The Secret History of Dumbarton Oaks

The first time a Dumbarton Oaks intern walks into the building they can be forgiven for imagining their new environment to be somewhat sterile. The immaculate displays, white walls and cooling air-conditioning all convey the impression that everything at Dumbarton Oaks is carefully controlled and ordered. But for those fortunate few working on the Oral History project, we are able to see a second side to Dumbarton Oaks, a human side. Every sort of character has called this institution home from statesmen to children to academics from around the globe, and we are privileged to hear their stories.

Whether it was the nigh messianic figure that was Alexander Kazhdan a man who many would have a heated argument with in the morning and then after lunch they would reconcile and continue as great friends. Or the Blisses themselves who are (perhaps unsurprisingly) revealed as more than just Washington Socialites who collected artifacts. They were intensely generous benefactors with an eye for the exquisite and a very relatable humanity. These are the pieces of information that make an institution into a community. The famous Halloween parties which saw some of the most extravagant costumes ever put together by academics (many with a Byzantine flavor), outdoor gatherings in the 70s which played the Beatles and the Stones so loudly that the neighbors complained and frequent use of the swimming pool with some users noticeably more clothed than others.

Ultimately, the oral history project opens a win to the past, present and future of Dumbarton Oaks. It tells one story from a hundred different perspectives across 75 years of history. And while it might be a very different history than that of the Roman Empire or of pre-Columbian America it is also a history that will only grow in depth and detail as Dumbarton Oaks continues on.

A Blissful Endeavor

Inside the Bliss-Tyler Correspondence

Perched atop the third floor of the main Dumbarton Oaks house lies the research center’s publications department. Here, a staff of a little more than half a dozen negotiate proposals, edit content for publication, and delve into what they call digital humanities projects – a surprisingly accurate way to convey the more profound endeavor of modernizing the past.

For the past several weeks I have been contributing to the division’s Bliss-Tyler project, an online catalog of communications between diplomats and art collectors affiliated with Dumbarton Oaks.

Three chapters of the project have already been published, with hundreds of letters between 1902-1927 already publicly available.

Assigned to work on the fourth chapter, my job is to prepare the next wave of letters to be transmitted online. Although the focus of this project is to catalog the acquisition of artworks, the correspondences of this time period provide first person accounts of many historically relevant items, including the great depression, World War I, the League of Nations, and post-war reparations.

For starters, I read through the various chapters to get a sense of the characters at play. There is Royall Tyler, an intelligent man and eventual financial adviser who has particular acumen in Byzantine art, Robert Woods Bliss, a not so exceptional Harvard graduate who becomes quite influential in the League of Nations and buys much artwork with the assistance of his wife (and step sister) Mildred Barnes Bliss.

The early letters are not the most interesting; we see Royall Tyler’s persistent request to meet Mildred and the all to be expected awkwardness when she informs him of an agreed marriage with Robert.

But before I get into some of the more fascinating and at times jaw-dropping excerpts from the letters – as in the instance when Royall Tyler says “God has punished” the Bulgarians with two destructive earthquakes for their refusal to sell their art – let me first give you a better idea of what I actually do 5 days a week in my little office cubicle.

The Rundown

Staff at Dumbarton Oaks have already been working for a few years to transcribe the records of letters sent between the Blisses and Tylers. The work, however, does not stop after they have the text on the screen. From there, research primarily conducted by Yale Professor Robert S. Nelson and Dumbarton Oaks archivist James N. Carder adds to the accessibility of the project. Hundreds of footnotes, translations, annotations, and pictures are added so that any user can look at just one letter and figure out who the key people are.

Chapter 4

Chapter 4 is still private as we complete editorial work, but it will be published soon.

My job follows a similar series of steps that were used in the previous three chapters:

1. First, I split up a several hundred page document containing the compiled entirety of the letters into individual missives. Each letter is saved under a particular naming system and stored individually. The same process is used for a compiled list of the annotations.

2. Using an XML editor, the *.docx files are converted into html files with specific styling that the database on the site will eventually use to recognize what and where footnotes go.

