On the Trail of the “German Model”: ASCSA and DAI, 1881-1918

Founded in 1881, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (hereafter ASCSA or the School) was the third foreign archaeological school to be established in Greece and followed the French and German models. For the first thirty years, the activities of the American School were closely intertwined with those of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens (DAI or German Institute hereafter) and the Austrian Archaeological Institute of Athens (Austrian Institute or Station hereafter).

Eloquent testimony to their informal relationship is found in the ASCSA Annual Reports (AR) from 1887 onwards, where the directors of the American School repeatedly extended their profound gratitude to Wilhelm Dӧrpfeld, Director of the German Institute (1887-1912), Paul Wolters, Second Secretary of the German Institute (1887-1900), and Adolf Wilhelm, Secretary of the Austrian Institute (1898-1905), for allowing American students to attend their weekly seminars and archaeological excursions. Only occasionally, would the ASCSA similarly express its gratitude to a French or British colleague.  In fact, the ASCSA relied so heavily on the German Institute that it delayed developing an independent academic program of its own until Dӧrpfeld stopped offering his lectures and tours in 1908.

In order to reconstruct the early decades of the School’s history and its relationship to the German Institute, in addition to the Annual Reports, I have also relied on a second type of primary source: personal correspondence and diaries.  Both are rare, however.  Unlike official documents that have a greater chance of survival (sometimes in more than one copy) the preservation of family correspondence is a matter of luck. Of the 200 men and women who attended the School’s academic program from 1881 to 1918, the outgoing letters of fewer than a dozen members have survived, and of those only the letters of few have found their way back to the School’s Archives.

By nature, each type of source provides the researcher with different kinds of information, even if both sources refer to the same people or events.  Official reports are formal and, to a certain extent, sanitized documents that deliver the governing body’s mindset. I, personally, find private correspondence a more insightful source, although it can be subjective and overstated; nevertheless, it is the best thing that a historian has at his/her disposal for reconstructing the past because its testimonies offer contemporary perspectives.  At a time when cell phones, text messages, and social media were not available, a letter was the only way for reporting one’s activities and also for expressing one’s feelings.  Glimpses, for example, at the private correspondence of Nellie M. Reed, student of the School in 1895-1896, reveal a continuous stream of informal American-German gatherings during that year, otherwise undocumented in the Annual Reports.

In 2016, I was invited to participate in a conference that explored the early history of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens. I used that event as an opportunity to study and re-write the “German chapter” in the history of the American School.[1]  The narrative explores the catalysts that brought these two groups together and asks: Was it simply the vibrant and charismatic personality of Dӧrpfeld, who for three decades dominated the archaeological community of Athens, that was responsible for the rapprochement of the two institutions in the closing decades of the 19th century, or did the School’s close ties with the German and Austrian institutes reflect a larger educational trend that prevailed in American academic circles in the second half of the 19th century?

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Is this Julia Ward Howe?


BY CURTIS RUNNELS – PRISCILLA MURRAY

Curtis Runnels, Professor of Archaeology at Boston University and an expert in Palaeolithic archaeology in Greece, and his wife Priscilla Murray, an anthropologist and Classical archaeologist, here contribute to From the Archivist’s Notebook a story about the purchase of a miniature portrait of an elegant, young woman in an antique fair, their research to identify both the subject of the portrait and its creator, and, finally, their thrilling discovery.

Even from a distance, the small portrait of a beautiful young woman had a commanding presence. We bought the miniature watercolor on ivory (less than 10 by 8 cm) at an antique fair in Holliston, a town near Boston, Massachusetts, because the sitter was dressed a la Gréque with a Greek column in the background. The quality of the painting, which points to a very accomplished miniaturist, together with the appearance and accoutrements of the subject, suggest that the painting was an important commission by a socially prominent person. We loved the painting, and of course, we were intensely interested in the identity of the young woman.

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Forgotten Friend of Skyros: Hazel D. Hansen (Part II)

As a young woman, Hazel Dorothy Hansen broke several glass ceilings. From a humble background –her father was a foundryman—she was admitted to Stanford University in 1916, at a time when the institution had severely limited the admission of women. In 1904, Mrs. Stanford became afraid of the increasing number of women enrolling at Stanford (by 1899 reaching almost 40% of the student population) and implemented a quota that restricted their numbers at the undergraduate level: for every woman at Stanford, there had to be three men. (See Sam Scott, “Why Jane Stanford Limited Women’s Enrollment to 500,” Stanford Magazine, Aug. 22, 2018.). Fortunately for a girl of modest means, Stanford remained tuition-free until 1920.

She broke the glass ceiling again when she chose a prehistoric topic for her dissertation (“Early Civilization in Thessaly”) that also required extensive surveying for sites on the Greek periphery.  In the 1920’s female graduate students at the American School had limited options when it came to field research. Apart from Alice Leslie Walker, who had been entrusted with the publication of its Neolithic pottery, Corinth remained a male domain, with Bert Hodge Hill and Carl W. Blegen controlling access to, and publication of, archaeological material. Hazel would have needed either to finance her own excavation, as Hetty Goldman and Walker had done in the 1910s, or to write an art history thesis based on material in museums. It was not until David R. Robinson began excavations at Olynthus and Edward Capps spearheaded the Athenian Agora Excavations that women were allowed to participate in the publication of (secondary) excavation material.

