Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.05.13

Stephen L. Dyson, Ancient Marbles to American Shores. Classical Archaeology in the United States.   Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.  Pp. 320.  ISBN 0-8122-3446-4.  $35.00/£33.50.  

Reviewed by Robert J. Rowland , Jr., Loyola University New Orleans (

Truth-in-Reviewing Disclosure: Author and reviewer have collaborated for more than a decade on an archaeological project in Sardinia and have co-authored a dozen articles.

Most people who attended the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in December 1998 knew that it was some sort of anniversary, even if, despite all the announcements and publicity, they weren't sure exactly of what: the president of the APA, introducing the presidential panel, seemed to think it was the 100th anniversary of the AIA, which had already been recognized by the APA in 1980 with a special panel on the archaeology of the Roman provinces; some thought that the meeting had returned to Washington so soon after the most recent meeting there to commemorate the act of Congress recognizing the AIA, an anniversary which won't be celebrated until 2006. It was in fact the one-hundredth meeting of the AIA. While it is certain that, no matter who was president of the organization at the time, such an event would have been duly recognized, it is probable that no other president but D. would have used the occasion to remind the membership that the AIA began as an archaeological organization, not an organization dedicated primarily, if not, it often appears, exclusively, to Classical archaeology.

In the book under review, we learn, however, that "nonclassical subjects had largely disappeared" by the 1939 annual meeting, twenty years after the AIA had founded a School of American Archaeology in Santa Fe (p. 160; somehow transformed to Oriental Research on p. 186). As early as 1981, in what remains one of my favorite articles on the subject ("A Classical Archeologist's Response to the 'New Archaeology,'" BASOR 242, 7-13; cf. "Two Paths to the Past: A comparative Study of the last fifty years of American Antquity and the American Journal of Archaeology," American Antiquity 50 [2] [1985], 452-463), D. was lamenting the growing gap between Classical and other branches of archaeology and adumbrated some of the main themes which inform Ancient Marbles. This current book is a pioneering full-blown social, cultural and intellectual history of the origins and development of the discipline in this country, which should serve as a "framework for more detailed investigations" (p. xiii).

Surprisingly, the organized study of Classical Archaeology was a relatively late development, about a century after Englishmen had "discovered" Herculaneum and Pompeii (C. F. Mullett, Archaeology 10 [1957], 31-38) and about a half century after the "silver age" of Classical studies in America (M. Reinhold, Ancient and Modern: Essays in Honor of Gerald F. Else [Ann Arbor, 1977], 181-213). It began with the appointment of Charles Eliot Norton to teach art history at Harvard (pp 33-37). There was, of course, a prehistory: for example, notwithstanding the difficulties of transatlantic travel before steamboats, Americans had made the grand tour even in the late eighteenth century. Joseph Allen Smith around 1804 and Nicholas Biddle of Philadelphia in 1806 were the first Americans to visit Greece; Edward Everett, appointed professor of Greek at Harvard in 1815, had studied some archaeology at Göttingen; and Princeton offered a course on Roman Antiquities as early as 1831 (pp. 1-28, 35). Still, the appointment of Norton was in many important ways a defining moment. As he wrote in 1879 to the extremely influential John Ruskin (who has eight entries in the index), "I have been occupied of late in getting up an archaeological Society in the hope of encouraging classical studies, Greek studies, I mean" (p. 39). That is, even though most Americans who had any direct contact with the classics did so via the study of Latin, the elite were unabashed Hellenophiles, which goes a long way to explaining among other matters why the American School in Athens preceded by more than a decade the founding of the American Academy in Rome (pp. 53-60, 109-119).

D.'s extensive knowledge of and wide reading in the field is only partially reflected in the volume's bibliography (pp. 287-314), to which one should add from p. ix, n. 10, An Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology (London and Chicago, 1996).1 That D. spent most of his career teaching undergraduates at a liberal arts institution provided him with the range of archaeological theory and practice that informs virtually every page, rendering this study a true history of the discipline, not the mere chronicle it could have been if attempted by a lesser talent. He is quite justified in pointing out that some key figures, such as Samuel Platner and E. T. Merrill, "came from quality undergraduate institutions" (p. 112).

Archaeologists will of course profit from learning how much of what we today take for granted, for good or ill, came about; and there is a certain plus ça change element associated with some topics, such as the conflicts between "popularizers" and "purists." Non-archaeological classicists, that is, mainly philologists, will especially benefit by learning how archaeology was an integral part of the Altertumswissenschaft tradition (e.g., "Although Gildersleeve's own research interests were focused on a rather technical brand of classical philology, ... he stressed the importance of studying the monuments and inscriptions as well as the Greek and Latin texts" [p. 97, cf. 218]).

