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Warren Woodfin

Oral History Interview with Warren Woodfin undertaken via Zoom by Anna Stavrakopoulou and Audrey Pettner on July 28, 2020. At Dumbarton Oaks, Warren Woodfin was a Junior Fellow (2001–2002), a Summer Fellow (2013–2014), and a Fellow (2019–2020) of Byzantine Studies.

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

Warren Woodfin: Let’s see. The first time I heard of Dumbarton Oaks must have been when I was an undergraduate in college; I was thinking about doing something in terms of medieval studies for graduate school, and I did a senior thesis with a non-Byzantinist, actually. There was a Byzantinist at Williams, Christine Kondoleon, who’s now at the MFA Boston doing late antique things, whom I never got to take a class with because our schedules never quite overlapped. So, I wound up doing a semester in Greece. I must have heard of Dumbarton Oaks by my junior year in college. I did a semester in Greece, my junior year, because I was already interested in Byzantine art by then. I think my first visit to Dumbarton Oaks must have been my senior year in college, and I was deciding where to attend graduate school and came to visit Henry Maguire, who at that point was director of Byzantine Studies. I remember being ushered into his office, which is now in the main building.

I distinctly remember the Robert Van Nice Saint Sophia in Istanbul volume being propped against the wall. I have one here and am so happy about that. I encountered Dumbarton Oaks through publications and so forth. Then my senior year, I applied for what was then the Bliss Fellowship, which had wonderful terms of financial support for graduate study wherever you wanted to go and then a guaranteed junior fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks.

I remember the application process was really arduous. You had to produce all this stuff and send a sample essay, et cetera. And you had to produce it in, I think, 12 copies because they didn’t want to have to photocopy it to distribute it to the
senior fellows. After all that, I got a nice letter back saying, “Dumbarton Oaks was disappointed in the quality of the applicants this year and has therefore decided not to award a Bliss Fellowship at all in this cycle.” Anyway, I did wind up studying with Henry Maguire. That brought Dumbarton Oaks, and the Dumbarton Oaks publications, and the whole history of the institution pretty close into my academic orbit.

AS: Great. You did end up, of course, getting a junior fellowship and more fellowships after that, isn't it?

WW: Of course. I think the first time I was in residence was for one of the short-term reading periods that was offered for graduate students, which would have been in the summer of 1999 when I was preparing for some of my exams. I spent a week in residence, just sitting in the Founders’ Room and plowing through as much material as I possibly could. Then I was back again the following summer for the inaugural Byzantine Greek Summer School that Alice-Mary Talbot, Alexander Alexakis, and the late Father [George] Dennis taught. That was a wonderful group of people and a fantastic summer. We were living in what’s now the Guest House. The old Fellows’ Building. Then, of course, I was back as a junior fellow for 2001–2.

AS: Who are some Byzantinists you interacted with the most during your appointments at DO?

WW: Well, of course, Alice-Mary Talbot was probably first and foremost because she was an instructor for the Byzantine Greek Summer School. She was director of studies when I was a junior fellow, so she was very prominent. Let’s see . . . back in the summer school, Leonora Neville was part of that group. Then, of course, my class of junior fellows has all remained very active in the field. Cecily Hilsdale, Sarah Brooks, Elena Boeck— a former director of Byzantine Studies—and then Chris MacEvitt was the outlier as the historian of the Crusades. Also, in residence that year were people like Maria Parani and Sharon Gerstel. Nicholas Constas—now Father Maximos—was a fellow. Oh yes, the wonderful Dorotei Getov, a Bulgarian scholar who (if I may be permitted a humorous aside) at one of our many parties at La Quercia, brought a fried fish dish. We asked him, “Dorotei, this is delicious. What is it?” He said, “Oh, it’s carp. I caught it myself in the Tidal Basin.” Alice-Mary had to have an intervention and tell him that it was really not a good idea to eat fish caught in the Tidal Basin.

AS: Did you end up working with some of these people? Did you end up doing projects with them? Did you form any sort of scholarly partnerships, would you say?

