The Surplus Property Act of 1944 was an act of the U.S. Congress which allowed the Secretary of State to enter into agreements with the governments of foreign countries for the disposal of surplus American property (mostly WW II scrap) abroad. The Fulbright Act, as it is better known today, became a pioneering platform for educational exchanges between the U.S. and a large number of countries, thanks to an amendment introduced by a young Democratic Senator from Arkansas, J. William Fulbright, in 1945. The amendment allowed the sale of surplus property (e.g., airplanes and their spare parts, arms and ammunition) to foreign countries in exchange for “intangible benefits.” One of those benefits, at the insistence of Senator Fulbright, who had been a Rhodes Scholar as a young man, involved the international exchange of scholars. Since foreign governments did not have enough dollars to pay for the purchase of surplus material, the Act allowed them to use their local currencies to pay the expenses of American scholars studying in those countries. Fulbright strongly believed in the transformative value of educational exchanges, that they could “play a major role in helping to break down mutual misunderstandings,” and contribute to world peace. On August 1, 1946, President Truman signed the Fulbright bill into law.
The first European country to sign the Fulbright Agreement was Greece, on April 23, 1948. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School herefafter) with its superb reputation, was one of the immediate beneficiaries of the bi-national agreement. The School claimed that it was the only place of higher learning where American students could apply for research grants to carry out advanced work in classics and archaeology. “It is of course possible for Americans to enroll in the School of Liberal Arts in the University of Athens; but the lecture courses are largely theoretical, library and other facilities are sadly inadequate, and the language problem constitutes a difficult hurdle” argued archaeologist Carl W. Blegen to Gordon T. Bowles of the Conference Board of Associated Research Councils on September 15, 1948 (AdmRec 705/1, folder 1). Blegen, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati, had been appointed as Director of the American School for a year (1948-1949). Having served the interests of the School for a long time, Blegen naturally cared first and foremost for the institution’s well-being. Blegen and others, such as Homer A. Thompson, Director of the Athenian Agora Excavations, saw in the Fulbright Act a new source of income to finance the School’s operations and, especially, the research that was carried out in the Athenian Agora. I have written elsewhere about the curious entanglement of the American School with the Fulbright Foundation in the early years of the program’s implementation, and I will be talking more about it on November 30th at Cotsen Hall in a joint event organized by the ASCSA and the Fulbright Foundation on the occasion of its 70th anniversary.
Blegen’s Pet Project
Here I focus on a little known and otherwise forgotten component of the Fulbright Program in Greece. In addition to awards for research fellows, junior scholars, and high school students and teachers, the agreement included a number of Visiting Lectureships at Greek institutions of higher learning. For the fiscal year 1949-1950, the Greek government in agreement with the United States Educational Foundation of Greece (as the Fulbright Foundation was known in its early years) advertised three positions: two in Home Economics and Rural Sociology at the Superior School of Agriculture, and one in American Life and Civilization at the University of Athens. It is the latter I am more interested in since Carl Blegen was involved in its establishment, sometime around 1945-1946, when he served as Cultural Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Athens. The position, however, had not yet been filled for financial reasons. In the fall of 1948 the time was ripe. Blegen had just began the academic year as Director of the American School, his close friend and former colleague in the Office of Strategic Services, archaeologist Alison Frantz, was the Cultural Attaché at the American Embassy, and his other friend, archaeologist George Oikonomos, had been appointed Rector of the University of Athens for 1948-1949.
“An auspicious start can certainly be made in the University of Athens, and as you may recall, this is a pet project of mine. A chair of American History, Life and Culture was established by law in the University of Athens two or three years ago. It is still vacant because of lack of funds, and here I believe we have a great opportunity. The University is eager to have a professor appointed and has made a formal application to U.S.E.F.G.,” Blegen commented in his letter to Bowles. He envisioned the Chair being occupied by a “distinguished scholar, one of the most outstanding we have to offer… A succession of such men in difficult branches of learning would surely have a great success here and could do much to promote cultural relations between Greece and the United States.” In fact, the person whom Blegen proposed as the first occupant of the position was a big-time supporter of the American School and his former “boss” at the Embassy in Athens, Ambassador Lincoln MacVeagh. The latter after years of continuous service in Greece had been transferred, against his wishes, to Lisbon. This proposal, however, never got off the ground, probably because MacVeagh could not leave his post in Portugal.
