A Farewell to Charms…

Like much of the last week, my last day in Washington, D.C. this summer is very bittersweet! The community at Dumbarton Oaks is so full of talented, inspiring people working on incredible projects. I will definitely miss lunchtime underneath the ancient trees with all the buzz of scholarly conversation.

For me, the work this summer on Triangle Parks in Washington, D.C. was truly an incredible experience. This was my first time executing a project from an academic library and I am so grateful for the support and generosity of the Garden and Landscape staff, librarians, and fellows at Dumbarton Oaks!  I was surprised how – through my internship – the project scope and outcomes advanced to a degree that I hadn’t anticipated.  The research broke down into four main components which I describe here in my final blog post.  At the end, I briefly outline where the research is going upon my departure from Dumbarton Oaks.

Triangle Parks Figure Ground (© Abad Ocubillo 2012).  I identified a number of different spatial typologies for Triangle Parks in Washington, D.C.

Understanding Triangle Parks first required developing a narrative history of these small reservations; considering them as a whole system and in some cases, diving deeper into the evolution of specific parcels. I discovered a complicated and contentious history in which jurisdiction of roads and residual Triangle Parks changed at odd intervals over the last two hundred years. Tracing a history for these places also proved difficult due to the various ways in which they are referenced in archival material. Newsprint articles, pieces of government legislation, correspondence and other documents use words such as “triangles,” “reservations,” “parks,” “planted areas,” “parklets,” “parking,” or “islands” interchangeably to refer to the parcels in question. By synthesizing primary and secondary sources, I was finally able to construct a timeline of development and jurisdictional oversight that inform an understanding of the Triangle Parks today.

“Map of Washington D.C. showing wood, concrete, and stone street pavements” (William James Stone, 1873)

An analysis of archival maps and photos was the next critical component of understanding the Parks’ developmental history. The Library of Congress and numerous other small collections throughout Washington, D.C. supplied an incredible wealth of historic cartography related to the City and region. I carefully combed through these to find a dozen or so maps spanning two centuries that illustrated the first appearance of Triangle Parks and later, their systematic identification and cataloging by the Office of Public Buildings & Grounds. The same agency photographed a majority of the triangular reservations extant during the 1920s and 30s. This collection of archival photographs – now held at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. – is an invaluable resource for the study of the Triangle Parks. These historic photos helped me select a shortlist of sites to visit and document in their present day condition.

The third challenge involved assembling a GIS database of the Triangle Parks which accurately noted attributes such as size, location, jurisdictional history, built program (such as monuments, statuary, fountains, or public art), and any other notable characteristics. I found that due to inconsistent management and jurisdiction of the Triangle Parks over the last two hundred years, no single list really incorporated all the needed information. In the end I had to manually merge datasets from the National Park Service, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, the D.C. Geographic Information Systems Office and others; correlating the new catalogue with the collection of archival maps which I georeferenced in GIS. In the end, my work this summer became a cataloguing and mapping project as much as an inquiry into spatial and social history of these places.

Fieldwork comprised the fourth component of research for this summer’s work, and was perhaps the most fun to execute. Onsite documentation brought me to all corners of the District of Columbia. In total, I visited over fifty of the District’s five-hundred or so triangles. I discovered that conditions at sites varied greatly across the city, reflecting patterns of uneven investment and attention that go back more than a century. In upper northwest and northeast, for example, Triangle Parks are relatively simple vegetated plots, whereas in central northwest they serve as venues for monumental statues and fountains. In the southwest, I documented how triangular reservations are still in the same state of underdevelopment as they were a century ago! Also, in all quarters of the city Triangle Parks were lost to redevelopment, mid-century urban renewal and the development of local highway infrastructure. Further site-specific investigations revealed a diversity of management arrangements for community-sponsored dog parks, vegetable gardens, and playgrounds. Triangle Parks can also emblematize local revitalization programs and community cohesion with public artwork, planting and stewardship programs.

“Hmm + Ahh” by Robert Cole, S Street Dog Park / Reservation 144 (© Abad Ocubillo 2012)

The outcomes of this summer’s research project are manifold. I am busily finalizing a research paper which will be presented at the Historic Roads Conference in Indianapolis later this fall. I’m also collaborating with the Editor of Sitewide Engagement at The Washington Post on a piece about Triangle Parks. Finally, I’m continuously updating my exhibit at the Dumbarton Oaks Garden and Landscape Studies Intern Projects website with fresh pieces of analysis. I’m developing interactive maps and timelines that should online there soon.  I’ll be updating this blog post with links as new pieces go live.  Please contact me at robin.abad@gmail.com if you have any questions or suggestions!

