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The President and Fellows of Harvard College

Some Observations on the Evolution of Byzantine Studies in America since the 1930s
Source: Harvard Ukrainian Studies, Vol. 7, Okeanos: Essays presented to Ihor Ševčenko on
his Sixtieth Birthday by his Colleagues and Students (1983), pp. 95-99
Published by: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute
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Some Observations on the Evolution of Byzantine Studies
in America since the 1930s


Although the American Historical Association was founded in 1884, it is

not until 1911 that any mention of Byzantium appears in its records. In
that year Charles Diehl,1 speaking at the association's annual meeting,
read a paper on the development of Byzantine studies in France. Five
years later, again at the annual meeting of the association, the Belgian
scholar Paul van den Ven2 spoke on the subject: "When did the
Byzantine Empire and Civilization come into being?" At the meeting in
1925, A.A. Vasiliev gave a paper on Byzantine studies in Russia, and at
the 1927 meeting A.E.R. Boak spoke on Byzantine imperialism.3 The
papers were given in sessions on ancient history, and the speakers were
all foreign educated. By 1931, the situation had changed appreciably: the
annual meeting included a session devoted to Byzantium, at which three
papers were read.4 No longer could one say, as had the association's
secretary in 1925 in connection with Vasiliev's paper, that "The history
of the Eastern Empire is a field almost untouched hitherto in all the
proceedings of the Association."5
In the meantime, a journal devoted to medieval studies had appeared
in the United States. The first volume of Speculum, the journal of the
Medieval Academy of America, came out in 1926. Although its emphasis
was on Western Europe, it occasionally offered items dealing with
Byzantium. In the twenty volumes published by 1945, there appeared a
total of fifteen articles and sixteen book reviews with Byzantine subjects.
In the next eighteen volumes (up to 1980), the articles and short notes

1 Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the Year 191 1 (Washington,
D.C., 1913), pp. 27 ff.
2 Annual Report ...for the Year 1916 (Washington, D.C., 1919), p. 46.
3 Annual Report ...for the Year 1927 (Washington, D.C., 1929), p. 38.
4 Annual Report ...for the Year 1931 (Washington, D.C., 1932), p. 31. (Proceedings,
vol. 1).
5 Annual Report ...for the Year 1925 (Washington, D.C., 1929), p. 39.

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together numbered seventeen, and the book reviews totaled one hundred
and nineteen.
Articles on Byzantium published in the American Historical Review
during the same period, 1931-1980, numbered eight, and book reviews,
one hundred and sixty-six. The increase in the number of relevant articles
and book reviews which began in 1946 is an important index of
the progress of Byzantine studies. Other journals which occasionally
published items relating to Byzantium were the Harvard Theological
Review, Church History, the American Journal of Philology, the American
Journal of Archaeology, Hesperia, the Slavic and East European Review,
and Tradii io.

Three journals devoted wholly or in part to Byzantine subjects made

their appearance. One of them, Byzantina Metabyzantina, ceased to
appear following the publication, in 1946, of its first volume. Neo
Hellenika published only two volumes before the death of its editor
and founder, George G. Arnakis, in 1976: in 1978, a third volume
was published posthumously, and a memorial volume is now in prepara-
tion. Byzantine Studies, whose first volume appeared in 1974, continues
to be published.
The evolution of ideas underlying the development of Byzantine
studies in America began rather early. Already in 1933 the philosopher
N. P. Whitehead wrote :

The distinction separating the Byzantines and the Mahometans from the
Romans is that the Romans were themselves deriving the civilization which they
spread. In their hands it assumed a frozen form. Thought halted and literature
copied. The Byzantines and the Mahometans were themselves the civilization.
Thus their culture retained its intrinsic energies, sustained by physical and
spiritual adventure. They traded with the Far East: they expanded westward;
they codified law; they developed new forms of art; they developed theologies;
they transformed mathematics; they developed medicine. ... Finally the Near
East as the center of civilization was destroyed by the Tartars and the Turks.6

However, no development of any consequence took place until 1940. It

was then that the Dumbarton Oaks Library and Collection was founded.
Dumbarton Oaks was conveyed to Harvard University by Mr. and
Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss with the stipulation that it serve as a center of
scholarly activity in Byzantine and Medieval Humanities. That beautiful
and spacious house, with its gardens, superb library, collection of objects
of art (primarily Byzantine, Hellenistic and Late classical) and collection

