Investigating a “Wild Washington”


It’s been a month since I arrived at Dumbarton Oaks. Despite being a native of the DC area and attending high school just up the street, Dumbarton Oaks has introduced me to a new perspective of DC, one based on high quality research, unparalleled resources, and a knowledgeable and talented staff. To top it off, it’s all located in a stunning setting designed by one of the most famous American landscape architects of the 20th century, Beatrix Farrand.

I bring up Beatrix Farrand because she is the reason why I am here. With a Master of Landscape Architecture from University of Virginia (as of May!), I am the landscape architecture intern at Dumbarton Oaks this summer. Having worked at landscape architecture firms the past two summers, this summer provides me with a unique educational opportunity: hands-on experience in Dumbarton Oaks’ historic gardens and the chance to pursue a self-driven research project. In return for this amazing experience, I hope to explain how Dumbarton Oaks is an integral part of a wild network in DC, also known as “Wild Washington.”

My summer research project, “Wild Washington,” builds upon my year-long graduate design thesis which investigated the “Wild Anacostia,” a neglected river that flows through Southeast DC. Through the design of a trail, walk, and path network that encompasses and fosters everyday activities, I used the Anacostia as a prototype for cultivating a thick edge typology for urban rivers. More generally, through this trail design, I challenged backward-looking and nostalgic views of the wilderness, and instead, tried to encourage a more productive relationship and understanding of the urban wild in our cities.

In my work this summer, I hope to expand on the research behind my design ideas for the Anacostia, and envision an alternative perspective of our nation’s capital, articulated through the recognition and expression of the urban wild. It’s a wild that can be discovered across scales and modes: from a fox crossing Rock Creek Parkway to the Great Falls on the Potomac to a dandelion growing from a crack in the pavement. It is a wild that is not only found in plants and animals, but in stormwater, pollution, topography, and social behavior.

The urban wild can be discovered in Dumbarton Oaks Park.

The urban wild can be discovered in Dumbarton Oaks Park.


In addition to working through the history and definition of “wilderness” and its relationship to garden design, I hope to construct a spectrum of the wild, or a “wild” index, that marks the DC landscape. It is a strategy for gauging and recognizing the wild, and an alternative approach of seeing what may initially appear ordinary. Coming from the perspective of a landscape architect, I view research and design as a tool to help the public better understand the ever-changing dynamics in their own cities. It is an effort to raise awareness, and ultimately, affect behavior.

And just when I think I am going to freeze from the library’s arctic temperatures, I am

A quick sketch of one of the Katsura trees on the East Lawn.

A quick sketch of one of the Katsura trees on the East Lawn.

given the chance to thaw out, outside. I spend my Mondays and Fridays in Farrand’s gardens with an experienced, talented, and jovial team of gardeners.  Between pruning, weeding, watering, joking, and climbing ladders to tend the hard-to-reach areas of the garden, I’ve immersed myself in Farrand’s design and have been working on learning the names, forms, and functions of various plant species. It’s been a wonderful first month, and I look forward to the rest of the summer!


I found this baby morning dove hidden in a plume of wisteria on the roof of the addition to the main house.

I found this baby morning dove hidden in a plume of wisteria on the roof of the addition to the main house.

If you are curious to discover more about “Wild Washington” and would like to follow my summer research, please visit my (Kate Hayes’s) blog: I appreciate any comments or feedback you may have to offer! And if you ever need to find me, just stop by the Dumbarton Oaks pool. I will most likely be there.


A New Summer for the Oral History Project

At the Oral History Project, Josh WIlson and I have been busy trying to begin the process of collecting new interviews for the archives.  Thanks to last year’s interns, almost all of the previous interviews had been transcribed setting the stage for us to move forward.  Transcription can prove to be one of the more difficult parts of the project; often times it takes more than a few times listening and a Google search or two in order to catch all of the names and places that the interviewees discuss.  We have been able to get a few more of the interviews published on the website, namely one from Ioli Kalavrezou and from Elizabeth & Michael Jeffreys.

The Dumbarton Oaks Swimming Pool

The Dumbarton Oaks Swimming Pool

At this time, we have some new interviews scheduled, but none have been conducted.  One project we have undertaken to increase awareness of the Oral History Project and put it in a more user-friendly form is the creation of a blog.  The blog will be an ongoing project run in conjunction with the collection of interviews and will feature highlights of individual interviews, as well as compilations of interviews on a single subject. Our first post is about the Dumbarton Oaks swimming pool.  You can also check out a post about how Dumbarton Oaks fosters interdisciplinary collaboration through social gatherings and daily lunches.

The Refectory at Dumbarton Oaks

The Refectory at Dumbarton Oaks

We hope to have a great summer here working in the archives and interviewing present and past staff and Fellows.  Keep checking back to the blog and website for updates.