After several delays, Arnold Whitridge, a distinguished professor of history at Yale University, was finally appointed as the first Chair of American Civilization at Athens University in the fall of 1949, a position he held until 1951. There are a few clues hinting that Whitridge may have been recommended by MacVeagh. Mrs. Arnold Whitridge appears on the list of donors who contributed to the restoration of the Lion of Amphipolis in the 1930s, MacVeagh’s own pet project. (I spotted her name in a footnote in Betsey Robinson’s article “Hydraulic Euergetism: American Archaeology and Waterworks in Early-20th-century Greece,” Hesperia, Special Issue 2013, pp. 101-130. A version of it was published in From the Archivist’s Notebook, Sept. 1, 2014).
George Rippey Stewart’s Experience
One can follow the history, duration, as well as the name of recipients of the American History and Literature lectureship on the webpage of the Fulbright Foundation in Greece. The program continued into the late 1960s. A quick search of the profiles of the first lecturers reveals that they were highly accomplished academics in the field of American History and Literature. Fortunately, one of them, George Rippey Stewart (1895-1980), Professor of English at Berkeley, wrote a memoir of his experience as a Fulbrighter in post-war Greece (1952-1953) in an informative but also highly entertaining essay, “Fulbrighting in Athens,” published in Harper’s Magazine, in October 1953. (A typescript copy is included in the School’s Archives.) A prolific writer, Stewart is remembered today for scholarly works such as Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States (1945; reprinted 2008) but also for a science fiction novel Earth Abides (1949) which served as an inspiration for Stephen King’s The Strand. I also read in the Wikipedia entry for Stewart that his novel Storm (1941) prompted the National Weather Service to use personal names to designate storms.
As Blegen had anticipated, language was the biggest problem in teaching at a Greek University which then did not have an English Department and where the majority of the students and faculty spoke and wrote in French as a second language. For his meetings with the Dean of the Liberal Arts School (Φιλοσοφική), Stewart needed the services of a translator.
“Almost immediately I discovered that most of the students did not know English well enough to do much reading in literature. I therefore decided to emphasize the ‘civilization’ rather than the ‘literature’ of my double-barreled title, and was thus put into the paradoxical position of trying to teach civilization to the Athenians,” scribbled Stewart with a sense of humor.
Stewart found the Greek students, men and women, delightful and attentive although from time to time “the whole class would break into floods of an unintelligible tongue” for the sake of an argument. He admitted that the language problem was a difficult one since “students had learned English by all sort of means, one of them merely by listening to radio broadcasts from London.” They also had a hard time with his American accent. In addition to teaching, Stewart as a good Fulbrighter, invested time in fostering good relations with the students. He describes fondly Sunday afternoons at his house, he and his wife eating, drinking, and singing with the Greek students (to the students’ surprise since they never got to socialize with their Greek professors). “In Greece the continental tradition holds, and a professor is a thing apart from and above his students.” (I have to say that this tradition held until my time in the early 1980s.)
“Scratch a cultural activity, and find a Fulbrighter”
Stewart was one of the six American lecturers for 1952-1953, four at the University of Athens and the Superior School of Agriculture and two at the University of Thessaloniki. There were three Research Fellows, one of whom, the numismatist Sydney P. Noe, studied ancient coinage at the Athenian Agora Excavations. The second Research Fellow was Theodore Saloutos, whose book The Greeks in the United States (1964) still remains a cornerstone in transatlantic migration studies. The third fellow, a New Testament scholar, Ernest W. Saunders spent considerable time on Mount Athos microfilming Armenian, Greek, Arabic, Georgian, and Syriac manuscripts for the Library of Congress. But the real “workforce” of the Fulbright program were thirty other Americans serving primarily as teachers in secondary education, not just in U.S. oriented schools in Greece (e.g., Pierce or Anatolia College) but also in the public-school system. To Stewart, “sending American secondary-school teachers to the gymnasia in various smaller Greek cities was a bold experiment and might have well failed… There was a very good chance that a young American suddenly isolated in such an environment simply could not take it. But, on the whole, the program turned out to be a brilliant success.”
