HSE Academics Elected Fellows of the British Academy
Galin Tihanov, Chief Research Fellow of Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities and Professor of Queen Mary University of London, and Sergey Ivanov, Professor of the HSE Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies (IOCS) have been elected fellows of the British Academy. In an interview with the HSE News Service, Sergey Ivanov speaks about this important event, his new responsibilities as a fellow of the Academy, and his short-term research plans..
— How did you find out you were elected a fellow of the British Academy? How did you feel about the news?
— I received a letter from the British Academy while taking part in a conference in Vienna. It was the first in-person conference since the start of the pandemic a year and a half ago, so everyone was very excited. That’s probably why I didn’t pay much attention to the letter at first. But when I realized that it wasn’t a joke, I must admit I was delighted—especially because I knew nothing about becoming a fellow of the British Academy and I had never asked for this kind of honour.
— Even so, there must have been a good reason for your election. Was it because of your recent achievements and work with foreign colleagues? Or was it for your overall contribution to science?
— It would be naïve to think that the British Academy uses some special scales to weigh up scholars’ achievements before making a final decision. That would make me some kind of towering figure in Russian humanities, as if there weren’t dozens of other great names I would never dare to compare myself to in my wildest dreams. None of them were elected to the British Academy.
I think some specific factors played a role.
First, although Byzantine scholars are a minority in the Medieval Studies section of the British Academy, they’re a unified minority. There are quite a lot of classical philologists—enough to form a separate section of the British Academy—but because there are so many of them, they do not necessarily know each other. Unlike them, Byzantine scholars all over the world work as a single team and follow their peers’ research. Second, I work closely with British colleagues, and one of my papers has been published by Oxford University Press.
At any rate, I regard this election as an advance to be repaid my whole life
— What research projects are you working on now? What are your short-term research and teaching plans at IOCS?
— One of the projects I’m completing now is called ‘The History of Byzantine Emotions.’ It’s a collaboration with my British colleagues, and I’ve written a chapter about fear for it.
I am also in the middle of co-authoring another project with a Munich colleague of mine. I’m writing a paper on ‘The Life of Niphon of Constantia’—a serious research analysis based on all surviving manuscripts. In my opinion, this is the most underrated work in Byzantine literature. HSE University generously paid for a scanned version of the Moscow manuscript. Recently, I was lucky enough to find a previously unknown manuscript of this saint’s life in the Austrian National Library in Vienna. I’m now collating this text, ie comparing it with better-known ones. It’s time-consuming work, but necessary if we want our story to be as close to the original as possible.
Also, I’ve almost finished editing the English translation of my guide book ‘In Search of Constantinople’. I’m going to revisit Istanbul soon so I can add more about the latest losses and finds to my guide.
Next academic year, I will be teaching the usual course in Ancient Greek, as well as Introduction to Byzantine Studies and a new course in Byzantine Historiography for IOCS Bachelor’s students. I will also be teaching a Master’s course called ‘Emperors and Saints’. On top of that, I will be running the Byzantine part of the course on ‘The Individual in the Middle Ages’ as part of the Medieval Studies minor.
— How are your life and work going to change after your election to the British Academy? Does the position come with any new privileges?
— Absolutely nothing will change. I might be a bit busier in an expert capacity, but I haven’t been notified of anything like that yet.
Fellows have only one privilege—they are entitled to dine in the headquarters of the British Academy in Carlton House Terrace, near Trafalgar Square, whenever they visit London. I can (perhaps even have to) add the letters FBA after my name, which is helpful given my common surname.
I will also be entitled to an extensive obituary in the Proceedings of the British Academy. Their obituaries are a unique genre unto themselves. In the official letter, the President of the Academy suggested that I shouldn’t put it off and begin sending them biographical information for this purpose. However, they expressed their hope that it won’t be needed any time soon.
Ilya Smirnov, Director of the Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies, HSE University
The election of our colleague and friend Sergey Ivanov to the British Academy is a happy milestone for all of us. We all know that Sergey is an outstanding expert in Byzantine Studies who is renowned for his research papers in Russia and abroad. The decision of the British Academy is yet further proof of his esteemed reputation as a scientist, of which we are truly proud.
I doubt that I need to remind you that the British Academy is the most authoritative association of scholars in the humanities, with over a century of history. Its past presidents include Arthur James Balfour, Sir Cecil Maurice Bowra, and Sir Isaiah Berlin.
The nominees play no part in the election process whatsoever. Moreover, they don’t even know they have been nominated until the names of the new fellows of the Academy are announced. There are no preliminary discussions hinting at support, no talks behind the scenes, no compromises, agreements, or fights between scientific clans—all the usual features of academic elections since time immemorial. Impressive, isn’t it?