3. I create a spreadsheet (*.csv) of the file names, titles, and various metadata so that they can be uploaded to the site in one round. The system used to read the zipped file of the csv and html files is fairly strict, so a little tinkering is used to remove any non-unicode characters or anomalies in file or folder names.

4. After the files are uploaded, I get to work adding links to annotations for each letter. The words requiring links are bolded, which makes them easy to recognize, but since there are well over a thousand links to be rendered, the process can be slow.

5. Additional work goes into adding images from the Dumbarton Oaks archives, relating letters by subject and date, and other various work.

A Few Snippets

While the letters up until 1927 are already up for free viewing on the site now, chapter 4 (1927-1933) will feature many interesting correspondences. Although we are at work preparing them for publication, here is a sneak preview of a few excerpts:

1. Royall Tyler on Adolf Hitler (October, 1932):

“Hitler’s day is past, and I’m not sure that it’s a bad thing that he should have been shown up by events to be the yellow warbler he is”

2. Mildred Bliss on the Great Depression (October, 1930):

“Although we’ve come through the crash unscathed there is a temporary shrinkage.”

3. Robert and Mildred Bliss on Royall Tyler’s son failing to pass the tests required for entry to Oxford (April 1930):

“Too much facility & unnecessary success are far more disturbing to the young & the year of reasonable work ahead will be studying & developing & result in his 1931 exam being a mature & good paper more useful to him in the end. I honestly believe this & am so writing him.”


About me: I am a rising sophomore at Harvard college, originally from Baltimore, MD. While I am yet to officially declare an area of study, I am interested in philosophy, classics, and (a little bit of) computer science.

A Not-So-Private Investigation: ICFA’s Oral History Project

by Caitlin Ballotta, July 3, 2014

Shelves of archival materials in ICFA

Shelves of archival materials in ICFA

This summer, I have the pleasure of interning in the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (ICFA) at beautiful Dumbarton Oaks.  During my last internship with ICFA (I was here two summers ago, and I’m just delighted to be back!), I designed an online exhibit chronicling the early life and career of Thomas Whittemore, a man who—let me assure you—is one of the most fascinating people whom you’ve (probably) never heard of.  While my previous project involved a good deal of digging through the archives and imagining myself in conversation with the people whose papers and personal effects I routinely rifled through, my current project is rather different:  I get to talk to people.  You see, talking is key when it comes to collecting oral histories, and that is my task this summer—well, part of it, at least.

Thomas Whittemore, founder of the Byzantine Institute (AKA the subject of my research last summer)

Thomas Whittemore, founder of the Byzantine Institute (AKA the subject of my research last summer)

I should note that ICFA’s oral history initiative is distinct from, but related to, the Oral History Project being administered by the Dumbarton Oaks Archives (DOA).  Whereas the DOA seeks to gather Dumbarton Oaks affiliates’ memories of the institution and their perceptions of how it has changed over time, ICFA aims to uncover information pertinent to its Fieldwork Archives—to get down to the “nitty-gritty” with regard to important conservation and excavation projects undertaken by Dumbarton Oaks and the Byzantine Institute.  ICFA’s questions, then, are more targeted and are designed to enhance our—and, by extension, our researchers’—understanding of the collection materials.   Luckily, ICFA’s and DOA’s missions and, at times, our lists of interview candidates overlap, which enables the two departments to collaborate, whether by conducting joint interviews or by helping each other to establish contact with persons of interest.

Before I proceed, I must confess that I haven’t gotten to do much talking to people as yet.  That will come later on in the summer.  The last few weeks, in contrast, have been devoted to an extensive pre-interview process.  By this, I mean that I’ve spent my days identifying “key suspects” from our collections; investigating their lives and work; and, last but not least, tracking them down.  (In case it’s not clear from the preceding, I’ve begun to think myself an amateur detective.  But this is perhaps not surprising, given that I was always an avid Nancy Drew fan.)  I’ve also recorded my findings in a dossier of sorts, making recommendations as to whom ICFA should seek to interview and in what order.  Additionally, I’ve just begun contacting potential interviewees—or, in some instances, contacting someone who knows someone who knows the desired interviewee.  (Six degrees of separation, anyone?)