When Stewart was asked by the U.S. Cultural Attaché in Athens to go on a lecture tour in various Greek towns, he opted not to lecture about America’s greatness, as one might have expected at this point in the intellectual Cold Wars, but about “The Influence of Greece upon the United States.” His tour included cities such as Patras and Pyrgos, Rhodes, Kavala, and Thessaloniki. For his lectures he prepared two manuscripts, one in Greek and one in English. Where he could secure the services of an interpreter he read in English “presenting a paragraph or two, and then pausing while the Greek interpreter read from his text.” The few times he had to read in Greek he “expended a great deal of toil and sweat.” One Greek-American friend complimented his effort by telling him “I understood every word you said, and sometimes it sounded like Greek.” (Greek is not an easy language and I have seen American friends, including my husband Tom Brogan, and colleagues struggle in their admirable efforts to deliver long academic lectures in Greek.)
“In retrospect, I have decided the lectures served a good purpose. Whether, considered as high-level propaganda, they helped to prevent anyone’s conversion to communism or to aid his reconversion” concluded Stewart with a touch of wit. Stewart was proud of his and other Fulbrighters’ efforts to reach out to non-Athenian audiences because it showed that “the United States is interested in other things than the purely material ones.” His comment reflected Western European perceptions about American culture: a highly materialistic and wasteland consumer culture without tradition (the Germans used the word “Unkultur” to describe it).
Greek authors Elias Venezis and George Theotokas who visited America, within the Smith-Mundt Act framework, in 1949 and 1952, respectively, wrote about this very materialistic, “time is money” aspect of the American culture. After having visited the assembly-lines of the Ford plantation Venezis concluded, “I myself would have to work to be able to say what transformation into an automaton does to a man’s soul.” Where Venezis wondered and wanted to put himself to the test, Theotokas reckoned that coordination, stability and precision of organization saves a lot of effort. For Theotokas, only “large-scale industrial mass production” would lead the masses “to rise to the highest possible living standard” and “offer to each of its members the goods that will allow him to be ransomed from the depression and agony of material want and to live with humanity, in hygienic conditions, with dignity, and, above all, with enjoyment.” [See also “A Greek Author Travels to the Country of the New Myth: The Voyage of Elias Venezis to America in 1949.”]
AWOPs (a.k.a. Americans Without Privileges)
In the last part of his essay Stewart feels compelled to compare the Fulbrighters with the “other” Americans who flocked to post-war Greece as members of various missions, such as AMAG or CARE. Despite the good these missions had done, they had also “piled up a stupendous debit of bad personal feeling” and treated local people as “natives.” His vivid description of the secluded life of the American colony in Athens is worth repeating: “American colonies have fenced themselves in with invisible wire –ridden in their own buses, bought at the PX, eaten in their own restaurants, sent their children to American schools, learned not a word of the language of the country, gathered in their own clubs.” By contrast, the Fulbrighters, because of the terms of their appointment, were paid in drachmas and could not use the Army Post Office or the PX or the Mission buses, or enjoy any other such privileges. Also by nature, the Fulbrighters being scholars and teachers were “trained to respect other people’s points of view,” their customs and history.
Having heard and read much (and recent) scholarship about the larger, hidden, and propagandistic agenda of American foundations or groups abroad, such as the Ford Foundation or the Congress for Cultural Freedom, especially during the Cold War, I subscribe to Stewart’s sound and still valid interpretation of the individual Fulbrighter’s mission:
“If you ask various Fulbrighters why they are on their jobs, you will get various answers. Those on research appointments can simply say they are doing their own research and are essentially working in line with their own careers. The teachers will most likely say they want the experience of living and working abroad… that they enjoy learning about a foreign people. Rarely will one of either kind say that he wanted to ‘help’ the foreign country, carry on propaganda against communism or spread American ideas”; to finally conclude, that the Fulbrighter “because he is not a professional in any of these departments, he actually manages to accomplish a considerable amount in all of them.”
