“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.


Professors to the Rescue: Americans in the Aegean at the End of the Great War, 1918-1919.

Islands and coast Asia Minor still crowded with refugees. Stop. Number there still to be repatriated estimated three hundred thousand. Stop. We are maintaining three stations in Mytilene district clothing alone being available, but food urgently needed.  Stop. Above statements based on personal inspection this Commission. Stop. We recommend that work in Aegean be immediately extended to other islands like Chios, Samos and to opposite coast which can be reached by sea transport which can be secured by Greek governments. Stop.”

The text quoted above is a small portion of a long telegram (47 lines) that Colonel Edward Capps sent to Harvey D. Gibson, member of the American Red Cross War Council in Paris, on December 12, 1918 (NACP, Greece, ARC Commission to, 964.62/08). The telegram reported the activities of the American Red Cross (ARC hereafter) since arrival of its Greek Commission in Athens on October 23rd.

This is not the first time I am writing about the activities of the ARC in Greece. In 2011, together with Jack L. Davis, then Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), we organized and subsequently published the proceedings of a conference titled Philhellenism, Philanthropy, or Political Convenience: American Archaeology in Greece (Princeton 2013). Davis’s paper, “The American School of Classical Studies and the Politics of Volunteerism,” discussed the involvement of members of the ASCSA, through enlistment in the Greek Commission of the ARC, in humanitarian aid in eastern Macedonia, as well as in the repatriation of Greek citizens who had been taken as hostages to Bulgaria. Later in 2015, on the occasion of the centenary of the Battle of Gallipoli, I was invited to participate in a conference about The First World War in the Mediterranean and the Role of Lemnos, with a paper that discussed the humanitarian activities of the ARC Greek Commission in the eastern Aegean at the end of the Great War. Read the rest of this entry »

Blending Two Cultures: The Gennadius Library Dedication in 1926

Posted by Maria Georgopoulou

Inspired by the recent inauguration of the new Makriyannis Wing, Maria Georgopoulou, Director of the Gennadius Library, here contributes an essay about the festivities that took place during the dedication of the Library in April 1926.

The new Ioannis Makriyannis Wing at the Gennadius Library

On June 2, 2018 the American School inaugurated the new Makriyannis Wing of the Gennadius Library. During the preparations for the opening, I was tempted to look back at the festivities for the inauguration of the Gennadius Library itself in 1926. As with other momentous moments in his life, John Gennadius was keen to keep in his scrapbooks as much information as possible about the events (Opening Exercises of the Gennadius Library, preserved in Scrapbook Φ38, p. 36).

The dedication ceremony of the Gennadeion took place on April 23, 1926 at 4.30 pm, after extensive preparations in America and Athens. The letters exchanged between John Gennadius and Bert Hodge Hill, Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), in November and December 1925 deal not only with significant matters, such as guest lists, but also with smaller details like the duration of the blessing (αγιασμός). Read the rest of this entry »

Dollies and Doilies: Priscilla Capps Hill and the Refugee Crisis in Athens, 1922-1941

Posted by Jack L. Davis

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 (forgotten) relief efforts of Priscilla Capps Hill through Near East Industries during the great refugee crisis that followed the Asia Minor catastrophe in 1922.

In the months that followed the Asia Minor catastrophe in September 1922 and the population exchange of 1923, more than a million Orthodox Christians were ultimately compelled to desert their birth rights in Anatolia. Their influx to Greece generated an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. American expatriates in Greece took immediate action. Darrell O. Hibbard of the YMCA and Jefferson Caffery, Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Mission, created the Athens American Relief Committee, which notified Red Cross missions in Europe and America about the crisis and organized the first relief efforts. Bert H. Hill, Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter), was appointed Chairman of the Relief Committee, in which role he was expected to coordinate communication with the Greek government.  Harry Hill (no relation to Bert), an Englishman, head of the American Express Company in Athens, was charged with purchases and banking.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars were collected by the time the Committee was disbanded on November 24, 1922, when the American Red Cross arrived in Greece to provide humanitarian aid together with Near East Relief, the latter focusing largely on Turkey.  Its work had been invaluable. (See also E. Daleziou, ” ‘Adjuster and Negotiator’: Bert Hodge Hill and the Greek Refugee Crisis, 1918-1928,” Hesperia 82, 2013, pp. 49-65.)