Thank you Dumbarton Oaks! It’s been an unforgettable summer.

Oral History Project Redux

It’s hard to believe that our internships are already drawing to a close…

…would be far too easy of an opening for our final blog post about the Oral History Project. But it is hard to believe! Gabriela and I have learned a tremendous amount this summer, about Byzantine, pre-Columbian, and Garden and Landscape Studies, about Dumbarton Oaks, and about oral history – which is not the history of mouths and the cultural construction thereof in different historical contexts. Just clearing that up.

After a few months of transcribing and editing, our website now boasts 23 published interviews, with more to follow before long. The website is already a valuable resource – if we do say so ourselves – for the history of D.O., of the scholars it has hosted, and of the disciplines it has enriched.

We were both happy to share some of our favorite excerpts from the interviews we’ve worked on during our presentations on Wednesday. Gabriela talked about the evolution of the pre-Columbian program at D.O. (interviews with all of the directors of pre-Columbian Studies in the history of Dumbarton Oaks are now published and available on our website!)

In her interview, Betty Benson describes the challenges of moving the Pre-Columbian collection to the Phillip Johnson wing in 1963:
“When I first went into the building with Mr. Thatcher – as I called him then – and he took me around, and I said, ‘It’s a beautiful building. How do you put anything in it?’”

Erik talked about the late Byzantinist Alexander Kazhdan, as he appears in different people’s interviews. Be on the look-out for our interview with Musja Kazhdan, Alexander’s wife, coming to an Oral History Project website near you soon.

Michael McCormick fondly recalls Alexander Kazhdan’s 60th birthday party at Dumbarton Oaks.

But aside from the website (and in case you missed it: website, website, website), which is the main tangible (in that weird internet way) result of our work, we hope that this project also contributes to a more general sense of Dumbarton Oaks as an institution that cares deeply about – and is proud of – its own past.

So, as our internships will soon become no more than (oral?) history, both of us would like to thank everyone here who has helped make our summer at D.O. such a great experience and who are surely creating some very interesting stories for future oral histories.

Now go read some interviews!


About Us

Erik Fredericksen graduated from Harvard College this past spring, with a concentration in Classics.

Gabriela Santiago is a recent graduate of Harvard College in History  of Art and Architecture.

Vale DO!

Vale from the mezzanine! As we enter our last week at Dumbarton Oaks, the three of us  cannot believe how quickly our time here has passed. Has it really been 70 days since we settled into bare desks? Regarded the book conveyor with wondrous awe? Feared death by mobile library shelves?

Over the past ten weeks, we have done our best to make upcoming publications conform to DOML style guidelines. At all times, a small army of computer programs, online resources, and reference books has defended Fort Mezzanine against the forces of error, confusion, and bad punctuation. Aside from the DOML style guide itself, our most constant companions are probably Dropbox, Word, the Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition!), and Merriam-Webster.

What do our holy commandments dictate? Format of the Latin and English must match, more or less. Punctuation and capitalization must be in accordance with CMOS.  Words split across lines must break, like fine diamonds, into the pieces prescribed by Merriam. And most importantly (and subjectively), translations must be fluid and accessible to the general public while still remaining faithful to the original language.

Striving to abide by these tenets, we have overcome conflicting files, superfluities of en-dashes, and countless capitalization conundra (to say nothing of intentionally and unintentionally alliterative translations). We have encountered spellings and uses of English and Latin that confound our wildest expectations.

For more technical problems, a large cohort of crack resources always stands in reserve. Mysterious abbreviations, odd acronyms, Latin titles, and bizarre surnames abound on our desks and computers. TLL, DLD, Cetedoc (aka CDS aka LLT-A + LLT-B + MGH + ACLL + ALD), AH, Vetus Latina (online and Freiburg editions), Frede, Gryson, Sabatier, Deshusses, Lexikon des Mittelalters, MEL, CALMA, BISLAM, ODCC, DHGE, PL, AASS, Vogel, and Väänänen (yes, that’s right, Väänänen) are just some of our allies on the mezzanine.

Our neighbor up here, the very learned Scott Johnson, is always generous with his OLD and his DMLBS when things get really hairy. Fortunately for us, we have never needed to borrow any of Scott’s enormous collection of Syriac lexica, although we did once have to look through his dictionary of biblical Greek to see whether “cherubs” in the plural end with a nu or a mu in the Greek.

