Connecting the Dots: Peripheral Figures in the History of the American School of Classical Studies. The Case of R. S. Darbishire.

Steve Jobs once said: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” Archives is all about connecting the dots. When processing archival material, you often come across documents, photos, or notes that don’t connect in any obvious way with the rest. For this reason all finding-aids have a “Miscellaneous” section.  And such is the case of R. S. Darbishire (1886-1949), a name I came upon in the Carl W. Blegen Papers several years ago, in a booklet of poems; and more recently, while going through a small box of unprocessed material from the Blegen/Hill household on Ploutarchou 9, in a set of architectural blueprints. It took me a while to connect the dots in the Darbishire puzzle.

The Elusive Mr. Darbishire

ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers

In the Blegen Papers, there is a small booklet with a collection of handwritten poems titled “Poems to Order. Thera, June 17-21, 1928. Robert Shelby Darbishire.”  The short poem on the first page is dedicated to CB:

Εξ αδοκήτο [Unforeseen]
You, when I asked, “What shall I do in Thera?”
Unexpectedly in my empty mind
Casually dropped this: “Write pretty!”
Here (unexpectedly) nought else I find.

Darbishire appears in the student list of the American School of Classical Studies (ASCSA, or School hereafter) for the year 1926-27; he is also thanked in the preliminary reports or final publications of a number of excavations conducted in 1927-1928: Prosymna, the Odeum at Corinth, and Olynthus.

There is very little information about Robert Shelby Darbishire on the web, and one has to type his name in various ways in order to retrieve a few scraps. Born in 1886 at Fort Meade, Florida, he was the son of Godfrey Darbishire (1853-1889) -a British surveyor and a famous rugby player, who immigrated to the States in 1883– and Ann Shelby of Chicago. Robert was unfortunate in losing his father at an early age.  Mother and son lived for a while on a farm they owned in Danville, Kentucky before they moved back to England to be near the paternal side of the family. (Darbishire’s grandfather was Robert Dukinfield Darbishire, a well-known philanthropist and biologist from Manchester.) Nevertheless, the Kentucky farm remained in the Darbishire family’s possession for a long time; mother and son would move back to it after the death of Robert Dukinfield in 1910; and Robert Shelby would retreat to the farm in various periods of his life. In fact, the family papers are deposited at the University of Kentucky Special Collections, and it is from their finding-aid that I managed to obtain good and reliable information about the Darbishires.

The Toynbee Connection

While in England, Robert attended Balliol College following a family tradition. Although without a Wikipedia entry (unlike his father), Robert’s name appears in searches that connect him with the famous British historian Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975). It was at Balliol College that Robert met and became close friends with the slightly younger Toynbee. Together they travelled to Italy and Greece in 1911-1912. Since researchers are more interested in studying the life and work of Toynbee, it is he, who is quoted in the excerpts of the Toynbee-Darbishire correspondence.

We don’t know anything about Robert’s first experience of Greece, but Toynbee’s was negative. He referred to the Greeks and the Italians as “dagos,” dreaded his encounters with them and offensively described modern folk in his letters, while continuously asking himself: “Were the Ancient Greeks like them”? Toynbee visited Greece as a philhellene and left the country as a mis-hellene. “Well, I shall religiously preach mis-hellenism to any philhellene I come across…” he wrote in one of his letters (W. H. McNeill, Arnold J. Toynbee: A Life, New York 1989).  Toynbee in old age would retract most of the comments he had made about the Greek folk as a young man, blaming himself for his inability to understand them. Whether Robert shared his friend’s feelings, one could only learn from Robert’s letters to his mother in the Kentucky University Special Collections. Also, unlike his friend Arnold who avoided Greece, Robert would live in Greece for many years.

In the School’s Archives there is only one, but an important, letter from Toynbee. Addressed to Director Bert Hodge Hill from Smyrna on February 10, 1921, he alerts American archaeologists to the destruction of the excavation site of Sardis by the Turks during the Greek-Turkish War of 1919-1922.

