Byzantine Studies Symposium, Dumbarton Oaks: The Diagram Paradigm: Byzantium, the Islamic World, and the Latin West

Long discredited as inadequate illustrations of thought processes more appropriately represented in algebraic or verbal terms, diagrams have enjoyed a renaissance across numerous disciplines—from philosophy and computer science to the burgeoning field of graphics—as a means of visualizing knowledge.

As the historical disciplines take a fresh look at diagrams, this symposium will seek to offer an interdisciplinary, comparative, and cross-cultural perspective, considering the range of diagrams in Byzantium, Europe, and the Islamicate world. Its cross-cultural approach aims to decenter the bodies of scholarly work that focus on only one of these three traditions, within which it remains all too easy to take particular uses of diagrams for granted.

Among the questions our symposium will pose are: Why are diagrams relatively sparse (and certainly understudied) in the Byzantine and Islamic worlds? Why are they rarely adopted as vehicles of religious thought? What role do diagrams play in the development and documentation of scientific thought across the three traditions? How does the diagrammatic mode relate to artistic practice? To cartography? To science? To literature? To the school curriculum? Why is so much of “Western” medieval art diagrammatic in character, but so little of Byzantine and Islamic art? How do attitudes toward diagrams change over time? And how do the three traditions interact with one another?