The Oaks News
Pre-Columbian Studies Fellow Brian Bauer on the Wari Empire
Brian Bauer, a fellow in Pre-Columbian Studies at Dumbarton Oaks in 2016–2017, is a professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an adjunct curator at the Field Museum in Chicago. Over nearly three decades, as an anthropological archaeologist with a particular love of archaeological surveys, he has published and worked extensively on the Inca, with special attention to the city of Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire. At Dumbarton Oaks, however, he is turning his attention to the Wari, an imperial state that flourished in the Andean highlands from roughly 600 to 1000 AD—four centuries before the rise of the Inca.
In his research report, titled “The Lord of Vilcabamba,” which was the first at Dumbarton Oaks this academic year, Bauer described the work he plans to undertake, sketching a portrait of Wari scholarship’s rapid and ongoing evolution: the Wari were only identified as an empire in the 1950s, and archaeological work was interrupted for more than a decade by the operations of the Shining Path in Peru. From a heavily walled capital in Ayacucho, the Wari projected power through administrative centers in Viracochapampa and Pikillacta—sites remarkable for their rectilinear planning.
Vilcabamba, long known as the last holdout of the Incas after the arrival of the Spaniards, has been more recently revealed (by Javier Fonseca) to be a Wari site as well. Located downriver from Machu Picchu, Vilcabamba is badly looted, but has the most elaborate Wari tomb ever found, probably belonging to a provincial ruler who was interred with a large pectoral, death mask, cinnabar, and other high-status objects. Bauer will be reevaluating the Wari and their empire through the finds at Vilcabamba and will also work on a history of the Wari’s D-shaped temples with Dr. Maeve Skidmore, a former junior fellow at Dumbarton Oaks.
A Brief Q&A with Brian Bauer
Do we have a sense of what the origins of the Wari were?
It’s getting clearer, now that archaeologists are digging at the site of Wari itself. There seems to be an even earlier civilization in the valley—unfortunately, we don’t have many carbon-14 dates. But it seems that the Wari are from the Ayacucho area, and they’re the end product of five or six hundred years of cultural development. It looks like, around 200 AD, a critical mass of people accumulates in the area and begins to develop what we now call Wari culture.
You’re generally very interested in state formation and consolidation of state power. What’s your sense of why political organization coalesced when and how it did for the Wari?
I’m a strong believer in population levels, and that as societies become bigger and bigger, it becomes advantageous to organize those populations in different ways. As populations increase, some things get more and more scarce, so a lot of rules begin to kick in, and a few people end up controlling access to power, prestige, and wealth. So I see population level as the critical variable.
On a different note, you brought in so many wonderful artifacts, many of which were metal, that I found myself wondering: what characterizes Wari metallurgy?
I’m very new to this! I’d be curious to see how much copper production predates the Wari. Because I think, at least in the highlands, we probably have just a scattering of some copper tools before the Wari. And I think that under the Wari, you can really begin to talk about large-scale metal production. There are very few articles (I was chasing down a few today) on Wari production of metals. So far, most people dig a site and add an appendix that says, “By the way, we found twelve pins and three things we’re not sure about.” So I think the site of Vilcabamba will be interesting because it has a large collection of Wari metal. And it’s different from other sites, since it also contains a lot of very impressive silver items. The Wari silver is just gorgeous—the artistry is fantastic. And while there’s good Wari metalwork in various museums, the fact that we are getting these items from clear Wari contexts is important.
Dumbarton Oaks’ New Director of Byzantine Studies
“Strange images find me,” says Elena Boeck. She pauses briefly before continuing: “I think I have a natural affinity for outlying images.”
“Strange” and “outlying,” “liminal” and “borderline”—these words crop up frequently when Boeck, who recently began her five-year tenure as director of Byzantine Studies, speaks of her work. Perhaps because her research centers around the odd, out-of-place, and oftentimes mysterious visual clue, her way of speaking is staunchly investigative; her sentences advance steadily and logically, extended every now and then by a favorite phrase: “This is why . . .”
Professor Boeck comes to Dumbarton Oaks from DePaul University, where she holds a professorship in art history. She received her BA in that subject in 1996 at Boston University, followed by an MA and PhD at Yale. After completing her PhD in 2003, Boeck quickly settled at DePaul, where she has taught in various capacities since 2004. In addition to her scholarly work, Boeck brings strong administrative experience to her directorship at Dumbarton Oaks; she served as principal organizer of the 2011 Byzantine Studies Conference, and as a member of the governing board of the Byzantine Studies Association of North America between 2008 and 2012. (Having reassumed this position in 2015, she will now serve until 2019.)
Boeck, who hails from Riga, Latvia, originally intended to study physics before coming to the United States to pursue her undergraduate studies. But once she arrived, a natural inclination to the study of images drove her to major in art history. (Her conversion to Byzantine art history came later, during a trip to Istanbul).
Despite what might seem a jarring shift, she insists there are strong parallels between the fields: “In physics, one studies laws which have been made manifest in physical form . . . and the same thing applies to art history. Objects have a created reality, but there are laws and rules and there are structures—the creator’s intellectual processes—which bring them into existence.”
Boeck’s fascination with the hidden origins of images, and her belief that precise ideological structures often stand behind the art that surrounds us, are perhaps not so surprising, given the environment of her youth. “The other side of the story,” Boeck says, matter-of-factly, when explaining her proclivity to art history, “is that I grew up in the Soviet Union; I’ve seen images and the way images are used for political purposes—and one understands how to read these kinds of narratives, and what to do with them.”
Boeck’s approach to the visual is undergirded by a healthy skepticism, a natural corollary to recent trends in Byzantine studies. Although Byzantine culture has long been recognized as a “distorting mirror,” Boeck writes in her 2015 study Imagining the Byzantine Past that “only recently have that mirror’s characteristics started to fascinate as much as its distortions.” Though the positivist fact-mining that dominated manuscript studies in the first half of the twentieth century can still yield useful historical information, Boeck’s work arises from the more subjective sphere of rhetorical nuances and narrative strategies.