6 N. A. Whitehead, Adventure of Ideas (New York, 1933), p. 104.

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of coins is today one of the important research centers of Byzantine

studies in the world.
As Dumbarton Oaks was being established, Byzantine studies was
developing in other ways. The war brought to America numerous
scholars, including the Hellenist Henri Grégoire. Grégoire had been a
specialist on Euripides, but he also became involved in the history of
Byzantium. I myself had gone to Brussels in 1936 and stayed there two
years to study in his seminar. It was there that I first met Ihor Sevcenko
and later helped facilitate his coming to this country. In America,
Grégoire edited three volumes of Byzantion (which was temporarily
transferred to the United States), sponsored the new review Byzantina-
Metabyzantina (which unfortunately soon failed), and composed in
modern Greek a series of articles for a Greek newspaper (published in
New York) on the Byzantine epic Digenes Akritas, which was later
published in book form.7
It is with Dumbarton Oaks that the evolution of Byzantine studies in
the postwar years must be primarily associated. An exception is Rutgers
University, where a number of Byzantinists have been trained. At
Dumbarton Oaks I myself was affected by two scholars. The first was
Grégoire and the other was Cyril Mango. Mango, who was born in
Istanbul, came to Dumbarton Oaks to translate the sermons of Photius.
There I was particularly impressed by Mango's remarkable knowledge of
Greek. In my work, which consisted primarily in examining certain
Greek sources, I often ran into difficulties which Mango helped me to
solve; indeed, I do not remember him ever having failed me. I subse-
quently came to deplore a marked anti-Greek bias which I thought
would affect adversely his work as Byzantinist. I was therefore pleasantly
surprised by his Byzantium : The Empire of New Rome. As I wrote in my
review of the book, I was struck by its statement of facts and, I may now
add, by its brilliance of interpretation. Mango is now residing in
England, but his scholarly achievements, no doubt among the highest in
the world, are still associated with the United States and Dumbarton
Indeed all prominent Byzantinists are today or have been in the
past associated with Dumbarton Oaks. Among Byzantine historians
deserving special mention, Angelike Laiou9 is particularly known for
7 Henri Grégoire X) Aiyevfjç 'AKpíxaç (New York, 1942).
8 My remarks on Mango are summarized in my review of Byzantium: The Empire of New
Rome, to appear in Balkan Studies.
9 Angelike Laiou, Constantinople and the Latins (Cambridge, Mass., 1972); idem, The
Peasant Society in the Late Byzantine Empire: A Social and Demographic Study (Princeton,

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her work on the relations between East and West, her study of Byzantine
agrarian society and her current investigations into the Venetian and
Genoese archives for information relating to Byzantium. Nicholas
Oikonomides has excelled in the study of documents, those relating to
rank in Byzantine society as well as monastic documents, and documents
relating to Greek and Latin businessmen of the thirteenth to fifteenth
century.10 Speros Vryonis has published a number of studies, notably
The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of
Islamizat ion from the I lth Century Through the 1 5th. He has also done
some work in archaeology, primarily in connection with the Slavic
invasions of the Peloponnesus.11 These three are masterful scholars,
distinguished by their comprehensive and penetrating grasp of the
sources. Milton Anastos, who is now retired from active teaching, has
devoted his life to Byzantine studies in this country. Three scholars
generally not referred to as Byzantinists have made important contribu-
tions to Byzantine studies: Kenneth Setton has made some solid
offerings, particularly on matters relating to Greece; Nina G. Garsoian
has studied the Paulicians and other subjects, some of which relate to
Byzantium; W. E. Kaegi writes on Byzantium and other subjects
primarily administrative in nature and which refer to the seventh century
or later. I have refrained from discussing Ihor Sevcenko's work in this
paper, since the entire volume is dedicated to him.
In March 1972, I made the following statement about Byzantium:
"For the world at large Byzantium constitutes a significant chapter of
the general history of mankind. For the Slav, it was the agent which
introduced him to civilization. But for the Greek, it was something more,
something special. It was, and to an extent continues to be, his very life.
In it he finds the origin of many of his traditions and the preservation
of many others whose origins go back to antiquity. He finds also the
institutions, notably the monastery and the church, which enabled him to
retain his identity throughout centuries of enslavement and which in time
served as the sources of inspiration for his resurgence into a free and vital

10 Nicholas Oikonomides, Les listes de préséance byzantines des IXe et Xe siècles (Paris,
1972): idem, Documents et études sur les institutions de Byzance ( VII- XV siècles) (London,
11 Speros Vryonis, Byzantium and Europe k( London, 1967); idem, Byzantium. Its Inter-
national History and Relations with the Muslim World: Collected Studies (London, 1970);
idem, The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization
from the I lth Century through the 1 5th (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1971).

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people. Thus neither the Greek, nor the Slav, nor the world at large can
forget Byzantium. It has taken some time for American scholarship to
grasp this point but it has now grasped it fully."12

Rutgers University
(Professor Emeritus)

12 Ceremony: For Conferring an Honorary Doctorate of the Aristotelian University of

Thessaloniki upon Professor P. Char anis, 1972, pp. 34 f.

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