Hagia Sophia is back in the news. To understand what is happening, we need to know the complex history of this building as a church, mosque, and museum, and the many parties that have sought to claim it. In this episode, Bob Ousterhout (University of Pennsylvania) illuminates this rich history, with a focus on the last century and a half, the current political forces, and the priority to preserve the history of the monument for all who wish to study and experience it. He is the author of the magisterial survey Eastern Medieval Architecture: The Building Traditions of Byzantium and Neighboring Lands (Oxford 2019), and an article on the topic at hand: 'From Hagia Sophia to Ayasofya: Architecture and the Persistence of Memory,' İstanbul Araştırmaları Yıllığı 2 (2013) 1-8, which is available here. [Sidenote: you may want to check out my recent podcast interviews on The Medieval Podcast and the Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Podcast.]
A conversation with Tia Kolbaba (Rutgers University) about how we decide what questions need to be studied, how we identify blind-spots and misconceptions, reframe a problem, and navigate the shallows and the deep in order to bring a project to conclusion. Are there politics within a field that shape these decisions, sensitive areas that we need to avoid, or responsibilities toward non-academic communities?
A conversation with Jonathan Shae (Dumbarton Oaks) about Byzantine lead seals, of which we have some 70,000, and about the work and careers of Byzantine civilian bureaucrats. Seals are the hidden treasury of research on Byzantium: so small and yet, in large numbers, they allow us to do so much, and they bring us closer to the individuals who used them. The conversation is based on his recent book Politics and Government in Byzantium: The Rise and Fall of the Bureaucrats (Bloomsbury 2020).
How did the Byzantines read Homer? How did classical studies work in Byzantium? A conversation with Baukje van den Berg (Central European University) on where, why, and how the Byzantines approached the Iliad and the Odyssey; what scholarly tools they had and developed for that purpose; and on one of the great Homerists of all time, Eustathios of Thessalonike. The conversation is based on Baukje's forthcoming book, Homer and Rhetoric in Byzantium: Eustathios of Thessalonike on the Composition of the Iliad (Oxford University Press).
A conversation with Christian Laes (University of Manchester) on how to study disability in Byzantium. What might count as a disability in a Byzantine context? What social consequences did it have? How was it represented in texts? How did people try to cope with their disabilities? The conversation is based on a number of his publications, including 'Power, Infirmity, and "Disability": Five Case-Stories on Byzantine Emperors and their Impairments,' Byzantinoslavica 77 (2019) 211-229; and 'How does one do the history of disability in antiquity? One thousand years of case-studies,' Medicina nei Secoli 23 (2011) 915-946.
A conversation with Efi Ragia (Hellenic Open University) on coming to grips with social class in Byzantium, a society without a fixed social hierarchy, at least not fixed in terms of hereditary groups. Claims to high (or low) social standing were often rhetorical and fluid. Who were "the powerful"? By what criteria could they be recognized, and how might others aspire to that position? The conversation is based on her article ‘Social Group Profiles in Byzantium: Some Considerations on Byzantine Perceptions about Social Class Distinctions,’ Byzantina Symmeikta 26 (2016) 309-372.
A conversation about digital humanities in Byzantine research, with Kuba Kabala (Davidson College). How did digital humanities emerge from traditional (analog) modes of research? What new approaches do they enable? What new findings do they make possible?
What did it take, and what did it do to you, to avoid the company of others in Byzantium? How far did you have to pare your life down, and how reliant were you still on networks of support and supply? A conversation with Ellen Muehlberger (University of Michigan: see episode 2) and David Brakke (Ohio State University: see episode 13) about trying to live alone in early Byzantium. We focus on ascetics, but not only on them.
A conversation with Tina Sessa (Ohio State University: see episode 4) and Kyle Harper (University of Oklahoma, author of The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire, Princeton University Press 2017) on the Byzantine reactions to pandemics. What was the threshold of social visibility for a pandemic anyway? What could the government do to help? What imaginative and social resources were activated in times of pandemic?
A conversation with Jennifer Davis (Catholic University of America) on the study of empire in a medieval context, contrasting the different ways in which Charlemagne and the Byzantine emperors ran theirs. What do we mean by empire after all? The discussion is based on her book Charlemagne's Practice of Empire (Cambridge 2015).