WW: I would say that I haven’t coauthored anything with anybody from our cohort, but I would certainly say that I send things back and forth among several of us. Sarah Brooks has sent me things to read that she’s preparing for publication. I’ve sent things of mine to Cecily Hilsdale. We’re a tight-knit group and that’s really nice.

I think why we were so jelled is, of course, as I’ve mentioned numerous times during this past fellowship year, our orientation day was September 11, 2001. So, we had that little collective trauma right at the beginning of the academic year for better or worse. I think we also drank heavily to compensate. So far as I understand, [we were] the only group of fellows to be repeatedly shut down by the police department for noise complaints in La Quercia.

There was one very wild party in what’s now the common room in La Quercia. It was Chris MacEvitt’s apartment. That happened during one of the senior fellow meetings. I distinctly remember Ioli Kalavrezou and Paul Magdalino, I won’t say crashing, but inviting themselves to our junior fellows’ party and having a raucous good time until the police showed up.

AP: Dumbarton Oaks is obviously interesting that it has three very, very different disciplines all under one roof. How would you characterize the interactions among the fellows of the three different fields? Do you guys get a chance to initiate a scholarly dialog or an exchange, maybe during lunches?

WW: It certainly changed over the years that I’ve been associated—the times I’ve dipped my toe back into the institution, I should say. When I first started out, it was at the beginning of the effort to dismantle a hierarchical structure where Byzantine Studies was both physically and conceptually on top. Remember in the old arrangement, the house was the Byzantine Studies library, and Pre-Columbian Studies and Garden and Landscape Studies were literally in the basement.

There was a physical manifestation of a hierarchical attitude. Then, of course, the restructuring that happened, I think primarily under Ned Keenan, that tried to make three equal groups. It was interesting, when I was a junior fellow, the Garden and Landscape people were very hived off and stayed, in a sense, aloof from the rest of us. We had wonderful conversations with the Pre-Columbianists. That was an open boundary.

I certainly remember socializing with the Pre-Columbianists, discussing comparative situations. I won brownie points for incorporating the Peruvian T’oqapu Tunic into my research report, my junior fellowship year. Everybody was like, “Good institutional player, Warren.” In [the report] actually, it worked. It was a beautiful illustration of the kind of self-referentiality that was going on in the Byzantine vestment. I was discussing the Major Sakkos of Photios [in the Kremlin Armory, Moscow]. If you look at the T'oqapu Tunic in the Dumbarton Oaks collection, it actually has among all the little insignia in the squares, images of a similar tunic. It worked. I wasn’t just forcing the comparison. Then when I was a summer fellow, when was that, about seven years ago?

AS: 2013–14.

WW: Yes. I can hardly remember any interactions outside the Byzantine group. Again, that was a really tight-knit group. We did a lot of things together. We went on excursions, we went to Baltimore together, we ate together. Margaret Mullett who was then director of Byzantine Studies, she was in the pool every evening and you had informal gatherings poolside very frequently. Of course, the downside of tight Byzantine cohesion was less interaction with the others.

I would certainly say, this past year, again, we’ve had a collective trauma with the lockdown thanks to COVID-19, but I formed really close friendships with people in Garden and Landscape Studies and Pre-Columbian Studies. Even in the fall, but that only deepened when we were quarantined together.

AS: Wonderful. How would you describe Dumbarton Oaks’ role in the international context of Byzantine studies?

WW: It’s certainly, in terms of resources, the epicenter. There are no other places that have a library like Dumbarton Oaks. Obviously, it’s the Mecca for everyone internationally, even people coming from very well-stocked libraries in New York, or London, or Oxford, or Athens. I don’t think you can compare. Certainly, no other place keeps up the kind of profile of scholarly activity and symposia colloquia that Dumbarton Oaks does.

Obviously, it’s shifted over the years in terms of engagement with fieldwork. In the early years of my knowledge of Dumbarton Oaks, it was still in the closing phases of its involvement with fieldwork internationally and supporting these multiyear projects. Of course, some of those resulted in wonderful publications and some of them had fizzled. That’s an area where it’d be interesting to see what happens over the next 20 years. With geopolitics being what it is, it’s very difficult for an American institution to have the kind of physical presence abroad that Dumbarton Oaks did in the ’60s and ’70s and so on.

