A Monument of Unageing Intellect: Hagia Sophia and the Politics of Preservation

  • Holger A. Klein, Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University
    Coach House, Green College, UBC and livestreamed
    Tuesday, February 28, 5-6:30pm with reception to follow
    in the series
    Ways of Seeing Byzantine Art and Material Culture
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    On November 24, 1934, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Turkey issued a decree that converted the Great Mosque of Ayasofya and former Byzantine cathedral of Hagia Sophia into a museum. Emphasizing the building’s universal cultural and artistic value as an “architectural masterpiece” over its more divisive religious and political status as a house of worship and symbol of conquest, the committee charged with the transfer of title and responsibility explicitly presented this extraordinary historical building to “all humanity.” Some 85 years later, in 2020, such enlightened attempts to neutralize a contested religious site and create a sense of shared cultural heritage was sacrificed on the altar of political expediency following a long-simmering struggle to re-convert Ayasofya Museum into a functioning mosque. This talk explores aspects of the history of Hagia Sophia with a special emphasis on twentieth-century efforts to safeguard and explore this extraordinary architectural monument and to preserve its medieval mosaic decoration during the 1930s and 40s.

    Co-hosted with the SNF Centre for Hellenic Studies, SFU.

    Holger Klein was educated in Art History, Early Christian Archaeology, and German Literature at the universities of Freiburg, Munich, London and Bonn. His research focuses on the history and historiography of Late Antique, Early Medieval and Byzantine art and architecture, especially on the cult of relics and issues of cultural and artistic exchange in the Medieval Mediterranean. He joined Columbia University as an Assistant Professor in 2000 and was named The Lisa and Bernard Selz Professor of Medieval Art History in 2018. In 2015–16, he held an Alliance Visiting Professorship at the Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. At Columbia University, Professor Klein held several academic leadership positions. He served as Chairman of the Department of Art History and Archaeology, Director of Graduate Studies, Director of the Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies, and, currently, Faculty Director of Casa Muraro, Columbia University’s new Research and Teaching Center in Venice. Professor Klein is the recipient of several awards and prizes, including the 50th annual Mark Van Doren Award for Teaching, the Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award, and the Wm. Theodore de Bary Award for Distinguished Service to the Core Curriculum. 


    What can we learn from the study of a distant premodern culture today? Where does the Roman polity that we call Byzantium stand within the wider medieval world, and how does its place in our imagination shape the way we study Byzantine monuments, objects and sites? This lecture series provides a venue for presenting cutting-edge and innovative research by scholars of Byzantine art, archaeology and material culture. In particular, it seeks to contribute to wider discussions across UBC, SFU, the academic community and the wider public about the cultural heritage and the underrepresented cultures of the medieval world before the age of European colonialism. Given the recent turn towards the Global Middle Ages in medieval studies, we have invited scholars who examine Byzantium and its material culture in an international context and acknowledge the necessity of placing the Byzantine in dialogue with other premodern societies in and beyond the Mediterranean.

    This academic year, Green College brings together exciting and important voices in the field of Byzantine studies to showcase the rich variety of disciplinary approaches in the field and to engage critically with a diverse range of topics.

    This series is co-hosted with the SFN Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University.

  • Unless otherwise noted, all of our lectures are free to attend and do not require registration.

February 28th, 2023 from  5:00 PM to  6:30 PM
Coach House
6201 Cecil Green Park Rd
Green College, UBC
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z1
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