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Byzantine Studies Association of North America 2018 in San Antonio, Texas

PhD student Chiara d'Agostini writes about her experience at the 2018 conference of the Byzantine Studies Association of North America.

Last October, I gave a paper at a conference for the very first time. Luckily, I had the chance to present my work in a small and familiar environment, the 44th Byzantine Studies Conference, namely the annual meeting of the Byzantine Studies Association of North America. I had never had anxiety before that! Nevertheless, I survived :) This conference takes place in a different city of North America every year and discusses all aspects of Byzantine history and culture. This year, the venue was San Antonio, Texas. The conference, highly concentrated in 2 days, offered more than 75 papers on a variety of topics. Headed by a keynote lecture by Dr. Helen C. Evans on the Metropolitan Museum’s ‘Armenia’ Exhibition and concluded by a visit to the San Antonio Museum of Art, it was the perfect place to stimulate curiosity and discover other scholars’ current research as well as new aspects of the Byzantine world.

My paper titled “Mapping the Empire: A New Perspective on the Revival of Ptolemaic Cartography in Byzantium” dealt with a new reading of the 5 epigrams devoted to Ptolemy’s Geography by Maximos Planudes. My aim was (and still is since this is a relevant section of my thesis) to show that these epigrams and, more broadly, the Palaiologan renewed interest in geography were nothing but a means to both strengthen and reaffirm the political power of the Byzantine Empire. To prove my point, I took my cue from postcolonial studies and in particular from the work on imperial constructions of space by the modern geographer Derek Gregory. My paper was part of a panel organized by Dr. Aglae Pizzone with a focus on the political significance of time and space in Constantinople from 12th to 13th centuries. Andras Kraft (Central European University) investigated how Byzantine prophetic writings from the 13th century responded to the Latin conquest of Constantinople in 1204. Valeria Lovato (Università di Sassari/Université de Lausanne and forthcoming CML!) looked at the construction of Alexandria and Jerusalem as alternative political spaces in Isaac Komnenos’ Paraphrase of the Letter of Aristeas. Both space and time, therefore, are crucial in the political construction of the Byzantine Empire.

The conference environment was friendly and less scary than I thought. Indeed, a special attention was paid to graduate students. We were strongly encouraged to take part in the event and to present our work. Furthermore, thanks to the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art & Culture, two workshops were organized, which were targeted specifically to graduate students. During the first one, we had the chance to discuss with a group of experts some issues concerning the publication of visual sources. In the second one, we met professors and academics at different stages of their career who provided us with practical suggestions concerning our professional life after the completion of our PhD. During the discussion, they also gave us useful advice on the best strategies to adopt to get a position in the academia. Last but not least, the graduate students who presented the best papers will be awarded prizes by the Tousimis Research Corporation and Dr. Anastasios Tousimis. So, finger crossed! The 2019 conference will be held in Madison, Wisconsin: get ready!

Editing was completed: 02.12.2018