“I am afraid my news… is bad. The house was smashed up by the Kemalists before the Greeks drove them out… I am afraid the damage is very great. Roofs mostly gone, except the roof of a big building at the back of the courtyard which I take to have been the museum; staircases, floors, window frames etc ripped away; safe lying on its side with big hole punctuated in it.. The statues in the central court have been badly defaced – arms, faces, etc mutilated; the pottery in the big shed at the back smashed… but luckily the Lydian inscriptions , which I suppose are the most valuable objects there, are intact, and mostly under cover…” (Bert H. Hill Papers, box 4, folder 4).

Toynbee and his wife Rosalind were engaged in relief work in the Gemlic-Yalova peninsula near Constantinople in the summer of 1921. Their photographic archive of about 160 photos has been recently discussed by G. Giannakopoulos in “Once Upon a Time in Asia Minor: Arnold and Rosalind Toynbee’s Frames of the Greco-Turkish War in Anatolia (1919-1922),” Camera Graeca: Photographs, Narratives, Materialities, ed. P. Carabott, Y. Hamilakis, E. Papargyriou, 2015.

Most of the information about Toynbee’s and Darbishire’s journey to Greece in 1911-12 comes from a biography about Toynbee written by another historian, William McNeill, a giant in the field of macro-history, his most famous book being The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community” (1963). (McNeill was also the first editor of the Journal of Modern Greek Studies.) McNeill came to know Toynbee personally when he married Robert Darbishire’s daughter Elizabeth (1921-2006). To Elizabeth, Toynbee was known as “Uncle Toynbee” (McNeill, The Pursuit of Truth: A Historian’s Memoir, 2005). McNeill and Toynbee met for the first time in 1947 in Darbishire’s Kentucky farm. During that meeting Toynbee invited McNeill to work for him and contribute essays to a series titled War Time Survey published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs that Toynbee was directing.  Later McNeill would become friends with Toynbee’s second wife, Veronica, and it was through her that he gained access to the personal papers needed to write Toynbee’s biography.

The Greek Years of R.S. Darbishire

Returning to Darbishire, his life can be sketched only in broad strokes. Not much is known about his time in the U.S. after he returned to Kentucky in 1912. According to the biographical note in the finding-aid of the family’s papers in the Special Collections of the University of Kentucky, Robert joined the Near East Relief in 1919-1921, where he met his future wife Ruth Whiting; by 1920 the couple was in charge of the Brusa section.  In 1926, at the age of 40, Darbishire applied to attend the School’s year-long program. In his application, in answering “What ultimate purpose have you in view in seeking membership in the American School” Darbishire answered: “Grasp of historical background of possible work in or for Near East, educational or literary, as preferable to previous Relief work.” And indeed, soon after his year at the School, he would get a teaching job at the newly-founded Athens College in Psychiko.

One of his classmates at the School in 1926-27 was Oscar Broneer with whom Darbishire kept in touch throughout his life. (Darbishire’s daughter Elizabeth McNeill would also correspond with Broneer for many years.) A prolific writer, Darbishire is the only student who submitted at the end of the program, not one, but seven papers, one of which is a long poem (“Prologue for the Prometheus Revival at Delphi”) inspired by the Delphic Games of 1927. I suspect that the Darbishires must have known the Sikelianos couple, and possibly helped in the organization of the games, but I don’t have any written proof of it. Putting in use the little Turkish he knew from his time with the Near East Relief, Robert also helped, in the spring of 1927, with the arrangement of the Turkish section of the newly acquired library of John Gennadius. He excavated at Nemea, Corinth and Prosymna where Blegen entrusted him with one of the excavation notebooks.  Darbishire is briefly mentioned in the introductory note of the preliminary report of David Robinson’s 1928 campaign at Olynthus. Then I lose track of him until 1937 when he communicated to Broneer his permanent address in Hartford Connecticut.