Memorable moments include catching errors in standard editions by looking through online digitizations of the original manuscripts (it’s deponeretur, Father Hanssens!), finding the perfect variant after sifting through 245 possibilities on the Vetus Latina, learning that certain priests find it meet to spit the body of the Lord…

From Alan to Amalarius, Hymns to Henry, our work at Dumbarton Oaks has certainly been unique in its frustrations and rewards. But if we’ve learned anything here, it’s that DO is much more than texts and gardens, edifices and artifacts, resources and reference books. This community of incredible people has inspired and guided us throughout our stay–we’ve learned so much from all of you.

Though our time here must end, we depart with a much-enriched perspective, in many ways greeting life anew. Šlāmā, dīy ‘ōw. Peace out, DO. We’ll miss you.

Farewell Dumbarton Oaks!

Alexis Del Vecchio, August 6, 2012

It’s been a productive summer for the shared GLS interns, although I’m sad to see everyone leave (including myself!)! Last Wednesday Siobhan Aitchison, Robin Abad and I gave presentations on our research topics from the summer to the GLS and garden departments, as well as the interns and a number of librarians. While Robin completed his own course of study on the Washington Triangle Parks, Siobhan and I both looked into areas of the garden; Siobhan excavated the kitchen garden site and ultimately built a 3-d model based on her research (seen in another post) while I looked at both the historical evolution of the Arbor Terrace as well as the Pre-Bliss property at large. The culmination of this work can be seen in our website www.planetable.org/omeka (note: the site is still under construction) where we constructed a number of web-based “exhibits” to showcase these topics. In the image below you can see a screen shot of the website’s home page.

GLS Intern Website Homepage

As the “GIS” specific intern, the web-based application of my research was meant to build on work from previous summer interns. Three years ago the inaugural GIS intern, Justin Scherma, worked with Paul Cote, GIS Specialist from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, to assemble a Dumbarton Oaks Geo-Database from various digital and analog sources. Information reconciled into a single file includes the James Berrell survey from 1922 as well as recent CAD drawings from Landscape Architect James Urban and Civil Engineer Wiles Mensch. These files were compiled to create a single source for geo-referenced information about the garden, such as utility lines, contours, and material edges.

Dumbarton Oaks Geo-database

The following year David Wooden added trees to the database as geo-referenced points. Each tree is linked with tabular information that captures both physical and maintenance characteristics. Charlie Howe, the most recent GIS intern, created a detailed guide to updating the tree inventory as well as diagrams that chart accessibility and historical cut and fill in the garden.

My goals for the summer were to enhance the historical component of the geo-database while also making the information that we’ve collected over the past four summers accessible to a wider audience.  Paul Cote, with input from the Gail Griffin, John Beardsley and librarians at D.O., determined the best means for public interface would be through an Omeka site. Omeka is an open-share software developed at George Mason University to house digital collections. The software is relatively easy to use (and fortunately makes itself open and easy to hack!) to create exhibits culled from two-dimensional representations of the host organization’s materials.

Arbor Terrace Exhibit on Omeka

Hundreds of libraries, historical societies, collectors, municipalities and other agencies have created their own Omeka Sites. We also wanted to curate exhibits with a geo-referenced component. Luckily the internship coincided with the release of the neatline plug-in from the UVA Scholar’s Lab. http://www2.lib.virginia.edu/scholarslab/  Neatline allowed us to layer images and their associated metadata over geo-referenced maps, thus creating stories that integrated images and text within a spatial context.

this exhibit charts the pre-Bliss history of Dumbarton Oaks

I produced the final iteration of the arbor terrace and Dumbarton Oaks exhibits on Google Earth. Unlike the standard Omeka or neatline exhibit, Google Earth allows us to view two-dimensional images in 3-d. Thus photographs of Dumbarton Oaks in 1894 can be paired with images taken in 2012 from the same vantage point, creating a before and after effect. Because Google Earth can reference images located on your hard drive instead of a web server, we avoided the numerous issues that dogged the neatline production process. Moreover, the kml code that places photographs and image overlays at specific coordinates can be zipped with images into a .kmz file, allowing us to preserve an in-tact package that does not rely on an outside server to work. Omeka, (and the associated neatline) by contrast, will only persist if the servers on which they are housed are maintained.

Ultimately, we found that each service created a unique viewing experience with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The two other GLS interns and I are currently preparing our sites and content for public viewing so that one day our work might be available to any web or actual visitor to Dumbarton Oaks! We hope that you’ll check back in and visit our sites in the near future! www.planetable.org/omeka

Thanks for reading everyone, and good luck in future endeavors!

A Sea of Gallery: Multiple Projects for a Museum Intern

Danielle Parga, August 6, 2012

A museum intern’s job is multifaceted! I’ve helped with various projects over the past few weeks.

