Byzantine art and history

|The Volokh Conspiracy |


Congratulations to my dear friend Sharon Gerstel, an art history professor at University of California at Los Angeles, on her Runciman Award, which she just got for her book, "Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium." The Runciman Award is given each year by the Anglo-Hellenic league for an English-language book dealing with Greek history and culture. Here's something about the book from the chair of the judging panel, Prof. Tom Harrison (paragraph break added):

The product of over twenty years of painstaking fieldwork in Greece, Sharon Gerstel's Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium seeks to reconstruct the lives of the rural poor in Greece from a wide range of sources: from the material remains of settlements, from ethnographic research, from illustrated manuscripts—but especially perhaps from the wall paintings of countless small churches used continuously over the intervening centuries, but many now in a state of disrepair.

Professor Gerstel's book covers all aspects of rural life: from physical labour to witchcraft or the role of gossip (one of the main sins in representations of the Last Judgement). What distinguishes her book, however, is her attempt—as she puts it in her opening—to view the Greek landscape 'from the heart'. This is an ambition that is amply fulfilled: every page is imbued with a sense of duty to preserve the memory of the rural life that she describes, and to honour those individuals who guided her in her fieldwork. (A delightful aspect of her book is the presence of so many people in her photographs.) Like another Runciman prize winner, Juliet du Boulay, she manages, in essence, to summon up a whole world—real and imaginary—of past experience. For that extraordinary achievement, the Runciman Award for 2016 is awarded to Professor Sharon Gerstel.

Well done!