File Folder with Poreč Materials

File Folder with Poreč Materials (1997- 2000)

During the first stages of my investigation, I spent some time poking through several of ICFA’s archival collections. While I examined correspondence, financial records, and photographs galore, it was a sampling of fieldwork “notebooks” from different projects and periods that caught my eye this time—and that compel me to make a brief and rather off-topic meditation on the art of note-taking.

 


 EXHIBIT A:

Fieldwork notebooks from Bargala excavations (1970)

Fieldwork notebooks from Bargala excavations (1970)

A series of notebooks from excavations at Bargala (located in the modern-day Republic of Macedonia) in the summer of 1970.  Each excavator had his or her own notebook—all the same size, all the same brand—within which to keep a log of work done or discoveries made from day to day.  While every worker certainly had a unique style of note-taking—some in pencil, others in pen; some with drawings to scale, others with rough sketches; some writing full paragraphs, others listing bullet points—the notes’ organization was fairly consistent.  That is to say, each notebook was home to a self-contained series of observations that were bound together and organized chronologically, often featuring (hand-written) page numbers, tables of contents, and indices.  Enhancing readability even further, certain reader aids were added retroactively to the individual fieldwork notebooks so as to make them work together as the chapters in a textbook might.

A notation at the end of Susan Boyd’s fieldwork notebook directs the reader to consult pages 86-97 of John Rosser’s notebook.

A notation at the end of Susan Boyd’s fieldwork notebook directs the reader to consult pages 86-97 of John Rosser’s notebook.

Indeed, John Rosser's Bargala notebook picks up, as promised, where Susan Boyd's had left off.

Indeed, John Rosser’s Bargala notebook picks up, as promised, where Susan Boyd’s had left off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


EXHIBIT B:

Sampling of Ann Terry's Poreč Notes

Sampling of Ann Terry’s Poreč Notes

A collection of notes and papers from the newly-donated (and thus still-to-be-processed) Henry Maguire and Ann Terry Poreč Archive.  Making three trips—in 1997, 1999, and 2000—to Poreč (located in modern Croatia) to study the mosaics that adorn the Eufrasius Cathedral, Maguire and Terry published their findings in a beautiful two-volume book, Dynamic Splendor (2007).  ICFA’s Poreč Archive, then, gives insight into the pre-publication process, allowing researchers to see the notes and illustrations that gave shape to the book.  These notes, however, are quite different from the ones taken at the Bargala excavations.  Not contained within notebooks, for instance, Terry’s observations are recorded on loose sheets of paper of differing sizes (and colors).  Some pages are typed; some are hand-written; and still others contain some mixture of the two.  There are print-outs of e-mails, sticky notes, and even annotations made to Xeroxes of a collaborator’s drawings.  I think it fair to say that these observations would be nearly impossible to navigate were it not for the notes Terry provided to ICFA…


Photo log from the Bargala excavations--a pre-Excel spreadsheet!

Photo log from the Bargala excavations–a pre-Excel spreadsheet!

What is the point of these observations, you ask?  Well, what originally struck me about the differences in note-taking style was how much our conception of and our relation to information has changed—and will continue to change—over time.  Indeed, the advent of new technology alone would be enough to guarantee that.  What I mean is that many of us today (myself included) have notes in any number of places:  in notebooks, on scraps of paper, in our cell phones, on our computers, on USB drives, in that mysterious non-vaporous entity known as The Cloud.  And while technology certainly increases our access to information, it also presents us with more and more ways to hide it (often unintentionally) from one another—and, interestingly enough, from ourselves.  Things that were once locked away in file cabinets now reside in e-mail inboxes and computer folders within folders within folders, never to see the light of day once created.  What will happen to these records in the future?  What will the archivist’s job be like in the years ahead, now that a “paper trail” is no longer just a paper trail?

