“From ‘Warriors for the Fatherland’ to ‘Politics of Volunteerism’: Challenging the Institutional Habitus of American Archaeology in Greece.    

Disciplinary history is not a miraculous form of auto-analysis which straightens out the hidden quirks of communities of scholars  simply by airing them publicly. But it does force us to face the fact that our academic practices are historically constituted, and like all else, are bound to change.
Ian Morris, Archaeology as Cultural History, London 2000, p. 37.


Jack L. Davis. Created by Blank Project Design, 2020.

 “Archives may be even more important than our publications” said Jack L. Davis in his acceptance speech on January 4, 2020, at the Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) in Washington D.C.  Recognizing his outstanding career in Greek archaeology, the AIA awarded Davis, a professor of Classics at the University of Cincinnati and former Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (and a frequent contributor to this blog), the Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement.  Earlier that day, in a symposium held in his honor, eight speakers highlighted Davis’s contributions to the field. Honored to be one of them, I presented a paper about a lesser known aspect of his career: his scholarship concerning the history and development of American Archaeology in Greece. An updated version of my paper follows below.

“Warriors for the Fatherland” (2000)

Jack Davis made his debut as an intellectual historian and historiographer in 2000 when he published “Warriors for the Fatherland: National Consciousness and Archaeology in ‘Barbarian’ Epirus and ‘Verdant’ Ionia, 1912-1922” (Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 13:1, 2000, pp. 76-98).  Following “Warriors,” he published more than twenty essays of historiographical content in journals, collected volumes, and online platforms.  Today I have chosen to review the ones that, in my opinion, offered counter-narratives challenging the institutional habitus of American archaeology in Greece.

Allow me to spend a bit more time with this essay because it contains the seeds for Davis’s growth as an intellectual historian and the directions he followed afterwards. In it he discussed two cases of state-supported archaeology, challenging the processes by which notions of cultural identity had been shaped, as well as the role that archaeologists had played in the advancement of ahistorical claims in the lands of Epirus and Ionia.

In the case of Southern Albania, Davis argued that during its brief occupation by Greece in 1912-1913, the Greek State employed archaeology to claim age-old cultural ties with Greece. This was done by promoting the study of Byzantine monuments, by assisting in the Hellenization of local place-names, and by prioritizing the excavation of Hellenistic cemeteries. In Asia Minor, during the brief period from 1919 until 1922, the Greek state once again employed archaeology to support nationalist agendas. Like soldiers fighting for the liberation of the fatherland, Greek archaeologists were sent to Asia Minor to promote the cultural unity of the two sides of the Aegean by excavating ancient Greek and Byzantine sites. On the heels of the Archaeological Society, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter) also sent a team of archaeologists to excavate ancient Colophon, thus mixing science with political opportunism.

By revisiting cases where archaeologists had either consciously or subconsciously contributed to the promotion of nationalistic agendas, Davis was about to join a group of archaeologists and historians who actively sought to avoid repeating past mistakes in the future.

“It was a hard paper to get the right tone for. And it was then that I realized that the future lay in examining our role as foreigners, not that of Greeks and Greece,” Davis recently admitted.

“Warriors for the Fatherland” was initially submitted to Hesperia. The Publications Committee, however, did not think that Hesperia, which represents the School’s work in Greece, was the right place to publish an essay that criticized state-supported archaeology.

To be fair to the School’s concerns, let me remind you that the 1990s was a highly charged decade for Europe, the Balkans, and Greece in particular. For the first time in many decades Greece was facing issues of national identity: with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc hundreds of thousands of immigrants had entered Greece challenging the national and religious cohesion of the Greek state, while the re-appearance of the Macedonian Issue led millions of Greeks into street for rallies. Once again it was nation-building time for the Balkan Peninsula, and the American School having suffered from the intense anti-Americanism of the 1980s opted not to step out of its own policy of political neutrality, by publishing an article that criticized policies of the host country.

Davis also admitted that he benefited considerably from the comments of Hesperia’s anonymous reviewers that warned him of the dangers of presentism, and, most importantly, pointed out the absence of primary sources in his research.

“This was all new turf for me… I was coming at it from the wrong direction and was too emotionally involved. [Yannis] Hamilakis who was a Tytus [fellow] pushed me in the better direction. As did [Michalis] Fotiadis. I hadn’t found my voice when I wrote Warriors” Davis commented.

Yet “Warriors for the Fatherland” laid the foundations for Davis’s subsequent scholarship in historiography, which would focus exclusively on a critical examination of American archaeology in Greece; in order to do that, he embarked on an-in-depth study of the School’s institutional records.

