BMCR 2020.01.51

Western Ways: Foreign Schools in Rome and Athens

Frederick Whitling, Western Ways: Foreign Schools in Rome and Athens. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2019. xxviii, 324. ISBN 9783110601589 €86,95.

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In Western Ways, the author examines the history of the foreign archaeological schools in Greece and Italy during the 19 th and the first half of the 20 th century, analyzing the historical circumstances and intellectual milieu that led to their creation and growth, their war-related difficulties, and their post-war recovery. In addition to a brief preface and introduction, the book is organized into six chapters, followed by conclusions and an epilogue. A general timeline, a dramatis personae, twelve appendices publishing primary sources, as well as information about the location and content of those sources (i.e., archives and interviews) supplement the volume.

In the Preface, Whitling introduces the reader to the scope and content of his book, which targets classicists, historians, as well as the educated public. This is a study about the largest and oldest foreign archaeological schools in Italy and Greece, one focusing on the years before WW II and the immediately post-war period. The author’s Swedish nationality offers him the advantage of being a disinterested researcher with a distance and perspective that a British, French, or Greek scholar might not have.

The Introduction follows, albeit with some repetition (Whitling might better have combined the Preface and Introduction or could have invited another scholar to write the former). Founded by the Great Powers of the 19 th century in times of nation building, these foreign schools competed with each other for national prestige through their magnificent buildings, big digs, and impressive publications. While colonial archaeology has been examined in depth before by other scholars (e.g., Suzanne Marchand, Yannis Hamilakis, and Frank Braemer, to mention just a few), Whitling promises to address a host of relevant issues, such as the role of individual agency and the different perceptions and transformations of the “classical,” as well as to write a “heritage history” (pp. 5-6), all within the socio-political context of the late 19 th and early 20 th century.

Chapter One traces the precursors of the foreign schools and the foundation of the French Academy in Rome (1666), as well as the works of travelers, such as Cyriacus of Ancona and members of the Society of Dillettanti. These contributed to the gradual professionalization of classical archaeology, as manifested in the establishment of the Institute of Archaeological Correspondence (ICA) in Rome (1828), the Archaeological Society at Athens (1837), and the École française d’Athènes (1846). While the ICA started as an international association of scholars, by the time Italy and Germany emerged as nations in the 1870s, it had already been appropriated by the Germans. In this chapter the reader also learns about a fundamental difference between the foreign schools in Rome and Athens. While the latter were founded with excavation as their primary purpose, the schools in Rome maintained a more antiquarian and aesthetic approach, one dictated by the Italians, who did not allow foreign institutions to conduct systematic excavations on Italian soil until after WW II. This is a difficult chapter to follow since it requires knowledge about the foreign schools that is not presented until the following chapter. There is an interesting discussion of two interwar Italian publications, Africa Italiana and Mare Nostrum, within a subchapter titled “The Big Digs,” but again, as with much other discussion in this chapter, the reader is left confused about its relevance to the titles of the chapters and their subheadings.

In Chapter Two, Whitling discusses the historical context that led to the establishment of the four major foreign schools (French, German, American, and British) in Greece and Italy. From the beginning, the Great Powers of the 19 th century competed for the cultural appropriation of Greece’s and Italy’s ancient pasts. The French responded to the creation of the (Prussian by then) Institute of Archaeological Correspondence (ICA) in Rome with the foundation of the École française d’ Athènes in 1846, capitalizing on the experience they had acquired from military expeditions combined with scientific explorations (e.g., the Expedition de Morée [1828-1833] and the Napoleonic wars in Egypt). After the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, the victorious Germans lost no time in rebranding ICA as the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Abteilung Rom and establishing a corresponding institution in Athens (1872-1874). No sooner than the French had initiated the Delos excavations (1873), the Germans obtained the rights to dig at Olympia (1875). The example of the Germans and French was soon followed by the Americans (Athens 1881, Rome 1894) and the British (Athens 1886, Rome 1901), who did not wish to be left behind. Rivalry for national and scholarly prestige at a time of dynamic nation building, financial robustness, and a national mandate to enrich museums with original antiquities were the main reasons for the institutionalization of foreign archaeology in Greece and Italy. Note that the treatment of the foreign schools in this chapter, in terms of primary sources and archival research, is unequal, with the American and British schools receiving less attention than their French and German counterparts. Unknown to me was an incident with Panayotis Kavvadias (pp. 69-72), which brought to the surface a grudge that Greek archaeologists had against their foreign colleagues for excluding them from international conferences.

In Chapter Three, we learn how the American, British, German and Italian establishments, either as research institutes or archaeological schools, fared in Rome and Athens during and after WW I. In Greece the most important change concerned a new policy (1924) that restricted the number of foreign excavations on Greek soil: each school was limited to three digs per year. Just before the implementation of this new rule, a new player entered the Greek archaeological scene. In 1922, the Swedes began their first excavation in Greece, at Asine in the Argolid, with a French School permit. For the first time, some of the foreign institutions were facing severe funding cuts. Although this is not clearly stated by Whitling, we understand that the Swedes were able to continue their excavations at Asine under a French permit because the French School in Athens no longer had sufficient funds to support a third dig. In contrast, the American School of Classical Studies was negotiating with the Greek government and raising money for an exceptional fourth dig in the Athenian Agora.