As a result, her work can be both precise and expansive, detail-oriented and theoretically minded. In her own words: “I’m an art historian, but I think about myself as doing intellectual history.” In line with this self-assessment, Imagining the Byzantine Past showcases her method of working backward and outward from discrete visual curios to develop a convincing revision of historiographical approaches to Byzantium.
“Byzantinists love the Skylitzes manuscript so much that they don’t want to look at it critically,” she says of one of the central object-studies in Imagining the Byzantine Past. “Because it is so vivid and so rich, it has to be the reality.” And yet Boeck concludes that the Skylitzes manuscript, commissioned by Roger II of Sicily in the mid-twelfth century, is in fact a purposive construct, designed in opposition to the Byzantine cultural model.
Setting the Skylitzes manuscript against another, more laudatory manuscript—an adaptation of the Manasses chronicle, produced for Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria in the mid-fourteenth century—Imagining the Byzantine Past attempts to display the deliberate and exploitative nature of both works. One is valedictory, one denunciative; one aims to condemn, the other to incorporate—and yet, as Boeck insists, both are suffused with a creative energy, both fundamentally aware of the power to be gained in co-opting history: “They take the foundation—the texts—and they completely transform them.”
Disjunction—between image and text, between truth and narrative, between cultural centers and their peripheries—orders much of Boeck’s scholarship. At the most particular level, this disjunction is evident in the befuddling images that offer glimpses of obscured ideologies: a saint who should know better raises his robes and exposes himself; an iconoclast, denounced by the accompanying text, appears, improperly haloed; a Virgin figure, holding her child, sprouts, for no obvious reason, a third hand.
But more broadly speaking, these visual oddities offer a portal on conflicting historical frameworks that Boeck has worked tirelessly to unearth and interrogate. “As scholars, we all operate with a sense or set of assumptions . . . we create our own versions of Byzantium, and our own interests drive us,” she says. “When we come across images or objects which defy these cultural assumptions—that’s when people have to articulate what they expect from images.”
Boeck is open about her own expectations, as well as the sympathy for peripheral things that often structures her work. (Imagining the Byzantine Past acknowledges its genesis is owed, in part, to its author’s youthful experiences “on the fringes of a collapsing empire.”) Her theoretical background shines through in her choice of words; the language of obliquity—“decenter,” “othered,” and, of course, “periphery”—reigns when she muses on narratives of Byzantium.
And while, couched in these terms, Boeck’s concerns may seem intimidating, they translate easily into her coming work at Dumbarton Oaks. As Boeck sees it, Byzantine studies today is frequently interested in cross-cultural discussions that in turn reevaluate the very meaning of “Byzantium.” Though Boeck can cede that Byzantium has been consistently “othered” in the past and left out of “standard narratives of history,” it is an observation that is quickly tailed by further questions: “What do we call the center? And how do we define the margins, or the borderlands of Byzantium?”
“A simple example: there are modern-day countries which claim Byzantium as part of their national heritage, so in these countries Byzantium is in some ways written into history—it becomes part of standard textbooks. And people who come to it when it’s not part of their tradition, of course, will focus on other aspects of Byzantium—and so, we get different versions of Byzantium.”
One of the most valuable aspects of Dumbarton Oaks, Boeck acknowledges, is its ability “to get different people with different views of Byzantium together, to get them talking more.” In many ways Boeck’s work can be seen as an effort at disentangling—but in order to disentangle, one first has to recognize there’s a tangle at all. At Dumbarton Oaks, Boeck hopes to continue the healthy confluence of different constructs, narratives, and “assumptions” that abets scholarship of all types. In addition, she’ll aim to maintain the institution’s current spate of programming and fellowships—initiatives that Boeck herself can be thankful for.
Boeck previously spent time at Dumbarton Oaks as a junior fellow in the 2001–2002 academic year, an interval she remembers fondly: “It was such a good environment. You put books all around yourself, and you know Hector provided lunches—so it’s life completely worry-free, and you just write.”
More than a decade later, her office space has increased, though she is still surrounded by books, folders, files. Right now, in between her manifold duties—editing the Dumbarton Oaks Papers, working on budgets, coordinating programming—Boeck is composing a cultural biography of the Column of Justinian, which stood in Constantinople from the sixth to the fifteenth century. She’ll be attempting to prove that the column was the “greatest” monument of Constantinople throughout its long existence.
In the midst of describing this study, she pauses for a brief aside that seems telling: “Byzantinists,” she allows—with an air that seems to add, so it goes—“will not necessarily be happy with it.”
James N. Carder (October 2016)
Even after the availability of color photography and, later, the advent of the digital image, a number of artist-photographers have continued to work with black-and-white film stock. They also continue to develop their art in darkrooms, usually employing either the silver gelatin process or the more matte platinum/palladium process. These artists use these media in many cases so that they can better manipulate the image in a printmaking-like manner and create rich tonal effects that range from bright white to velvet black.
Over the years, the archives and House Collection have received black-and-white images that were photographed in the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens. Recently, for example, Julia Cart, a photographer based in Charleston, South Carolina, sent the archives files of garden images that she took in 2002 with a vintage Rolleiflex camera. Ms. Cart works exclusively in film, using antique, large-format cameras. She has said that she is, “above all, a respectful student of natural light.”
In 1999, the artist Tanya Marcuse also photographed in the gardens using black-and-white film. Although she often works in color and in a large-scale format, her Dumbarton Oaks images were created in small scale (approximately 10 by 12 centimeters) using the platinum/palladium process and involving closely cropped and detail imagery. She generously gave prints to the House Collection.
Dumbarton Oaks’ staff photographer, Joe Mills, is also a photography artist who often uses black-and-white photography to create photomontages and collages in a surrealist style. In 1979, he took haunting images in the gardens, and, in 1995, he offered prints of this series to the House Collection.
