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 present to understand the background for my own subject. I complement this overview with a critical analysis of the objects of my research.
Multidisciplinarity 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. Insights from natural systems about resilience and sustainability contribute to understanding how social systems respond to stress. Sources such as the Cairo Genizah and Scandinavian sagas are relevant for eleventh century Byzantium. Coin minting in 7th century Iran is related to contemporary economic developments in Western Europe. Tourism joins nationalism and Western historiography to carve the historical memories of countries in Eastern Europe. In today’s exponentially expanding research frontiers we can hope to keep up with all these developments only through cross-pollination, so I emphasize cross-disciplinary discussion and collaboration for us all to learn from each other.
Digital work is the other major thread that ties all my projects, as it offers fascinating new tools to quickly analyze unprecedented amounts of historical data. I digitally model past earthquakes to learn more about their extent and effects on premodern societies in the Levant. My research on eleventh century Byzantium traces thousands of individuals and the connections between them. 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 using online research to keep updated with current trends in historical memory, following their trajectories for the recent few years.
This project, tentatively named ‘Costly Diversity’ after my dissertation, investigates the social changes in eleventh century Byzantine society. It demonstrates how the centralized decision to adopt an ad hoc style of imperial succession by election transformed society over a century. As the new series of emperors introduced novel ideas and practices, they inadvertently stimulated social diversity and cultural fermentation. Subaltern groups such as eunuchs, foreigners, and women developed novel parameters of interaction with the elite and acted as catalysts to this transformation. Each group eroded the old boundaries within which it had operated and redefined its position in elite society. This resulted in a period of burgeoning creativity and political instability that was resolved only by the establishment of a new social model during the Crusades.
For more information please visit Social History.
FLAME (Framing the Late Antique and early Medieval Economy) investigates the economy of the Mediterranean and beyond c. 325-750, using coinage as a proxy. Drawing upon the expertise of historians, archaeologists, numismatists, and web developers, FLAME is establishing a standardized database of coins from Ireland to India, coming from the Byzantine, Islamic, and European spheres. It is a project of the Princeton University Numismatic Collection. As FLAME’s PI, I have been directing the project for the past three years.
For more information please visit FLAME.
My environmental history research draws upon my work as co-PI of Princeton’s CCHRI (Climate Change and History Research Initiative). It has three related foci: (1) socio-environmental systems and their response to environmental stressors in the form of short-term cataclysmic events (SCEs) such as earthquakes, floods, and epidemics; (2) a series of case studies that focuses on the former approach; and (3) synthesizing research from history, archaeology, and natural and social sciences through a consilient approach.
For more information visit Environmental History.
My upcoming second project, “Remembering Rome, Forgetting Byzantium: Afterlives of an Empire”, investigates the historical memory of the Roman/Byzantine Empire in Eastern Europe and around. I look at how the modern countries whose territory used to be part of the ancient and medieval empire remember it and commemorate it in their public spaces today – museums, archaeological sites and historical landmarks. By doing so, I demonstrate how these countries have differentiated between the “Roman” and “Byzantine” phases of their past over the last couple of centuries.
For more information visit Historical Memory.