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Museum Talks | Washington, DC #7 Dumbarton Oaks


Degas, The Song Rehearsal, 1872



Museum Talks | Washington, DC is a program of curatorial talks proposed by the Villa Albertine in collaboration with the museums of the Washington DC area.

For this Museum Talk, we were joined by Thomas B. F. Cummins, Director, Yota Batsaki, Executive director and James N. Carder, Archivist and House collection manager at Dumbarton Oaks. 

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Home of the Humanities

Dumbarton Oaks is a Harvard University research institute, library, museum, and garden located in Washington, DC. The institution is the legacy of Robert and Mildred Bliss, collectors of art and patrons of learning in the humanities. The museum houses world-class collections of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art, two areas of interest to the Blisses. A third revolves around the historic garden, which Mildred Bliss created in close collaboration with renowned landscape designer Beatrix Farrand. Since 1940, when the Blisses gifted the estate and collections to Harvard University, Dumbarton Oaks has supported research in Byzantine Studies. Later it embraced Pre-Columbian and Garden and Landscape Studies. The support takes the form of fellowships and other awards, scholarly conferences, publications, and digital initiatives. In recent years, Dumbarton Oaks has also developed educational programs focusing on its collections and garden.

The founders called upon future policy-makers “to remember that Dumbarton Oaks is conceived in a new pattern, where quality and not number shall determine the choice of its scholars; that it is the home of the Humanities, not a mere aggregation of books and objects of art; that the house itself and the gardens have their educational importance and that all are of humanistic value.” These ambitions continue to guide Dumbarton Oaks, but with close attention to ensuring that the Blisses’ “new pattern” retains its vitality through constant renewal.

The research institute’s location in Washington, DC, is no accident. Robert Bliss was a diplomat whose distinguished career in the Foreign Service culminated in his six-year service as Ambassador to Argentina. Dumbarton Oaks is known for hosting major diplomatic meetings that took place in 1944, at the height of the Second World War. The “Dumbarton Oaks Conversations” paved the way for the United Nations charter that was adopted in San Francisco in 1945. In these sessions, delegations from China, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States deliberated over proposals for the establishment of an organization to maintain peace and security in the world. 

Thomas B. F. Cummins

Thomas B. F. Cummins is author, editor, or coeditor of ten books, the latest of which is Sacred Matters: Animacy and Authority in the Americas, coedited with Steve Koisiba and John Janusek and published by Dumbarton Oaks in 2020. Cummins is a member of the Executive Committee of Dumbarton Oaks, and former member and Chair of the Pre-Columbian Senior Fellows.

Cummins served as the Director of the University of Chicago Center for Latin American Studies, the Interim Director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard, the Chair of the Department of History of Art and Architecture, and Member of the Comisión Sectorial del Sistema Nacional de Museos, Perú. He is a Faculty Member of the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University, where he is codirecting, with Professor Alejandro de la Fuente, a three-year international seminar, Afro-Latin American Art: Building the Field, funded by a generous Getty Foundation Connecting Art History Grant.

A member of the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Research Institute for the Study of Art from Latin America at the Museum of Modern Art and editor in chief of the Grove Encyclopedia of Latin American Art (Oxford University Press), Cummins is also a Member of the Executive Committee of Villa I Tatti, Florence. He received La Orden “Al Mérito por Servicios Distinguidos” En el Grado de Gran Cruz from the Republic of Peru, the Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize from the Modern Language Association, and the Bryce Wood Book Award from the Latin American Studies Association. Professor Cummins is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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Dumbarton Oaks

Dumbarton Oaks is a Harvard University research institute, library, museum, and garden located in Washington, DC. The institution is the legacy of Robert and Mildred Bliss, collectors of art and patrons of learning in the humanities.

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