New Titles in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library Series
In October, the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library will add two new volumes to its catalog of historic texts, both of which are concerned, either directly or obliquely, with the power of rhetoric and the act of rewriting.
The Rhetorical Exercises of Nikephoros Basilakes, written sometime in the twelfth century by the eponymous Byzantine aristocrat and pedagogue, encapsulates a new trend in education that arose in the medieval period. Short and rhetorically dense, the exercises were meant to replace the intensive study of complete ancient texts that had dominated aristocratic education for more than a thousand years.
The exercises, or progymnasmata, are presented in seven categories of distinct rhetorical styles: fables, narrations, maxims, refutations, confirmations, encomia, and ethopoeiae. By far the largest portion of the book is taken up by the ethopoeiae, speeches delivered by historical or mythological figures in which the personalities respond to a challenging situation, and in the process reveal a sliver of their character, a glimpse of their emotional state, or both.
Though ostensibly didactic, the exercises, crisply translated by Jeffrey Beneker and Craig A. Gibson, are also consistently entertaining and offbeat. In their idiosyncrasy, they aid the impression, established by the volume’s introduction, that Basilakes was a shameless self-aggrandizer. “According to his own testimony,” Beneker and Gibson write, “Basilakes was a very successful teacher, whose popularity attracted the envy of the patriarch.”
Besides elaborating the field of schedography (the method of studying short texts), Basilakes is notable for the “artistic blending of pagan and Christian sources and worldviews” that informs his compendium; a Biblical story is just as likely as the tale of Phaëton to prove the author’s point.
Reading the Rhetorical Exercises, one quickly senses that Basilakes was a clever man. His exercises blur thematic and tonal boundaries, as if he wants to assure readers that complexity can arise even in his truncated, prefabricated texts. The ethopoeiae in particular touch on themes as diverse as art and nature, chastity and desire, and the theatrical grounding of day-to-day existence.
There is, too, a wry bluntness, most prevalent in his fables, that can seem off-putting if one expects to find an Aesopic neatness and refinement in the exercises. For instance, Basilakes writes of a lion who becomes enchanted by a beautiful girl and asks for her hand in marriage. At first the story seems a fairy tale, until reality sets in, and the lion wonders if the girl’s father will consent to being called the “father-in-law of a lion.”
Practical, humdrum matters, absurd as they may seem, take over. The arc of the fable is wholly unpredictable, and the eventual moral of the lovelorn lion’s tale—“Do not trust your enemies too readily”—is so broad that the tale that precedes begins to seem more of a gymnastic experiment, as though Basilakes were flexing his creative powers, attempting to see how strange he can make the elaboration of a commonplace.
In a similar vein, The Old English History of the World, edited and translated by Malcolm R. Godden, exhibits another author confident in his refashioning of ancient tales.
Orosius, a scholar and cleric, wrote his Seven Books of History against the Pagans in the early fifth century. Similar to Augustine’s City of God, the Seven Books sought to rebut claims that Rome’s decline had been caused by the abandonment of traditional paganism.
Nearly five hundred years later, the chronicle was translated into Old English by an anonymous author (or authors)—though “translated” is a generous term. Readers who pause over the table of contents may note, for instance, that Orosius’s famous Seven Books have been whittled down to a less imposing six. When the anonymous Anglo-Saxon—whom Godden, in his introduction, dubs “Osric”—produced his work in the tenth century, he didn’t so much translate Orosius as revise, excise, and thoroughly transmute the text.
Assuming in his readership a familiarity with Roman history and ancient matters, Osric retained a basic description of events from the Seven Books, while cutting liberally from Orosius’s commentary. At other points, he embellished, inserting dramatic speeches on a whim. All in all, Osric’s alterations are best summarized by the phrase “imaginative dramatization,” as Godden contends. Motives, outcomes, and explanations are added for color and detail.
Among Osric’s evident fascinations were military strategy and the customs of other cultures. And yet, while he delights in describing the ploys and plots of various wily generals, he also makes a point of bemoaning the terrors and tragedies of war. At one point in his history, in a fitting flight of fancy, the city of Babylon plaintively describes its own fall.
Osric revels in these peculiarities. While his narrative strategies may be lively and imaginative, the details he chooses to highlight—strange goings-on that are nevertheless dealt with objectively—form the backbone of the text. In writing of the burial practices of the Ests, a Baltic-region tribe often associated (whether accurately or not) with the modern-day region of Estonia, he describes, simply and with light wonder, what might be magic, or simply misunderstanding:
It is the practice among the Ests that everyone, whatever their country, must be cremated. If a single bone is found unburned, a heavy penalty is exacted. Among the Ests there is a community that can make things cold. The dead bodies lie uncremated for so long without rotting because these people create a chill in them. If you put out two vessels full of ale or water, they make one of them freeze solid, whether it is summer or winter.
Three Young Humanists from Harvard Arrive for a Year of Practical Learning and Career Preparation
Dumbarton Oaks is launching a new fellowship program this academic year designed to bridge the gap between college and career for three talented young humanists. The Dumbarton Oaks Humanities Fellowships will place each of three recent graduates from Harvard College at a partnering cultural institution in Washington, D.C., for the fall term, where they will acquire skills relating to their long-term interests. In the spring term, they will return to Dumbarton Oaks to collaborate on a project that applies those skills for the remainder of the year.
“We felt that the humanities needed special support and attention” among the postgraduate opportunities already available at Harvard, says Jan Ziolkowski, director of Dumbarton Oaks. “One of the distinctive opportunities that we can afford is the chance to learn through working. There are many undergraduates who crave to know what goes on behind the curtains in a number of extremely attractive fields, like publications, museums, and archives—and we’re uniquely positioned to assemble a group of people to learn from mentors at a variety of career stages.”
In this inaugural year, Dumbarton Oaks’ partners include the National Gallery of Art, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum. Fellows live at Dumbarton Oaks and participate in weekly research reports as well as the other events for the institute’s fellowship community. In addition, the institute will host a series of six talks throughout the year where notable humanists—including documentarians, archivists, writers, and scholars—will speak about their own career paths and the state of the humanities now.
