Friday, February 24, 2023
Matthew Delvaux, PhD, Lecturer in History and the Humanities, Princeton University
Olin 102 9:30 am – 10:30 am EST/GMT-5
Vikings are known for ravaging Europe for plunder and slaves during the early Middle Ages, but little is known of what happened next—once they slipped beyond the view of Western chroniclers and into the north where nothing was written. Archaeologists have found Christian trophies in graves across Northern Europe, but captives and slaves are harder to see. This talk will investigate what can be said about people taken captive by viking raiders, especially during the peak period of raiding in the 800s.
In addition to a few eyewitness accounts, annals and chronicles help paint a broader picture, but Western writers were simultaneously engaged in debates about the place of slavery in their own societies. Reading these texts requires attention to how ideas about slavery affected how viking slave raiding was recorded, and how viking raiding in turn transformed Western attitudes toward enslavement. This talk will conclude with consideration of how material evidence can further the scope of this study, ultimately reaching into the frontiers of the ʿAbbāsid Caliphate. At the same time, attention to archaeology helps place this research in productive dialogue with current work on the later transatlantic slave trade.
Matthew Delvaux is a Lecturer in History and a member of the Society of Fellows at Princeton University. He holds a PhD in History from Boston College and an MA with a Certificate in Medieval Archaeology from the University of Florida. He has excavated at sites in Florida, Massachusetts, and Sweden, and has worked in museum collections across Scandinavia. He previously received a BS in History and Foreign Languages from the United States Military Academy and served as a cavalry officer in the United States Army.
Thursday, February 23, 2023
Weis Cinema 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm EST/GMT-5
Prof. Michel DeGraff is a leading linguist known as one of the most prominent Haitian creolists. He is a professor at MIT and the founder of the MIT-Haiti Initiative promoting learning of science and technology in Kreyòl. His New York Times opinion piece, "As a Child in Haiti I Was Taught to Despise My Language" (published in October 2022), will be an entry point to this lecture where he will provide an analysis of some of the long-lasting nefarious impact of colonialism in Haiti, especially in the realms of education. The eventual objective is to enlist lessons from history in order to help usher better futures for those sufferers whom Fanon calls the “Wretched of the Earth” and whom Jean Casimir calls the “ Malere ”—better futures in Haiti and beyond.
Tuesday, February 21, 2023
Jake Ransohoff, PhD, Hellenisms Past and Present, Local and Global Postdoctoral Fellow at Simon Fraser University
Olin 102 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm EST/GMT-5
Byzantium is unique in the post-Roman trio of Mediterranean “sibling cultures.” Outside both Latin West and Islamic East but influenced by and influential to both, Byzantium’s marginality makes it prey to essentializing discourses. This talk reexamines a case in point: the gruesome Byzantine punishment of blinding. From the eighth century to the fourteenth, blinding served as the penalty par excellence in Byzantium for crimes of high treason and rebellion. Yet historians have not so much explained this fact as exoticized it, presenting the punishment’s longevity as proof of Byzantium’s alien otherness. Blinding is often, incorrectly, considered a cultural borrowing from Persian Iran. Older scholarship lamented the “oriental delight in cruelty” that replaced Roman virtue; newer works appeal to foreign Byzantine sensibilities, horrid to us but reasonable to them, that cast blinding as an act of mercy.
The present talk challenges these essentializing approaches. Based on the first comprehensive study of judicial disfigurement in Byzantium, the Slavic world, and the medieval West, it shows how clustered bursts of blinding intersperse with long periods during which Byzantine authorities abandoned this practice. Such volatility reveals that the disfigured body was an unstable site of meaning: whether it revealed the injustice of the state or the iniquity of the condemned remained an open question. Meanwhile, visual and literary analysis, manuscript evidence, and archaeology all demonstrate that the Byzantines were not unique in their culture of blinding. In fact, judicial blinding emerged among Rome’s western European heirs before it first appears in Byzantium. By centering the disfigured body in our approach to authority and justice in the Middle Ages, this talk seeks to rescue Byzantium from what one expert has called “its habitual exceptionalism,” while also revealing the changing values of this medieval society. The result is a dynamic new picture of imperial legitimacy, punitive culture, and bio-politics across the medieval Mediterranean.