AP: In what ways do you make use of Dumbarton Oaks’ resources and how do you find that the objects collection here at Dumbarton Oaks uniquely contributes to your research?

WW: I use Dumbarton Oaks publications constantly. I think I’ve got the physical copies of the Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents over there [in my study in New York]. Just surveying my shelf, looking at publishers, maybe a good 20% of the books on my bookshelf have Dumbarton Oaks somewhere on the spine: Angeliki Laiou’s three-volume Economic History of Byzantium, I’m seeing about seven volumes of Dumbarton Oaks Papers, The Panagia tou Arakos in Lagoudera, The Threshold of the Sacred symposium volume by Sharon Gerstel, and so forth.

In terms of publications, it’s always close to home. The coins online are wonderful. I’m constantly referring back to those in my teaching. Of course, for my own research, the newly launched textile database is fantastic. Of course, the holdings in Dumbarton Oaks textile collections skews early, my own research skews late. There’s only so much overlap. But that’s been a long-desired addition in my work on this project in Ukraine that's been dragging on for 12 years or more. I’ve looked at the sigillography databases at Dumbarton Oaks and there's just so much. I assume the Hagiography Database is still somewhere online although I’ve lost track of where the link is.

AS: It is and it has an overseer, actually, who updates it.

WW: Good. That’s something I’ve used a lot in the past, but maybe not so recently.

AS: Have you actually attended many symposia or conferences at DO? Do any of them stand out in your memory for any particular reason?

WW: Yes. When I was a graduate student, I almost annually attended the conference at Dumbarton Oaks. I’ve been less frequent of late in part because my duties as treasurer at the International Center of Medieval Art make me go to Kalamazoo and doing two different symposia right at the end of the spring semester, two different conferences is difficult. I think the last one I attended was the Holy Apostles, in fact. But standouts, of course, the one that Sharon Gerstel organized on the sacred screen, east and west, was phenomenal and very relevant to my current work. I’m trying to think of others.

AS: Can you tell us a little more about this symposium or conference? What impact did it have on your current work?

WW: What was stimulating about it was the comparative approach. It wasn’t just what we know about the templon or sanctuary barrier in the history of Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture and decoration, but really comparisons with the Temple in Jerusalem, comparisons with western choir screens. I think there was a paper that didn’t make it into the symposium volume that was about A. W. N. Pugin and the rood screen controversy in England, where he was a big proponent of screens and the Catholic hierarchy didn’t like screens because they get in the way of visibility for the rite of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

Then, of course, thinking about the visibility of the Eucharistic bread, which is the centerpiece of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, versus the whole Orthodox ethos of revelation through concealment. That’s Nick Constas’s contribution to that symposium and then to the volume (Father Maximos’s, that is) is a real strong statement of—I can’t remember his exact words, but essentially, if you see it with the naked eye you don’t see it. It has to be concealed behind figuration to be properly beheld with the intellect. That’s been . . . going on 20 years, but these things have been percolating in my mind since then.

AS: You were about to mention another conference.

WW: Right. That’s the Constantinople symposium that Bob Ousterhout and Henry Maguire co-organized. Of course, I took a seminar from both of them. They team-taught a seminar on the art and architecture of Constantinople [at the University of Illinois]. That was a memorable symposium because it was so directly tied into my own graduate study.

I’m trying to think if I attended in ’96, which would have been my spring semester in college. It’s conceivable that I came down through that, but I can’t remember. I did attend the symposium—or rather the Byzantine Studies Conference in fall of ’95, which was connected to [the Met Museum’s exhibition] The Glory of Byzantium. That was my first big “hanging out with Byzantinists” experience.

I was a fairly faithful attender at the symposia. It’s the Constantinople one where I distinctly remember Angeliki Laiou standing up and, I think, challenging Henry Maguire a bit on his interpretation of Mesarites’s ekphrasis of the Holy Apostles. It was an interesting moment. She was wearing very sparkly shoes. There are these little details that stand out, I think they were purple and sequined.