The first cohort of Dumbarton Oaks Humanities Fellows’ interests range widely. Rebecca Rosen, who will begin the year at the George Washington University and the Textile Museums, is interested in conservation and curation, as well as questions of gender and the distinction between art and craft as they pertain to textiles and the decorative arts. She majored in neurobiology in college, but by her senior year found herself wanting more and more to work with culture. She grew up sewing with her mother, and in her junior year took a course on quilts and quilt-making that helped her see textiles and craft works as objects for serious inquiry: “It was very accessible, but we were also doing real intellectual work.” By her senior spring, she was considering leaving science to work with culture instead. “I read an article about how conservators repaired a Monet painting that someone had punched a hole in, and I knew, ‘This is it! This is what I want to do!’” she recalls. “I love fine detail work and working on one square inch of something for hours and hours, as well as being able to bring art to an audience.” Rosen comes into the fellowship after spending a year after graduation working in jobs that included furniture repair and ephemera acquisitions for a vintage art company. She adds, “I’m really looking forward to looking at how museums work and learning what I can be a part of, as well as bringing to light art and stories that might otherwise go unseen and untold.” At Dumbarton Oaks, Rosen will be working with museum director Gudrun Bühl.
Priyanka Menon, who will be embedded at the Folger Shakespeare Library this fall, is equally at home in the worlds of mathematics, social thought, and intellectual history. She wrote a thesis in math on ultrafilters—a concept important to the subfields of logic and topology that she describes as “a structured way to capture all the elements in a set.” Menon worked on a theorem about voting on ranked preferences called Arrow’s impossibility theorem, which uses ultrafilters in its proof—varying it to apply to contrasting kinds of sets, such as finite vs. infinite sets. Although the math is very abstract, the implications affect major questions in social and political thought, like whether the decisions of the living can or should bind the not-yet-born. “What I like about that thesis is that you’re working on very technical math at the foundations of logic, set theory, math itself,” Menon notes, “but you somehow still end up having knowledge that relates to ethical and normative questions directly or indirectly.” Menon also studied with historians Samuel Moyn and Sunil Amrith, and has done extensive work on twentieth-century Indian intellectual history, particularly on the concept of nature in the writings of both Gandhi and his critics. She is interested in the possibility of future work in history, political thought, and the legal academy. “I like math because it’s so abstract and the ideas are so pure,” she says, “and that blends so easily with intellectual history. I hesitate to say that I’m moving from the sciences to the humanities, or moving away from any field permanently. I’m interested in the middle ground, what I call the ‘fruitful cross-pollination’—finding unexpected connections and applications.” During her fellowship, Menon will work on Dumbarton Oaks’ ongoing project on mapping the history of cultural philanthropy and its effects on the city of Washington, D.C., with archivist James Carder.
John Wang, who grew up in Hong Kong, says that after taking mainly math, science, and language classes in high school, the first real humanities class that he took in his freshman year at Harvard transformed him: a class on American art and modernity taught by art historian Jennifer Roberts. “That was the first time that I saw art as not just about taste, but also society, culture, history, economics; I think the whole idea of ‘modernity’ first came to me through that class, too.” Though his strong interest and extensive coursework in social theory and intellectual history at first led him to declare a major in social studies, in the end he settled on art history, where he pursued the specialized track in architecture studies, taking architecture classes at the Graduate School of Design along the way. For Wang, who will be working at the National Gallery of Art in the first half of the year, both scholarship and artistic practice are entwined with questions of ethics and society—as are museums and the role they play in communities. “In the Renaissance or Imperial China, humanistic questions were thought to be part and parcel of how society should be—not a scientific or administrative question, but rather issues of how and what we should think,” he explains. “I see museum-going as more than just a recreational activity. I think there’s a strong civic dimension to it that fosters better citizenship and helps us be better people.” A practicing architectural designer in his own right, Wang’s design for a garden installation on the grounds of the Radcliffe Institute was recently selected from more than forty submissions. It uses granite blocks and wooden benches to echo the footprint of houses that Radcliffe College once used as classrooms—“an attempt to approach design practice with a more historical and humanistic bent,” he says. Wang also volunteered with Habitat for Humanity at Harvard, as well as the Phillips Brooks House Association’s Chinatown afterschool program. At Dumbarton Oaks, Wang will work with John Beardsley, director of Garden and Landscape Studies.
Ziolkowski says that Dumbarton Oaks wants the fellowship to open up opportunities of all kinds, but impart a lifelong love of the humanities in particular. “If we get people to go into the humanities, that’s great. If they go into something else, but carry away good experiences, have learned from it, and can advocate for a liberal arts education who have an impact on other people, that’s great as well. We want to do everything Dumbarton Oaks can to help present the case for the arts and humanities, which is best presented by fostering people who love them, are willing to commit to parts of their lives to them, and speak about them.”
We are pleased to welcome Roxanne Radpour, who joins Byzantine Studies as a short-term predoctoral resident until the end of September. Roxanne is a doctoral candidate in the materials science and engineering department at the University of California, Los Angeles.
She works in the Archaeomaterials Group at UCLA with Professor Ioanna Kakoulli studying archaeological and cultural heritage materials using analytical imaging and spectroscopy techniques. Her PhD research is focused on the application of advanced imaging technologies to characterize the surfaces and subsurfaces of objects in order to understand their materials, provenance, and condition. In October 2016, with the support of a Fulbright Fellowship and the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute, Roxanne will be embarking on a research project in Cyprus to conduct an extensive analytical study of ancient rock-cut tomb wall paintings from the Hellenistic and Byzantine time periods.
We are pleased to welcome Danilo Valentino, who joins Byzantine Studies as a short-term predoctoral resident until the end of September. Danilo is a PhD candidate in Greek studies at the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures (CSMC) at the University of Hamburg.