In Rome, during the interwar period, the foreign institutes continued to operate on pre-WW I terms, offering an intellectual rite of passage to young American and European male elites: a year “‘to view the past, compare it with the present and formulate [their] conclusions as to future values’” (p.87, note 4).1 With one difference, however. New players had been introduced to the game. Several countries, including Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Egypt, were establishing research institutes in Rome, followed by the Swedes who, in 1927, established their first institute abroad. Fascist Italy encouraged her guest nations to share Mussolini’s vision of a Roman Imperial Italy. This period also saw the rise of a number of international associations in Italy and France as a way to overcome national restrictions.

Chapter Four, one of the best chapters in this volume, explores the years immediately preceding WW II (1935-1939) and especially the motivations of the Italian and German schools and their ideological appropriation of the Greco-Roman world. In Rome, Whitling’s research in the French School Archives demonstrates that School’s justified fears of isolation, manifested in Italian scholars declining invitations to speak at French conferences, or in the need of the British School at Rome for an “informal visit” by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in January 1939. In Greece, Alessandro Della Seta, Director of the Italian School, was chosen as representative of the foreign schools’ directors at the centenary celebrations of the Archaeological Society in 1938. (Ironically, a few months later Della Setta, who was Jewish, would be dismissed from his position.) Whitling devotes an entire section in his discussion of the Centenary of the Archaeological Society to an analysis of various speeches that called for “national prestige and international camaraderie” (p. 125), while the Greek prime minister, Ioannis Metaxas, emphasized the “indigenous Hellenism” of the Greek ruins, and Della Setta spoke of the eternal value of romanitá which cut across nations.

Chapter Five considers how the foreign schools fared in wartime Rome and Athens (1939-1945). Based on archival research in the administrative records of various institutions, Whitling discusses the unsuccessful efforts of the French School in Athens to remain open, the suspension of operations by the American schools in Rome and Athens after 1941, the Nazi excavations in Italy in search of Germanic origins, and plans of the Americans to take over the collections of the German Archaeological Institute in Athens as part of post-war reparations. The second half of this chapter is largely dedicated to the role played by the Swedish Institute in Rome (which remained open throughout the War) as a neutral, stabilizing body in negotiations. Among the many achievements of its director, Erik Sjӧqvist, one can count the protection of the German library catalogues, his (albeit unsuccessful) efforts to save Mario Segre, the Italian Jewish epigraphist and his family, and finally, Swedish interventions to reconcile the scholarly community after the end of WW II.

The work of the foreign institutes in the years immediately following the War (1945-1953) is the subject of the book’s last chapter (Chapter Six). To this discussion Whitling adds the creation of the International Association for Classical Archaeology (1945) and the Unione degli Istituti di Archeologia, Storia e Storia dell’ Arte in Roma, the latter at the initiative of the Swedish Institute. The foreign schools in both Rome and Athens found themselves in a race to reopen their doors and in search of new opportunities for excavation. For the first time, although reluctantly, the Italian state entered into negotiations with the foreign schools to grant excavation permits, with the French School securing Bolsena (1946) and the American Academy the site of Cosa (1947). The reopening of the foreign schools in Greece coincided with the delayed celebration of the French School’s Centenary in 1947, albeit in an uneasy climate because of the ongoing Greek Civil War (1946-1949), financial impediments, and a law that banned new excavations in Greece until the country enjoyed political and economic stability. The most poignant issue, however, was the re-opening of the German Institute in Athens and in Rome, a matter of concern to all the foreign schools. Original suggestions calling for the international administration of German assets fell through, as the German scholars cast a damnatio memoriae over the Nazi years, and the world of academia chose to separate politics from scholarship, allowing a slow return to normal life. The immediate post-WW II years also saw the establishment of the Swedish Institute in Athens in 1946.

In his Conclusions, Whitling briefly addresses the issue of funding, which was largely national and thus the main reason why international efforts, such as the post-WW II Unione degli Istituti, did not secure more support. Finally, in his Epilogue, the author spells out his own vision for the foreign schools through schemes (e.g., the creation of a “European University”) that would allow them to obtain European funding and adjust to the global challenges of the 21 st century.

To sum up, this is a volume with strengths and weaknesses. Its main strength is that for the first time we have a synthetic and comparative work that examines the “foreign schools” at Athens and Rome in their respective socio-political conditions, stressing their similarities and differences, and employing considerable archival research. The drawback is that it takes several chapters before the author finds his voice. The strongest chapters are three to six, and the appendices, although the reader is rarely referred to them in the main text of the book. The first two chapters as well as the preface, introduction, and conclusions would have benefitted from additional editing to remove needless repetition, and occasional misprints and mistakes (e.g. ASCSA director Charles Waldstein cited as Waldheim on pp. XXIII, 30, and in the Index; the Greek Archaeological Service founded in 1829 on p. 42 and in 1833 on p. 44; the exchange of Greek and Turkish populations taking place in 1923, not in 1922 as mentioned on p. 82). Nevertheless, Whitling has made an important contribution to the field of intellectual and institutional history and his book deserves to be read. ​

Notes

1. Whitling quoting James M. Hewlett, Director of the American Academy in Rome, “Address [to] the people of America” 1934.