Istanbul Center to Host Seminar on Byzantine and Modern Greek Encounters

January 21, 2015

Building upon its existing relationship with Bogaziçi University and the Columbia Global Centers | Turkey, Columbia University is developing a new spring 2015 program in which students anchor their studies in Istanbul by participating in two Columbia-style seminars taught by two distinguished Columbia faculty.

The two seminars, composed of not more than 15 American, Turkish, and Greek students, will be taught consecutively in condensed sessions over the spring term. Although distinctive in their subject matter and disciplinary approach, each addresses the question of how, from the Middle Ages to the present, westerners have interpreted and incorporated features of Greek culture.

The first course will explore the history of western Europeans’ relationship to Byzantine culture when Constantinople reigned as a cultural capital of Christendom.

The second course examines how the World has responded to Greece at the crossroads of East and West since the Fall of Constantinople with literature as its main lens for reading culture.

“Byzantine Encounters,” taught during the first half of the term, examines the experience and reactions of western European travelers, traders, and warriors in Constantinople during the Middle Ages, prior to and immediately after the Ottoman conquest of 1453 and continuing into the early years of the European Renaissance. Readings will include narrative sketches of the history of the period, critical literature examining key instances of encounter, and primary sources produced by westerners that record their impressions of and experiences in Constantinople. The classroom experience will be enhanced by extracurricular visits to monuments in Istanbul that display key features of Byzantine and early Ottoman culture.

“The World Responds to the Greeks,” taught in the second half of the term, foregrounds moments in literary history and the history of representational forms when Greece’s position at the crossroads –Byzantine and Ottoman; Ancient and Modern; the Balkans and Europe; Greece, Cyprus and Turkey; and Greece and America – become comparatively productive in various fields (literature, history, sociology, film, architecture and anthropology). Students will have the opportunity to read works by writers and scholars from the region as well as to meet and discuss their work with them.  In both courses, students will be asked to consider how questions are shaped by different sources and how the interpretation of these sources may vary depending on the disciplinary approach.

To help navigate their encounters in modern-day Istanbul, students also enroll in a Turkish language course and choose at least one elective course from the broad range of Bogaziçi University course offerings.

This program was developed with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.