Americanization or genuine globalism? In the Fulbright case, I am inclined to believe it’s the latter.
Note: I was a Greek Fulbright grantee in 1986-1987. The award allowed me to begin graduate school at Bryn Mawr College.
Posted by Despina Lalaki
Despina Lalaki holds a PhD in Historical Sociology from the New School university while she currently teaches at the The New York City College of Technology-CUNY. The essay she contributed to ‘From the Archivist’s Notebook’ is largely an excerpt from her article “On the Social Construction of Hellenism: Cold War Narratives of Modernity, Development, and Democracy for Greece,” in The Journal of Historical Sociology, 25:4, 2012, pp. 552-577. Her essay draws inspiration from an unpublished manuscript by archaeologist Carl W. Blegen, titled “The United States and Greece” and written in 1946-1948.
Carl W. Blegen (1887-1971) is one of the most eminent archaeologists of the Greek Bronze Age. Nevertheless, he intimately knew Modern Greece, too. In 1910, at the age of twenty-three, he first visited the country as a student of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (hereafter ASCSA), and by the time of his death in 1971 he had made Greece his home and his final resting place, having experienced first hand the land and its people in the most troublesome moments of their modern history. In 1918, for instance, he participated in the Greek Commission of the American Red Cross, assisting with the repatriation and rehabilitation of thousands of refugees who during the war had been held as prisoners in Bulgaria. During WWII, he was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to head the Greek desk of the Foreign Nationalities Branch (FNB) in Washington D.C., which was following European and Mediterranean ethnic groups living in the United States and recording their knowledge of political trends and conditions affecting their native lands.
Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here reviews Erik Larson’s most recent book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the LUSITANIA, and briefly reflects on the history of the ASCSA during the Great War.
“Today we learned of the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine. This horrible crime will have to be paid for by Germany some day.”
Carl W. Blegen, May 9, 1915
I confess that I have long been a fan of any Erik Larson novel, from the time my mother-in-law gave me The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America (2003). But did I say novel? His non-fiction tales read like novels, and The Devil is currently being made into a major motion picture (starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorsese). For my birthday this year, my mother-in-law Nan hit another homerun: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania — a terrific (and fast) read. (I finished it in just over two days, one of them on a trans-Atlantic flight, a suitable environment for reading about an oceanic disaster!) Read the rest of this entry »
Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes an essay about the last days of Carl W. Blegen, Elizabeth Pierce Blegen, Bert Hodge Hill, and Ida Thallon Hill, the archaeological “Quartet” of Ploutarchou 9.
This short essay was composed to satisfy my own curiosity. Having recently edited Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives (Atlanta 2015) with Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan and Vivian Florou, it occurred to me that virtually the only aspect of Blegen’s life that had received no attention was its end. Nor had we, or indeed any of the authors who contributed to that volume, written of the later lives of the four amazing individuals who formed “The Quartet” that resided at 9 Ploutarchou St. in Athens: Blegen, Elizabeth Blegen, Ida Thallon Hill, and Bert Hodge Hill.
The start of that Quartet was tumultuous, as Bob Pounder has described it, but once ground rules were established in 1927, the Hills and the Blegens lived in perfect harmony, an arrangement that persisted for four decades until Blegen died in 1971 (Pounder 2015). Their relationships, although of an uncommon character, were no less significant for being unusual. The four loved each other and were totally devoted to their common cause. At the same time they left sufficient space in their marriages for each to address his or her individual needs. Read the rest of this entry »
A Mycenaean “Matter of Fact”: Part II, Joe Alsop’s Greek Bronze Age Archive at the University of CincinnatiPosted: February 15, 2015
Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes to The Archivist’s Notebook a follow-up essay about political columnist Joseph Alsop and his passion for the prehistoric archaeology of Greece.