The ASCSA’s involvement did not stop there. In the years to come “the School continued to be a hub for Americans offering their services to a variety of refugee relief efforts such as the ARC, the American Women’s Hospital Organization, Near East Relief, the YMCA, and the Athens American Relief Committee” (Daleziou 2013, p. 58). In addition to relief work, Edward Capps, the Chair of the School’s Managing Committee and a professor of Classics at Princeton University, was asked by Greece’s former prime-minister Eleftherios Venizelos to raise awareness in America of what was happening in Greece. Without wasting time, Capps, who knew Venizelos personally from his days as U.S. Minister to Greece (1920-1921), founded The American Friends of Greece (AFG), the broader mission of which was “to promote friendly relations between Greece and the U.S.” (The AFG later published booklets in support of Greece during World War II and a monthly newsletter, “The Philhellene,” which circulated from 1942-1950.)

Priscilla’s Story

Incorporation of the AFG on October 15, 1923 marked the start of Priscilla Capps’s involvement in refugee affairs, a much less well-known story than her father’s.  Priscilla Capps (1900-1985), a graduate of Smith College, had assisted her father in Athens during his service as Minister, while she was a student at the ASCSA, as a kind of “first daughter.”

Priscilla Capps clad in a traditional Greek costume, ca. 1920s. Photo: ASCSA Archives, Oscar Broneer Papers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Clash of the Titans: The Controversy Behind Loring Hall

Loring Hall on 61 Speusippou (Souidias today), 1929. Source: ASCSA Archives

Loring Hall at 61 Speusippou (Souidias today), 1929. Source: ASCSA Archives

Reading Louis Lord’s History of the early years of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (hereafter ASCSA or School), one gets a sanitized and condensed account of the building’s history (Lord 1947, 203-204). From his description, which largely concentrates on the final  phase of the project, one could hardly imagine that 16 years of complicated negotiations preceded its official opening in February of 1930; in fact, a women’s hostel had been the dream of several important women, including the exceptional but controversial M. Carey Thomas, President of Bryn Mawr College (1894-1922), before various forces finally named it after a man, Judge William Caleb Loring, and made it co-ed. Read the rest of this entry »

“The Best Laid Plans… Often Go Awry”: A Tale of Two Museums

In the spring of 1934, the construction of two new archaeological museums was completed in Greece, both under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or the School hereafter) and by the same architect, W. Stuart Thompson. Thompson had designed the Gennadius Library a few years earlier. The dedication of the Corinth Museum was grand and attended by most significant officers of the Greek Government. There was no dedication for the Lesvos Museum. Of the two museums, the one in Corinth is still standing and functioning, while the other on the island of Mytilene (Lesvos) collapsed shortly after its erection. Read the rest of this entry »

Athens 1918: “In Every Way a Much More Attractive City than Rome”

The headquarters of the American REd Cross in Athens, 1918-1920

The headquarters of the American Red Cross in Athens, 1918-1920. Source: Horace S. Oakley Papers, Newberry Library, Chicago.

This description of Athens was penned by A. Winsor Weld (1869-1956), one of the deputy commissioners of the American Red Cross Commission to Greece, a few days after his arrival in October 1918. Weld, an investment broker from Boston and a graduate of Harvard University (B.A. 1891), was one of a million Americans who responded to President Wilson’s call to provide military and civilian aid to many European countries at the end of WW I. The mission to Greece was organized in June and July of 1918 in response to an appeal from the Greek Red Cross (Capps 1919, 9).

There came from America to do the work 103 persons (60 men and 43 women), and several others were recruited in Europe. They enlisted in the service of the American Red Cross from all parts of the United States, and represented all manner of occupations and professions. There were business men, lawyers, bankers, physicians, preachers, teachers, farmers and mechanics, and among the women, trained nurses, stenographers and social workers. The authority of the Commission was vested in the Commissioner, who held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and seven Deputy Commissioners with the rank of Major.

Read the rest of this entry »