week or two to do some research, she would say, “Now, there’s this young scholar who’s here. Could you take her with you to hear Peter Brown give a talk at the Library of Congress and introduce her afterward.” She would give me detailed instructions about what these young people needed and what I could provide. I was so happy to provide that and then I always took them out to dinner afterwards. I still do that when I come.

And then Margaret Mullet was like a breath of fresh air in the institution because she did not conform to the etiquette. The first time I visited Dumbarton Oaks after Margaret took over, I had been a fellow at that point maybe five years earlier. I walked in the door, and I saw one of the staff who I knew pretty well. He’s one of the house managers, one of the people who keeps everything going. He ran up to me and he gave me a hug. I was thrilled, but I couldn’t believe it. I attributed all of that to Margaret because she just changed the air in the building. Her new initiatives were very creative. Those are two really prominent people who I think are responsible for keeping the field as robust as it is. I miss them both. Of course, I’m in touch with them, but I miss seeing them at Dumbarton Oaks.

I think it’s an indication of how much the field has changed that I was asked to be a senior fellow, and I think that’s a good thing. I think the field has changed in some really good ways.

AP: Dumbarton Oaks is of course interesting in that it has three very different fields all under one roof. How would you characterize the interaction among the fellows of the three fields? Do have an opportunity to initiate scholarly dialogue, exchange, even casual meetings over lunch?

EB: I think the ideal is of course interaction, but that was not my experience. That said, there have been some directors of Pre-Columbian Studies, Joanne Pillsbury comes to mind, who has always been extremely generous and gracious and inclusive. She’s really a model for that kind of interaction. I’ve had a little bit more to do with landscape, probably for the obvious but not admirable reason that that includes some Byzantine material. So, in my experience, there has not been as much interaction as would be ideal. I’m part of the reason for that too. I take responsibility.

AS: At any given stage in your relationship with DO, how did your experience differ from that of the other stages? Particularly as a female scholar, did you notice any changes either in the field as a whole or at Dumbarton Oaks over time?

EB: I did notice changes over time. When I first started going to spring symposia, the people who were called on to comment after a talk was given would be senior scholars, most of them male, or all of them male. I would have my hand up and I would not be given the microphone. I was given the microphone once and I remember thinking to myself that I couldn’t believe I had the nerve to get up because then you had to walk to a microphone on the side because it was connected by a cord to electricity.

I remember thinking to myself that I had an awful lot of guts to get up there and actually ask a question. Fairly shortly after that, Sharon Gerstel twisted my arm into participating in her “Thresholds of the Sacred.” It was very interesting having the podium for a change. Philip Rousseau, who’s a marvelous scholar and a fabulous man, he commented after my talk, which was about the importance of visual culture in early monasticism. No, let’s see, I don't even remember which talk it was. I think it wasn’t Sharon's symposium. It must have been the one that Roger Bagnall organized on Egypt in the Byzantine world.

Anyway, he stood up and he said that I should remember that the scriptures came before the art. Without even thinking I just said back to him, “Well the cross came before the scriptures.” And he sat down. Obviously, the intimidating atmosphere didn’t permanently scar me but definitely it still exists. Some, but certainly not all of the senior male scholars were patronizing. I found that deeply objectionable. It’s definitely still there, but it’s in no way as powerful as it once was. I think the extraordinary dedication of Alice-Mary and Margaret must have changed the culture fundamentally in favor again of parity.

AS: It’s so interesting because you mentioned three directors, including the Pre-Columbian director, and all three of them are women. Margaret and Joanne and Alice-Mary, of course.

AP: Changing gears a little bit, in what ways did you make use of Dumbarton Oaks resources, and how did you find that the collection at Dumbarton Oaks uniquely contributed to your research?

EB: I took advantage of what at that time was a two-week period where you could come as a graduate student and stay without having to pay and do dissertation research. That was extremely important for my dissertation. Also, I came and stayed at a very crucial time right after I finished my dissertation. When I was working on my St. Antony book, I had to pay that time but that was fine. The cost was very minimal. I asked Alice-Mary if I could come and stay for a couple of weeks because I was at that time based in Cairo. I’d come to the States for the College Art Association meetings for job interviews, and they were in Los Angeles.