Searching library catalogues and online archival finding aids sometimes produces unexpected consequences. As I wrote in Part I of this two-part post, Joseph Alsop’s principal archive is curated in the Library of Congress. The University of Cincinnati Archives and Rare Book Library, however, contains five boxes of manuscripts of From the Silent Earth and relevant correspondence between Alsop and the eminent scholars Emmett Bennett, Carl Blegen, Maurice Bowra, John Caskey, Sterling Dow, and Leonard Palmer. While writing From the Silent Earth: A Political Columnist Reports on the Greek Bronze Age (1964), Alsop solicited advice from these distinguished Aegean prehistorians and Classical philologists, all of whom were supportive of his efforts. Jack Caskey, for example, replied to an initial letter of inquiry: “I’m particularly interested in absorbing your political analysis. It sounds neither foolish nor pretentious to me in your brief summary.”
In Part I, I explored how it was that one of Washington’s foremost political analysts of the Cold War era (and for two decades a trustee of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens) came to write a book about the Greek Bronze Age. In Part II, I describe the contents of the archive in Cincinnati, discuss its academic significance, and consider what light it sheds on Alsop’s research methods. Read the rest of this entry »
Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes to The Archivist’s Notebook an essay about political columnist Joseph Alsop and his passion for the prehistoric archaeology of Greece.
Several months ago Louis Menand’s New Yorker review (Nov. 10, 2014) of Gregg Herken’s The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington kindled my interest in Joseph W. Alsop (1910-1989), influential journalist, syndicated newspaper columnist, and trustee (1965-1985) of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. A bit of archival sleuthing at the University of Cincinnati (see below) led to the discovery that on Saturday, December 14, 1963, Alsop had summoned an A-list of Classical archaeologists and art historians to dine with him and his wife, Susan Mary, in their Georgetown, Washington, D.C., home — a strange flock for this longtime Washington insider to host.
Guests included Jack and Betty Caskey, professors at the University of Cincinnati, Emmett Bennett, professor at the University of Wisconsin, Emily Vermeule, then professor at Boston University, Cornelius Vermeule, curator of Classical art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and Sterling Dow, professor at Harvard. Read the rest of this entry »
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 the non-archaeological pastimes of some of the School’s most distinguished past members, including Carl Blegen, Emily Vermeule, Rhys Carpenter, Oscar Broneer, and Dorothy Burr Thompson.
Not so long ago I stumbled across an internet site called “The Academic Ladder,” a career counseling service. Its newsletter headlined a story of interest: “Get A Life! A Chart For Living A Balanced Life (Even If You’re An Academic),” by Gina Hiatt, clinical psychologist.
“Why do academics lead unbalanced lives?”
You can never do enough. The academic life is a writer’s life, only worse. This is because the academic constantly feels that he or she has not done enough. … There is always someone better than you. Academics constantly compare themselves to each other. … And face it: no matter how good you are at some aspect of a profession or field, there is someone else who does another part of the profession better.
In the long run, this is no way to live a life. You will end up with health problems and not enjoy your career, if you don’t balance your life better. There is more to life than academia!
While recognizing that academics may not feel they “deserve” leisure time as a “reward,” Gina suggests ways to live more balanced lives by finding things to do, other than work, that are relaxing, fun, and important. Most of us at least are somewhat familiar with the concept (I am constantly being told by loved ones that I should relax more and have more fun), but the notion that leisure time should be filled with important activities is another matter entirely, and brings to mind Theodor Adorno’s 1963 essay “Free Time.” There he succinctly wrote:
Time and again in interviews and questionnaires one is asked what one has for a hobby. … I am startled by the question whenever I meet with it. I have no hobby. Not that I’m a workaholic who wouldn’t know how to do anything else but get down to business and do what has to be done. But rather I take the activities with which I occupy myself beyond the bounds of my official profession, without exception, so seriously that I would be shocked by the idea that they had anything to do with hobbies -that is, activities I’m mindlessly infatuated with only in order to kill time- if my experiences had not toughened me against manifestations of barbarism that have become self-evident and acceptable. Making music, listening to music, reading with concentration constitute an integral element of my existence; the word hobby would make a mockery of them. Read the rest of this entry »