Even though I defended my PhD in 2014, I encountered Byzantium much earlier, first, through its art and architecture and during the final years of my secondary education, through its intellectual history. Yet, not enough time has passed, I feel, for me to understand why I became a Byzantinist. This question is in itself not that important – it is, after all, yet another expression of the permanent search for meaning, purpose, and justification that anyone professionally involved in academia experiences.
One thing I have learned during this process is that I am not alone in my puzzlement and occasional frustration, nor in my passion and curiosity. Thus, it has become my guiding principle to share and to ask. As a result, many of the colleagues I met along the way became my friends and not a day goes by without me realizing the importance of being a part of a community and the blessing that is having met so many ‘kindred spirits’, as Anne Shirley would say. At the same time, however, I have also realized that perceiving one’s academic life primarily as a career rather than a vocation and a service, due in part also to the increasingly corporate and bureaucratic nature of our universities, has led to the alienation and dissociation of the scholars from their own research.
Our input is now measured in all kinds of ways and our livelihood, personal life, sense of self-worth, and mental equilibrium depend on those metrics and on how many peer-reviewed publications we have or on how much external funding we have brought and all that means for our immediate professional future. What is lost, I think, is the humanity of those articles, books, and grants, as well as the humans behind them. Think about it: we all enjoy reading the occasional profile of a famous writer of fiction or an interview with a known blogger, but hardly ever see similar popular pieces dedicated to those who produce scholarly literature. The irony is that at the same time we all write clever explanations of our public outreach and engagement with the wider, non-academic public.
While these concerns are rather general and are regularly featured in analyses of higher education and the academic profession today, a very personal concern of mine has been to commit to memory and to share the incredible personal encounters and long-lasting friendships that I have forged thanks to my profession. Simply put, I want to make known the wonderful, inspirational, and imaginative people I have met throughout the years and I don’t want them to ever be forgotten. Their stories form the history of our discipline, meeting and being able to work together with them is what has given me a sense of fulfilment and purpose whenever I lost it and empowers me to continue ploughing forward.
This is why I have decided to begin recording our conversations and to make them public via this blog. This is a personal initiative that I pursue in my free time and I seek no reward of any sort. My only aim is to reveal the wonderful people behind the covers of so many books we all use and admire, to listen to them and share the stories they want to tell. My method has been very amateurish as well. Being rather inexperienced with taking interviews, I always began the conversation with a couple of questions already prepared in advance and then allowed it to flow and meander naturally. I recorded all interviews first as audio files and then transcribed them. The final transcription has been minimally edited, if at all, in order to ensure readability and clarity, but overall I have kept faithfully to the original recording.
The first conversation in the series is with Paul Magdalino and it was recorded in his home in Seyssel/Corbonod, France on 30 August 2017. In order to read it, click here. I will be uploading transcriptions regularly though not very often as the time I can dedicate to this project is limited at present. Enjoy them and check every now and then for the newest instalment.