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Robert Ousterhout, Scholar of Byzantine Cappadocia (1950-2023)

I was saddened to hear about the passing of Dr. Robert Ousterhout (1950-2023), Professor Emeritus of History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Ousterhout was arguably the foremost scholar of Byzantine architecture in general, and his works have come to define the field of Cappadocian studies.


Dr. Ousterhout’s publications shaped my intellectual life. The content on this website owes a great debt to his academic publications. Before living in Cappadocia, I was trained as a historian in early Church history, so I learned how to interpret texts. However, this proved unhelpful for understanding the Christian history of Cappadocia. While Byzantine Cappadocia has a great concentration of medieval churches and residences, there are zero texts from that period! So, we must construct the history of Cappadocia from the physical remains, which includes the iconography and architecture. Until Dr. Ousterhout, scholars of Cappadocia focused on the iconography painted inside Cappadocian churches. However, Dr. Ousterhout, being an architectural historian, utilized the abundance of rock-cut spaces, both the general landscape and interior structure, to interpret Byzantine Cappadocia. Though his books, I learned to interpret architecture and physical space, which has become an academic interest of mine.


Dr. Ousterhout’s academic publications provide great interpretations and explanations of Cappadocia’s landscape. They are well-illustrated, insightful, and clear. His publications reveal that he took a certain pride in developing site maps and capturing the illustrative photos. He always had fresh and keen observations about the building methods and meaning of Cappadocian architecture; he read physical spaces like a book. Moreover, he always presented ideas in accessible, succinct language. For these reasons, his writing is a delight to read.


The book Visualizing Community: Art, Material Culture, and Settlement in Byzantine Cappadocia (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2017) summarizes his decades of research in Cappadocia. His first survey work at Çanlı Kilise near Aksaray was published as A Byzantine Settlement in Cappadocia (2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2006).


His articles on Cappadocia include:

  • “Messages in the Landscape: Searching for Gregory Nazianzenos in Cappadocia (with Two Excursions to the Çanlı Kilise).” In Images of the Byzantine World: Visions, Messages and Meanings, Studies Presented to Leslie Brubaker, edited by A. Lymberopoulou, 147–69. Ashgate, 2011.

  • “Remembering the Dead in Byzantine Cappadocia: The Architectural Settings for Commemoration.” In Architecture of Byzantium and Kievan Rus from the 9th to the 12th Centuries. St. Petersburg: The State Hermitage Publishers, 2010.

  • “Sightlines, Hagioscopes, and Church Planning in Byzantine Cappadocia.” Art History 39, no. 5 (2016): 848–67.

  • “The Red Church at Sivrihisar (Cappadocia): Aspects of Structure and Construction.”

His books on other topics include:

  • Master Builders of Byzantium. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2008.

  • Ramsay, W. M., and Gertrude L. Bell. The Thousand and One Churches. Edited by Mark P. C. Jackson and Robert Ousterhout. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2008.

  • The Art of The Kariye Camii. London: Arkeoloji Sanat Yayınları, 2002.

  • Palmyra 1885: The Wolfe Expedition and the Photographs of John Henry Haynes. Hawick: Cornucopia Books/Caique Publishing, 2016.

  • Eastern Medieval Architecture: The Building Traditions of Byzantium and Neighboring Lands. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019.


Dr. Ousterhout has various articles at Academia.com and videos on YouTube.com.


Regrettably, I never had the chance to meet Dr. Ousterhout in person, though I heard many good things from friends who knew him. My sincere condolences to his friends and family.

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