AP: That feeds really well into the next question. You’ve already shared lots of memorable little moments, but do you have any stories that stand out in your mind that you feel should be part of our institutional memory as well?

WW: It’s not a good story, but the September 11th was a highly memorable moment. We were gathered in the Founders’ Room for orientation. Joe Mills wheeled in a television set and we just assumed that this was going to be playing us a video as part of our orientation, but instead we watched on television as the towers fell in Manhattan.

I had actually been in the library earlier and had been up on the top floor of the main house. You could see the Pentagon out the window and you could see the smoke rising. I called my then partner who said, “Yes, a plane has crashed into the Pentagon and also into the World Trade Center,” and I ran downstairs and told the other people in the junior fellows' study, which is now no more. It got divided into multiple offices of the second floor of the Main House. Everybody was like, “Shh, we’re trying to work before our orientation.” None of us had any idea how momentous an event it was. Then, there was a lot of hemming and hawing about what we are going to do.

This is not a flattering thing about Dumbarton Oaks, but in a quintessentially Dumbarton Oaks moment of reasoning, they decided to send us back to La Quercia and close the building because it had been the site of the Dumbarton Oaks Conversations, and therefore, might be on a terrorist hit list, which I think is certainly talking about the self-regard of the institution that, “It’s because of the Dumbarton Oaks Conversations that we’re sending you home,” as opposed to [reasoning], “This has been a horrible traumatic experience and nobody’s going to get any work done. Let everybody go for the day.”

Of course, to our discredit as junior fellows, we were really disappointed that we weren’t allowed to use the pool that day. We said, “Oh, can we use the pool?” “No.” It was a gorgeous day. It was a perfect early September day apart from everything being so horrible. I can’t even remember the duration of the lockdown in DC where we had fighter jets circling overhead at the time and, of course, being close to the Naval Observatory, that was very prominent. I think we were really shaken, and I don’t think we were in touch with how shaken we were, but the upside was that we formed some really intense friendships, and these have endured, and we had great parties.

AS: 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 fellow scholars at DO?

WW: That’s an interesting question. When I got my junior fellowship at Dumbarton Oaks, I was also offered a fellowship at the National Gallery at CASVA [Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts]. I went to consult with Henry Maguire, and he said, “Take Dumbarton Oaks, CASVA is more likely to forgive you,” which is true. [But they haven’t forgotten.] Every time I’ve gone back for events at CASVA, Elizabeth Cropper has said, “Oh, and this is Warren who turned down CASVA for Dumbarton Oaks.” The relationship with the National Gallery is wonderful. I still remember attending talks at the National Gallery from my junior fellowship year.

Another shaggy dog story: There was a wonderful talk on Titian and the analysis of one of his iconic portraits of a Venetian noble family. Some years ago, I was riding the A train in New York and there was a man sitting across from me. He looked very familiar and had luggage with him and looked like he had just gotten off a transatlantic flight. I finally spoke up and said, “Excuse me, do you work on Titian?” He said, “Yes, among other things,” and handed me his card. It was Nicholas Penny, the director of the National Gallery, London, who was on his way out of town to stay with a neighbor of mine who teaches at NYU. Of course, it was he who had given that talk at the National Gallery so many years prior. I accosted the director of the National Gallery, London, on the subway in New York, based on having heard him give a talk when I was a junior fellow.

The Harvard relationship hasn’t really come into play for me being a non-Harvard person. Of course, there’s this stable of Byzantinists at Harvard that had been fixtures of Dumbarton Oaks for the duration. John Duffy and Ioli Kalavrezou, of course, and the late great Angeliki Laiou, and now her student Dimiter Angelov, and others who had a less long-term Harvard affiliation. Certainly, in this spring—and this is such a shame that it was cut so short, because Dimiter and I have a lot to say to one another about Palaiologan matters, and ideology, and ceremony—we were reduced to short conversations in the gardens for the most part because of everything going pear-shaped thanks to COVID.

AS: What about the current situation where you have the younger Humanities Fellows and postdoctoral fellows, and Audrey, for instance, interns—did you get the chance at all to interact with these younger crowd?