Before beginning his doctorate in 2015, he held a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) scholarship for a research stay at the Institute for Byzantine Studies at Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich, where he began to study under Albrecht Berger, who, along with Christian Brockmann, is his doctoral supervisor. Danilo completed a BA in humanities and an MA in classics at the University of Turin, Italy.
His interest in late Byzantine society and the history of medicine influenced his choice to focus his research topic on iatrosophia, i.e., collections of Greek medical recipes, the use of which was widespread from the fifteenth century. His first monograph, Das Iatrosophion des Cod. Taur. B.VII.18, will appear in the new series Münchner Arbeiten zur Byzantinistik (Munich: Ars Una) and offers for the first time a critical edition with a translation into a modern language of a sample of this kind of Byzantine “practical-use literature,” which has rarely been the object of thorough investigation.
Karen Lewis on the Trail’s Evolving Identity
Familiar as a musty myth of struggle and American perseverance, taught for just a week or two in middle school, the Oregon Trail can sometimes be difficult to imagine in anything less than the broadest strokes. And yet, Karen Lewis, an associate professor of architecture at Ohio State University and a one-month research awardee at Dumbarton Oaks in September, is attempting to do just that.
At a lunchtime talk on September 14, Lewis summarized her research on the trail, which attempts to move beyond a standard cultural interpretation of the space that she humorously diagnoses as “enthusiastic literalism.” On this reading, the trail is seen primarily as a tourist attraction, its length dotted with outsize bits of Americana: overscale wagon wheels, buildings fashioned as Conestoga wagons, giant statues of straining oxen.
Lewis has worked with extensive geospatial data, gathered from archival materials and contemporary maps and surveys, in order to revisualize the Oregon Trail as an infrastructural system. Looking beyond its boom period as a center of physical migration, she has focused on the trail’s evolving identity as an infrastructural core for other industries—from the mail services and railroads of the late nineteenth century to the oil, gas, and internet conduits of today.
Lewis, whose prior research has explored issues of architectural representation through graphic systems, displayed several digital maps and timelines of her own design during her presentation. The images—breaking down, scattering, and reinterpreting the trail, which appeared sometimes in the semblance of a bar graph, sometimes as a black braid against a white map—dispelled historical visions of the western trail, breathing new complexity into an old story.
Online catalog reaches 6,000 entries
In the basement of Dumbarton Oaks, the most extensive collection of Byzantine seals in the world rests in a nondescript metal cabinet, a little more than three feet high. Though the complete collection—totaling roughly seventeen thousand seals, each of which is sheathed in a white paper envelope—fits comfortably in the cabinet, efforts have been underway for the past several years to transfer the seals, bit by bit, to another home: the web.
Since 2011, a rotating team of catalogers has digitized thousands of the seals, which range in size from the dime-like to slightly larger than a half-dollar. Recently, at the end of August, they reached a milestone, having uploaded information on six thousand discrete seals—a little more than one-third of the collection—to the online catalog of Byzantine seals.
“Six thousand was quite an important number for us,” says Jonathan Shea, a postdoctoral teaching fellow in Byzantine history at George Washington University who has worked with the seals project since its inception. “For a long time, we had been laboring at this mostly for internal goals, and this is the first goal we’ve reached that really has external importance.”
While the number of seals available online has been steadily increasing for years, users will now have access to a truly representative sample of the physical collection for the first time. Or, more simply, in Shea’s words: “We’ve tried to put a bit of everything up there—and a lot of everything up there, in some cases.”
Because the identification and study of seals involves an intensely comparative approach, the online catalog radically simplifies working with the collection. Whereas comparing similar traits between seals previously relied in large part on the memories of individual researchers working with card catalogs, now a quick online search can reveal connections between seals that might have gone unnoticed before.
The aim of the project has always been to make the seals, a relatively untapped resource, easier to use and more accessible to researchers around the world. With the online catalog now boasting such a large spread of the collection, a great variety of research questions can now be pursued more quickly and more thoroughly.
And of course, the online catalog continues to grow, day by day.
Find out more about Byzantine seals and the collection at Dumbarton Oaks in the video below.
Dumbarton Oaks is pleased to welcome Karen Lewis, who joins Garden and Landscape Studies as a one-month research awardee from September 1 to 30.
Karen Lewis is an associate professor of architecture at The Ohio State University whose research interests explore the intersection of graphic and infrastructural systems. Her recent book, Graphic Design for Architects (New York, 2015), explores issues of architectural representation through the lens of information design and visual communication. Recent published design projects include “Light Industrial Landscape,” a proposal that explores the programmatic overlap of transportation and recreational systems in New York, and Restoration Network, a living, landscape memorial in Connecticut that connects underused parks and recreational spaces with contemplative zones for reflection.
While at Dumbarton Oaks, Professor Lewis will continue her ongoing archival research on the Oregon Trail, a landscape of transportation and communication technology. Since its identity as a route for westward expansion, the Oregon Trail has continued to evolve as a space for infrastructural interchange. From the U.S. Mail Service, the Union Pacific Railroad, highways and its current use as a conduit for oil, gas, and internet infrastructure, the Oregon Trail is an ever-evolving landscape of network of connectivity.
Karen Lewis is a graduate of Harvard University Graduate School of Design and Wellesley College.
James N. Carder (September 2016)
According to Paul Neeson, chairman of the Dumbarton Castle Society in Scotland, there are over two hundred entities worldwide with the name Dumbarton. Mr. Neeson and his wife recently visited Dumbarton Oaks and presented the Archives with the coat-of-arms plaque of West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, whose capital, the city of Dumbarton, is the site of Dumbarton Rock and Dumbarton Castle. The alternate spellings of Dunbarton and Dumbarton both derive from the medieval Scottish Gaelic Dùn Breatainn, “fortress of the Britons,” where the n in Dùn was pronounced as an m.