Imagine then my surprise when, last spring, while packing the School’s archival collections for our transfer to the East Wing of the Gennadius Library, we found in a box of unprocessed material from the Blegen House on Ploutarchou, a set of seven blueprints in perfect condition showing floor plans and elevations of the “Residence of Mr. + Mrs. R. S. Darbishire. Psychiko Greece, on Lot #11.” The plans of this exquisite, two-story house had been drafted on May 26, 1931 by Konstantinos Sgoutas (1897-1983), a well-known architect of the Interwar period with many signature buildings in his name. Sgoutas was also the architect of the Athens College at Psychiko. It is also interesting that Sgoutas co-signs the Darbishire plans with the architectural firm of Thompson & Churchill of New York City. My readers will recognize in Thompson’s name, Stuart Thompson, the architect of the Gennadius Library (1926) and of Loring Hall (1929).

Blueprint of the Darbishire House in Psychiko, now part of Athens College. ASCSA Archives, Bert H. Hill Papers.

At first, I thought that these were plans of a house that was never built, but after I began looking at the buildings on the campus map of Athens College, I discovered the Darbishire House (Κτίριο Darbishire) tucked in between the Ioannis Karas Kindergarden and the President’s House. And the only explanation for why the plans of the Darbishire House had been saved in the Blegen/Hill house on Ploutarchou 9 is Bert Hodge Hill’s connection with Athens College, as a member of its Board of Directors. What I don’t know yet is why the Darbishires left Athens soon after the erection of this magnificent house in Psychiko. Darbishire’s spirit would return to Athens College four decades later: his grandson, John Robert (named after his grandfather) McNeill would teach for a year in 1975-76.

The Campus of Athens College. The Darbishire House is on the far left, between the Kindergarden and the President’s House.


Picturing R. S. Darbishire

I spent many hours on the web trying to find a photo of Darbishire. I found a photo of his father Godfrey (the rugby player), but not of Robert. In the end several incidental pieces of evidence gave me clues to identifying not only Darbishire but his entire family in a wonderful photo from 1926-1927, or around that time.  After he was accepted to the School program in 1926, Darbishire inquired about housing. “I shall have my wife and three small children with me” he informed Blegen in August 1926. Blegen suggested that they lodge in the “Tourist Pension” near Syndagma Square, but in his “Membership Form” of October 3, 1926, Darbishire listed Academy 18 as his address. This was the newly “acquired” Annex of the School, the Palace of Prince George (about which I have written a separate essay, “Living Like Kings: When the Palace of Prince George was the Annex of the American School of Classical Studies”). In the Broneer papers, there is a set of beautiful photos from a costume party in the Annex with several people, of whom I have been able to identify only a few (Priscilla Capps and George Mylonas). The photo of the couple with the three small children had been a mystery to me for years. I then checked the photos in a volume dedicated to the 75th anniversary of Athens College. There, in one of the photos, that of the 1929 class, I recognized the man from the costume party.

Robert and Ruth Darbishire with their three children, ca. 1927. ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

Athens College, Class of 1929. Darbishire, third from right standing. Photo: Κολλέγιο Αθηνών 1925-2000. Σταθμοί και Ορόσημα (2001).

Enamored of the Near East  

By 1937, as I noted above, the Darbishires had settled in Connecticut. The family’s new house “is just opposite the Seminary which has a good library, not so much for Greece but anything you want for Asia. I am reading Islamic history and even bit of Arabic, so as to get inside the skin of it… Hope you are not disturbed by wars or rumors of wars…  We keep the farm to retreat to when everything explodes – but perhaps we’ll be caught as absentee landlords,” scribbled Robert to his old friend Broneer (Oscar Broneer Papers, Box 10, folder 1, Jan. 3, 1937). To which, Broneer answered a few months later (May 14, 1937): “I was glad… to see that you are still enamored of the Near East. Have you already mastered Turkish to such an extent that you are ready to embark on a new linguistic venture in Asia Minor? Your letter is already out of date, for the ‘wars and rumors of wars” of which you spoke seem less likely to spread to our part of the world than they did at the outbreak. When the greatest empire in the world can take time off for a coronation spree, international complications must seem to them distant,” alluding with a touch of irony to the coronation of King George VI on May 12, 1937.