I wanted to stay in the States in case I got a call back because I didn’t want to have to come from Cairo. I didn’t think many institutions would be willing to pay for me to come back from Cairo. Also, it’s a long trip so why do it twice if you can avoid it? So, I had a marvelous time getting work done and got a call back for the job I eventually got, which was at Temple University in the Tyler School of Art. I taught there for 18 years, and I was extremely happy. Dumbarton Oaks was a haven I think for me at that really important time in my life.

That’s not to say I wasn’t intimidated by people, or that I wasn’t afraid to talk to people because I was. I was a very junior scholar. That was, let’s see in 1999 and 2000, something like that so quite a while ago. Then as a regular fellow, of course, when you work at Dumbarton Oaks, you’re able to do—I don’t know. I can’t even imagine how much more just because everything’s there. Maybe 10 times more, maybe even more than that, just because you can follow a footnote, and then it makes a reference to an obscure volume published in Italian in the ’20s. You can find that within 10 minutes.

Then you can look at the evidence that they present and say, “Oh, I need to look at this 19th-century volume, which gosh, it just happens to be in rare books at Dumbarton Oaks.” I also benefited—I was able to consult some early Byzantine art history publications by Russian scholars who were extremely important at the beginning of the field. A couple of their volumes were in rare books.

I imposed on one of my colleagues who at that time was a fellow from Russia. He came and sat with me and translated pages that I needed. It was a constellation of people and resources and time that just makes Dumbarton Oaks so amazing for all of us for our scholarly work. I cannot imagine the field without Dumbarton Oaks.

AS: Have you attended many symposia or conferences at DO? Do you remember any that stand out in your memory, actually, and for what reason, for some reason?

EB: I’ve participated in two and I was symposiarch for one. All of those three stand out for me. The “Thresholds of the Sacred” and then “Egypt in the Byzantine World,” Roger Bagnall was the symposiarch. Then the one that I did, “Worlds of Byzantium,” with Scott Johnson and Jack Tannous, who are such brilliant and great colleagues. I also attended as many as I could. Ones that stand out were, again, Sharon Gerstel’s, Morea. That was extremely important. The textiles conference that I attended that Gudrun Bühl put together with Betsy Williams, was one of the most stimulating and interesting events that I’ve ever been to in my life.

The one on late Byzantine painting was pretty great too. The textile one was uniformly great. Sharon Gerstel has really high standards and so her symposia tend to be of very high quality. I have attended some, I’m not going to mention them, where I felt like the quality of the papers was not as good. Some of that may just have been that they were outside my sphere of interest to be perfectly frank. Speaking about my own symposium, I do want to say that our volume was rejected for publication by the senior fellows. It both surprised me and didn’t surprise me.

The symposium basically ran against the grain of what Byzantine studies has traditionally been. We gave a vision that outlined different Byzantine studies. There were a lot, a lot, a lot of young people there, more than I’ve ever seen at a symposium. The energy in the symposium was incredibly high. People were so enthusiastic. I felt during the symposium like we were ushering Dumbarton Oaks really into a new future. Then with the rejection of the volume for publication, I felt like a door had been slammed in our face and Dumbarton Oaks was clinging to the past.

As an aside, we are submitting our volume in a vastly expanded and improved scope to Cambridge University Press. It’s been accepted for publication. It’s called the Byzantine Near East: A New History. In the wake of that, a few years later, I was just staggered to be invited to be a senior fellow. I could not imagine how the rejection of the volume and then my invitation to be a senior fellow and then all those rejections years ago when I was a doctoral student, I just didn’t see how they could all be part of the same reality. I’m happy to say that I think Dumbarton Oaks has moved into the 21st century.

The senior fellows have started accepting that Byzantine studies is more powerful if it included things like Ethiopia. I was turned down for Coptic projects when Egypt was part of the empire. Mikael Muehlbauer was accepted for work on churches in Ethiopia, which was never at any time part of the empire. I think that that shows that the institution has changed in some really positive ways over the last 30 years that I’ve been involved with it.