The name Dumbarton Oaks also has a Scottish connection. The name comes, in part, from the name that the Scotsman Colonel Ninian Beall gave to a land grant he received from Lord Baltimore in 1702. As Grace Dunlop Ecker speculated in her 1938 book, A Portrait of Old Georgetown:
About 1703, Ninian Beall, a Scotsman, who had received several grants of land in Maryland along the Potomac from Saint Mary’s up, wishing to offer his sword to Lord Baltimore, came sailing up the magnificent river, and as he neared the creek flowing into it on the Maryland side his eyes rested on the high promontory which rose above the water, and into his mind came the great rock of Dumbarton standing above the Firth on the Clyde near Glasgow, and so he gave to his new grant of 795 acres the name reminiscent of home.
Beall named his tract “Rock of Dunbarton,” a spelling that persisted in documents until approximately 1780, when “Dumbarton” became the preferred spelling.
Knowledge of this history prompted Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss in 1933 to name their estate Dumbarton Oaks, combining the grant name, Dumbarton, with the nineteenth-century name of the property, The Oaks.
We are pleased to welcome Guy Sechrist who joins Garden and Landscape Studies as a predoctoral resident from August 29 to September 9.
Guy is a recent graduate from Villanova University, where he received an MA in history. During his time at Villanova, Guy worked with a number of institutions including the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mutter Museum, and served as a research contractor for the Chemical Heritage Foundation. He served as the chief editor in history for the graduate journal Concept, and has just recently published his work “Nicholas Culpeper’s Directory: Legitimizing the Profession of Midwives in Seventeenth Century England.” In the fall, Guy will be attending the University of Cambridge, where he will be working under Dr. Lauren Kassell in the History and Philosophy of Science Department.
At Dumbarton Oaks, Guy will research early modern botanical exchanges between England, America, and the Caribbean, and examine the role botanicals played in the New World to highlight a new form of exchange regarding plants and naturalia. His goal is to ascertain the various ways in which print material, collecting, gardens, and curiosity cabinets influenced botanist-physicians like Sir Hans Sloane, who voyaged to the New World in hopes of prospecting new plants for reasons other than collecting and learning.
Margaret Mee’s Painting Included in the Opening Ceremony
If you look carefully at the stage set at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, you’ll see a suite of eighty brightly colored collages of plants in the background. Among the illustrations of plants, which come from a number of sources, is one delicately shaded and photorealistic example from the Rare Book Collection at Dumbarton Oaks.
The artist Margaret Mee created strikingly accurate gouache paintings of rare Brazilian plants during her lifetime, twenty-one of which were acquired by Mildred Bliss for the Garden Library at Dumbarton Oaks. Graphic designer Olivia Ferreira has incorporated one of these paintings into several panels of her backdrop for the Olympics: Mee’s depiction of the Nematanthus fluminensis, a red-leaved gesneriad native to Brazil. The original, unaltered image will also be printed in the program for the ceremony.
Mee worked extensively in the Amazon rainforest over the course of her life, participating in fifteen major expeditions. She moved to São Paulo in 1951 and made her first trip into the forest in 1955, earning praise for her illustrations first from local botanical experts, and soon from artists and botanists throughout the world. Mildred Bliss began her and Dumbarton Oaks’ relationship with Mee in 1967, when Bliss purchased three paintings from the artist’s recent expedition and invited her to Dumbarton Oaks to exhibit her work and lecture on her experiences in the field. She continued to buy Mee's paintings, and purchased the Nematanthus in 1969.
In 2013, Dumbarton Oaks made available high-resolution images of the twenty-one paintings in the collection, accompanied by information about Mee and her relationship to the institute. Dumbarton Oaks also holds a number of books relating to Mee’s work, ranging from catalogues raisonnés to a volume of poems inspired by her paintings.
Dumbarton Oaks Welcomes Syriac Summer School
The ten students who comprise the inaugural session of the Syriac Summer School descended on Dumbarton Oaks from July 21 to 24 for a long weekend exploring the scholarly resources of the institution as well as the city of Washington, D.C. The program, sponsored and funded by Dumbarton Oaks, is hosted at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library (HMML), located on the campus of Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. At Dumbarton Oaks, students explored the Byzantine collections and the gardens, attended sessions on coins, seals, and bibliographic resources, learned about the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, and met with staff and scholars.
“We had a very difficult time choosing from among the applicants to the summer school,” admits Scott Johnson, professor of classics at the University of Oklahoma, who teaches Syriac at the summer school. “The two primary criteria we used were that the students chosen could not get Syriac at their home institutions, and that they were starting from scratch. We wanted to offer Syriac to students hungry for it who would not be able to add it to their repertoire otherwise.”
The Syriac Summer School began when Jan Ziolkowski, director of Dumbarton Oaks, contacted Father Columba Stewart, director of HMML, to propose an intensive summer course on Syriac modeled on Dumbarton Oaks’ Byzantine Greek Summer School. The new program includes instruction in the Syriac language, taught by Johnson, as well as Syriac paleography and manuscript study, taught by Adam McCollum, formerly HMML’s lead cataloger of manuscripts. The summer school’s visit to Dumbarton Oaks highlights important connections between Syriac and Byzantine Greek and their respective literatures. “Greek and Syriac have a close historical relationship through late antiquity,” explains Johnson. “Many Greek texts were translated into Syriac, and Syriac texts were likewise sought out by Greek speakers. Syriac scholars were responsible for preserving and translating ancient Greek texts.”
The students’ backgrounds range from classics and medieval studies to liturgical studies and classical Arabic. In the past, Syriac was often housed apart from Greek—the former grouped with Middle Eastern languages, the latter in classics departments. Yet the insights that Syriac affords into late antique, Byzantine, and Islamic research have become increasingly apparent to specialists in those areas in recent years. Consequently, the Dumbarton Oaks Library has been actively acquiring Syriac resources so that scholars of Syriac and other eastern Christian cultures have more opportunities to conduct research at Dumbarton Oaks. “I think the motivation for bringing the students to Dumbarton Oaks is to show them the resources Dumbarton Oaks can offer Syriacists,” says Johnson. “I hope that their visit will broaden the horizons of late antique, Byzantine, and medieval studies and further contribute to the exciting conversation about where these fields are going.”
