“I Once was Lost but Now I’m Found”: The Search for Missing Archives, Marion Rawson, and the Excavations of the Palace of Nestor at Pylos

Jack L. Davis, Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes to the Archivist’s Notebook an essay about his favorite topic, Carl Blegen and the Pylos excavations. He also describes the recent discovery of Marion Rawson’s personal diaries.

The spirit of Carl Blegen surrounds us. In 1972 I came to the University of Cincinnati to study Aegean Prehistory, the field that Blegen helped to create. (Curiously, Blegen himself objected to the term “prehistory” on the grounds that early humans had a history, preferring to call it “Preclassical archaeology”). I am the Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati. Our department is in Blegen Library. We use the Blegen Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. But I never met Carl Blegen — and, in fact, until last May, when we discovered an old audio tape in a file cabinet at UC, I had never heard his voice. Blegen Library_UC

CWB, as he signed himself, died in 1971. In his final months he was nursed in Athens by his sister Martha, then buried in the First Cemetery beside his beloved wife, Libbie, Bert Hodge Hill, and Ida Thallon Hill. Of the quartet that lived at Plutarchou 9, he was last to depart.

The story of CWB and his world maps Greek prehistory over six decades, from its fumbling beginnings until its emergence as a modern scientific discipline. In May 2013 in Athens, my friends Vivian Florou and Natalia Vogeikoff organized a conference about the Blegens with me: “Carl and Elizabeth Blegen Remembered. Ploutarchou 9 Celebrated.” See http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/index.php/news/newsDetails/ascsa-co-organizes-colloquium-on-carl-and-elizabeth-blegen.

Carl Blegen in 1929

Carl Blegen in 1929

Chasing the spirit of CWB has been rewarding for us, particularly in that we have had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of several of his associates. One initial goal in so doing was to locate excavation records missing from the main Palace of Nestor archive. (It was transferred, after CWB’s death, from Ploutarchou 9 to ASCSA). Thus several years ago we contacted Bill Donovan, one of the authors of the third volume of The Palace of Nestor at Pylos, and Professor of Classics, emeritus, at MacAllister College. Bill still had in his hands his notebooks that recorded excavations of chamber tombs in the Tsakalis cemetery.

More recently, as planning for the May 2013 event progressed, we approached others, not to collect errant excavation records this time, but to cull reminiscences. George Papathanassopolos shared his at the workshop. See http://vimeo.com/68540982. Others wrote us: John Pedley, David French, and Kaddee Vitelli. John Camp gave us a transcription of his own diary from Pylos. Preparation also demanded a close reading of CWB’s personal daily diaries. These reside in the Archives of ASCSA. In composing my own project for the workshop, the “backstory” of the Pylos excavations, I, however, discovered a large archival gap. Where were Marion Rawson’s travel diaries? Rawson was, after all, Blegen’s principal collaborator. The diaries were not at Bryn Mawr College, her alma mater, nor at UC where she studied architecture, nor in Nantucket where she left only her summer diaries to the local historical society. Read the rest of this entry »


Two Academics “Ruin” the Spirit of Valentine’s Day: A Response to “My heart is beating.”

 Emily Egan and Jack Davis, two “over-intellectuals” from the University of Cincinnati, could not resist the temptation to explore the Bronze Age antecedents of the Valentine card sent by Carl Blegen to Elizabeth Pierce in 1923. Check out their remarks below.

It is always dangerous to over-intellectualise love, particularly when expressed by a man to a woman on Love’s own holiday, but it is difficult, nonetheless, for scholars to avoid casting an academic eye on the caricature produced by Piet de Jong for Carl Blegen’s 1923 Valentine to his future wife, Elizabeth Pierce (see “My heart is beating: February 13, 1923”), as posted recently to this blog by Natalia Vogeikoff.  For the drawing that de Jong produced must be a caricature of Blegen himself, one immediately recognizable from the distinctive blond hair. That makes this modest little drawing one of the very first in a series that de Jong famously executed in Greece during the 1920s and 1930s, and that were later collected and published by Rachel Hood in 1998. Read the rest of this entry »


An Archival Paradox, the Expédition de Morée, and a Mysterious Love Affair

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes to the Archivist’s Notebook  an essay about literary activities of members of the  Expédition de Morée and his recent discovery of an unknown epistolary novel by Jacques-Louis Lacour.