These issues merit a blog post—to say nothing of a book—of their own, but they further remind me of just why oral history is so valuable:  you can learn a lot from “stuff” (indeed, that’s why I love archives), but you can learn a great deal more from the people who created, owned, or worked with said “stuff.”  This was certainly the case, for instance, when DOA and ICFA conducted a joint interview with Robin Sinclair Cormack back in 2011.  While speaking with Mr. Cormack, we learned that there was a “secret project” (that had since been “covered up” and thus omitted from fieldwork reports) involving the bronze doors of the Hagia Sophia—something that the rather more reticent materials in our collection certainly could not have told us.  Oh, the intrigue…

As I am no Nancy Drew, I will most likely not uncover any secrets that can rival The Story of the Bronze Doors when I enter into the interview phase of my project later on in the summer, but I am excited nonetheless.  You see, oral history enables archivists and researchers, the detectives of the scholarly realm, to read between the lines—to make the “paper trail” (whether paved with paper or electronic media) a tad bit easier to follow.  And that, Dear Reader, is excitement enough for me.  Let the sleuthing begin.

 


About Me:

I graduated from Harvard College in May with a degree in English.  I am deeply interested in the intersection of technology and education.  Thus, when my internship with ICFA ends, I will seek to work in the Digital Humanities field while applying to graduate programs in English.  My eventual aim is to teach at the university level and to aid in the development of online supplements for humanities education in primary and secondary school classrooms.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: The Byzantine Seals Catalogue at Dumbarton Oaks

Over the first four weeks of my internship at Dumbarton Oaks, I’ve learned that there are more seals here than a Navy wedding off the coast of Alaska (Get it? I’m here all summer, folks! As an aside, I’m sure a necessary qualification for being a Byzantinist and/or a sigillographer is enduring and even embracing this pun. Jonathan Shea, for example, has a picture of two pinnipeds on his office door!).

I tried to find a Seel on a seal, but this was the best I could do.

I tried to find a Seel (the Pokémon) on a seal, but this was the best I could do.

Anyways, I hope I haven’t lost you yet. My job for the last month has been to put the fourth volume of the Dumbarton Oaks Catalogue of Byzantine Seals online, which can be accessed here. The seals in the collection are made of lead, and are thus quite durable, often outliving all other evidence of their original owners. This makes them very valuable for historians, and thus makes my task of putting them online for the world to see that much more heroic.

Each entry for each individual seal, which comes with its personal accession number, requires the completion of several fields, which include a description of the obverse and reverse, a commentary, a date, a physical description, a bibliography, and a transcription and translation of any inscriptions. This is a lot of work!

I enjoy concrete tasks where I can easily track my progress and efficiency. After struggling through entering in a meager quartet of seals on my first day, I realized that I would get speedier. Quadrupling that value the next day, I felt more hopeful. Still, I tried to think like a 19th century American to find out what ways I could optimize my task. Probably the most effective solution – switching to wireless Internet – was unfortunately not in my control, so I had to settle on switching the variables that I could alter. Here’s what I came up with:

1. The Cottage Industry is outdated.

Basically, trying to do each seal individually slowed things down. I quickly learned that I had to make an assembly line, clumping together certain tasks. I imagine this is how some teachers grade tests! When editing a seal, the website requires you to fill out certain required fields, save the information, and then reopen the editing tab in order to add in the inscriptional information. The transcription of the inscription (this description is a prescription for disaster!) comes in two forms. First, in Athena Ruby, which, while a layperson might see it as the Byzantine iteration of Wingdings, is actually an incredibly sophisticated font developed right here at Dumbarton Oaks!

The Athena Ruby Palette

The Athena Ruby Palette in all of its numinosity

An inscription in Athena Ruby ends up looking like this:

The obverse inscription of Fogg 928.

Next I have to type up the inscription in normal Greek letters. There is a lot of switching of keyboards and searching the palette for strange letter forms, so it is far more efficient to tackle the inscriptions of several seals together! Assembly line!

2. The Pomodoro Technique

I did not invent the Pomodoro Technique, but you should definitely check it out. Basically, it posits that working in a goal-oriented fashion for 25 minutes, followed by a brief, 5 minute break increases productivity. This is an excellent strategy not just for cataloging Byzantine seals, but for doing chores, homework, or really anything productive! Instead of having a set 25 minute limit, I like to enter in five seals at a time, and I count that as one Pomodoro unit! If you don’t ascribe to the Pomodoro Technique, you’ll be playing ketchup with all your coworkers (Alright, that one was terrible. I apologize.)

