Reports on supported events
‘Comparison in Collaboration’ and ‘Byzantium Compared’
On 22-23 September 2017, the Late Antique and Byzantine Studies Research Group, University of Edinburgh, hosted a two-day combined conference and workshop focusing on the possibilities and challenges of comparative approaches to Byzantine Studies. The first part of this event, on the afternoon of Friday 22, comprised a workshop on behalf of the British Byzantine Postgraduate Network (BBPN) on the theme ‘Comparison in Collaboration’. Talks by Niels Gaul (A. G. Leventis Professor of Byzantine Studies at the University of Edinburgh), Carl Dixon (PhD student, University of Nottingham), Defne Gier (a recent graduate of the Byzantine Studies MSt at Oxford) and Alasdair (co-organiser) considered recent trends in comparative scholarship, and the challenges of comparative research at personal and departmental levels. The afternoon’s talks were broken up by an activity specially devised for the workshop, ‘Speed Collaboration’, which involved participants identifying the strengths and weaknesses of their expertise, writing them on Post-It notes, and then pairing up with other participants whose knowledge could complement theirs.
The following day, Saturday 23, saw the delivery of seven stimulating and varied papers on the theme ‘Byzantium Compared’. (Unfortunately, one of our planned speakers could not attend the conference.) Contributors travelled from across the UK, from Italy, Turkey and Georgia, while Edinburgh’s own strengths in Byzantine and Islamic studies represented by two out of the seven papers. The papers fell chiefly into two categories: focused studies of specific issues, and wider comparisons. Niels Gaul’s closing remarks praised the refreshingly broad perspectives offered by the speakers. Between the workshop on collaboration and the conference on comparison, the exciting possibilities of traversing various otherwise discrete subject areas were demonstrated. We are hopeful that the event has both established new and lasting contacts between graduate student researchers, and set a precedent for a new international graduate conference in Byzantine Studies at the University of Edinburgh. The organisers would like to express their sincere thanks to the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies for supporting this event.
Reconsidering the Concept of Decline and the Arts of the Palaiologan Period
This one and a half day conference combined a symposium and a workshop, and took place at the University of Birmingham on the 24th and 25th February 2017. This event was generously funded by the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies, as well as the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture, the A.G. Leventis Foundation, the University of Birmingham and The Courtauld Institute of Art. The conference saw the attendance of scholars and students from UK and international universities. For a full programme see below.
The interdisciplinary and wide-ranging scope of the conference brought together speakers working on different geographical areas and on a variety of media, in order to address the complexity of the cultural production linked to the Byzantine visual heritage from 13th to 15th centuries. The discussion focused on the geopolitical centres that were controlled by, or in contact with, the late Byzantine Empire, such as the Balkan region, the island of Crete, the Italian peninsula and the regions surrounding the cities of Constantinople, Thessaloniki, and Mystras.
The symposium included keynote lectures and papers presented by senior and early career scholars. The three keynote lecturers were given by Dr Cecily Hilsdale with ‘Artistic Means and Ends of Later Byzantine Diplomacy’, Professor Niels Gaul with ‘Palaiologan Byzantium(s): East Rome’s Final Two Centuries in Recent Research’, and Dr Angeliki Lymberopoulou with ‘Palaiologan art from regional Crete: artistic decline or social progress?’. The lectures counter-balanced the innovation of the late Palaiologan artistic and cultural production with the notion of decline and the narrative of decay frequently associated with this period. At the same time, the multidisciplinary approach of the papers challenged a number of intellectual implications that are encoded in the innovative artistic production of these centuries, often simplified by a rigid reading of what is Byzantine and what is not. Terminological issues were raised: how do labels such as Byzantine, Medieval and Renaissance help to study the complex production of these centuries and where do they instead became an obstacle? What are their limits and what alternatives do we have?
The workshop, held on the afternoon of the second day, was lead by MA and PhD students from UK institutions, tackling Byzantine and non-Byzantine religious and secular artefacts that were produced and exchanged between East and West, from one end to the other of the Mediterranean, and from the north and south of the Balkans.
Our main goals were three and, by general consensus of the participants, can be considered successful outcomes of this conference. First, the formal symposium and the more informal and relaxed setting of the workshop allowed for a dialogue between scholars at different stages of their career, and the founding of a long-lasting network between different countries and universities. Second, the multi-disciplinary framework of this event – including art history, archaeology, material culture and architectural history – promoted an understanding of the Palaiologan period not as decline but as transformation, where previous cultural heritages were integrated into new socio-political orders. Third, thanks to the grants received, the cutting-edge and stimulating research presented during the event will be published.
Dr M. Alessia Rossi (The Courtauld Institute of Art)
Dr Andrea Mattiello (University of Birmingham)