In 1984, in the years of the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project, a friend gave me Kyriakos Simopoulos’s monumental Ξένοι ταξιδιώτες στην Ελλάδα as a birthday present. It is a work extensively based on research conducted in the Gennadius Library. Later I discovered Simopoulos’s equally impressive Πώς είδαν οι ξένοι το ’21. The final chapter of Πώς είδαν was for me an invaluable introduction to the greatest military and scientific mission ever dispatched to Greece by a western European power: the Expédition de Morée.

General Nicolas Joseph Maison

General Nicolas Joseph Maison

A French fleet left Toulon in the summer of 1828, and on August 30, Lieutenant General Nicolas Joseph Maison landed with 14,000 troops at Petalidi near Kalamata, preferring not to expose his force to Ibrahim Pasha’s cannon fire at Navarino. Thus began a four-year military intervention that laid infrastructure for an independent Greek state.

The French maintained a military presence in the Peloponnese until August of 1833. The fighting soon complete, they turned their energies to reconstruction: roads, hospitals, a postal service, and repairs to fortresses. And in late 1828, scholars and scientists arrived — an Expédition Scientifique de Morée organized in three sections: “Archéologie”; “Histoire Naturelle” (later called “Sciences Physiques”); and “Architecture et Sculpture.” Read the rest of this entry »


Barbarians at the Gate: Comments on Comments

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here responds to remarks by colleagues concerning his essay  “Barbarians at the Gate” of September 1st.

Several hundred visitors from 15 countries have now seen my post, including lost souls from the Isle of Man, Mexico, and Egypt. I am grateful to them and my other readers, particularly to those who have submitted comments.

A response offers me the opportunity to reiterate and clarify my views.  I believe that current policies that govern the allocation of resources to first-year students at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens are out of step with its mission statement. As the mission of ASCSA has expanded, procedures for awarding fellowships have failed to keep pace. The School is not the same as it was in 1952, nor is the amount of support for first-year students that it commands. Instead of 2-3 fellowships, we now have 13 and the number is growing.  Yet the qualifications for a fellowship remain the same: recipients must be Classicists who have mastered Ancient Greek.

In 1957 Gertrude Smith, Chairman of the Committee on Admissions and Fellowships (1945-1963) was awarded by King Paul of Greece the Cross of Commander in the Royal Order of Beneficence (ΕΥΠΟΙΙΑ) in recognition of her contribution to classical schlarship.

In 1957 Getrude Smith, Chairman of the Committee on Admissions and Fellowships (1945-1963) was awarded by King Paul of Greece the Cross of Commander in the Royal Order of Beneficence (ΕΥΠΟΙΙΑ) in recognition of her contribution to Classical scholarship (ASCSA, Archives).

Such limitations effectively exclude many students who are not trained in Classics, but would find value in the programs offered by ASCSA to first-year students.  These students are cut off from ASCSA funding, an action that is particularly discriminatory against those who are not enrolled in prestige universities where alternative sources of support are available.   Nor can we ever know how many students chose not to apply to ASCSA because they understood that they had no chance of being admitted because of non-existent or inadequate Ancient Greek.  Large numbers, I suspect.  If, as Dimitri Nakassis remarks, exams can be a democratic leveling mechanism for those with Greek, they can also sound the death knell for those who are Greekless.  We can always imagine that those who choose to spend their first year at ASCSA as Associate members do so from personal preference but how can we know this for certain unless we open our doors to them?

Donald Haggis mentions that his colleagues are discouraging philologists and historians from attending ASCSA, an observation that resonates in my own experience and seems, as he also observes, part of a general trend away from inter-disciplinarity in Classics.  I myself often need to assure students in Cincinnati that the Regular program is not just for archaeologists — that, in fact, a majority of students at the School are philologists and historians.  And, if Bill Caraher is right, then the situation is even sadder than I would have suspected!  ASCSA would be running a program of greatest benefit to philologists and historians, at the same time as they turn their backs on the School in increasing numbers.