James Curtin is a sophomore at Harvard College, concentrating in Government.  He is involved with the Harvard Institute of Politics in the area of education policy, and also has an academic interest in both Byzantine and Roman history.

The Loveliest Thing Since Avalon: First Two Weeks at DO

I’m Sasha Benov, a rising sophomore at Harvard and one of this summer’s Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML) interns.

It’s hard to think of a better place to work than Dumbarton Oaks. Actually, it’s hard to think of a better place to be. To quote the inscription by the pool, Dumbarton Oaks is surely the “loveliest thing since Avalon.” I’m still in awe that a place like this even exists. Every path in the garden, every room in the museum is still a surprise to me, and I hope this sense of wonder never wears off.  Getting lost in the beauty of the gardens (and among the confusingly similar paths) has been a joy to me in my first few weeks.  I’m optimistic that my bad sense of direction will prolong this phase of my relationship with Dumbarton Oaks for at least a few more weeks.

Up in the exclusive club that is the mezzanine, my days are filled with messages from angels, various incarnations of the devil and long, drawn out deaths—all artfully written in Latin verse. As DOML interns led by the wonderful Raquel Begleiter, Elliot Wilson and I look through texts that explain these things (and more) in detail. We edit translations of future DOML volumes and make sure that everything is in order. With the translation on the left and the Latin text on the right, we go through both word by word to make sure that the two match.

In addition to making sure that the translation is technically correct, we also edit for readability. This part of the editing is more subjective—there is no exact science. DOML is meant to be not just for professional scholars, which makes it engaging to edit. We want the translation to flow. The volume should be a book that people enjoy reading. I am not just looking at the translation as a direct interpretation of the Latin, but as a medieval poem that I could casually pick up and read for pleasure.

That sounds strange, I know. Medieval Latin is hardly a go-to beach read. However, it’s a lot more entertaining as a story than you’d think. An interesting text that I looked over was the life of Saint Guthlac, by Henry of Avranches, a 13th century poet. This poem contains both unspeakably amazing secrets of the world and descriptions of demons so terrible that they can’t be adequately explained. I’ve read very few modern novels of which I can say the same. At one point, there is a long list of ghastly attributes of forms of the devil that essentially reads like an elongated, more horrible Where the Wild Things Are; though Guthlac wishes that all they did was roar their terrible roars. Editing these translations is never a dry task, and will surely only get more interesting in the coming weeks!

St. Guthlac is carried to hell by demons in these pictures from the Guthlac Roll, 13th century.

Even in the short period that I’ve been here, my time at DO and in DC in general has been full of surprises. Every experience feels new and enriching in some way. I never would have guessed that this summer would find me at the Gay Pride Concert in the nation’s capital, the Congressional Baseball Game (congressmen in baseball uniforms—yikes!), or even relaxing in the beautiful DO pool. I’ve already gotten so much out of these experiences and the Dumbarton Oaks community, and I am excited for what the next eight weeks will bring!  Ignorance is not Bliss—DO is.

Explorations in Rare Books

Buzzing bumblebees and colorful flowers outside, rare old books and friendly faces inside, Dumbarton Oaks is a scholar’s dream. This research institute and museum is also an intern’s dream, especially for this intern, having graduated college a few days before arriving in D.C. and eager to explore new places and studies.

This summer marks my very first visit to Washington D.C. and I am thrilled to spend it at Dumbarton Oaks. On the weekends I visit museums (less than two weeks in and five down already!), and during the week I am enjoying myself, learning, and seeing as many, if not more, historical treasures than on my weekend adventures. As one of two Rare Book summer interns, I am working on the creation of on-site and online exhibits for the two-day symposium on the Botany of Empire. This is the first year Dumbarton Oaks has had Rare Book interns so it is an especially exciting development and a fitting way to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Rare Book Collection at Dumbarton Oaks.

Rare Book Collection at Dumbarton Oaks

Rare Book Collection at Dumbarton Oaks

In preparation for the symposium, I am researching the history of botanical exploration in the eighteenth century. I am particularly interested in Alexander von Humboldt’s adventures in South and Central America, the global network of contacts created around Kew Gardens and other public and private botanical gardens to obtain plant specimens and knowledge, and the fascinating histories of individual plants valued for their economic potential. As an undergraduate studying History of Science, I dedicated a fair amount of time to economic botany, researching the origins, indigenous uses, European discovery, transfer and commodification of breadfruit in the 18th century and Hawaiian pineapple in the 19th century. When my senior thesis adviser told me about this Dumbarton Oaks internship, I could not believe my luck—a chance to create museum exhibits to share an extraordinary time period and stories with the public? Yes, please!