“Politics of Archaeological Practice” (2003)

Davis published his next article in 2003. “A Foreign School of Archaeology and the Politics of Archaeological Practice: Anatolia, 1922” (Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 16:2, 2003, pp. 145-172) is a long, well-researched article about the School’s excavations at Colophon, in the summer of 1922, in collaboration with Harvard’s Fogg Museum.  In it Davis was able to demonstrate how decisions made by key members of the School during the interwar period were still defining the practice of American archaeology in Greece at the dawn of the 21st century. When I asked him about this new turn in his intellectual pursuits, Jack told me: The key for me was institutional reproduction. In addition to having discovered the value of archival research, Davis had also been introduced to the work of French sociologist and anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu’s notion of academic habitus, “the unwritten set of shared assumptions that constrain an institution’s choices and options and shape its policy” (“Politics of Archaeological Practice,” p. 13), would form the theoretical basis of Davis’s subsequent scholarship on institutional history.

In the first volume of the History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (Cambridge, Mass. 1947), Louis E. Lord dedicated less than half a page to describe the Colophon excavations, focusing on factual information and avoiding any reference to the exportation of antiquities from Sardis, which occurred at the same time.  It was perhaps too soon for Lord, who wrote most of the School’s history during WW II, to evaluate the long lasting effects of the Colophon experiment. Davis’s scrupulous research into the School’s institutional records produced a new reading of the Colophon excavations, the aftermath of which would affect for decades the institutional policies of the American School.

Colophon 1922. From left to right: Benjamin Meritt, Franklin P. Johnson, Lulu Eldridge, Kenneth Scott, Leicester Holland, Hetty Goldman, and Carl Blegen. ASCSA Archives, Excavation Records, Colophon Excavations.

Having launched the School’s first endowment campaign in 1920, Edward Capps, who chaired the School’s Managing Committee from 1919 until 1939, relished the idea of a fresh excavation in the newly acquired Greek territories, and welcomed a partnership with Harvard’s Fogg Museum. He needed to create excitement in America through press releases, and Hetty Goldman, the director of the excavation, and her cousin Paul J. Sachs (1878-1965), director of the Fogg Museum, were part of the East Coast elite that Capps intended to tap for his campaign. With one drawback, however. This elite was willing to fund American archaeology abroad so long as antiquities from these ancient lands were available to enrich the collections of the American museums.

The New York Herald, May 21, 1922

Davis discovered that, while negotiating for Colophon, Capps and Bert Hodge Hill, the School’s director from 1906 to 1926, entered into discussions with the Greek administration in Izmir for the exportation of antiquities from Sardis to America.  It is probably not preposterous to say that if Greece had not lost the war in 1922, Capps and Goldman would have facilitated the exportation of antiquities from Colophon as well. As a result, the Turkish authorities, who were upset with the American School’s opportunism, denied its return to Colophon in 1923.

“…the High Commissioner [Aristeides Stergiades] will oppose no objection to the American excavators [of Sardis] transferring to Smyrna and exporting what they think wise and right. He could not issue a formal permit for their export; but would either just allow them to go, or –more probably– turn them officially to the care and disposal of the American Consul [George Horton],communicated Bert H. Hill to Edward Capps, April 28, 1922.

This unsuccessful experiment at Colophon led the American School on a change of course that would define American archaeology in Greece for several decades: a) it would restrict its operations within Greece’s geographical boundaries, unlike other foreign schools in Athens which continued to sponsor out-of-Greece projects; and b) it would concentrate all its resources, intellectual and financial, on two excavations: Ancient Corinth and Athenian Agora, thus becoming a center concerned almost exclusively with the study of Classical Greece and Rome. (The excavations at Lerna in the 1950s was the exception that proved the rule.)

From studying the aftermath of the Colophon excavations, it struck Davis that the American School he was looking at in the early 2000s had been shaped in the interwar period. In the last section of his article, titled “Towards a Reflexive History of Greek Archaeology,” Davis criticized the School for its “myopic vision that continued to foster and reproduce neocolonial stereotypes of Western Hellenism”; and called for a reconsideration of its current archaeological practices that would allow for “a series of other (and allegedly) lesser archaeologies” within Greece but also outside the Greek boundaries (pp. 163-166).

When I commented on the critical tone of the Colophon paper, Jack told me: “I am still amazed that the School appointed me as Director three years later. Could they have not read my paper?” I doubt it. His promotion to the helm of the American School shows that the School had (and has) the reflexes to fight academic habitus formations and resist dominant discourse.

“Birth of Hesperia” (2007)

Soon after the Colophon article, Davis had another opportunity to challenge institutional reproduction when he accepted an invitation by the then Editor of Hesperia, Tracey Cullen, to write an essay about the origins of the journal, as part of a celebratory volume for its 75th anniversary. “The Birth of Hesperia: A View from the Archives” appeared in 2007 (Hesperia 76, pp. 21-35) just as Davis was about to start his directorship at the American School.

“Birth of Hesperia was all about my reactions to my experiences when first on the Publication Committee… the priority system which put Agora and Corinth in first place, regardless of anything much. I wondered: Was this really the original vision of Hesperia? How had this happened, since it seemed to stifle creativity and diversity of ideas…Davis said.