Darbishire’s immersion in the study of the Near East produced several essays, all published in the Muslim World, including: “The Christian Idea of Islam in the Middle Ages, according to the ‘Chanson d’ Antioch’” (vol. 28:2, 1938, pp. 114-124); “The Moslem Antagonist” (vol. 28:3, 1938, pp. 258-271); “Mutual Trust in International Relations of the Recent Past” (29:3, 1939, 285-291); and “The Social Principle of Equality in the Qur’an” (vol. 31:1, 1941, pp, 61-68).

I lose track of him again after 1941. His wife Ruth died in 1946 at the age of 60. Through McNeil’s memoir we know that he was in touch with his college friend, Arnold Toynbee, in 1947. It wasn’t, however, in the genes of the Darbishires to live long. Robert Shelby died in 1949, at 63. Broneer lived to be 98. When Elizabeth Darbishire McNeill announced to Broneer in 1982 that she and her husband Bill had become grandparents, he responded by telling her that:

“… all such news are reminders to me that I am everybody’s Grandfather, including your own. You may have forgotten but I belong to the generation of your parents” (Oscar Broneer Papers, box 17, folder 2, April 14, 1982).


“They returned… but stay I did”: Doreen Canaday’s Experience of Interwar Greece

I first encountered the name “Canaday” in the mid-1980s when I went to Bryn Mawr College for graduate school. Although we did most of our work in the seminar rooms above the Art and Archaeology Library (now the Rhys Carpenter Library), for books and periodicals about history or classics we had to go to the “big library,” which was none other than the Mariam Coffin Canaday Library.

A few years later when I returned to Greece to participate in the regular program of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA, or the School hereafter), I heard people referring to Canaday House.  One of the two marble houses flanking the Gennadius Library at 61 Souidias, it housed temporarily the family of the then Director of the School William (Willy) D. E. Coulson. (The big earthquake of 1986 in Kalamata had caused damages to the Director’s residence across the street.)

An ink drawing of the Canaday House at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. ASCSA Archives, Doreen Canaday Spitzer Photographic Collection.

Finally, in the summer of 1990, while digging at Mochlos on Crete, I met Doreen Spitzer on one of the “On-Site with The American School of Classical Studies at Athens” trips that she had been organizing for years, but without realizing that Doreen Spitzer’s maiden name was Canaday. It was only after I started working as the School’s Archivist that I became aware of Canaday Spitzer’s long legacy at the American School.  Doreen Canaday Spitzer (1914-2010) served as a Trustee 1978-1996, President of the Board of Trustees 1983-1988, Trustee Emerita from 1996 and President of the Friends from 1988 until her death in 2010.  (There is a thorough biographical essay about Doreen Spitzer by Catherine de Grazia Vanderpool in AKOUE 63, Fall 2010.) Her father, Ward Canaday (1885-1976), had also served as a Trustee of the School for almost four decades starting in 1937.

Doreen Canaday Spitzer listening to Manolis Andronikos, excavator of the royal tombs at Vergina, 1981. (Between them, barely visible, Machteld Mellink.) Source: ASCSA Archives.

Spitzer also cared deeply about preserving the School’s history and supported wholeheartedly the creation of an Archives Department during her term as President of the Board. Furthermore, she would contact School members, many of whom she knew personally from her time as a student of the School in 1936-1938, to solicit their personal papers.  No wonder why my formal title is the Doreen Canaday Spitzer Archivist. Needless to say that it would have pleased her immensely to see our new and enlarged facilities at the East Wing of the Gennadius Library. Read the rest of this entry »


Rediscovering the American Pioneer Spirit in Greece, 1928: The Letters of Robert Stroock

In the Main Reading Room of the Carl and Elizabeth Blegen Library in Athens, on the narrow side of one of the old bookcases, hangs a heavy bronze plaque inscribed: “In Memory of Robert L. Stroock: A Lover of Ancient Greece. MCMXXX”.

