From the Human Body to the Universe… Spatialities of Byzantine Culture

This international conference was organized by the Department of Linguistics and Philology of Uppsala University, as part of the Research Project “Text and narrative in Byzantium” lead by Professor Ingela Nilsson (http://www.grekiska.net/byzantine-narrative/). It was hosted by the Museum Gustavianum, from the 18th to the 21st of May, 2017, and sponsored by the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond.

The conference began with Professor Ingela Nilsson’s welcome and scholarly contextualization followed by a keynote lecture by Professor Johannes Koder (University of Vienna) on the relation between space and identity, and Byzantine conceptions of geographic belonging. Thereafter, a visit to Olof Rudbeck’s Anatomical Theatre, guided by Dr Myrto Veikou, offered the participants an opportunity to realize how spaces make people feel, think and act in specific ways. The great importance of this in Byzantine culture – no matter what aspect someone is looking at (material culture, art or texts) – was the main field of inter- and cross-disciplinary problematization during the conference proceedings on the next three full days.

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A total of fourty-three papers on Byzantine spaces were presented by specialists on Byzantine philology and literary studies, history, archaeology, topography, and history of art. Different aspects of notions of space in Byzantine culture were scrutinized and discussed, thereby offering an excellent opportunity for experimentation. The process of inter- and cross-disciplinary problematization on the single common interest of Byzantine spaces aimed to allow these specialists realizing the – often plasmatic – dichotomies between modern fields of research. It also aimed to develop the field, and provide future scholars with:

  • an, as much as possible, complete range of vocabulary and available methodologies for looking into Byzantine spaces, and
  • an example of creative and reconciliating synthesis of different, old and new, theoretical approaches to spatial issues.

In this context, many interesting discussions foregrounded the parallel existence of two different currants of research within the Byzantine studies, nowadays. These two currents develop concurrently on parallel yet separate trajectories, they are based on different theoretical and methodological backgrounds, and they use different vocabularies. Giving the floor for these two currents to meet up and discuss a single cultural topic of common interest allowed exposing each side’s work to one-another. This condition first produced some confusing – or ‘conflictual’ – reactions but later delivered very imaginative and creative solution plans; in any case, it exposed the problem, and the urgency for mutual comprehension, as well as the potential of informed collaboration from both sides.

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The event will be followed by a publication project which will take place during the next few years. Information on this project, as well as on the conference program and speakers’ abstracts, including several resources on the topic, can be found on the project’s webpage (http://www.byzantinespace.net). Anyone interested in knowing more about it or contributing to it may contact Professor Ingela Nilsson and Dr Myrto Veikou at the Department of Linguistics and Philology of Uppsala University.

Myrto Veikou

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