Public Lecture: From the Fall of Rome to Byzantium: New Light from DNA, Ice Cores, and Harvard’s Science of the Human Past

Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C., USA, 1 May 2019

Historians and archaeologists have long debated the processes that ended the ancient world and gave rise to the civilizations of Byzantium, the medieval West, and Islam. The advances of archaeology are delivering ever more material pieces of the past that are suitable for expanding scientific toolkits, featuring ancient DNA, ice cores, and digital humanities. Come learn how—from senior faculty members to freshmen—historians, archaeologists, geneticists, biomolecular archaeologists, and computer and climate scientists at Harvard University are working together, and in concert with our American and international partners, to expand what we know about the fall of Rome and the origins of Byzantium, as science, archaeology, and history combine to begin a new day in the discovery of ancient and medieval civilization.

Professor Michael McCormick is Francis Goelet Professor of Medieval History at Harvard, and chairs the university-wide Initiative for the Science of the Human Past (SoHP), an interdisciplinary research network that brings together geneticists, archaeological scientists, climatologists, computer scientists, humanists, and social scientists to explore great questions of human history from our origins in Africa to our migrations across the globe. He is director in Cambridge of the new Max Planck-Harvard Research Center for the Archaeoscience of the Ancient Mediterranean. McCormick has written numerous monographs and articles, including the award-winning Origins of the European Economy: Communications and Commerce, AD 300–900 (Cambridge University Press, 2001). He codirects the Historical Ice Core Project, a joint project of SoHP and the Climate Change Institute (University of Maine) that uses ancient ice to reconstruct the environmental and economic history of Europe back to antiquity; and the archaeoscientific excavation of the lost Visigothic royal capital at Reccopolis, Spain.

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Lecture: Dropping a Medieval Chronicle (and Putting it Back Together): Reading the Byzantine Chronography of Theophanes and George the Synkellos through Manuscripts, Maps, and Text Analysis

Harvard Faculty Club, 20 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA, USA, 6:15-7:45pm, 28 March 2019

The co-authored early ninth-century Constantinopolitan Chronography of George the Synkellos and Theophanes the Confessor was a much more daring intellectual project than has been conceded. Opening up the Chronography’s complexity invites both the re-deployment of established methods such as close readings and codicological studies, as well as new “digital” approaches such as text analysis and mapping.

This talk will argue that these approaches are not mutually exclusive but both complementary and game-changing for historicized readings of medieval historical texts in general. After outlining an ecumenical approach to the Chronography in particular, I will propose other applications. Beyond a coup for Byzantinsts these methods can rejuvenate study of medieval chronicles in general: they supply a method for rigorous comparative reading and contribute to contemporary debates over historical space and periodization.

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