AP: I’ll go ahead with the next question then if that’s okay. Do you have any stories that stand out in your mind that you feel like should be part of the larger institutional memory?

EB: I’m going to tell one story. The story, like I said, I really feel like mentioning cultural changes and including some things that aren’t necessarily laudatory about the institution it’s very important, so this is going to perhaps entertain you. The pre-symposium dinner for speakers at a spring symposium used to be very different than it is now. The major difference was the amount of alcohol that was consumed by everyone involved. There is still a cocktail party on the lawn if the weather permits before dinner and there’s still wine served at dinner. But there used to be a lot more wine. Then a huge trolley full of after-dinner drinks, bottles of Belgian whatever. All sorts of things that I’d never seen before would be trundled out, and people would just sit there and drink again for a very long time. These would be symposiarchs and speakers, not just senior fellows who were there as part of the event. By the time of my symposium, “Worlds of Byzantium,” the after-dinner drinks had completely disappeared and there was much less wine served.

And I think the cocktail hour was shorter maybe but that could just be my imagination. Anyway, a real change in alcohol level consumed. I actually saw that change happen at the BSC also. The old BSCs, there used to be an awful lot more heavy drinking and socializing than there is now, which isn’t to say that we’re alcohol-free by a wide margin, but there is a cultural difference which is fascinating to me.


AS: That might be the practice in all academic institutions over time.

EB: Maybe, yes.

It just was such a massive difference between the second time I was a speaker at a spring symposium and the third time. It was in that time period that the culture changed.

One more story I want to share which is about the genesis of my own symposium. Margaret, of course, is very approachable. Very friendly. She is not proud of herself in a kind of intimidating way. She’s energetic and enthusiastic and totally at the forefront of, I think, a lot of changes in the field. She was the director of Byzantine Studies. I was there for a symposium. I don’t even remember which one it was but, by that time, I was recognized, and people would call on me to make comments.

I remember standing up and saying, “But you’re ignoring the Egyptian material. There’s X, Y, and Z that’s immediately relevant for your project that you haven’t thought about.” Then Scott Johnson would stand up and say, “There’s all this Syriac stuff that is really relevant for your project and you haven’t thought about it.” I was talking to Margaret about this. We were sitting in the Orangery during one of those fabulously lavish receptions at the end of the symposium, or Saturday in the symposium.

I talked to her about this and she said, “Now this is your job. You need to come up with a proposal for a spring symposium.” Jack Tannous was there, and Scott Johnson was there, and I took advantage of being of somewhat senior to them. I ordered them to join me for breakfast the next morning, and the rest is history. Without Margaret, that wouldn’t have happened. It would never have occurred to me to submit a proposal for a symposium.

AS: That’s wonderful. Now, 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 the studies of you and your fellows at DO, the fellow scholars?

EB: The resources are certainly helpful. I think that the online resources, the online access that junior fellows and fellows get when they’re at Dumbarton Oaks are extraordinary and really helpful. I certainly remember going over to the Center for Hellenic Studies once because they hosted lunch for us and then another time because they had a volume that I wanted to consult. Aside from that, I really feel like Dumbarton Oaks is pretty self-contained. Although I did take very full advantage of the interlibrary loan options while I was a fellow, it was just great to have that whole apparatus working for me. I would say definitely positive but not intrusive.

AS: What about the other cultural institutions in DC? Was there any interaction? Would you go there? Would you attend lectures at CASVA [Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art]?

EB: I’ve attended lectures at CASVA, and they also held a reception for us when I was a fellow and I went to that. I think that more could be done to connect institutions in DC. Maybe more has been done since I was a fellow. It was well over a decade ago. I think I had to seek out the lecture series at CASVA and there was one that was supremely important for me and I managed to go. I also actually used the library at CASVA. Something that I really wanted to consult was western medieval and they had it and I was given access. Not much interaction but quite positive memories, certainly.

AP: How would you describe Dumbarton Oaks’ role in the international context in Byzantine studies? How has this changed over the years?