Unlike other commemorative plaques at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) which have often changed locations or even have been withdrawn from public view over the years, this one has remained in the same spot since it was dedicated shortly after Stroock’s death in 1930.

On display in the Carl and Elizabeth Blegen Library of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Read the rest of this entry »


Hetty Goldman: The Potentate of American Archaeology in Greece

In 1924, Hetty Goldman (1881-1972), who was directing an excavation at the site of Eutresis in Boeotia, hired architect Piet de Jong to draw some of the finds she had unearthed during the season.  To beat the dullness of the evenings, De Jong, who worked for American and British excavations in Greece, made pencil caricatures of his fellow archaeologists which he later turned into striking Art Deco watercolors. The majority of these caricatures once in the possession of Sinclair and Rachel Hood, are now in the care of the Ashmolean Museum. Published by Rachel in Faces of Archaeology in 1998, they constitute visual biographies of American and British archaeologists working in Greece in the 1920s and 1930s.

Hetty Goldman’s caricature by Piet de Jong, 1924. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.

De Jong’s caricature of Goldman depicts her “holding a Neolithic pot of which she was particularly proud. The object behind Hetty’s head is a seated archaic statue found up in a Roman villa which was excavated at some distance from the mound [of Eutresis]… There is the mound itself surmounted by the shelter to protect the diggers from the heat of the sun… The horse, Kappa, on the road below the hill to the right draws the cart containing Hetty herself, Hazel [Hansen], Dorothy [Thompson] and Mitso the driver, on their way to work… a sailing boat or caique refers to the expedition organized by the foreman, George Deleas, to try and row across the Gulf of Corinth from Creusis, the harbor settlement of Eutresis.  On the left of the picture at the foot of the mound two village girls with long plaits carry on their heads baskets of washing… Below them is a temple which probably refers to classical architectural findings at Hetty’s previous dig at Halae…” (Hood 1998, p.51). Read the rest of this entry »


The Riding Goddess of Mycenae

“In the summer of 1954, while Dr. Papademetriou and I were investigating the new Grave Circle of Mycenae, we removed the fill to the south of that circle; it proved to have been the dump of a previous excavation. Its position seems to indicate that in all probability it was made up of earth removed either by Mme Schliemann or by Tsountas from the dromos of the Tomb of Clytemnestra. Among other objects found in this earth were two carved gems, one of which bears the figure of an animal, and the other a design not only interesting for its excellence of its workmanship but also important because of the subject represented,” wrote archaeologist George Mylonas in the introduction of his book Ancient Mycenae: The Capital City of Agamemnon (Princeton 1957).

Tomb of Clytemnestra, 1953. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Katherine Biddle More Scrapbook.


The Accidental Discovery of Grave Circle B

The Tomb of Clytemnestra had been robbed by Veli Pasha, the Ottoman Governor of the Morea, in the early 19th century; he had, however, missed the dromos. Years later, in 1876, it was cleared by Sophia Schliemann, while her husband Heinrich was digging the shaft graves of Grave Circle A. The Tomb was properly excavated by Christos Tsountas in 1897, who conducted excavations at Mycenae from 1886 until 1902. After WW II, the Greek Archaeological Service undertook the restoration of the Tomb of Clytemnestra, which, by then, was falling apart and needed urgent care. The restoration, which started in the spring of 1951, was completed by the fall of that year. Read the rest of this entry »


“Anything to restrain the reverend father”: Catholic Clergy at the ASCSA, Pt. II

Posted by Dylan Rogers

Dylan Rogers holds a PhD from the University of Virginia, and he has been Assistant Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens since 2015. This essay, the second of two parts, was inspired by recent research in the ASCSA Archives about the Summer Session program.