The Dumbarton Oaks Museum is currently closed for renovation through the end of 2016—but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on. In this month’s video feature, take a look behind the scenes to see what the museum looks like during the deinstallation process, and learn about why the renovation is happening and what to expect when the museum reopens next year. You can also watch more of our videos online on our YouTube channel.
A Conversation with Translator Suzanne Abrams Rebillard
The Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML) was launched in 2011 with the goal of providing high-quality facing-page texts and translations of major medieval literary works to both general and specialist readers alike. Since 2014, DOML has offered short-term residencies for translators of volumes to visit Dumbarton Oaks and use its resources. Suzanne Abrams Rebillard, an independent scholar who is translating Gregory of Nazianzus’s Poemata de Seipso for a forthcoming volume, sat down with us at the conclusion of her residency for a wide-ranging interview about her work, career, and Gregory of Nazianzus. (Interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Can you tell me about your DOML residency—what the residency entails, what you’ll be working on, and how this relates to your interests or fields of study?
I’m working on the introduction to my DOML volume, Gregory of Nazianzus’s Poemata de Seipso, and it’s just about done. It has been a useful three weeks. Besides the work, it has been useful to think about things other than [small] details, especially when you’re translating, and to just sit down and write the introduction and describe the author’s style on translating poetry—to describe the meters he uses and the lines. It’s helpful to put things in a bigger picture and to get away from whether the text you have has the right grammatical form or not, or if you’re using the right word to translate this word. So that has been good, and it has also made me go back and read some things again that I haven’t read for a long time. You think you know what authors are saying because you’ve used their texts so many times, but you don’t always go back to look at them again. It has been good to go back and say, “Oh, yeah, this author also says that, and that’s helpful.”
Can you tell me about Gregory of Nazianzus and his Poemata de Seipso?
Gregory of Nazianzus was a bishop. He lived in the fourth century, from 329 to 389, and he came from a wealthy family—his father was a bishop. His career was marked by periods of working in a church and then just retreating or performing contemplations; he was always complaining about being sick, so he went off on these rest cures for years, and then he would get called back to service again. He lived at a time of a lot of theological debate, and there were a lot of breaks within the church over the nature of the Trinity, so he eventually got called to Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, where he presided over the church council and acted as bishop of the capital.
But it was a disaster. Gregory couldn’t manage to get the different parties to agree, he had to deal with all sorts of political problems, and finally he retreated back home to retire. He got to the capital in 379 and left in 381—so he was only there for two years. But during the time he was there, he preached five orations that became, for the Orthodox Church, a definitive statement on the nature of the Trinity. His success was recognized later, but not during his own lifetime, so he disappeared—whether he chose to run off or whether he was driven out, we don’t know, because we only have his account of it, which is in these poems.
And he wrote a lot. The poems about himself, the Poemata de Seipso, are about 6,600 lines, and the whole collection of all his poetry is over seventeen thousand lines. Thankfully, not all of it is about himself. He complains a lot in his poems about what happened in the capital, he complains about being sick; but then he also has many beautiful prayers, and he mixes the Bible and classical literature together, so it’s kind of a big jumble of subcultures of his own world. The poems are also important for understanding church politics, the role of bishops, and the theology behind all these battles, which Gregory wrote all this poetry about when he went home in 381. And that’s another thing that he’s known for: coming up with a way to absorb classical learning and literature into a Christian literary tradition. So he’s very important for that and his poems are very important for that.
Did the orations influence a lot of the modern Orthodox Church?
Yes, they have really influenced the modern Orthodox Church all the way down. Gregory of Nazianzus was an exceptionally good speaker, so we also have forty-four of the orations he gave. I mean, they were not the form in which he necessarily gave them at church—but in those ten years of retirement between his departure from the capital and death, he worked with two deacons in his church. The three of them went off to some place on one of the family estates, where Gregory wrote and edited his own works and the other two men helped him edit. So we have 250 letters, forty-four orations, and seventeen thousand [lines of poetry]. And even today, because his writing is so beautiful, there are passages from his orations that are in the Orthodox liturgy—if you go to church now, you can still hear them. Some of his poetry was used as hymns, too, very soon after his death. (I mean “soon” by ancient standards—within 150 years of his death.) Within a decade or two of his death, his orations had been translated into Latin, and we also have Armenian, Syriac, Coptic, Latin, and ancient Georgian translations of his writings. I’ve actually heard that in the Orthodox tradition, his texts are the most quoted writings after the Bible.
Speaking of the Latin translations—did Gregory of Nazianzus cross over into Roman Catholicism?
Yes. He is a doctor of the Church, so his theological arguments are important in the Catholic Church as well.
What initially sparked your interest in late antique poetry?
I was trained as a classicist. I went to Greece one summer during college, and I was really excited when I saw the temple to Hephaestus in the middle of Athens—it was turned into a church in the Byzantine period, and that was part of what had preserved it. So then I started to think about how classical traditions get preserved. From there, I started reading more and more late antique literature, and then, when I got to graduate school, I took a seminar about early Christian asceticism in the eastern part of the empire, and my professor suggested that I look at Gregory of Nazianzus’s poems. And I’m still doing it. I think what also interests me about late antique poetry is that there’s still a lot of work to be done, and there aren’t necessarily editions or translations of even the basic texts, which is why DOML exists. It’s exciting to be able to make an important contribution in that way.
Can you talk about some of your previous work and your experience with translation?
Well, I never thought I would do a translation. When I started work on Gregory of Nazianzus’s writings, I was looking at how he presents himself in the autobiographical poems. There were a few of them that had been translated, but I was interested in the ones that hadn’t been, because through those you got a very different picture of him. But when I sat down to look at them, I got tired of flipping through all the Greek, and I just said I couldn’t do it. I told myself: “This is really time consuming; it would be much easier if I could just work with a translation.” So I did—I just sat down and started translating it. I never intended it to be anything other than my own crutch, but then a friend who was also working on Gregory’s writings came into the office and saw my translation on my desk and said, “Suzanne, what is this?” And I said, “Oh, I did a translation of the poem so I can do my stuff,” and he was shocked. He said something along the lines of, “Just slap an introduction on it and turn it in—you’re done, your dissertation is finished.” But I had just seen it as a tool, you know.