EB: Dumbarton Oaks’ role is absolutely vital. The fact that Dumbarton Oaks invites scholars from abroad for the fellowship positions and works on having a balance between scholars from abroad and US scholars for symposia and colloquia, that has made the field much more interconnected and much less parochialized by geographic regions. When I was a fellow, the scholars from Russia were very friendly, and from one in particular I learned to pay careful attention to manuscripts and their materiality.

He talked about them being alive and reacting to humidity, for example, to conditions around them. I learned from him about paying really close attention to the manuscript. He may or may not have learned from myself and those of us who were there. I’m interested in gender studies. That’s what I was talking about when I was there. Ideas about constructions of maternity and childhood and images of the Nursing Virgin, that was my project then.

They may have learned, but really, I just cannot overemphasize the significance of Dumbarton Oaks for the field in the context of the globe although it’s mostly the UK and Europe. I don’t think there’s any other institution that has the resources and the funding and is able to invite people on a regular basis to engage as a group in communal discussions about the field. Really, I think the field would be so vastly impoverished without all of these decades of international scholars coming to Washington.

AS: You have been at DO under the directorship of Ned Keenan and Jan Ziolkowski. How have the initiatives undertaken by each director impacted the larger field of Byzantine studies?

EB: Ned did not have too much interest in the fellows in my experience.

Gudrun Bühl, I hope that you’ll interview her at some point. She was incredibly important for the museum. Her exhibitions were extraordinary, for example the one on Lighting of Byzantium. She also brought in contemporary art to engage with the ancient art. She had unbelievably high standards.

AS: By the way, Jan created the Oral History Project, he’s the one who started this as well.

EB: Yes, that’s a great thing and I think that his focus on outreach to elementary schools and high schools in Washington was a brilliant thing to do, extremely important for the survival of our fields. He’s a very interesting, complex, intelligent, and articulate man, but I think that the fact that so many senior Byzantinist left under his purview is a sign that everything was not happy under his regime.

AS: Yes but at the same time, I find this—you say that many senior Byzantinists left, but as I said, you and Claudia who are definitely also senior Byzantinists, with a lot of clout, you were, invited to be senior fellows by Jan, so you see, he definitely had an instinct also, and you were definitely not random choices.

EB: Yes, no, I accept that, and I was—I couldn’t actually believe when he invited me, I could not, it took 24 hours for me to actually accept that he had actually asked me to be a senior fellow. I really—I was just—my mind went just totally blank, it was such an impossibility in my mental world. Yes, well, I’m sure others will, who have more personal experience with Jan, will be able to fill in more of that story, but I would certainly not say that he was bad for Dumbarton Oaks uniformly. I think he did a lot of great things for Dumbarton Oaks. I think he was passionate about the organization and he was a really hard worker.

AP:. I’ll go ahead with the next question then, do you think that Dumbarton Oaks has an academic duty to launch public outreach initiatives, particularly in regards to its role in Byzantine history? I know you just answered this a little bit more.

EB: I think absolutely the field will not exist if we do not argue for its importance and its centrality. We will lose younger generations and I would say that one of the things that I’d like to see Dumbarton Oaks do is not just have digital images available, but make the images open access and also scan and post old books that are rare and out of copyright. I think that if we don’t fully maximize the potential of new technologies or recent technologies, technologies that certainly weren’t around in the early ’80s, when I was at Smith College studying Byzantine art, we’re going to lose younger generations.

They’re not going to—they’re going to see us as fossils and indeed we’ll be fossils if we don’t do more. The outreach initiatives are vital and there’s more that Dumbarton Oaks could do to make itself accessible to everybody, but specifically, the younger generations, to make them feel comfortable. Getting the seals catalog online was fantastically important. Something that Jan and I both agreed on was that more books that are written for the general public about what had previously been obscure scholarly topics, should be published by Dumbarton Oaks.

There’s a marvelous one by Gary Vikan that was actually updated even, on Byzantine pilgrimage art. Getting senior people to write short, well-illustrated, informative books that are published as inexpensive paperbacks about aspects of Byzantine culture is hugely important and Dumbarton Oaks should do more of it in my estimation.