Thursday, February 16, 2023
Nathanael Aschenbrenner, PhD, Lecturer in History, University of California San Diego
Olin 202 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm EST/GMT-5
476 CE conventionally marks the fall of the Roman Empire. Yet the empire did not cease to exist in the centuries after—it was just ruled from Constantinople, the empire we call Byzantium. Byzantine emperors still structured the passage of time in medieval chronologies, stamped their image on coins traded across the Mediterranean, and received prayers in sonorous Christian liturgies. Yet Byzantium has largely been effaced from Roman imperial history. This paper aims to decenter myopically Western histories of the medieval Roman Empire by focusing on a critical moment at the end of the Middle Ages. After centuries of polemics alienating the eastern empire from the legitimacy of ancient Rome, the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 prompted Europeans to reconsider older animosity toward Byzantium. Drawing on oratory, genealogy, visual art, and humanist historiography, this paper reconstructs Byzantium's restoration to Roman imperial history in the 16th c. It argues that these dynamics re-Romanized Byzantium in early modern Europe, but they also signal an early and unrecognized stage of Europe's intellectual colonization of the East.
Monday, February 13, 2023
Valentina Grasso, PhD, Assistant Professor of Semitics at the Catholic University of America
Olin 102 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm EST/GMT-5
It is a recurrent trope for “early Medieval” hagiographies and histories to ascribe the evangelization of a region to the arrival of a lone itinerant figure who abruptly converted its entire population. However, group conversions were the cumulative result of socio-economic networks and migrations, as the exchange of ideas followed that of resources. Traders played an essential role in spreading their faith across the “Early Middle Ages”. For instances, trading diasporas and the establishment of a Christian Commonwealth formed by communities partnered with Rome created a social network of commerce. Thriving communities of Christian merchants established themselves in Iran, India, East Africa, and South Arabia as rulers pragmatically exploited the spread of cults to fill gaps in regions which lacked firm ethnic boundaries. While the world became increasingly globalized in the sixth century through its intertwining trade routes, people not only exchanged goods and ideas but also illnesses such as the bacterium Yersinia pestis. This pandemic contributed to a widespread crisis exacerbated by ecological factors and constant warfare. As the eclipse of centralized power in China led to the formation of political systems in Manchuria, the Arabians reacted to the tiresome war between Rome and Iran and the collapse of the Red Sea Kingdoms by transforming their tribal system into an imperial confederation. The emergence of Islam, the Muslim conquests, and the subsequent appearance of the Muslim Commonwealth smashed established geopolitical borders. Yet, it also created new mental challenges, exacerbating existing cultural divisions, reinforcing fears of otherness and leading to the rise of new frontiers built around faith. My presentation will explore identity formation during this period by focusing on the intersection of trade and faith. In doing so, I will offer a comparative analysis between the political entities of the Red Sea and those of Central Asia, to counter reductive mappings of peripherality in the “Early Middle Ages” and demonstrate the extent to which these entities were far from marginal.
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
Panel discussion at Bard College with Masha Gessen (Bard/New Yorker), Anna Nemzer (TVRain/RIMA), Archie Magno (Bard)
Moderated by Ilia Venyavkin (RIMA)
Campus Center, Weis Cinema 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm EST/GMT-5
In his recent Nobel Prize lecture Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov called independent journalism “the antidote against tyranny” and promised that Russian journalists would never give up. Still, if we look at the history of independent media in Russia, we will see that the hope that unbiased media coverage would protect society from relativism, conspiracy theories, propaganda and — at the end of day — from dictatorship, has proven unjustified. Or has it?
The panel will discuss the history of the past 20 years of Russian independent journalism: How did dictatorship in modern Russia become possible? What did independent media do wrong? Have we learned anything new about freedom of speech that we did not know before?
At the panel we will also present the Russian Independent Media Archive (RIMA) — a joint digital initiative of Bard College and PEN America to protect the work of Russian journalists from censorship.
The event is sponsored by Center for Civic Engagement, the Gagarin Center at Bard College, and PEN America.