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THE FIRST BSC


from “The Byzantine Studies Conference 1975-1999:
Looking Back After the First 25 Years”

by Alice-Mary Talbot
-- full text here


I believe one can trace the origins of the BSC back to 1972 when the Senior Fellows at Dumbarton Oaks decided to make a momentous one-time departure from the traditional program of the annual spring symposium. Up to that year, and thereafter, Dumbarton Oaks symposia had been organized around a unifying theme, with one or more symposiarchs planning the program and inviting appropriate speakers, who were typically established scholars of a certain age and predominantly male. 

In 1972 the decision was made to invite a number of younger scholars who had recently completed their dissertations to speak on their research in progress; the symposium was entitled "Current Work in Medieval and Byzantine Studies." Nine papers were delivered, four by men, five by women; clearly change was in the wind.
I would argue that this D.O. symposium served to "heighten the consciousness" of North American Byzantinists: they came to realize that there existed no forum in this country for the presentation of papers on current research in Byzantine studies, especially by younger scholars. In the words of Walter Kaegi, co-founder of the BSC, "No existing learned society or annual meeting in the early 1970s could or would provide sufficient annual space on their program for a critical mass, not merely a token representation, of interdisciplinary Byzantinists to communicate and discuss their latest research. The unwillingness of the 1974 American Historical Association's program committee to accept a full complement of Byzantine applicants was one of several catalysts for the creation of a new specialized conference." Approaches were made to a number of societies and conferences for some form of affiliation, but in the end this kind of arrangement was rejected because no single group could accommodate the wide range of interests of Byzantinists.
Consequently, shortly after the D.O. symposium returned to its usual format in 1973, a group of Byzantinists who were mostly in their thirties or early forties decided to launch a new conference designed to "serve as an annual forum for the presentation and discussion of papers embodying the current research on all aspects of Byzantine history and culture." It was deliberately scheduled for the fall, to balance the spring symposium at D.O., and was open to scholars of all ages, including graduate students. To ensure the quality of papers, abstracts were to be submitted to a program committee which would select the speakers to be invited. Walter Kaegi of the University of Chicago deserves credit as the person who initially conceived of the idea and played a key role in planning the initial conference. I was asked to serve as co-chair that first year and as local arrangements chairman in Cleveland, even though I had no university affiliation and had to arrange for the conference to be held at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Walter and I also chaired the program committee. In 1975 there were of course no funds upon which to draw, so the first conference was a real bare-bones, shoestring affair. The registration fee was $7.00, including abstracts, and the motel rooms cost $17.00 for a double. The conference lasted two days, and forty papers were delivered. We hoped that perhaps 75 people would come; to our amazement, about 120 registered. The inaugural banquet of home-cooked Greek food was provided free of charge through the extraordinary generosity of the women of the cathedral of SS. Constantine and Helen.

BYZANTINE STUDIES CONFERENCE 2020
Byzantine Studies Association of North America