AS: To follow up on the previous question, what projects or fields of study would you like to see the Byzantine studies program support or emphasize in the coming years?

EB: I am surprised to say that I’m actually happy with the range of support that the senior fellows are currently expressing. You mentioned that Mikael Muehlbauer applied twice, certainly, when I was applying, it was understood that the first time you would not get a fellowship and I don’t know if that’s actually the case anymore, but . . .

AS: It is, there are several people who apply several times, yes, it is.

EB: Right, but I didn’t have to argue for the importance of Mikael’s project, I was fully prepared to argue that it was vital for our field to include Ethiopia and I didn’t have to make any of those arguments and I was astonished and delighted.

AS: We actually had two people whose work was related to Ethiopia.

EB: Right, but Felege[-Selam Solomon Yirga] wasn’t working on an Ethiopian topic, he was working on a more traditional topic. But yes, what an extraordinary thing to have an Ethiopian scholar and to have a Caucasian American scholar working on Ethiopia there at the same time, that just was marvelous. Yes, I’m very pleased with the way the senior fellows evaluate the applications.

I actually want to mention that I’m working on an exhibition with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art on Byzantium in Africa and we’re going to be considering Egypt, Nubia, and Ethiopia and I think that that exhibition will do a lot more than one junior scholar can simply do to bring Ethiopia and the Nubian material into the central discussion about what Byzantine culture and history is.

Mikael is one of the people that I’m mentoring. I take him out to dinner when I’m there and I also read his job letters and make suggestions for changes and look over his CV and his project essays. He tried to get me on board from the first time he met me in 2012, when I was giving us the Rostovtzeff lecture series at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, it was four lectures, and he came to all of them, he was then studying at Queens with Warren Woodfin and I just remember thinking at the time, “I know nothing about Ethiopia and why are you talking to me?”

Not in a mean way because he’s such an energetic, smart, articulate young man, but just, I’m not the person for you, I’m not—I can’t help you and he just persisted and persisted and persisted, and suddenly at Harvard, at an event on Christianity in Africa that he was attending, he got me to sit down with him and look over his material and talk to him about his dissertation and something slipped in me and I thought, “Okay, I’ll help this young man, I’ll do whatever I can for him,” and now I’m pleased to be able to do so. I’m sorry he had to work so hard to get my attention.

AP: Building on the themes of the last few questions, in a post-COVID-19 world, how do you envision Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks changing for both the scholars and for the general public?

EB: I would hope—I’m going to answer the last part of the question first. I would hope that even more outreach would happen. I think that this is a problem that we have in the humanities in general, that we don’t argue for the centrality of our course of study. It’s not an accident that people are flocking to business schools, business schools teach public relations; they’re good at arguing for the importance of what they do. We’ve been in this elite world where we felt we didn’t have to, and maybe we felt like it was even embarrassing to do so, it was beneath us or something. I think that our field—our fields, plural—cannot survive unless we get over that.

I think it’s super important to explain to people that art has always been at the center of everything that happens, everything. So, the idea that studying art is peripheral, is insane, it’s absolutely insane. We should be the first to be interpreting things, any kind of civilization, any expression, art is the tool that’s used to express authority. Anyway, I’m sorry, I went off of one of my passionate subjects there, but to go back to Byzantine Studies post-COVID, I would see the senior fellows actually have more authority. I would like the senior fellows to be more involved in the agenda at the museum.

I asked several times for some level of involvement in the museum and wasn’t given access and I think the senior fellows have a bigger role to play than we’re being given the opportunity to exercise. I think we could do more as far as decision making. There are some committees in academia which are called steering committees, and you go, and you’re basically given information, you’re not asked about the shape of the future. While the senior fellows make absolutely vital decisions, very difficult decisions about who should get funding in the Byzantine world for what projects, there’s a lot more going on at Dumbarton Oaks that I think our advice could be useful for. I would hope that the senior fellows in all three of the fields would be given more authority, post-COVID, and with a new director.