Since published reports present policies as finally established, Davis embarked on further archival research to find “the debate and discussion that led to their creation” (p. 22).

First issue of Hesperia. (Note the mistake on the School’s logo: the School was founded in 1881, not in 1886. Click to enlarge.)

The creation of Hesperia in 1932 was a disruptive act by itself. Until then the School members used the American Journal of Archaeology to publish the results of their work in Greece. By launching Hesperia, Capps would cut the last remnants of the umbilical cord that once connected the School with the Archaeological Institute of America. Although original discussions between Capps and Rhys Carpenter, the School’s director 1927-1932, entertained the idea of also accepting “contributions from others,” and viewed the journal as a vehicle to elicit “criticism and suggestions from the ablest specialists,” Hesperia over the years, especially after WW II, increasingly confined publication rights only to present or past members of the School. That lasted until 1976. It also did not become a fully refereed journal until 1990, thus depriving the School’s projects from the benefit of criticism. Davis argued that, by having a limited scope for many decades, Hesperia played a role in insulating American Archaeology in Greece “from developments in world archaeology.”

“Politics of Volunteerism” (2013)

Davis continued to conduct research in the School’s institutional history during his directorship from 2007 to 2012. His article “The American School of Classical Studies and the Politics of Volunteerism” was part of a conference we organized together in 2011 and was published in 2013 (Hesperia 82, pp, 15-48). In Philhellenism, Philanthropy, or Political Convenience: American Archaeology in Greece we invited a broad spectrum of scholars to research the School’s Archives and present papers that examined American philhellenism in the first half of the 20th century; how it manifested itself and where it intercepted with philanthropy; the social capital it created, and how the School benefited from it.

“Politics of Volunteerism” reexamined another forgotten chapter in the School’s history: the relief-aid that its members, as part of the Greek Commission of the American Red Cross (ARC), offered to Greece in 1918-1919. Highly appreciated by the Greek State, it created substantial social capital for the School and allowed Capps to negotiate the land expropriation for the Gennadius Library and the concession for the Athenian Agora excavations.

Edward Capps (third from right) with the rest of the ARC Commissioners photographed outside the Director’s House at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1919. Source: Chicago History Museum.

The School throughout its history never failed to respond to times of crisis: in 1923 Capps would establish the American Friends of Greece to seek U.S. support for Greece after the Asia Minor catastrophe, while his daughter Priscilla organized the Near East Industries offering work to hundreds of refugee women for many years. (On Priscilla Capps and the Near East Industries, read “Dollies and Doilies: Priscilla Capps Hill and the Refugee Crisis in Athens, 1922-1941.”)

Cloth tag seamed on the interior of an embroidered purse made in the 1930s. Source: Jack L. Davis Collection.

The culture of volunteerism that the School nurtured in its grounds continued during and after WW II.  But for all their commitment to Greece, most American archaeologists continued to keep Classical Greece on their right hand and Modern Greece on their left, thus reinforcing a polarization that lasted until the end of the 20th century reflecting Cold War realities: on the one hand, the U.S. needed institutions such as the School to reinforce American cultural values abroad, and, on the other, Greece needed projects such as the Agora excavations to remain part of the Western world.

“Politics of Volunteerism” is less critical than the Colophon article because by the time of its publication the School (2013) had already taken steps to expand its mission. A study of three of the School’s mission statements spanning three decades (1991, 2001, and 2008) document a series of institutional changes that took place in the early years of our century as a response to the “new world systems and global economies,” as well as to Greece’s new role in the enlarged European Union. Subtle changes, sometimes unnoticeable at first reading, such as by replacing “pre-Hellenic” with “earliest” times, “post-classical” with “present,” by prioritizing archaeology, art, and history over languages, or by adding “dissemination” next to “publication,” define the School’s new enlarged and multi-faceted scope, as it developed during the first decade of the 21st century.

ASCSA Mission Statements, 1991-2008

In this paper I attempted to map Jack Davis’s growth as an intellectual historian, as well as to re-contextualize some of his landmark essays concerning the School’s institutional development, by adding a new level of interpretation to his counter narratives. I am also taking the liberty to invite him to revisit the Colophon article in the context of the School’s current mission, appending a meta-reflexive history of American archaeology in Greece. Finally, anyone who doesn’t believe that there are lessons to be learned from delving into institutional history should start by reading Davis’s scholarship on this subject. Through this work he has inspired many others, including myself, to follow in his footsteps by tracing our present paths into the past.


3 Comments on ““From ‘Warriors for the Fatherland’ to ‘Politics of Volunteerism’: Challenging the Institutional Habitus of American Archaeology in Greece.    ”

  1. Glenn Bugh says:

    Thanks, Natalia, for the excellent talk at the meetings and the follow-up article. Always fascinating.

  2. John W.I. Lee says:

    Thanks for the essay, Natalia!

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