If the study of history is to be seen as a conversation with the past, walking through Dumbarton Oaks is certainly a talkative task! These first few days at the estate have been filled with fascinating forays into former times through artifacts and archives which I am enthusiastic to share. Fortunately, this sort of sharing makes up an ordinary day of work for my fellow Communications and Public Outreach intern Paige and me. This particular internship originally piqued my interest because I appreciated each of Dumbarton Oaks’ various departments to such an extent that I could not choose just one. From the personal exchanges documented in the Bliss Correspondence Project to academic discourses amongst resident scholars, procedures of communication are at the core of all forms of scholarship taking place here.
The communication carried out through the Director’s Office, which constitutes the connection between all of the projects being pursued, also acts as the crucial bond between Dumbarton Oaks and the wider academic community. My work here is all about establishing such connections, primarily between people and information or resources that might interest them. A substantial part of this aim involves creating publicity for the programming and resources offered here. So far, I have researched potential contacts at Harvard as well as the fellowships available at Dumbarton Oaks and elsewhere. It has also been intriguing to learn about all of the amazing research occurring here, with a breadth ranging from the documentation of the Byzantine Empire’s seals to the elegant sculpting of gardens, along the way.
Having gathered this information, I can proceed to develop clever means of communication to effectively share it. One of the most enjoyable components of this internship is coming up with creative ways to spread the word through venues such as our website, the monthly “Oaks News” bulletin, and this blog. Mediums like short narrative blurbs on the Blisses’ social lives and explanations of pieces they acquired for the museum allow Paige and me to reach out to readers in a way that truly engages their perspectives in order to draw them into the experiences of historical characters. Stories are the most suitable format for this task. As Paige discussed in the previous blog entry, it is integral to tell the stories of antique objects in order to establish their context. Engaging narration is equally crucial when encouraging readers to not only follow but truly enter into the stories of people from the past.
Such communications are central not only to the daily operations of Dumbarton Oaks but to the very discipline of history. Scholars journey to the past through letters, journals, and other salient accounts. Reading these records allows us to, in a sense, speak with historical characters in a manner similar to their documented communication with each other. Correspondence, whether it consists of Mildred Bliss’ published letters to Royall Tyler or interns’ e-mails this summer, connects us to people past and present by showing that the of importance of talking to others transcends time. In this way, we hope that the stories we share this summer will bring Dumbarton Oaks’ conversation with the past to life in present-day discourse. After all, everybody talks!
About Me: My name is Sara Price and I am a rising junior at Harvard College concentrating in History and Science. I enjoy studying material culture and tracing the connections between classical systems of knowledge and modernity. I also have a particular academic interest in museums and the culture of collecting, so I find it fascinating to discover how the Blisses accumulated all of the artifacts stored here at Dumbarton Oaks.