One of D.'s particular concerns is the role played by women in the development of the discipline, beginning with Annie Peck, the first female student at the American School in Athens (1885); by 1899-1900, eight of the fifteen students there were women (p. 59). But it was not until 1908 that a woman, Elizabeth Gardiner, was allowed to join the excavation at Corinth (p. 88); in the meanwhile, Harriet Boyd Hawes had gone off to Crete on her own (pp. 88-92), paving the way for Hetty Goldman, who excavated at Corinth in 1911 to begin "the most extended and impressive field career of any American woman classical archaeologist" (p. 92). Esther Van Deman (pp. 116-119), Gisela Richter (pp. 145-149), Margarete Bieber (pp. 223-224), Wilhelmina Jashemski (pp. 266-267) and others receive informative capsule biographies. Notable are some of the most important figures in the history of the American Academy in Rome: "It is ironic that during these years [sc. after WW I] the American School in Athens, with its dynamic archaeological research program, increasingly moved women into subordinate, intellectually routine roles, while the sleepier American Academy produced a group of highly innovative, dynamic women working at the juncture of archaeology and ancient history," namely, Lily Ross Taylor, Louise Adams Holland and Inez Scott Ryberg (pp. 213-214). Among the many, many things I hadn't known before reading Ancient Marbles is the fact that Agnes Kirsopp Lake Michels had good field experience (p. 215). There is a valuable section on the important contributions of refugee scholars (pp. 223-228). Speculation on the contributions that could have been added by scholars whose immigration was impeded would be interesting: Aldo Neppi Modena's son Leo once told me that a State department official who claimed to be unconvinced that the professor in fact had a job waiting for him in New York prevented the family's boarding a ship for the US in the fall of 1941.

The summer programs in Athens and Rome, which "probably ... have done more to keep classics alive at the grassroots level in America," receive due notice (pp. 162, 207-210), and others are worthy of mention. The Vergilian Society of America has probably enabled more Americans to visit classical sites than either of those programs. It owes its foundation to a visit made in July 1937 to the acropolis of Cumae by John Latimer and a small group of teachers and students accompanied by Amadeo Maiuri who pointed to the building that would soon become the Villa Vergiliana and "suggested that it might possibly be secured for the Summer Classical School of Naples" (J. Latimer, "Villa Vergiliana," Vergilius 2 [1939], 34-37). After the war, Mrs. Mary Raiola, who had inspired the 1937 program and who had urged Maiuri to persuade the Italian government to make the Villa available to the Society, single-handedly and heroically secured the restoration of the Villa, which had been stripped of everything removable, and reintroduced the summer program in time to offer a week's instruction to students from the Academy's summer program in 1947 (R. J. Rowland, Jr., "The Vergilian Society of America," The Journal of Aesthetic Education 19 [1985], 129-133).

One of D.'s themes (which was already prominent in 1981) is sharp criticism of Classical archaeology's disconnection from the archaeological mainstream, and it is clear throughout that "architectural," when joined with archaeology or archaeologist is hardly a term of praise. Institutionalized "big digs," the NEH's funding priorities, the Agora project's demolition of much of the historic Plaka district and inattention to data later than AD 267, and the antiquities trade receive heavy hits. Although one understands, in our contemporary litigious society, why his criticism is sometimes muted (e.g., p. 267: "archaeologists with somewhat marginal backgrounds"), I did at times wish for more details. D. is also generous with praise where warranted: William McDonald and the Minnesota Messenia Project (pp. 248-252), Thomas Jacobsen and the Franchthi Cave (pp. 252-253), the Boston University program (pp. 253-254), and Leon Pomerance (p. 280) are good examples. In a brief afterword (pp. 282-285), D. envisions two possible directions for American classical archaeology to take in the future: a few well-funded elite programs or a modified educational approach to field research somewhat on the British model; both will probably occur.

Few misprints are of consequence or will cause difficulty. Something like "dangerous" is wanted in "this ardous and even undertaking" (p. 19), "lacked" needs to be added to "Van Buren the outdoor dynamism" (p. 213), and "flavor" three lines further down should probably be "savor." One class of misprint was probably created when one form of possessive or descriptive was careted by the author to replace another, but both appear: e.g., "Blegen's research of Blegen" (p. 177) "the 1957 discovery in 1957" (p. 241), "the site's potential of the site" (p. 252).


1.   This volume should be in the library of every institution with a Classics program, not just the thirty-seven shown in OCLC to be holders as of 19 April 1999.

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