3. Have a good supervisor and a good Supervisor.

If anything strange comes up on a seal, I have the luxury of asking my boss, Jonathan Shea, who is so knowledgeable concerning Byzantine seals that he probably has his own custom one. The seals are often very formulaic, but sometimes some very strange things will come up, such as one metropolitan who decided to label himself ἐλάχιστος, literally “the smallest” metropolitan, a rather befuddling epithet. This was neatly resolved by the adjective “humblest,” which I think is slightly less amusing.

Next, to increase productivity, my office, somewhere in the basement of Dumbarton Oaks, has no windows, no natural light, and no decoration except for a reproduction of this mosaic from Constantinople.

Fun fact: Christ is actually holding "Catalogue of Byzantine Seals at Dumbarton Oaks and in the Fogg Museum of Art, Volume 4"

Fun fact: Christ is actually holding “Catalogue of Byzantine Seals at Dumbarton Oaks and in the Fogg Museum of Art, Volume 4.”

So if I ever have the temptation to lose focus during a “Pomodoro,” I have to do it in front of a quite imposing figure of JC, flanked by the Emperor and Empress, no less!

4. Have smart friends.

One painstaking part of my job was that I have to post both the Greek text with certain epigraphical notations (like parentheses) [and brackets] as well as the clean, unadulterated Greek text to be translated into English. For a while, I would simply manually erase all the parentheses, which caused quite a bit of eye strain. I recently had the bright idea to ask my good friend from high school about whether this could be automated, and within five minutes he had made me a program to automatically remove certain marks! Observe:

He wasn't being condescending with the labels... I'm that bad at technology.

He wasn’t being condescending with the labels… I’m that bad at technology.

Anyways, this saved a ton of time! Thanks again, Jack!

I hope that this insight into how I approached my first task here at Dumbarton Oaks wasn’t too boring; maybe you can use some of my strategies when thinking about how to best manage your own time! Using these strategies, I’m able to enter in around 170 seals a week! Once I finish the fourth volume, I’ll be moving onto something a bit more narrative based, which should hopefully include some more outside research! I’ll keep you guys updated, and leave you with my favorite seal so far (BZS.1958.106.1843)!

It's a sphinx. I like the owner's style (Photios, a 10th century tax collector in modern day Turkey)

It’s a sphinx! I like the owner’s style… (Photios, a 10th century tax collector in modern day Turkey)

About me: I’m a rising senior at Harvard in the Classics department from Wellesley, Massachusetts.

Intern-al Affairs

I must first apologize for the fact that the title of this post has very little to do with any of its contents, and warn that any reader who comes to it expecting some sort of intrigue or salaciousness will be disappointed.  The punning habit dies hard.  You may take some comfort in the fact that I have selected the best of the lot, which included such gems as “Intern-al Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” which did not seem relevant to much of anything, and “Intern-Ship of Fools,” which, while perhaps accurate in at least my own case, would have started the post out in a significantly darker tone than I felt to be appropriate.  “Intern-al Affairs,” happily, is vague enough to be relevant to almost anything and bureaucratic-sounding enough to avoid sounding too ominous.  And most importantly, it preserves the pun.

I’m an intern (surprise!) with the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, which is a text series that publishes medieval literature in editions that have the original language text and an English translation side by side.  (For all you active and recovering classicists in the audience, it’s the same idea as the Loeb Classical Library, but for medieval material.)  Essentially, my job (and Jessi and Zak’s job) is to read the texts and translations of our scholars, critique them, and come up with a diplomatic way to frame these critiques.  If sitting around and reading Latin all day sounds like your cup of tea, you can’t beat it with a stick.  If it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you should reevaluate some of your attitudes and life decisions.

The first weeks of the summer were dominated by examining a forthcoming edition of the miscellaneous poetry of Venantius Fortunatus, an Italian poet of late antiquity who spent much of his time hobnobbing with members of the Merovingian court and the powerful clergy of southern France.  It is going to be a very good edition and you all should be waiting breathlessly for its release.  Until that time, however, you may whet your appetite with this epigram that I wrote in the style of Fortunatus:

Audi me, quivis ades antistes venerandus,

ut de te merito praemia magna metam.

