University Scholars Investigate Medieval Byzantine Culture In Elaborate Atmosphere of Dumbarton Oaks Research Center

Site of Post-War Conference Owned By Harvard Since 1940

While winter's last clammy smogs hover over Cambridge Common, the first heat of spring is bringing out fruit blossoms at the southernmost of the University's U.S. study centers the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and collection.

Bet known as the site of the post-war international financial conference, Dumbarton Oaks, near Washington, D. C., is the home of the University's Byzantine research.

Housed in an 1801 Georgian mansion and surrounded by beautiful gardens, a handful of resident and visiting scholars and a select group of fellows carry on studies in almost every aspect of the culture of the Byzantine empire.

Library and collection, both the finest in the field, are the heart of Dumbarton Oaks. They were given to the University in 1940, with the house and grounds and an endowment sufficient to support the whole study program, by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss. The Blisses had worked toward the establishment of a center for the pursuit of Byzantine and Medieval humanities since they acquired the property in 1920.

Today, Dumbarton Oaks is an integral part of the University. The Trustees own and administer the estate and make all appointments, annually choosing an Administrative Committee, a Board of Scholars, and a Visiting Committee. The Administrative Committee, headed by Director John S. Thatcher, who has been in charge of the center since its inception, supervises the entire operation of the institution and makes any recommendations to the Trustees which require their action.


Study and research on the Georgetown hill center around the Board of Resident Scholars, chaired by Albert M. Friend, Jr., director of studies. All resident scholars are members of the faculty of Arts and Sciences. The Visiting Committee is made up of scholars from all parts of the world who come to Dumbarton Oakes on yearly appointments.

Informal Discussions

In quiet, cluttered studies on the third floor of the old building the scholars and fellows carry on their study and research. There are no formal classes or seminars, but there are frequent informal discussions of special problems in which scholars and students satisfy pedagogical aims more effectively.

Each fellow is involved in an individual research project of his won, which takes him to the library stacks and apartments of the second floor, or to the voluminous files and indexes located in the basement of the building. The main floor is occupied by administrative offices, a music room where concerts and lectures are held, and extends into two new wings which house the collection.

Major Event

Within the next month a number of scholars in the field will gather at Dumbarton Oaks for the major social event of the year--the annual symposium. This is run entirely by the board of scholars, which each year chooses the subject and appoints one of its members as director of the three-day gathering.

But aside from scholarly programs and individual courses of study, the institution's greatest vitality lies in the steady expansion of the library and the reference system. Despite wartime conditions during the first six years of its existence as part of the University, the library has expanded from 10,000 to 40,000 volumes in the 14 years since its acquisition. Additions are constantly made, based on lists of desiderata drawn up by the scholars and fellows, and financed by the Bliss endowment.

A short walk from the main house on reading room in the large, reconverted nearby S Street lies the Fellows' House, a residence for single fellows, with two apartments for married students. Here scholars and fellows meet each day for lunch and discussion among themselves and with visiting lecturers in a large, comfortable sitting room.

In an atmosphere of enthusiasm and elegance, a little group of scholars continues to push ahead in the field of Byzantine studies, and to make Dumbarton Oaks one of the University's most successful and respected centers for advanced study.