A conversation with Elizabeth Dospěl Williams (Dumbarton Oaks, Museum Department) on how people in Byzantium experienced the materiality of the objects they used, especially jewelry and textiles. We look at some of those objects together, discuss their qualities, and situate our engagement with material culture in broader discussions of historical theory. You can see the objects that we discuss for yourself, including this earring and ring pair; a St. Demetrios reliquary; a child's tunic; and a garment with a clavus. The conversation is based partly on Betsy's study 'Appealing to the Senses: Experiencing Adornment in the Early Medieval Eastern Mediterranean,' in the volume Sensory Reflections: Traces of Experience in Medieval Artifacts (Berlin 2019) 77-96; and the textile exhibition Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt (The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, 2019).
46. Raiders, marauders, ravagers, and pirates: their impact on Byzantine life, with Alexander Sarantis
A conversation with Alexander Sarantis (Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz) on the socio-economic impact of raiding on the lives of provincials as well as the military history of the empire and its finances. Who were these raiders? What did they want? How did provincials and the empire as a whole respond to them? A fear of marauders probably doesn't keep you up at night today, but this was a major anxiety in Byzantine life. The conversation is based on Alexander's study 'The Socio-Economic Impact of Raiding on the Eastern and Balkan Borderlands of the Eastern Roman Empire, 502-602,' Millennium 17 (2020) 203-264.
A conversation with Tamar Hodos (University of Bristol) on how the application of market logic to humanities research and teaching is driving up tuition costs for students and their families, making good academic positions scarcer, and eroding the institution of tenure, which protects the integrity of research and teaching. In this environment, smaller academic fields face the prospect of extinction. Our focus is on public universities in the US and UK and we discuss funding structures and the underlying logic of our administrative practices.
A wide-ranging conversation with Merle Eisenberg (National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, University of Maryland) on the opportunities created for historians by media, old and new, to disseminate our ideas to the public. Among other things, I learned what a "press release" is and how it works, as well as how historians and scientists work differently with the press. Should we bring scholarly debates to the broader public? What do we lose when we craft a good story in order to do so successfully? We also talk about our pet peeves in films that tell a good story but get the facts so infuriatingly wrong.
A conversation with Leonora Neville (University of Wisconsin) on whether the scholarly rubric "Byzantium" does more harm than good. How did it come into being? What biases and ideologies, especially in the domain of gender, does it encode? What blind-spots and distortions does it create? We discuss whether "Byzantium" enables a Eurocentric western-oriented narrative about Greece, Rome, Europe, and the Renaissance that does not want to recognize classically educated, Greek-speaking, Orthodox Romans in the east.
A conversation with Troy Goodfellow (Paradox Interactive) on how Byzantium and other premodern civilizations are represented in video games, and how the mechanics of the games structure those representations, player's goals, and the dynamics of historical change. Thanks to Marion Kruse for joining the conversation and to all of you listeners who sent advice and helpful links. Your comments indicate how important this area is to so many of you (and yet still so understudied!).
A conversation with Judith Herrin (King's College London) about the fascinating history of Ravenna between 400 and 800 AD. In this period, the city functioned first as a court of the western emperor, then as the seat of a Gothic kingdom loosely subordinate to Constantinople, and as the capital of the exarchate, the Italian province of the eastern empire. This made Ravenna a place of remarkable cultural fusion, and endowed it with spectacular monuments featuring superb mosaics. The conversation is based on Judith Herrin's recent book Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe (Princeton University Press 2020).
Not an interview this time, but an anthology of Byzantine tales of horror. Learn about foul murders, demonic visitations, the undead, and the criminally insane; also, the Byzantine science of demonology and the spirit world. Many thanks to all the colleagues and friends who read the stories, in tones spooky, clinical, or ironic! The stories are: "Questions for a woman who killed and ate her mother and daughter"; "Incisive curiosity"; "Desire of the flesh"; "The mummy"; "The murderer who gave himself up"; "Drawn and quartered"; "Wrong address"; "Erinyes of the sea"; "Three Blind Men"; "Taken"; "Possessorix"; "Baboutzikarios"; "Gello"; "Second chance"; "Calling a witness"; and "Killing baby Hitler."
A conversation with Alice-Mary Talbot (Dumbarton Oaks) on the experience of communal monastic life in Byzantium, ranging from its organization and rules to its religious goals, engagement with society, and differences between monasteries for men and women. It is based on Alice-Mary's recent book Varieties of Monastic Experience in Byzantium, 800-1453 (University of Notre Dame Press 2019), which discusses solitary ascetics too.
A conversation with Dave Jenkins (Princeton University Library) about how we read (and how to enjoy) Byzantine literature, from digitized manuscripts and online databases to the pleasures of Byzantine prose. Dave is a philosopher, a philologist, and a librarian. You may also know him as the creator of a database of translations of Byzantine texts in modern languages and a database of digitized manuscripts.