Fortunatus, bless his sainted soul (feast day Dec. 17), had a bit of a sycophantic streak.

Once in awhile our work will demand an expedition beyond the confines of the office, generally to the library.  The library is a place of great awe, the workings of which are mysterious to even those of us who work at Dumbarton Oaks, and as a result a journey thither requires great preparation of soul and body.  It was such preparation that I undertook when a different project, a collection of the medieval Latin biographies of Muhammed, demanded a visit.  You may imagine me thus:

Image(Image in the public domain, via http://www.timetoast.com/timelines/henry-stanley).

Due to the library’s somewhat confusing layout, it took me some time to find what I needed, but I eventually found the book in question and got to exercise what is probably the most entertaining privilege library users have: use of the Book Trolley, which safely transports items from the library to the main house.  In my excitement, I made this video:

In the world of philology, Book Trolleys are still something to be marveled at.  With the conclusion of my adventure, I think that this is proper to conclude this post.  Stay tuned for more!

Crux (in)fidelis?

If I lived in medieval times, I’d want to be a scribe. That way I could become intimately acquainted with Western literary heritage, while also living more comfortably than usually possible in the plague-ridden, miserable “Dark Ages.”

Working at the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML), I’m closer to this medieval vision of myself than ever before. I and my fellow scholars-in-training are working tirelessly night and day (actually, weekdays from nine to five) reviewing translations of medieval Latin texts soon to be published by Harvard University Press. These translations, crafted by experts in their fields, are a blast to read, but sometimes, it’s the Latin text itself that catches my eye.

This happened last week while I was making my way through some miscellaneous poems by Venantius Fortunatus, a sixth-century hymnodist, bishop and saint. While one might consider most parts of the medieval Latin corpus obscure, some poems of Fortunatus may be familiar to churchgoers, notably Pange, lingua, gloriosi proelium certaminis (“Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle”) and Vexilla regis prodeunt (“The royal banners forward go”). The former of these contains a stanza – Crux fidelis – that enjoys a life of its own, reincarnated and glorified as a widely-performed Good Friday motet, ostensibly written by King John IV of Portugal (1604-1656). (Unfortunately for John, more recent scholarship suggests that this is a false attribution, and the piece wasn’t written until much later.)

ImageThis is John, King of the Portuguese.

 

 

If you watch the above video (and I highly recommend you do), you’ll notice the words are as follows:

Crux fidelis, inter omnes arbor una nobilis;

Nulla silva talem profert fronde, flore, germine.

Dulce lignum, dulces clavos, dulce pondus sustinet.

 

(Faithful Cross! Above all other, one and only noble Tree!

None in foliage, none in blossom, none in fruit thy peers may be;

Sweetest wood and sweetest iron! Sweetest Weight is hung on thee!)

– tr. Fr. Edward Caswall (1814-1878)

 

Incidentally, the most recent and authoritative version of the Liber Usualis, a compendium of “plainsong” chants used by the Church for hundreds of years, contains the same text:

Image

So, I was naturally curious when I came across Crux fidelis in the edition I’m helping to edit, and noticed some strange departures from the text I’ve come to know and love. These are underlined below:

Crux fidelis, inter omnes arbor una nobilis;

Nulla talem silva profert flore, fronde, germine;

Dulce lignum, dulce clavo dulce pondus sustinens.

 

That amounts to two word-switches (in the second line), and three changed endings (in the third line). To be perfectly honest, this doesn’t have much effect on the translation (especially given Fr. Caswall’s highly stylized one provided above), and yet upon seeing this, I felt betrayed! One of the most famous and well-loved hymns of the Christian tradition is marred by a shoddy transmission history! Of course, the details of exactly how this happened are outside the scope of this rant, but perhaps they can be attributed to a distracted scribe, or several distracted scribes, who created the errors that were passed down to us, enshrined in liturgical tradition, and immortalized in the most famous musical setting of Crux fidelis. I’d like to think that if I were a medieval scribe, as is my fantasy, I wouldn’t make such mistakes… but this is easier said than done.

