My research interests all surround premodern periods of large-scale historical change, crisis and decline. I am especially interested in how contemporaries mitigated these periods. In all my projects I prefer a broad perspective, looking at neighboring cultures in the past and scholarly fields in the presents to understand the background for my own subject. I complement this overview with a critical analysis of the object of my research.
Interdisciplinarity is the main thread that links my projects. I challenge traditional definitions of scholarly fields by bringing materials, theories and methods from other fields to illuminate difficult questions. The Cairo Genizah, or Scandinavian sagas are relevant for eleventh century Byzantium. Coin minting in 7th century Iran is related to the economy in Western Europe. The natural sciences offers new methodologies to learn about past climate and cataclysmic events. Tourism joins nationalism and Western historiography to carve the historical memories of countries in Eastern Europe. I build upon my approach by organizing scholarly occasions for people of these distinct fields to meet, learn from each other and collaborate.
The Digital Humanities are the other major thread that ties all my projects, as they offer fascinating new tools to quickly analyze unprecedented amounts of historical data. I use network analysis and large-scale databases to trace thousands of individuals in my dissertation and keep track of similar numbers of cataclysms in the premodern eastern Mediterranean. I have planned and developed a custom mapping application for FLAME which brings together hundreds of thousands of ancient coins from as far as India and Ireland. Finally, I am experimenting with online research for my Historical Memory project, learning about current developments in places I have visited over the last few years.
My dissertation, Emperors and Elites in the Eleventh Century Eastern Roman Empire, investigates how the East Romans (Byzantines) lived through what scholars often call “the eleventh-century crisis”. At the beginning of this period, Byzantium was the superpower in the eastern Mediterranean and beyond. At its worst part, it almost disintegrated – just to rebound a few years later into another century of power and glory in the region. Against this backdrop, the eleventh century was a period of serious political unrest, with sixteen emperors on the throne over sixty years. There were also many plots, revolts and civil wars. Yet it was also a period of social change and cultural efflorescence, in which the East Romans reflected on past practices and experimented with new ideas. My work looks at these processes and argues that the empire’s increasing diversity was the main factor behind the period’s social change and political instability.
For more information please visit Dissertation
As director of FLAME, I have planned and implemented the necessary tools for asking broad questions, bringing together specialists of ancient areas from Spain to Persia. I developed FLAME’s tools to answer some of the big questions in the fields of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages through collecting hard data about published coins over four centuries and a broad region. With a large digital database that collects information about hundreds of thousands of coins, we will be able to reach new, firm conclusions about questions that are still of great interest, such as the reasons for the fall of the (Western) Roman Empire, or the manner in which Islam rose so quickly.
For more information please visit FLAME
In the Climate Change and History Research Initiative, as researcher, I look into how past societies in the eastern Mediterranean were affected by natural disasters such as earthquakes in Turkey and floodings in Egypt and Mesopotamia. By surveying evidence accumulated over centuries, I show that despite what we might expect, these premodern societies were resilient to major events. In my other function in CCHRI as associate director and co-PI I co-organize the initiative’s annual events – which include lectures, a colloquium and a workshop. The latter introduces junior scholars in the humanities to a science field such as dendroclimatology (learning about past climate – temperatures and precipitation – from tree rings) or palynology (learning about flora through pollen accumulated in lake sediments).
For more information visit Environmental History
My upcoming project, Remembering Rome, Forgetting Byzantium: Afterlives of an Empire, looks at how modern countries in Eastern Europe construct their national pasts. I focus on the modern historical memories of the ancient and medieval pasts, which are propagated in public spaces through museums, ceremonies, tourist bureaus and everyday objects such as coins and stamps. I demonstrate how these historical narratives have shifted over the past two centuries, but also how they vary between the different countries which were part of the same empires for most of the last two thousand years.
For more information visit Historical Memory