WW: Yes, I did. Then, certainly, I was interacting as a fellow this year with the Tyler fellows.

That’s a huge change from—I guess, the year I was a summer fellow was probably the inaugural year of these Harvard fellowships for undergraduates or new graduates. It’s an interesting experiment and I really enjoyed talking to a number of them. This is, I guess, trying to steer people towards thinking about careers in the medieval humanities and Byzantine studies more specifically. For my part, I wish that it cast a net beyond Harvard, because I think that people at Harvard are already in as good a position to enter Byzantine studies as at any undergraduate institution in the US.

As a past undergraduate and graduate student at non-Harvard institutions, I would love to see Dumbarton Oaks spreading that wealth. No ill intended towards the current fellows whom I found really, on the whole, delightful. I had really good conversations with Tyler fellows and I had really pleasant interactions with humanities scholars who were working on things like the coins and seals, and the Oral History Project, and of the archival kinds of internal documentation, which was, of course, a one-man show for a very long time.

AS: Actually, the Bliss Fellowships have changed from the time when you applied. Now, we have Harvard students and students from other American universities, and we give the possibility to one international student as well to apply.

WW: Fantastic.

AS: You can let your graduate students know about this award when things go back to normal. Then we have also the short-term predoc which is for graduate students who could come down and study and we pay for their transportation and their accommodation.

WW: Right. What I took advantage of when I was a student myself.

Yes. I think the bonds between Dumbarton Oaks and Harvard have been tighter or looser at various times. They seem to be at a particularly tight point at this juncture. It will be interesting to see how things develop under the new director.

AP: Alright. Switching gears just a little bit, do you think that Dumbarton Oaks has an academic duty to launch public outreach initiatives, particularly in regards to its role with Byzantine history?

WW: Public outreach. You see, this is a double-edged sword because there’s so many people who feel that they’re stakeholders. I mean, Byzantium is—it’s a peculiar thing in that it doesn’t have a clear successor in the present day and that’s, well, your contenders. There’s Orthodox Christian Eastern Europe, there’s the Greek Orthodox Church, there’s the Patriarchate, there is the modern Greek state. There are all kinds of claimants to the heritage of Byzantium.

As I think we’ve seen with the unsuccessful attempts to try to dissuade Erdoğan from his course of converting Hagia Sophia back into a mosque, that kind of public advocacy is tricky. Because as soon as it’s seen that someone else is trying to claim or trying to assert a proprietary interest, it gets very tricky. Of course, when I was a graduate student, we had the wars. There were several iterations of war in the former Yugoslavia that, in part, revolved around cultural patrimony.

As soon as you identify, “This is our patrimony and we are defending it,” it becomes more of a target for resentment or, in fact, even acts of vandalism or sometimes acts of deliberate destruction. Now, in terms of awareness of Byzantine studies, I think Dumbarton Oaks is remarkable in bringing in all sorts of people, attracting people to the symposia and colloquia who are not academics at all.

I remember striking up a conversation at one of the symposia with a Dutch guy who works at the UN. I can’t remember what his job was at the UN, but he was just fascinated to attend this highly specialized symposium in Byzantine studies. Of course, there’s probably less and less, but the DC socialite contingent, that would fill a number of the seats at the symposia. In terms of raising awareness of Byzantium or public advocacy, it’s tricky.

In the case of Hagia Sophia, what’s done is done. I, of course, signed on one of the letters of petition circulated that I thought tried to thread the needle of not defending Hagia Sophia as Greek patrimony or the patrimony of Orthodox Christianity, but really trying to reduce this to a technical issue of jurisdiction. Of course, it didn’t work because authoritarian leaders are going to do what they want. We tried.

AS: Yes, of course.