Hansen’s monthly report (March 1924) to the School’s Director, where she lists her trips, and also proudly claims that she discovered the prehistoric site of Μαγούλα Παλιάμπελα (“and not even mentioned by Mr. Wace”). ASCSA Archives, AdmRec 108/1, folder 5.

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Forgotten Friend of Skyros: Hazel Dorothy Hansen (Part I)

“Her main contribution was not destined to be in the field of excavation, but in discovering in dark cellars a good number of broken vases still covered with earth, discovered by others over the years in the island of Skyros. There she collected, cleaned, patched, and provided with a shelter transforming into a small Museum a room in the City Hall of Skyros. For this service to archaeology and the island she was made Honorary Citizen of Skyros,” wrote archaeologist George Mylonas about Hazel Hansen in early 1963, a few months after her death, in the Annual Report of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter).

I asked several archaeologists of my generation and slightly older if her name or her association with the island of Skyros rang a bell. It did not, although she was known well enough in Greece, for her death to be noted at length in Kathimerini (December 22, 1962), one of the most respected Greek newspapers. «Ηγγέλθη χθες στην Αθήνα ο θάνατος της φιλέλληνος αρχαιολόγου καθηγητρίας του Πανεπιστημίου Στάνφορδ, Χέιζελ Χάνσεν, η οποία είναι ιδιαιτέρως γνωστή δια το σύγγραμμά της περί του αρχαιοτέρου πολιτισμού της Θεσσαλίας…”. In addition to her work in Thessaly and Skyros, the note referred to her participation in the excavations at Olynthus and on the North Slope of the Acropolis. The author of Hansen’s Greek obituary knew her well and wanted to capture the accomplishments of a friend and able colleague. It must have been (again) George Mylonas, whose friendship with Hazel started in the 1920s when they were both at the American School.

Hazel D. Hansen, 1923. ASCSA Archives, Carl W. Blegen Papers.

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An Unconventional Union: “Mr. and Mrs. George Kosmopoulos”


“That giant Arcadian mountaineer, servant, foreman and friend, proved the hero of the week-end. I never saw any one more dignified, grave and competent, and as he came from the heights of Arcadia, his physique was impressive, unlike that of the usual wiry little Greek. He brought us tea in the Museum, which we ate sitting among baskets of pottery and fragments of sculpture” (Conway 1917, p. 37).

The passage above comes from Agnes Ethel Conway’s book, A Ride through the Balkans: On Classic Ground with a Camera, and refers to George (Γεώργιος) Kosmopoulos, the son of Angelis (Αγγελής) –both skilled and highly valued foremen of American and German excavations in Greece in the late 19th and early 20th century.[1] Published in 1917, the book is an account of a journey that two young, English women, Conway and her friend Evelyn Radford, made in the Balkan Peninsula in the spring of 1914 as students of the British School of Archaeology. One of their first excursions, while still living in Athens, was to the nearby site of Corinth, where the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School) had been digging since 1895.

Angelis Kosmopoulos, clad in a fustanella, with German archaeologist William Dörpfeld and Mrs. Dörpfeld (?), Tripolis 1937. ASCSA Archives, Richard H. Howland Papers.

Evelyn, “had a friend, an archaeologist, who was taking part in the excavations at Corinth, and invited us to come to her for the week-end.” The friend was no other than Alice Leslie Walker (1885-1954), a graduate of Vassar College (Class of 1906) who had already acquired the reputation of a seasoned excavator, having co-directed with Hetty Goldman the excavations of ancient Halae in Boeotia in 1911-1913. Upon arriving at Corinth the two women went to the excavations, where “our friend had just dug up the oldest piece of pottery ever found in the Peloponnese,” described Conway in her book (p. 36). Eighty years later, John C. Lavezzi, writing a biographical essay about Walker (for Brown University’s online project, Breaking Ground: Women in Old World Archaeology) would describe her discovery “as the largest and probably still the most significant deposit of Early Neolithic pottery from Corinth.” (Also check the comments that John Lavezzi and others added to the post since it went online.)

Alice Leslie Walker, 1906. Source: Vassarion… Vassar College, 1906.

The following day the three women and George drove with a “sousta” (a kind of carriage) to ancient Sicyon to see the ancient theater. On the way back they “persuaded George to sing to us… His grandfather had been in close attendance to Kolokotronis and his pride in the songs was splendid to see. He was very anxious that we should understand all the words in the songs, and assured us over and over again that the circumstances were really historical… George had the remains of a fine voice, and to hear a patriot, full of pride in his songs, sing them in his own country, in the moonlight, was an experience worth having” (Conway 1917, pp. 39-40). Read the rest of this entry »