In my last post, I began an exploration of members of the Catholic clergy at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School). My curiosity was piqued by the acerbic comments of Gertrude E. Smith who was not in favor of selecting Fr. Schoder to lead the School’s summer program in 1961. Was the School against admitting Catholic priests and nuns in its programs or was Smith’s dislike of Fr. Schoder personal and exceptional?

Part I examined the figure of Fr. Quinn, an accomplished scholar of Ancient and Modern Greek at the turn of the 20th century. Subsequent to Fr. Quinn ten more priests attended the School’s regular program. In addition, the SS has hosted at least 16 priests and nuns, from 1936 until 1973. The clergy came from a variety of orders, including parish priests, Benedictines (O.S.B.), a De La Salle brother (F.S.C.), a Sister of Mercy (R.S.M.), a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (B.V.M.), a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur (S.N.D. de Namur), and two Sisters of St. Joseph (C.S.J.). But, by far, most of the priests (nearly 18) came from the Society of Jesus (S.J.), or the Jesuit order. And there were a number of interesting figures in this group, such as Fr. Thomas Bermingham, S.J. (1918-1998), a professor at Georgetown University, who had taught William Peter Blatty, the author of The Exorcist, Latin at Brooklyn Prep in the 1940s. Fr. Bermingham would later advise Blatty on the filming of The Exorcist, and eventually would play Tom, the president of Georgetown, in the film.

Fr. Thomas Bermingham, student at the ASCSA in 1961-62, as President of Georgetown University in The Exorcist.

Read the rest of this entry »


Archaeological Hikes and Accidental Discoveries

 In addition to administering the School’s institutional records and hundreds of collections of personal papers in the archival repositories of the Blegen and the Gennadius Libraries (which will soon be consolidated under one roof), the Archivist of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter) also oversees the School’s Antiquities Collection. Catalogued by the School’s former Archivist, Dr. Carol Zerner, and a host of volunteer archaeologists, the Collection features more than 10,000 sherds, hundreds of pots, figurines, fragments of sculpture, various metal objects, and roughly 3,000 coins, all registered with the Ministry of Culture. With one exception, all of the antiquities are kept in a separate, well-guarded room. The exception is a small collection of Geometric vases displayed in the Blegen Library.

“… While on a Sunday excursion we ran across a newly looted Geometric grave out at Thorikos. The sherds showed lots of joins and after talking about the problem to Gene Vanderpool, we took them down the Agora and they were [competent?] to restore a handsome amphora, an oenochoe, a very fine tripod stand and a bowl fitting it. The problem now is to inform the [M]inistry and try to get permission to keep them for the exhibit to be housed in the new wing of the School. I must talk to Mr. Papademetriou this week about it…” confided William (Bill) A. McDonald to Homer A. Thompson, Director of the Athenian Agora Excavations, on November 23, 1958.

Shortly after his discovery, McDonald published the four vases in Hesperia (vol. 30, 1961, pp. 299-304). Dated in the Middle Geometric period, the looted grave at Thorikos belongs to an extensive Early Iron Age cemetery spread on the sides of Velatouri hill. (The Belgian School at Athens has been surveying and digging the site of Thorikos since the late 1960s.) The School also received permission to display McDonald’s finds in the newly built Arthur Vining Davis Wing of the Blegen Library, which was inaugurated in the fall of 1959. Thirty years later, in 1991, when the New Extension to the Blegen Library was completed, the vases were placed (where they still are) inside a vertical glass case, on the ground floor, next to the Rare Book Room. A short text explains the conditions of their discovery.

Three of the four Geometric vases (ASP 85-87) that McDonald found on Velatouri Hill, Thorikos. ASCSA Archives, Antiquities Collection.

Read the rest of this entry »