WW: Absolutely a retrospective kind of discussion. I mean the monument is not gone. They may have these hideous turquoise carpets covering the marble floors that are so beautifully documented in the Van Nice publication. We still have the monument even if it is temporarily in a less accessible position to scholars. As an aside, I think it was Emily Neumeier who posted on Facebook a picture of the scaffolding that was erected in the apse to hang the curtains that will temporarily conceal the Virgin and Child. I thought, “Man, how many generations of Byzantinists are there who’d give their eyeteeth to be on that scaffolding? And be able to see the fabric of the mosaic at close range and resolve all kinds of tricky questions about how much of that is 14th-century restoration? Or is it entirely 9th century, with just a tiny bit of patching? And is that early-Byzantine-style border a 6th-century remnant or was it redone in the 9th century in imitation of the 6th century? Or was it done in the 14th century in imitation of the 6th century?” Those are all questions that can only be answered by close examination of the monument. The scaffolding went up and the scaffolding came down and nobody got to investigate any of that. It’s pretty heartbreaking.

I guess part of me really wishes for Dumbarton Oaks to remain its vast ivory tower self and to be this monument of unageing intellect. That’s really a difficult thing to do in this day and age. Of course, you know, you can’t do scholarship without engaging with what’s actually happening in the world. We have physical monuments that exist in real space and time. We can’t retreat entirely to the ninth century and only parse the words of Photios and whatnot.

AS: What projects or fields of study would you like to see the Byzantine Studies program support or emphasize in the coming years? What is your wish list?

WW: The era during which Dumbarton Oaks supported projects abroad is at a standstill, but I would like to see renewed support for fieldwork.

AS: There are project grants, of course.

WW: I’d like to see Dumbarton Oaks putting more resources behind that. In Byzantine Studies, what sort of research would I like to see? I think it should be generated from the field. It’s the individuals who come up with really interesting and exciting projects. I’d be reluctant to say, “Oh, I want to see Dumbarton Oaks doing more with musicology, or doing more with manuscript studies,” or whatnot because I think you can’t anticipate ahead of time where the interesting scholarship is going to be.

I appreciate that there is this board of senior fellows, who are a diverse and smart group of people, who are able to recognize good work of all sorts of different kinds and direct Dumbarton Oaks support for it. Fieldwork is not something that I have been particularly active in. I did, as a graduate student, participate in a summer season with Bob Ousterhout in Cappadocia, which resulted in a Dumbarton Oaks publication, of course; and with Henry Maguire and Ann Terry at Poreč.

I’m not a man with dirty fingernails. I don’t dig, but I do think it’s really important that Dumbarton Oaks remains invested in the physical remnants of Byzantium.

Again, apart from that, I would hesitate to say anything prescriptive, because I really think the institution’s great asset is that it is able to be flexible and recognize good, innovative, necessary work, wherever it occurs. By the way, Matthew Crawford was name-checked—in an article that came across my screen—a newly discovered work of the Cyril of Alexandria in Armenian translation that was thought to be lost.

AP: You’ve been at Dumbarton Oaks for really two very massive global events. A little bit more towards this last one. In a post-COVID-19 world, how do you envision Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks changing for both scholars and for the public?

WW: Who the heck knows? I know everyone is saying that, “Oh, we’ll stop wasting all this jet fuel on going to conferences.” I don’t know. I think there’s something really valuable about being gathered and present. Zoom is great. I was ahead of the curve in watching the research reports from Zoom, because I had an extra week of self-isolation, thanks to my church habits. I do think there are interesting things happening. Betsy Williams is going to help me set up a virtual viewing for my graduate students of the textile collection at Dumbarton Oaks.

We’ll record it so that the students who can’t be there during the day when it’s happening can watch it later. As much as I am dreading teaching online and feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that is involved in preparing this, I’m suddenly realizing, “Oh, we can do a field trip to Dumbarton Oaks from New York on a CUNY budget, which is nothing. We can see various collections.” I do think that this huge push—for all of us—over a certain digital threshold opens up possibilities beyond the static websites like the imperial coin exhibitions (which are great).

These are a wonderful enduring resource that I come back to again and again. But actual recorded tours, virtual tours where you can be guided through the collection and even interact with the curator or whomever at a distance, that’s a wonderful thing. I hope that we don’t get so phobic about the physical presence of other human beings. I hope the vaccine is forthcoming. I hope it works. I hope we can get things back to some semblance of normalcy soon.

