Joining the Frauenpower of Vienna

Gender-Gastprofessur: Joining the "Frauenpower of Vienna"
Heidrun Huber (Redaktion) am 10. März 2008

Seit Oktober 2007 lehrt Margaret Mullett von der Queen's University Belfast im Rahmen einer Gastprofessur an der Historisch-Kulturwissenschaftlichen Fakultät. Die Spezialistin für byzantinische Kulturgeschichte forscht zu Bildung, Gender und Beziehungen in der Gesellschaft Byzanz, dem oströmischen Reich. Margaret Mullett im Gespräch über ihren Aufenthalt an der Universität Wien und ihre Forschung.

Margaret Mullett lehrt Mittelalterliche Geschichte an der Queen's University Belfast. Ihre Gastprofessur im Studienjahr 2007/08 an der Universität Wien wurde im Rahmen des finanziellen Anreizsystems zur Frauenförderung an die Historisch-Kulturwissenschaftlichen Fakultät vergeben. Die Universität Wien hat dafür jene Mittel verwendet, die der Universität im Rahmen des excellentia-Programms zugesprochen wurden. 
Als Gastprofessorin für Byzantinistik war Margaret Mullett bereits am Dumbarton Oaks Studienzentrum in Washington und an der renommierten Princeton Universität. Nun ist sie für ein Jahr am Institut für Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik der Universität Wien tätig. Neben Seminaren und Proseminaren hielt sie im Wintersemester eine Vorlesung zu "Gender in Byzantium: women, men and eunuchs?" und im kommenden Semester hält sie eine Vorlesung mit dem Titel "Sex and the city". In dieser geht es darum, byzantinische Sexualität durch Texte und Bilder zu erkunden. 

Redaktion: What is your motivation to do Byzantine studies? Where does your interest come from?
Margaret Mullett: I met Byzantium when as an undergraduate I worked on the Crusades, and I had a reaction similar to that of generations of students I have taught, what Averil Cameron has called 'the absence of Byzantium': the failure of the modern world to take into account a major world civilisation, an empire which constantly reinvented itself. I am a child of the age of the breakup of the British empire and postcolonialism, and it fascinated me to see how multicultural, how resilient Byzantium was. And students see easily how so many conflicts in the world from Jerusalem to Kosovo can be more richly understood through Byzantium-and yet school syllabuses, and the modern media, choose not to take these 1200 years and all that geography into account. Students all over the world (except in the immediate successor states like Greece, who do study Byzantium at school) are proud to discover Byzantium for themselves. 

Redaktion: You work on Byzantine society. Could you give us a short introduction on what your work is about?
Mullett: I've just written about representing Byzantine society, and I'm really interested in the self-awareness of Byzantines. Their art is sophisticated, glamorous and comparatively well known; their literature is hardly studied as a literature and is sophisticated, complex and subtle. It is the multi-layered deceptiveness of a literature finely attuned to the social necessities of dealing with death and birth and the human cycle, but also great political occasions and simple personal relations that I love to read. I've spent most time with the literary elite, studying their interconnections, their letter-writing, their rhetorical training, their hopes and fears. It was a residually oral, highly performative society, and there are a lot of interesting questions about literacy; I've worked also on friendship, patronage, narrative, dream, and of course gender.

Redaktion: Sex and the City: How were the main characteristics of the treatment of sexuality in the city Constantinople compared to nowadays?  
Mullett: Where sex is concerned there is 'nothing new under the sun'.... but how people think about it is very various. Byzantium was a differently gendered society in that eunuchs were a prominent element, not numerous, but in very powerful positions, and Byzantines constantly reflected on their gender-system because of the prominence of eunuchs. Three-gender societies are not common (if Byzantium was such a thing) and this changes the way people think about sexuality as well as gender. In general, Byzantines would not easily have understood our dominant model of a binary system, homosexuality versus heterosexuality. They were perhaps more concerned with acts and their motivation, with passions, emotions, and desire, and specific relationships, rather than with orientation per se. We shall be looking  this semester at how the Byzantines viewed sex and sexuality through their views of the body, through instances of same-sex and other-sex relations, through courtship and rape, to children and the family, finally arriving at a view of the Byzantine erotic.

Redaktion: How did you experience the University Vienna in the first term?
Mullett: I had a wonderful time. I enjoyed the leisure to teach, and think, and talk about teaching. My office is in the Institut für Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik and my lovely sunny room looks out over the old Jesuit university (now Akademie der Wissenschaften, Anm.), so over the Counter-Reformation. I've enjoyed meeting the colleagues and students of the Institute, who come from Romania and Hungary and all parts to work in Herbert Hunger's great creation and Michael Grünbart's great library. 
I've loved working in the Institut für Kunstgeschichte, home later of Demus and Pächt, and I've enjoyed lecturing from Strzygowski's lectern. And best of all has been to see large classes of students who have never studied Byzantium before produce impeccably presented half-hour papers over two weekends and discuss with verve and understanding issues that have troubled the scholarly world for decades. To see so many excellent students here engaging at this level with important issues gives me great hope for the future of my subject, which is on the rise in China and Turkey but appears to be losing ground in many parts of Europe. I've enjoyed meeting the professorial women who made this 'Professur' possible and to hear of hopes and dreams in Vienna for making academic careers more possible for all women. 

Redaktion: What is different to your home university? Was there any moment when you thought 'This is completely unlike what I am used to'? 
Mullett: Well, my position is very different and privileged here, but I relish the lack of bureaucracy, the way in which there are few barriers between teacher and taught, and how it is easy to do research rather than (as the whole of the United Kingdom has just been doing) write about it. It is a feature of great universities (I saw it at Princeton too) that people reflect more about teaching and do more research; this has become harder and harder to do in my home university system. What I do think is different is a sense here of the quality of life: I believe strongly that universities should be fun, as well as producing important work.

Redaktion: What do you like most of the city of City Vienna?
Mullett: Where can one start? It is a privilege to walk to work through streets composed of great architecture, to travel on a superb public transport system and yet see areas of great historic importance, to be able to lose oneself in museums and coffee-houses and concerts and? I like the curiously domestic size of such a great capital and the accessibility of important monuments from Klosterneuburg to the little Neobyzantine/Jugendstil chapel in honour of the murdered empress Elisabeth. I like the fact that a hoarding I walk past every day advertises the dates of the civic balls of place Vienna. 

Redaktion: Which experiences do you gain here that you want to take with you back to Belfast? 
Mullett: I hope that I shall build lasting collaborations between the women in both universities and also the institutes in both places. Institutes devoted to small subjects should support one another! And we have much to learn from the "Frauenpower of Vienna". I shall take with me one immediate product of collaboration, the papers of a conference we are organising here 23-25 September on "Gründerinnen und Stifterinnen", "Female Founders in Byzantium and Beyond", looking at the economic power of women in Byzantium. Those I hope will be published very soon. But the memories I shall take with me will last for ever.