About the Fall exhibit: we decided which colors to use! Here are a few examples of colors painted on accompanying stools. The stools will be part of the “scientific” side of the exhibit where visitors will learn about the recent research performed on several Maya objects. Installation is in a matter of days…


Next, I put together an interactive powerpoint to showcase digital scans of our Maya stela, PC.B. 537. Chris Harrison is building a label slant which will have an embedded iPad for visitors to explore the scan at different angles and under different lighting. Digital scanning helps scholars to examine, share and preserve ancient artifacts.

Image   Image

In anticipation of next year’s exhibit celebrating 50 years of pre-Columbian art at Dumbarton oaks, I have requested copyright permission to reproduce a variety of paintings and photographs from other institutions. Often, for a single image, I had to contact many different stakeholders, including the photographer, the owner of the artwork, the heirs of the artists, and national government institutions. It takes a lot to get all the proper copyrights!

Specifically, we are working on a mural which features our Tlazolteotl figure. She appears I the bottom corner of the image, so if we reproduce the mural on our gallery wall, the figure sits close to the floor. I used a computer program to show the mural on different walls and at different scales in the galleries, so that we could decide on the optimal format for display. Either way, the mural will look extremely impressive once it goes up.


I worked on another side project curating a new display case for the pre-Columbian galleries. It is tricky to display our pyroengraved ChavÍn gourd bowl considering it is organic matter that is over 2,000 years old. A special mount will have to be made in order to support this fragile object and we are also checking the temperature and humidity in the case and galleries for the best environment for the bowl.


Down in museum storage, I recreated the display case using exact measurements. I then printed out life size photos of the objects in order to get a sense of scale. By putting them on various mounts and in various positions, we could get an accurate impression of what the case will look like. Take a look once it’s installed!

So this is it for the internship! It’s been a quick ten weeks but I’ve loved my work here and enjoyed meeting such interesting people. Most importantly, I learned so much about museum work and I hope to take these skills to the next level. Au revoir!

DOMLing all day long

Christopher Husch, August 6, 2012

This summer a sprinkling of the western world’s most interesting texts has been our bread and butter up on the Mezzanine. Sharing the large office with sunny street-facing windows, Shane, Rebecca, and I have applied ourselves to draft versions of the Liber officialis of Amalarius of Metz, the Vulgate New Testament and its 1752 translation by Richard Challoner (a revised version of the Douay-Rheims English translation of 1582), and samplings of the Fecunda ratis of Egbert of Liège and the hexameter hagiographies of Henry of Avranches.

My biggest project this summer, which I’ve been working mostly solo on for the last several months, has been the forthcoming One Hundred Latin Hymns, selected, edited, and commentaried by Peter G. Walsh. As with most of us DOML interns’ projects, my work has focused on making the manuscript, both text and commentary, conform with DOML style guidelines; however, it became apparent early on that this text, which had been OCRed into a digital form from Professor Walsh’s typescript, was very full of typos introduced by the text-recognition software. It became necessary for me to check by hand every single citation of classical, biblical, patristic, and mediaeval works as well as secondary scholarship, to make sure the citation style, page number, line number, etc. were correct, and that the author’s or editor’s name was spelled correctly— a monumental task considering the voluminousness of Prof. Walsh’s notes!

Another exciting aspect of preparing this text was the index, which I completed on my own late in the process. After reading through the volume several times in the course of my earlier passes, I had a fairly detailed command of the themes that these hymns address, and at first I was eager to compile a more thoroughgoing thematic index which would enable the reader to cross-reference similarities of content and theological tropes across the ages. I soon realized, after compiling hundreds and hundreds of entries for a mere handful of the hymns, that I simply didn’t have the time, and the volume didn’t have the space, for a project of this scale. Since other volumes confined themselves mostly to indexing proper names and a few technical terms that readers would find significant, or unfamiliar, I revised the scope of my ambitions for the index—but, realizing that in a book of hymns a thousand undifferentiated references to “Christ” would be completely useless, I sorted out subentries into themes to a fair level of detail.

The texts themselves are some of the loveliest Latin hymns in the tradition, dating from Ambrose in the 4th century AD to Thomas Aquinas in the 13th. Some of my personal favorites are the long, arcane, and convoluted Altus Prosator, by the Irish monk Columba of Iona; the famous Dies irae, attributed to Thomas of Celano; and Thomas Aquinas’s inimitable Pange, lingua, gloriosi / corporis mysterium, which is essentially a theological tract on the mystery of transubstantiation in beautiful, closely wrought trochaic verses. Uniquely for the series, the English translations are all in verse, and one of the most enjoyable parts of my work on the volume was editing Professor Walsh’s elegant translations: correcting the occasional error in meter, suggesting more supple phrasings where they appeared to me, and even editing the Altus Prosator and a couple other of the hymns to achieve an acrostic in the English to match the Latin—not as insurmountable a task as it might appear, though the “Q” stanza of the Altus Prosator proved to be impossible, and I had to content myself with using the word Who, and pretending that the archaic Scottish spelling Quho “counted”!