Now I’m trying to make it something a little lovelier than a tool. Mostly because somebody needed to do it, and I needed it done. It’s sort of a frustrating thing to find a balance between being accurate and being readable, which I think is probably true for all translators, but especially with ancient Greek and English, because the two languages work very differently. With the structure of ancient Greek you’re going to have really long sentences in a way that the structure of English can’t handle—the grammar just kind of collapses on itself. And I guess that, as classicists, we’re trained from the beginning to translate, and as a classicist, you spend years translating. But it’s frustrating, because you’re always leaving something out: there’s always some connotation of a word or a phrase that doesn’t cross over. But translating this is a good start, which is satisfying.
How did you hear about/get involved with DOML?
I had organized a panel at Brown University, and Stratis Papaioannou, who’s teaching at Dumbarton Oaks’ Byzantine Greek Summer School, was a reader for my panel for this conference. I had lunch with him, and he said, “Why don’t you submit a proposal to DOML for your work?” And I thought it was a good idea. I had initially thought that what the poems needed was a really thorough commentary, but as I started that project, I realized I would be like a hundred years old by the time I finished it, so I decided that my translation platform was more practical. I could just focus on the translation and get it out there, and then people could work with it. The reason translation is so important is because the Greek in the poetry isn’t easy. Even in the Byzantine period there are paraphrases of his poems—so even back then, you would have a book, and you would have his poem in one column in Greek, and then a second column, also in Greek, but in Greek that made more sense to people at that time. After you’ve spent years with him, though, his Greek actually starts to become easier and make more sense. The poetry is underused because it’s not immediately accessible, so I’m hoping the translation will change things.
What have you enjoyed the most about your DOML residency?
What has been great is that I will have a draft done! Aside from that, everybody here has been very helpful, and it has been great—it has been easy to work. Working on the translation has also enabled me to get to some stuff I’ve been wanting to read, but never had time to. It’s been great to have that time, and everything is so well set up at Dumbarton Oaks that there’s not even any settling-in time. I just got to work, and everything was set up for me. You don’t even have to wait for books to come; it’s all right there. And outside my door, on the top of the library, is a reproduction of an icon of Gregory; so every time I leave my office, he glares at me. That has been inspiring, keeping me at my desk, because I get scowled at every time I leave the room.
There has been talk of you starting a conference panel with Jeffrey Wickes, a summer fellow specializing in Byzantine studies.
Jeff and I noticed a number of similar trends in the Syriac poetry he works on and the Greek poetry I work on. We were talking about how poetry might have been expected to affect people when it is not intended for a liturgical context—or even if it is intended for that context, but is experienced outside of the liturgy. Scholars are just now starting to think about not just political and economic forces across the geographical span of the Roman Empire, but about literary movements as well, and we would like to contribute to that discussion. We hope to get a panel together for the next North American Patristics Society conference in May 2017.
Sign and Design: Script as Image in Cross-Cultural Perspective
In 2012, an international conference held at Dumbarton Oaks considered cases where image and script were fused into a hybrid sign. Tackling a range of examples from an assortment of cultures, especially those with a natural home at Dumbarton Oaks, the ideas planted then have flowered into a publication, which is being released this month. Editors Brigitte Miriam Bedos-Rezak and Jeffrey Hamburger explain that Sign and Design: Script as Image in Cross-Cultural Perspective “marks a shift away from an interest in text and image to a concern for the dialogic role of image in writing.” The book groups its essays into three suggested directions for examining the systems of representation that give script-images meaning: the iconicity of script, text as “imaging the ineffable,” and performativity. Scholars from disciplines including history, art history, and anthropology work in concert to bring together subjects as different as Aztec pictographic writing, Sumerian and Akkadian monuments, and medieval Jewish book art. You can find out more about Sign and Design and purchase it on the Harvard University Press website.
Classical Art Historian Will Wootton Speaks at Dumbarton Oaks
On July 19, the Dumbarton Oaks Museum invited Dr. Will Wootton, lecturer on Roman art in the classics department of King’s College London, to deliver an informal talk to a group of docents, staff, summer fellows, and interns about mosaics in antiquity. Wootton offered an engaging overview of the medium and its history, approaching from two angles: the aesthetic experience of an ancient observer, as well as the technical procedures employed by the original artisans. He concluded his talk with an in-person examination of the Apolausis Mosaic in the vestibule of the Dumbarton Oaks Museum, pointing out that in the bath house where it was excavated, water would have run over the surface into the sunken room that held it: “The point was showing that the water was so clear and pure that you could see the mosaic perfectly beneath it,” he said.
The Dumbarton Oaks Fellowship House at 1700 Wisconsin Avenue Northwest has received an American Institute of Architects Northern Virginia Chapter Design Award. The project received an Award of Merit in Institutional Architecture—one of only eight institutional projects recognized, and one of only three to receive the Merit distinction.
A Dumbarton Oaks Panel at the 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies
Dumbarton Oaks will be sponsoring two panels on “The Individual in Material Culture” at next year’s International Congress on Medieval Studies, to be held May 11–14, 2017, at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. One panel will cover the years 400–1000; the other will address 1000–1400. Both invite papers that use surviving elements of material culture—for example, coins, seals, textiles, and jewelry—to discuss questions relating to the individual in the medieval European, Byzantine, and Islamic worlds. Topics can include self-presentation and the creation of one’s own identity; the imposition of an identity on an individual by others; social and familial relationships; and religious and ethnic identities. Authors are encouraged to take approaches that will allow discussion of such themes across the entire medieval period and a broad geographical range. Please submit proposals to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.