The Oxford Byzantine Society’s 19th International Graduate Conference: Circulation and Transmission of Ideas between Past and Present

A weblog entry by Laura Borghetti.

When it comes to cultural vivacity and exchange of knowledge, very few places are as inspiring as Oxford, UK. Colleges and faculties, enclosed in solemn and slender gothic buildings, shape the almost magical profile of the old city (fig. 1). Visitors, especially scholars, get the feeling of walking along a huge, lively university campus that romantically tastes like the Middle Ages. In such atmosphere, from February the 24th till 25th 2017, took place The Oxford University Byzantine Society's 19th International Graduate Conference, with a title that perfectly matches Oxford's vivacious academic environment: "Transmitting and Circulating the Late Antiquity and Byzantine Worlds".

Fig. 1: Some views of Oxford (from the left): Inner courtyard in Exeter College, the main door of the History Faculty with the Conference's poster, the Dome of the Radcliffe Camera. (Photos by Laura Borghetti)

Given the vastness of the late Roman and Byzantine Empires in terms of both territorial extent and cultural variety, the circulation and transmission of ideas, people, texts and objects played a decisive role in creating a political, economic and religious network which – in turn – ensured the unity of both empires for more than ten centuries. Closely mirroring the byzantine millennium, the program of the conference was extremely various and fascinating: more than fifty papers, concerning byzantine philology, history, art and archaeology – divided in two simultaneous sessions – allowed the participants shape a quite comprehensive portrait of the modalities, frequency and different means of cultural transmission in Byzantium.

The lively brainstorming after each speaker's presentation was enough evidence for how effective this conference was in stimulating the exchange of knowledge and the circulation of new ideas. Especially, given the participation of only graduate students, the brainstorming related to still in-progress projects could inspire, in both the speakers and the rest of participants, new points of view, perspectives and approaches that might be useful to each individual research.

The chance to take a small part in the organization of such an event has for me been both an honour and a pleasure: following Mirela Ivanova's friendly but firm directions (Mirela is an Oxford PhD student and the president of the Oxford University Byzantine Society during this academic year), the Oxford graduates' crew took care of organising participants' invitations and accommodation and arranging delicious coffee breaks, meals and evening wine receptions. I personally could enjoy some unskilled labour such as cutting paper badges or preparing coffee for the guests. As an Italian assiduous coffee-drinker, I took this last task pretty much seriously (fig. 2). 

Fig. 2: Mirela Ivanova and Laura Borghetti in the common room of the History Faculty. (Photo by Laura Borghetti)
The most challenging side in the whole organising process was surely gathering the speakers from all over the world. From Great Britain to Turkey, from Italy to Japan, this conference has shown how the circulation and the transmission of ideas and people in Byzantium many centuries ago still manages, nowadays, to instigate the transmission of old ideas and new, and circulation of people and their gathering to exchange ideas.