It’s been a privilege to work with Professor Walsh’s manuscript, as well as on the delightfully technical DOML Vulgate project with Angela and Rebecca, and my taste of Amalarius of Metz with Shane. Long live DOML!

I am a senior in Harvard College concentrating in the classics. When I’m not wearing my classicist hat, I’m the General Manager of the Harvard Glee Club.

Unlocking the Archive: Opening a World Wide Web of Opportunities

by Caitlin Ballotta, August 6, 2012

What a whirlwind summer this has been—in the best possible sense, of course!  Over the past 10 weeks, I have been interning in the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (ICFA) at Dumbarton Oaks, working toward the creation of an online exhibit that will bring together three of ICFA’s archival collections.  Throughout the many phases of this project, I have learned so much from the dedicated archival team, and I would like take this opportunity to share a few of those lessons with you…

Thomas Whittemore, founder of the Byzantine Institute

My internship began with a period of what can only be described as total immersion.  In an effort to familiarize myself with the life and work of Thomas Whittemore (1871 – 1950), the famed (and, from what I have gathered, quite unique) founder of the Byzantine Institute, I devoted my first few weeks to conducting research.  Poring over the contents of an array of acid-free boxes filled with Whittemore’s papers and effects, I entered each day into the world of the professor-archaeologist-jetsetter-philanthropist-socialite himself via a road paved with primary sources. Having read through a plenitude of colorful correspondence (to, from, and even about Whittemore), having examined the protagonist’s peculiar penmanship and cryptic style of note-taking, I can truly say that Mr. Whittemore and I have become more than mere acquaintances.  (Although I must admit that the conversation has been rather one-sided…)

The subsequent stages of my project put my newly-acquired knowledge of archival methodology to the test.  First, given the opportunity to process one of ICFA’s collections, I revised a finding aid, or a document that, once finalized, will serve as a road map of sorts for researchers—that will allow ICFA’s visitors to navigate box and folder contents with independence and ease.  (For more information concerning archival processing, please see my first blog post, “History:  The Story Starts with the ‘Stuff.’”)   Next, I commenced with digitization, making electronic copies of photographs and other visual materials from the collections for purposes of preservation and eventual dissemination to a wider audience via the Internet.  (For additional information about the process of digitization—including its many associated challenges, please take a look at my second blog post, “Digitization:  Handling the Past with Kid Gloves.”)

Summer interns examine materials from the Whittemore collection.

In preparation for the impending launch of the online exhibit, I recently gave a presentation for a group of fellows, staff members, and interns here at Dumbarton Oaks.  After leading listeners on an hour-long journey through Whittemore’s life and times, I set them loose to examine a selection of documents and visual media depicting the various facets of the legendary figure’s identity.  Able to flip through the very pages of history—the “stuff” from which Whittemore’s tale has been crafted, attendees in a sense “met” for themselves Whittemore the man as distinct from his retrospectively-hewn identity.

Narrating Whittemore’s life for a group of Dumbarton Oaks affiliates

Having the opportunity to engage with a “live” audience through my presentation has given me an even greater appreciation for the ways in which unlocking the archive and inviting individuals to interact with the past can enhance learning; that I will have the chance to reach an even larger viewership through the online exhibit I am designing, moreover, is incredible to consider.  I see a great deal of potential for increased discourse among academic institutions and members of the public—not to mention among scholars themselves—as more organizations embrace the trend toward the digital humanities.  While this rapidly-evolving technological age has certainly presented many challenges, it has further granted us numerous vehicles with which to “bridge the gap” between “then” and “now,” between “here” and “there.”  I am extremely excited to be a part of this movement, and I look forward to witnessing what the future will bring.

Fellows, interns, and staff study collection materials. Visitors to the upcoming online exhibit will soon have the opportunity to interact with ICFA’s holdings in much the same way.

About Me
I am a rising junior at Harvard College, and I am concentrating in English while pursuing a language citation in Spanish.  How did I become interested in archiving?  In part, I attribute my obsession to National Treasure.  However ridiculous it may sound, the movie’s protagonists showed me that history is a plotline that is just waiting to be uncovered, written, and perhaps even revised.