Telling Byzantine History: Current Trends and New Directions

June 3, 2024

The Late Antique and Byzantine Studies Graduate Student Colloquium was pleased to host its Second Annual International Graduate Student Conference, entitled “Telling Byzantine History: Current Trends and New Directions” on Friday, May 25 and Saturday, May 25. The conference was held in CEU’s contemporary conference space and the University of Vienna’s historic Institut für Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik. Events at CEU were funded by the Department of Medieval Studies and the Department of History, with the Centre for Mediterranean Studies at CEU funding earlier events in the same series.

Co-organized by the Department of Medieval Studies at Central European University and the Ancient, Byzantine and Medieval Studies Cluster of the Doctoral School of Historical and Cultural Studies at the University of Vienna, the “Telling Byzantine History” brought together graduate students from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds to share their research. Hosting 18 participants from 16 different affiliated institutions and 12 different countries, the event highlighted the truly diverse environment towards which Late Antique and Byzantine studies are heading. The conference was a source of inspiration, proposing new ways of telling Byzantine history and deconstructing old views, either through the novel use of sources, or through the application of methodological, theoretical, and interdisciplinary approaches which can provide new directions for the study of Byzantium.

Our thanks especially go to Johannes Preiser-Kappeller and Panagiotis Agapitos, both of whom gave excellent keynotes. Dr. Preiser-Kappeller gave a lecture entitled “Stones, Bones, Sherds, Trees, Pollen & Genes: Telling Byzantine History without Written Sources.” He explored an exhaustive array of environmental sources to enrich our understanding of Byzantine history and climatic events. Volcanic activity in the first millennium CE had a significant affect upon the cultures of the eastern Mediterranean, a subject also explored in Dr Preiser-Kappeller’s fascinating, newly-published article on climate fluctuations and apocalyptic expectations in tenth- and eleventh-century Byzantium and Japan. 

Professor Agapitos, meanwhile, presented his upcoming book, Byzantine Literature, AD 300-1500: A Narrative History in which he argues for a holistic understanding of the history of Byzantine literature within a global framework. His presentation, “Three-dimensionalities: Towards a Narrative History of Byzantine Literature,” gave a tantalizing preview of the volume, highlighting the importance of challenging existing notions of categorizations in Byzantine literature. The roots of these categorizations are found in the nineteenth century, and yet they still hold significant sway today.

The graduate student colloquium was formed in 2022 to encourage cooperation between two institutions (CEU and the University of Vienna) which have a strong tradition of fostering academic excellence in the field of Late Antique and Byzantine studies. Since then, the events of the colloquium have branched out, ranging from open reading sessions to graduate student workshops and international graduate student conferences. As this academic year’s events come to a close, we are already looking forward to next year’s events. Finally, we would like to express our thanks to the numerous people who have supported us through this year’s journey, from our friends and colleagues to our professors. We hope for their continued support in making the CEU-UniWien Late Antique and Byzantine Graduate Student Colloquium a lasting scholarly presence in Vienna.