I do not believe that today’s student of archaeology can learn by himself all that the Regular program offers. It seems to me that expert instruction by professors of the School, people like Bill Caraher, would trump any mere visit to a site by myself. And I also do not believe that the Regular program should be construed by anyone as a remedial course in archaeology for non-archaeologists.

Is it true that nobody would “seriously entertain the suggestion” that Ancient Greek be dropped completely as a requirement for fellowships? Certainly I am one who would entertain that proposal for a majority of fellowships, and responses that I have received on- and off-line suggest that I do not stand by myself.

The Regular program that I experienced from 2007-2012 was rich and broad. Students learned about prehistoric, Classical, Byzatine, and modern Greece.  They benefited from instruction in archaeology, prehistoric and historical, art history, history, literature, and the sciences. Our Mellon professors, visiting Whitehead professors, and the staff of the School cooperate to build an educational program that is truly reflective of the mission statement of ASCSA.  Why not now welcome into this marvelous program students who represent a similarly broad range of interests — and make it possible for them to compete for some fellowships without needing to take an exam in Ancient Greek?  There can only be benefits for ASCSA in having a more diverse community of students supported by the School to participate in the Regular program.

I do not object to exams, only to the system for awarding fellowships as presently constituted. I see no rationale for continuing to include an examination in Ancient Greek as a requirement for all fellowships.  Is Ancient Greek any longer a sine qua non for success in the Regular program of the School?  In my experience the answer is “no.”

Change depends on decisions made by duly selected representatives of the Managing Committee (MC), and initiated after thorough investigation of circumstances, past and present.  But hasn’t the time passed for entrance exams to be “a lively topic” only at MC meetings? I also doubt that any standing committee of the MC can consider the matter adequately, inasmuch as none represents the full diversity of activities and objectives enshrined in our mission statement.  As Haggis writes, what is now most urgent is “a thoughtful assessment of what we think graduate students should know and why, and what relevance it has to their contribution and participation in the program, and ultimately their professional development and contributions to the various fields represented by classical studies.” I would propose the formation of an ad hoc committee to consider these issues and to revise requirements in the fellowship program accordingly, a committee that in its constitution includes representation that is every bit as broad as the School’s mission.


Barbarians at the Gate

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes to the Archivist’s Notebook  an essay about the history of  the School’s admission exams.

ASCSA Gates, 1900s

ASCSA Gate, 1900s

Είναι οι βάρβαροι να φθάσουν σήμερα.

Και τώρα τι θα γένουμε χωρίς βαρβάρους.

Οι άνθρωποι αυτοί ήσαν μια κάποια λύσις.

The barbarians are coming today.

What will become of us without barbarians.

They were in themselves a kind of solution for us.

Constantine Cavafy, 1908

Are Greek-less barbarians knocking at the gate of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens?

Louis Menand (The Marketplace of Ideas, 2010), has written that there “are things that academics should probably not be afraid to do differently — their world will not come to an end…”.  Yet institutions of higher learning are notorious for the “gate-keeping” mechanisms, procedures, and policies they employ to preserve the status quo. Central to the process of academic reproduction are examinations.

Exams have long puzzled me, particularly those administered by the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA or “the School”). Forty years ago when I arrived as a student, I found in place a system that remains largely the same today. Candidates for the following academic year sit for admission exams.  Of the 16 foreign schools in Athens that are recognized by the Ministry of Culture, ASCSA is, I think, the only one that controls membership in this way.

Members of the Managing Committee of the School, representing mostly Classics departments in nearly 200 universities and colleges in the United States and Canada, set the exams. There is one in Ancient History and another in Ancient Greek that all applicants must take, while students may choose between a third in Ancient Greek Literature or in (pre-Byzantine) Greek Archaeology. The prize is a yearlong fellowship in Athens that includes room and board. Read the rest of this entry »