I think seasonal cases of the sniffles—I’m not saying that COVID-19 is the sniffles—I’m saying that the price to pay for gathering in groups is people get colds, people get the flu, people pick up whatever you pick up on airplanes. But I really do think that physical gathering in that environment—there’s something about being in the Music Room, in the Founders’ Room.

As an aside, I still haven’t quite gotten over my mourning for the move to the new library. It was utterly necessary. There was no way we could stay in the old house. They literally had books in the coat closet, in the hall outside the junior fellows’ study. There was no way this was sustainable over the long term, but I so miss the feeling of safety. It was a kind of cocooning all along. It’s a grand kind of cocooning. You’re in a house. You’re in a home for the humanities, as the James Carder book calls it, in a way that the library, however commodious, just does not embody.

I can’t wait for Dumbarton Oaks to throw the doors open again and have events in these rooms that are so haloed with associations, generations of great scholars. I can’t help but feel that there’s a little bit of Alexander Kazhdan, a little bit of Ernst Kitzinger, a little bit of all these people, a little bit of Angeliki Laiou, embedded in the walls, and you can’t get that via Zoom.

It makes me sad because, of course, being physically in the library and just being able to pull things and flip through them and see and do that kind of chain of, “Oh, this reference is this, let me follow it.” All the rabbit holes. I only got about halfway through my book manuscript this year because I was following rabbit holes. At first, I thought, “I need to finish this book, don’t go down the rabbit holes.”

But the rabbit holes, one time out of seven, say, turn into something really interesting that makes for a better book.

Oh, just a random thought, back when I was a junior fellow, most of the Byzantine books were still in Brinkler, which was so wonderful. Brinkler, however, was unsustainable because Dumbarton Oaks had to do all the cataloging from scratch. It was a custom-designed system for distributing works on Byzantium. And because it was custom-made for Byzantine studies, it was brilliant, and you found things in a really intuitive way. Library of Congress—I can give you a personal example of the way Library of Congress scatters things. My book on Byzantine liturgical vestments appears in the Library of Congress system right after the Pedalion, the manual of Greek Orthodox canon law.

This is not a logical place for my book. Whereas, when you went to the shelves in the attic of the old house—I was looking at monumental painting. It was sorted “Early,” “Middle,” and “Late” by country. It was so logical and there were so many serendipitous discoveries in terms of when you went for one book and then you found three others that you didn’t know about next to it, one of which was a better source than the one you were originally looking for.

Brinkler is all but dead. There’s like one row of Brinkler books in the basement stacks for the library. Primary source texts were all under T for text. There were subdivisions for the different series and so forth.

It was so easy to find things. It was just tailor-made for that radical experience. That’s been not lost but attenuated somewhat thanks to the entirely necessary adoption of the Library of Congress catalog.

Actually, that change, it definitely started before I was a junior fellow because there was already a section of LC stacks down in the basement next to the Pre-Columbian books. Of course, part of the reason the change had to happen was the merging of the three libraries, because the Library of Congress was the system for Pre-Columbian and for Garden and Landscape. Actually, Garden and Landscape might have had its own system too, but you need one system for all three. So, Brinkler had to die, but it was great while it lasted.

AS: Warren, we thank you so much for your time, for all the stories you told us and everything you shared. Your knowledge, your experience, your insight. Lots of unique things you shared with us. I’m truly grateful.

AP: This has been wonderful. Thank you so much. It’s really lovely.

WW: I’m so glad. I forgot to tell Henry Maguire that I was doing this. I got a nice note from him two days ago about the Festschrift in his honor. I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet.

AS: No.

WW: It arrived a few weeks ago. I mean, he only produced so many students but there are a lot of contributions from his peers that are especially nice.

AS: Very complimenting.

WW: I don’t know whether he’ll be pleased or whether he’ll just feel really old that his own student has now been incorporated into the oral history.

AS: Well of course, it was delightful.

WW: Thank you. It’s wonderful to see you. Good to meet you, Audrey.

AP: Lovely to meet you. Thank you so much.