Okay, good. I think I want to mention something about John Duffy, of course, who’s been such a leader with the senior fellows for so long. I’ve only been a senior fellow for, I think, two years now and I have so much admiration for John. First of all, he’s a gentleman, secondly, he has a quirky sense of humor. John is so methodical and he’s so careful, he’s excellent with detail, he handles meetings with a deftness that you can only have after decades of experience.

He brings a lot of fairness, he makes sure everybody has a chance to express their opinions. Ruth Macrides, who so sadly passed away far too young, I only overlapped with her for a year as a senior fellow, and I had not known her, I knew her scholarship, but I had not known her prior to being a senior fellow and I just fell in love with Ruth. She just had such an extraordinary sense of humor but one of the things I loved the most about Ruth as a senior fellow is that she would come in with totally different rankings than anybody else.

So, the rest of us would be more or less in agreement and then Ruth would come in supporting someone who ranked 34th or something, and she would passionately explain the importance of the project and sometimes she persuaded everyone and John never made anyone arguing in favor of a particular project or proposal who was outside of the group norm, never made anyone feel like their opinion was any less important, was always very patient, very thorough. John is one of my heroes at Dumbarton Oaks, in addition to—it’s not all women—in addition to Margaret and Alice-Mary, and, of course, Joanne Pillsbury, who’s such a fabulous individual.

But I’m really grateful to the two of you for this opportunity to talk about my experiences and for all of your time and, Audrey, thank you for taking on this job this summer, I hope that you’re finding it a good learning experience for you too.

AP: Absolutely. No, it’s been so remarkable. I have to say thank you so much just for all of your thoughts and your passion about history too, as I’m slowly starting the grad school application process. That was beautiful to hear, and I really appreciate that. This has been so wonderful to get a chance to meet so many wonderful people and dive into the institutional history. Yes, it’s been really wonderful. I’ve been incredibly lucky this summer.

EB: I would encourage you as you prepare for your applications to make sure that your own passion comes through and not to try to be so serious that you lose your own individuality and your own love for the field. I think it’s very easy when you’re young to be nervous about expressing what’s really important to you.

Of course, it doesn’t feel really cool to do so either, but I think that expressing what you love about the field is what's going to get people hooked on who you are as a scholar. The best advice I ever got was actually from David Roxburgh, is he still here?

AP: Oh, yes. He’s still here, yes.

EB: I knew him when he was a graduate student at Penn and he was much more attractive than anybody had any right to be, and very charming. He’s one of the first people I knew who actually got two doctoral fellowships back to back in one year, and he was allowed to defer one. So, he got two years of support overseas and what he said to me, and it’s the most important thing that anyone ever said to me about writing an application, whether it’s for grad school or for a fellowship or something is make it sexy.

He didn’t mean make it about sex, he meant make it gripping, make it real. Because the stuff that we study, it was alive like we are alive and we love it because of that and because of its complexity, because of the people, because of what they did. If you can convey your engagement with that living complex past, if you could convey that in the first paragraph of an application, you’ve already won the battle.

You’ve got to imagine people having had a big lunch, maybe a glass of wine, sitting down to go through huge files, folders of applications and slogging through them and getting to yours and being captivated in that first paragraph, and then wanting to read more. That’s the kind of advice I would pass on to you as a young art historian in addition to the other things I said, Audrey.

AP: That’s the best advice I’ve heard, that’s amazing. Thank you.

EB: You should tell David. You should tell David that his comments are still alive. I told all my students at Temple; I tell them all here at Case Western Reserve and I think they’re much more successful as a result of it. My very best wishes to you.

AP: Thank you, I really appreciate it and thank you so much for your time this morning.

AS: Thank you very much. There’s a Greek poet, a Nobel laureate winner who says, “Our words are children of many people.”

AP: It’s beautiful.

AS: It’s exactly appropriate.

EB: That is so nice. Who is that, Anna?

AS: Seferis, George Seferis. “Our words are children of many people.”

EB: That is so perfect, Anna, thank you. What a wonderful way to end this interview.

AS: Thanks so much.

AP: Thank you.