Department of History

UAlbany Historians at Dumbarton Oaks

Image from Dumbarton Oaks

In the Summer of 2017, two University of Albany scholars from the History Department were chosen as Fellows at the prestigious Dumbarton Oaks: Dr. John Schwaller with a focus on the history of early colonial Mexico and Dr. Dmitry Korobeynikov on the Byzantine and Ottoman Worlds. This is the second time Dr. Korobeynikov has been selected as a Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks, his first time was from 2006-07.

Dumbarton Oaks has been called the “Home of the Humanities” with its internationally acclaimed research library and world-class art collection in its Museum. It is an institute in Washington, D.C. administered by the Trustees for Harvard University. The focus of the Dumbarton Oaks collections and the Library is the Byzantine studies, pre-Columbian studies, and, finally, Landscape studies.

Dr. John Schwaller

The Dumbarton Oaks Museum has a first rating collection of the Byzantine art – perhaps not the biggest in the USA but substantial enough compensate some of the missing periods in the Metropolitan. Dr. Korobeynikov was working with the lead seals collection, which is the largest in the world. These were used to testify the letters sent, and were attached by a rope. Most of them are dated to the eleventh or the twelfth century though the tradition of using the seals can be observed throughout the Byzantine history. Of these seals, a smaller collection, still unpublished and virtually unknown to the scholar world, attracted him. These are the non-Greek seals with Armenian, Arabic, and Syriac inscriptions. They comprised almost one half of all such seals – so far only 200 specimens were discovered all over the world. Obviously, they were made outside the Byzantine borders, but where precisely? The decipherment is still not finished. Syriac and Arabic seals are harder to interpret as their inscriptions offer more reading variants. Some of these are sensational, like a seal of a member of the Gabrades family, originally Armenian, then Greek and Syriac, and later Russian. More work is still to be done.

Dr. Dmitry Korobeynikov

Dr. Schwaller studies the Mexica, commonly known as the Aztecs. His topic for the Dumbarton Oaks Fellowship was a close analysis of the rituals and ceremonies of one month in the Mexica calendar.  The Mexica used a calendar of eighteen months of twenty days each, with five unnamed days at the end. Schwaller focused on the month called Panquetzaliztli (The Raising of Banners) that corresponds to approximate Dec. 1-20 in our calendar.  It was a month dedicated to the Mexica tribal god, Huitzilopochtli (Hummingbird on the Left). Through his work, Dr. Schwaller discovered that the rituals sought to recreate important events in Mexica history. The ceremonies had the effect of providing historical continuity for three critical moments in their history.

Dumbarton Oaks offers each scholar an apartment, lunch, travel expenses, and a small stipend during their residency. It is a close community of scholars who are encouraged to interact with one another on a daily basis. The library holdings and museum collections are some of the finest in the world.

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