Crux (in)fidelis. A somewhat perverse – maybe offensive? – title for this short meditation. I don’t mean to imply that the Cross is somehow “unfaithful” or “treacherous,” which, granted, are two possible meanings of the Latin adjective infidelis. Nor do I mean to evoke the idea of “the infidel” – what purpose would that serve? I rather make this gesture with another, more obscure meaning of infidelis in mind. If you look up this word in the Blaise Medieval Dictionary, a constant resource for myself and my compatriots in DOML, you’ll find some other definitions like:

… 2. of little faith … 5. not worthy of faith [i.e., unreliable]

Image

I’m happy to have learned French in high school for the express purpose of reading the Blaise Medieval Dictionary.

Indeed, how much faith can we have in the reliability of these ancient texts as they are transmitted to us? For those of us who spend lots of time with them, we’re familiar with the messiness of the manuscript tradition. In our DOML editions, alternate readings of the text are taken into account, and are often listed in the back matter. Other publishers might even list them at the bottom of each page in a critical apparatus. All this points to an inescapable truth – it is our job as aspiring scholars to make sense of the discrepancies, to correct the inaccuracies, and to remember how much might be wrong, or simply missing, in the survivng corpus. That way, if we’re constantly working to improve the accuracy of our texts through rigorous scholarship, we don’t always have to be “of little faith” when it comes to the accuracy of the ancient texts we enjoy.

In our day-to-day work at DOML, we’re doing our best to produce volumes guided by just this kind of scholarship. With any luck, there will also be scholars in the far future – perhaps here at Dumbarton Oaks – who will continue to build on the work we have already done.

About me: My name is Zachary Fletcher, and I’m a rising senior at Harvard concentrating in Classical Languages and Literatures, with a secondary field in Linguistics. I’ll be attempting a thesis next year on how the early Church influenced and changed notions of sexual difference inherited from the classical world. (I just finished reading a book which examines the Hebrew God through the lens of torture, dissection and bodybuilding – what a joy it would be to include it in my thesis somehow.)

Why I’m here

I went back to my high school in June to visit some old teachers, and when I told my calculus teacher I’d be spending almost 10 weeks in DC, his face lit up. “Really? That’s my favorite city!” he said. “What are you doing there?”

“I’m editing translations of medieval Latin texts,” I told him. He laughed and shook his head. “Oh, Jessi,” he said. “What a way to spend a summer.”

His affectionate bewilderment was typical of the reactions I got to my summer job. To be honest, sometimes that’s my reaction, too. Neither a Classics concentrator nor a Christian, I’ve pored over dozens of Latin poems on the beauty of the Cross and the virtues of various medieval churches.  I don’t know French, but I find myself using a Latin-French dictionary almost every day, consulting Google or my polyglot coworkers to clear up the confusion. And there are times–after coming across a particularly biting anti-Semitic poem, for example, or hearing English speakers called barbarians by some snooty Italian author–when I wonder what a Jewish fan of Victorian English literature is doing here.

But then, I’ll come across a charming line in a love poem:

“Differentem omnibus

amo differenter.” -Carmina Burana 56.4.1

(Loosely translated: “I love one different from the rest, and I love her differently.”)

Or I’ll have a brush with the wisdom of the Old English volumes in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series, and thrill at discovering the dawn of the language in which I speak and write:

“ond  þe in ferðe laet

þine lareowas leofe in mode,

þa þec geornast to gode trymmen.”   -Old English Shorter Poems, “Precepts”,  lines 12-14

(“…and in your heart let your teachers be dear in mind, those who most eagerly exhort you to the good.” Translation by Robert E. Bjork)

And, as it turns out, occasionally even snooty Italian authors write about universal human struggles with friendship, love, and loss:

“Omnia conspicio simul—aethera, flumina, terram–

cum te non video, sunt mihi cuncta parum. “–Venantius Fortunatus,   11.2.3-4

(Loosely translated: “I see everything at once–the air, the rivers, the earth–but when I do not see you, everything is too little for me.”)

I come across lines like this, and I realize again that medieval authors are, in fact, authors–not just Christians or Italians or anti-Semites, but authors, real people doing their best to create something that matters, something beautiful that future generations might want to keep around. That’s when I remember why I’m here.

About me: I’m a rising sophomore from Leawood, KS, planning to concentrate in English.