An illustration from P.J. Redouté's Les Roses (1817 edition) from Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection

An illustration from P.J. Redouté’s Les Roses (1817 edition) from Dumbarton Oaks Rare Book Collection

The internship is also a sort of ongoing treasure hunt for primary sources and rare books to incorporate into the exhibits. The Blisses were wonderful collectors and philanthropists with impressive Pre-Columbian, Byzantine, and Garden Design and Landscape materials, but herbariums, herbals, and flora publications from the eighteenth century were not one of their many passions. These items are, however, in the Rare Book collection, usually tucked in quietly on the Garden Design and Landscape shelves. During my first visit to the collection, I saw illustrations of beautiful birds perched among natural habitats in Mark Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (1730), as well as Pierre Joseph Redouté’s Les Roses (1817, 1824-1826), created for Joséphine de Beauharnais and including roses from Château de Malmaison. Amazing primary sources await, yet if if you do not know the exact title, author, or date of an item, chances are you will not be able to find it or have a challenging time doing so.

However, even if you know which rare book you want to examine, locating the picture or text you want to analyze can also be an adventure. Many of the books in the collection are not digitized so there is no Ctrl+F keyboard shortcut for pinpointing a desired excerpt or image. Often, you must delicately turn each page of a three-centuries old document and hope you come across that passage or illustration you just know is in there somewhere. But that’s part of the fun of this opportunity, the quest for knowledge and chance to share amazing historical stories with the public. I’ve already experienced the thrill of realizing a book or facsimile from the 1700s is in the collection and another thrill when I turn a page and spot the exact picture or passage I was looking for—or, better yet, a description, plant naming story, or illustration I never knew would be perfect for the exhibits until I laid eyes on it. Between researching and gathering primary sources on amazing topics and being in this new town, I feel like an eighteenth century naturalist explorer, bound for exciting adventures.

An illustration from Augustin Pyramus de Candolle's Plantarum historia succulentarum (between 1799-1832), also from the Rare Book Collection

An illustration from Augustin Pyramus de Candolle’s Plantarum historia succulentarum (between 1799-1832), also from the Rare Book Collection

About me: I just graduated Harvard College this June after majoring in History and Science and minoring in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. I’m from Hawaii and would love to return home or travel abroad to pursue interests in biodiversity and conservation.

Dumbarton Oaks Welcomes the 2013 Summer Interns

Dumbarton Oaks is pleased to welcome ten Interns for the summer of 2013!

Over the next two months our Interns will be working on projects as diverse as the online publication of the Byzantine Seals; the editing of volumes in The Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML); Garden and Landscape projects combining work in the gardens with garden conservation, historical research, or georeferencing; transcriptions of interviews for the Oral History Project; and curatorial exhibits in the Rare Books Collection.

(Back row) James Curtin, Joshua Wilson, Matthew O’Donnell and Elliot Wilson. (Front row) Jasmine Casart, Sasha Benov, Joseph Glynias, Katherine Hayes and Deirdre Moore.

(Back row) James Curtin, Joshua Wilson, Matthew O’Donnell and Elliot Wilson. (Front row) Jasmine Casart, Sasha Benov, Joseph Glynias, Katherine Hayes and Deirdre Moore.

The 2013 Dumbarton Oaks Summer Interns

Byzantine Seals Project

Joe Glynias

Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library

Sasha Benov

Elliot Wilson

Garden and Landscape Studies and Dumbarton Oaks Gardens

Rosabella Alvarez-Calderon (Garden Conservation)

Katherine Hayes, University of Virginia (Landscape Architecture)

Matthew O’Donnell, Northern Virginia Community College (GIS/GPS)

Oral History Project

James Curtin

Joshua Wilson

Rare Books

Jasmine Casart

Deirdre Moore

Reflections on the (Mis)interpretation of Byzantine Dream Narratives Workshop

As I begin my summer internship, it seems appropriate to reflect on one of my most memorable experiences at Dumbarton Oaks this past semester.  I started working in Byzantine Studies last November, and was immediately thrown into the mix with the (Mis)interpretation of Byzantine Dream Narratives Workshop. This proved to be a fantastic way to start my internship.  Admittedly, I arrived at DO with scant knowledge of Byzantium, so the very accessible dream workshop served as the perfect bridge into the world of Constantinople and the Near East.  Along with Junior Fellow Beatrice Daskas, I was given the task of official timekeeper.  This seemingly routine assignment turned out to be deceptively difficult—most scholars did not want to relinquish the microphone.  What a surprise! So, I incurred the wrath of several contributors by interrupting their talks with my bell.  People would approach me to say that I had rung the bell early, but in reality I always allotted a few extra minutes before the bell chimed.  By the end of the workshop, I had come to realize that being timekeeper required some finesse.

