Finding Our Bliss

Since arriving here, I have been learning a great deal about past and present goings-on at Dumbarton Oaks in order to research potential articles for the newsletter. Increasingly, I am discovering how closely the Blisses’ interesting lives and international sojourns are intertwined with the design of this institution.  The intensity of their recreational repertoire prompted the couple to establish their estate in an unconventional manner in order to perpetuate the cultural experiences they enjoyed for forthcoming generations of classical scholars.

Recently, Paige and I have been spending much time poring through the Bliss-Tyler Correspondence Project.  In this endeavor, Archivist James Carder has digitized a collection of letters exchanged between Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss and their close friends Royall and Elisina Tyler during the first half of the twentieth century. While studying the history of science during the academic year, I analyzed networks of correspondence organized by prominent researchers.  My goal was to track the transfer of specimens and ideas across space and time. Similar communication took place between the Blisses and the Tylers, who traded pithy social observations as well as information on potential collection pieces although the two couples were sometimes separated by several continents.

Virgin and Child on the Crescent Moon

“Virgin and Child on the Crescent Moon,” a sixteenth century sculpture by German craftsman Tilman Riemenschneider.

Acquisitions like those detailed in the Bliss-Tyler Correspondence Project have been a focal point for my past week of Communications work.  Features investigating Mildred Bliss’ desk and a Gothic Virgin and Child sculpture bought by the Blisses for their Music Room provided insight into the aesthetic concerns guiding the couple’s collection choices. In the coming weeks I will hopefully investigate the content of the Archives here, which contain letters and newspaper articles related to Dumbarton Oaks’ founders.  Moving forward, Paige and I intend to include in the newsletter and other Dumbarton Oaks outreach materials more features related to the Blisses’ fascinating lives.

One way in which I have connected with the Blisses’ lives this summer has been through my own writings for this Communications and Public Outreach work. The careful writing of blurbs regarding their biographies allows for a sort of self-identification with the historical characters I have come to know so well.  My life also intersects with the Blisses’ experiences in my Washington, D.C. weekend activities.  Being a material culture enthusiast, I am conducting a “Great Museum Tour” of sorts in the city.  In addition to sightseeing, the touring allows me to continue the Blisses’ legacy of entertaining guests by scouting out potential locations for events at which future Fellows and their families can strengthen friendly ties in the Dumbarton Oaks community.  Upon their donation of their house to Harvard University, the Blisses made clear their intention that the estate not become an ordinary research institute because, “it is a home of the humanities, not a mere aggregation of books and art.” True to that adage, as an intern here the warm welcome I have received has caused me to feel at home in the Dumbarton Oaks community.


Dumbarton Oaks, intended to endure as “a home of the humanities,” has indeed become home for interns this summer.

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