Byzantine Studies at Notre Dame Expands Research Resources

Author: Joanna Basile

John the Forerunner

In preserving and developing the intellectual and literary traditions of the Greco-Roman world, in fashioning eastern orthodox Christianity, and in defining the notion of a Christian empire that was a center of intellectual and commercial trade, the Byzantine Empire was one of the great formative cultures in European history.

Although its rule ended in 1453 C.E., Byzantium’s influence was far from over, and the University’s Byzantine Studies at Notre Dame initiative continues to explore this influential period in medieval history.

Faculty and student research into this area of inquiry will also now benefit from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Reading Room for Byzantine Studies, located on the seventh floor of the University’s Hesburgh Libraries. The February 2012 dedication was attended by Greek Orthodox Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos from Chicago, Consul of Greece Ioanna Efthymiadou, and Stelios Vasilakis, a representative of the Niarchos Foundation.

“The inauguration of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Reading Room not only provides an appropriate home for one of the great research collections in this field of study, it also firmly embeds Byzantine Studies at Notre Dame within the Medieval Institute, the crown jewel of humanities research here at the University,” says Charles Barber, professor of medieval art history and Byzantine Studies at Notre Dame scholar.

Housed within the new reading room is an integral foundational resource for Notre Dame’s growing scholarly focus in this area: the Milton V. Anastos Library of Byzantine Civilization. This special research collection of classical and medieval scholarship contains more than 40,000 volumes and 7,000 offprints and articles.

Interdisciplinary Initiative

The Anastos collection is named after Milton Anastos, the son of Greek immigrants and a Harvard University graduate who recognized the important connection between the Greek East and the Latin West in medieval history. Throughout Anastos’ academic career at Harvard, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (Harvard’s institute for Byzantine studies in Washington, D.C.), and the University of California, Los Angeles, he focused his scholarship on the interdisciplinarity of Byzantine studies.

“The acquisition of the Milton V. Anastos Library of Byzantine Civilization has given the University of Notre Dame the library resources to become an international research center in Byzantine studies,” says David Jenkins, former Byzantine studies librarian at the Hesburgh Libraries.

“This rare opportunity is due to the size and focus of this remarkable private collection—and to the history and strength of Notre Dame’s commitment to the study of the Middle Ages. The collection significantly enhances the resources of the University’s Medieval Institute; the program in early Christian studies; and the departments of theology, philosophy, and classics.”

This interdisciplinary initiative continues to bring faculty together in collaborative work from numerous academic areas within the College of Arts and Letters, including:

  • Matthew Ashley, theology
  • Yury Avvakumov, theology, Medieval Institute
  • Charles Barber, art history, Medieval Institute
  • Olivia Remie Constable, history, Medieval Institute
  • Fr. Brian Daley, theology, Medieval Institute
  • Stephen Gersh, philosophy, Medieval Institute
  • Peter Jeffery, music, Italian Studies at Notre Dame
  • Maxwell Johnson, theology
  • Thomas F. X. Noble, history, Medieval Institute, Italian Studies at Notre Dame
  • Robin Darling Young, theology

“Byzantine Studies has always been conceived and practiced as an interdisciplinary field of enquiry in which scholars not only develop complex and rich individual research profiles while crossing disciplines in pursuit of larger questions,” Barber says, “but also work in collaboration with others to bring to light the vast body of still barely known and barely published materials that pertain to Byzantium.

“It is a demanding discipline that combines profound and wide-ranging skills with great intellectual agility,” he says. “It asks much of its scholars and its students; it offers much in return.”

Outside Collaborations

As Byzantine Studies at Notre Dame moves forward, outside collaboration will be an important part of its success, say the faculty involved. To that end, the initiative is continuing to cultivate a cooperative relationship with Dumbarton Oaks—with which Notre Dame has already cosponsored two roundtables with the approval of Dumbarton Oaks Director Jan Ziolkowski and the sponsorship of Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Studies Director Margaret Mullett.

The roundtables, about the monastic intellectual Evagrius of Pontus, have now resulted in two new projects: a collection of papers from the events and a translation of Evagrius’ most important work, The Gnostic Chapters.

“There are two people representing each institution who are editing the Evagrius papers from the roundtables, so there will be a formal volume that comes out of that,” says Robin Darling Young, associate professor of theology and member of the committee for Byzantine Studies at Notre Dame.

“Additionally,” she says, “we hope to have some meetings for the translation project at Dumbarton Oaks, since it was hatched there and came about because of the roundtables we organized. A group of six people is getting together to translate this work. We will have annotated, footnoted, and introduced translations that will be in regular book format, and there will also be a website with a lot of other material, including scanned manuscripts.”

As yet another mark of the growing relationship with Dumbarton Oaks, two Notre Dame theology graduate students were accepted to do research there as junior fellows. Notes Young, Dumbarton Oaks has been extremely supportive of Notre Dame’s work founding and developing a program in Byzantium.

“We now already have a Byzantine studies reading room,” Young says, “but there also will be a Byzantine studies professor in theology and one in history. The hope is that we will have a cross-disciplinary conversation, not just between professors in a single department or between theology and history but across the board. Byzantium was an entrepôt in the Mediterranean. It’s a culture that lends itself to a broader, transcultural dialogue.”

Barber adds, “We have the platform to build a truly significant national and international research center in Byzantine studies—a center that will open new and challenging perspectives on the intellectual pursuits that lie at the heart of Notre Dame’s mission.”

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Originally published by Joanna Basile at on March 12, 2012.