Unfortunately I missed the opening talks of the sleep-scientist J. Allan Hobson and the psychoanalyst Catia Galatariotou, but these two provided stimulating repartee throughout the weekend.  Hobson’s explanations of, and his guide to lucid dreaming were fascinating.  But he would bait Galatariotou with his anti-Freudian anecdotes on dream interpretation.  Hobson’s presence was very beneficial for discussions that took a scientific turn, and his eccentricity motivated several passionate arguments—he even whispered in my ear at one point, “half of these fools probably believe in God.”

As the workshop segued from science and psychology to Byzantium, the different uses of dreams in Byzantine narratives came to light.  The multifaceted nature of Byzantine dream narratives was certainly manifest at the end of the weekend.  A dream could be used as a simple plot device, a view into the future, a remedy, and a way of approaching the divine, among many other things. In Aglae Pizzone’s talk on a theoretical dream in the fourth book of Clement of Alexandria’s Stromata, dreams are anticipatory—desire anticipates the character, whom Clement describes in his dream.  Since the character has an erotic dream before his tryst, he feels that his sexual appetite has been appeased, and he no longer requires the services of a courtesan.  In this narrative, mental images are in a way physically intuitive and thoughts become almost equal to acts.  Looking at something with desire is the same as transgressing the law in Clement’s eyes, and the dangers of sight are stressed.

For me, one of the most captivating subtopics of the workshop focused on incubation dreams.  Incubation dreams must occur in a church or at a shrine.  The dreamer would have gone to sleep at the holy site with hopes of a divine panacea for some scourge.  If successful, the dreamer would awake from a vision and his affliction would be no more.  Alice-Mary Talbot led a discussion on two such dreams.  In one of the narratives, there is an amazing dream that melds hallucination and reality.  The sick man has a vision of St. Panteleimon who proclaims that the man needs surgery.  The saint then proceeds to pierce the man’s chest with a scalpel.  The man is immediately roused from his sleep to discover that the incision has crossed over from his vision into reality—his wound is exuding a strange liquid and he is miraculously cured.  This phenomenon is noteworthy because it may signal that the dreams were so lucid that they were confused with reality.

Dream Doctors

Dream Doctors

Perhaps the most inspired and lively discussion stemmed from the erotic Byzantine dreams.  Christine Angelidi presented one such dream that occurs in the Life of Andrew the Fool.  A woman dreams that she is about to be raped by an “Ethiopian” (this is interesting because the villain in one of Thekla’s miracle dreams is also a “pygmy”).  The woman protests, “I have my lawful husband and am not going to join another man!” Despite her resistance, perhaps like the character in Clement’s dream narrative, the woman here feels a sort of anticipatory desire.  Since dreams can be the road to the unconscious in psychoanalysis, it is not surprising that many have erotic themes—although Byzantines were not always so eager to record these.  Stratis Papaioannou presented a dream narrative in Theodore Daphnopates that effuses sexual issues.  This dream narrative appears in epistolary form as a letter to a friend of the author’s after a wedding celebration.  Theodore writes that “certain tickling titillations” woke him from his sleep, but he attributes his desire to the satisfaction of his friend’s lust on his wedding night.  Theodore imagines the connection between his dream and his friend’s sexual experience: “When you, that is, like a man had completed those Herculean struggles of yours, and had satisfied your desire sufficiently, and had taken enough pleasure in the erotic breezes, it is precisely at that very moment that the invisible arrows of Eros began to wound my liver, strike my heart, pierce my mind.”  Papaioannou astutely noted that this letter does not seem homosexual, but rather homosocial.  There seems to be a sort of camaraderie present between the two friends when discussing sexual matters—almost a locker-room milieu.  Since Theodore writes, “I am deprived of those whom I desire,” he seems to experience sexual gratification vicariously through his dream and his friend’s experiences.  This epistle gives the reader a glimpse into the intimacy between close friends and the Byzantine approach to erotic dreams.

These were just a few highlights from the many great discussions and papers that took place over three days in November. It was incredibly rewarding to witness my first scholarly meeting (my position as timekeeper was great because it allowed me to hear all the talks).  I was able to meet many of the scholars and further discuss their papers.  It was also fantastic to listen to the perspectives of the sleep-scientist J. Allan Hobson and the psychoanalyst Catia Galatariotou. Even though I missed their initial lectures, both had much to contribute during discussions. I think the presence of these two really made the workshop more accessible to a layman like myself—especially entertaining were Hobson’s wit and antics.

A few days after the conclusion of the workshop, I created a pseudo-blog for the contributors.  It is a Google Doc that contains the texts of each participant along with sections for discussion. I am happy to say that it is complete and up and running for anyone who would like to comment. I look forward to my future endeavors at DO, and I fondly remember my first experience at the (Mis)interpretation of Byzantine Dream Narratives Workshop.

Alec Luhring at his desk

Alec Luhring at his desk

Alec Luhring is a rising junior at Georgetown University double majoring in Classics and Government.