I am now en route back to Maryland, having attended my first Byzantine Studies Conference. My stay was tiring, but delightful, even more so because of the generous hospitality I enjoyed from friends of my in-laws! Like most conferences of this breadth, you listen to a great variety of papers. Some were good, some less so; some topics I knew well, and others not so well. At any rate, there were plenty of interesting papers and people with whom and from whom to learn!
My own paper was received well. As far as I can tell, it was the only Digital Humanities-esque paper, which surprised me. I’ve discovered that being a computer guy in a room full of humanists elicits lots of discussion! From what I can tell, humanists are interested in digital approaches, but they lack access to people with the skills to create or use them. The paper I presented was about stemmatology: creating a family tree of manuscripts for a textual tradition. It wasn’t anything new (this particular method, parsimony has been around quite a while in digital stemmatology), but the techniques I described were unfamiliar to many in the room. I hope that digital humanists of all stripes will continue to attend traditional conferences, in addition to the Digital Humanities conferences. We don’t need our disciplines to fragment any more than they are currently!
I ran into to several people I had met at Oxford this summer, and that was a treat. It’s always nice to see familiar faces, and develop relationships further. I also met many new people, one of the great benefits of conferences. Scholarship is both communal and solitary. Since most scholars tend towards solitude (I know I do!), it’s wonderful to gather with like-minded people and discuss the topics you love.
Regarding the presentations, I noticed a dichotomy in Byzantine Studies between “texts” people and “art/materials” people. I fit squarely in the “texts” group, but the “art/materials” people had some great presentations. I was impressed by their ability to hold my attention, even though I have very little interest in Archaeology and Art History. I guess it’s always helpful to have lovely art in one’s presentation!
One of my favorite paper was given by Fr. Maximos (Constas). It offered his reflections on editing and translating Maximus the Confessor’s Ambigua, easily one of the most influential theological works in the history of the Eastern Church. His edition is due out along with his translation soon from the Harvard University Press, as part of the new Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library. His discription of the state of the text before his edition was appalling: the edition printed in Migne’s Patrologia Graeca relied on a single late manuscript that was full of errors. In addition, Migne added lots of his own errors to the text in the process of editing it. Several of these errors have severely puzzled scholars, and made Maximus’ arguments impossible to follow. Maximus is already difficult, and we had a poor edition making it even worse! This deeply reaffirmed my own hope to edit patristic texts. How many other Greek authors are laboring in such poor editions! Editing a text is difficult, laborious work: but it is also very rewarding. It generates something useful for the scholarly (and wider) community, and nothing engages one so deeply into a text as editing and translating it. It’s not for everyone, but we certainly need more editors! Hopefully my own skills will progress quickly, and I’ll be able contribute an edition!