THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A DILETTANTE: RALPH HENRY BREWSTER

The recent discovery of a head of Hermes in central Athens brought to mind another herm (one of the best of its kind), which was stolen from Greece almost ninety years ago. (A herm is a stone pillar with a sculpted head and genitals. In ancient Greece, herms were thought to have an apotropaic function and were placed at crossings, borders, and in front of houses or public buildings.)

I pick up the story in September 1932, when Richard Stillwell (1899-1982) returned to Athens after two months of vacation in America. A Princeton graduate and an architect by training, Stillwell had been appointed the new Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (1932-1935). He was no stranger to Greece or the American School (ASCSA or the School hereafter). As Fellow in Architecture in 1924, he had learned “the skills and rigors of archaeological fieldwork in the excavations at Corinth”; and as Professor of Architecture (1928-1931) he would begin a “long series of architectural studies which would form one of his major contributions to the field” (Shear 1983). In 1931-1932 Stillwell was Assistant Director during Rhys Carpenter’s last year in charge of the School. Starting with Stillwell the School introduced a new model of administration: new directors would learn the ropes by serving as assistant directors during the previous year. (This model was abandoned in the late 1960s, when it became increasingly difficult for incoming directors to extend leaves of absence from universities.)

ASCSA Director Richard (Dick) Stillwell and architect W. Stuart Thompson at the opening ceremony of the Corinth Museum, 1934. ASCSA Archives, Corinth Excavations.
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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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“The haughty arrogance of the Nordic people”: A Scandal in the German Colony of Athens on the 20th of April 1935.

Posted by Alexandra Kankeleit

Alexandra Kankeleit here contributes an essay about an unknown episode, almost a scandal, which took place in 1935 in the German community of Athens and involved the local Catholic church and members of the German Archaeological Institute.  Alexandra, an archaeologist who specializes in the study of Roman mosaics, has also since 2016 been part of an extensive project of the German Archaeological Institute (Athens and Berlin), titled The History of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens during the National Socialist Era. As part of the project, she has examined a host of bibliographic and archival sources in both countries that document the activities of the German archaeologists in Greece from 1933 until 1944. A list of her most recent publications can be found on Alexandra’s own website.


A recently discovered episode from 1935 offers a striking picture of the predominant mood in the so-called “German Colony” in Athens following the National Socialist seizure of power in Germany. (“Deutsche Kolonie” was the official name of the German-speaking Community in Greece until the end of WWII.)  It illustrates in dramatic fashion what battlefronts were being drawn up at the time and what the representatives of the German Archaeological Institute at Athens (DAI Athen hereafter) saw as their role in this critical period.

I stumbled more or less by chance upon this incident while carrying out research at the Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes (Political Archive of the Federal Foreign Office). The relevant documents are to be found in a folder that deals with the “Schwarze Front” (“Black Front”) in Greece, an underground organisation that was opposed to Hitler and his policies, and which was founded in 1930 by Otto Strasser (1897-1974), brother of the infamous Gregor Strasser (1892-1934). From 1934-1937 members of the “Schwarze Front” were based in Greece publishing illegal flyers and articles, and encouraging Germans living in Greece to turn away from Hitler. Read the rest of this entry »


A Preamble to the Nazi Holocaust in Greece: Two Micro-Histories from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens

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 Jewish academics in Athens in the 1930s and anti-semitism at the ASCSA.

A recent comment by Barbara McManus on a older post to this blog makes it clear that leaders of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) factored religion into decision-making about student applications for fellowships  (https://nataliavogeikoff.com/2013/10/01/the-modern-greek-exam-professor-blanks-method-and-other-stories-from-the-1930s/). Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan had observed that fellowship procedures in the 1930s were weighted against women, the handicapped, and even Canadians! McManus remarked:

“Besides being female, handicapped, or Canadian, if you were a Jew it was also difficult to win an ASCSA fellowship in the 1930s. Letters in the Samuel E. Bassett papers in Yale’s manuscript and archives library show that the Fellowship Committee gave Israel Walker the 1930-31 Fellowship in Greek Language, Literature and History only with great reluctance. In an undated letter to Edward Capps about the results of the 1930 fellowship examinations, Bassett lamented that John F. Latimer, “a very attractive young man and an excellent teacher,” fell down badly on the history and literature exams, while Walker placed 6 or 7 points ahead of his nearest competitor. The committee agreed to award the fellowship to Walker since he was ‘vouched for as personally acceptable’ by LaRue Van Hook, Walker’s Columbia professor, who wrote that ‘his semitic blood does not make him objectionable.’ Van Hook’s letter (5 March 1930) actually said, ‘He is of Semitic extraction, but a quiet, modest, and unassuming fellow, very presentable.’ When Bassett had asked David Robinson’s opinion about giving the fellowship to Walker (Robinson was a member of the Fellowship Committee), Robinson had replied (29 March 1930), ‘I am a firm believer in examinations and if Walker comes out far ahead in general average I should hesitate not to give him the fellowship, especially as he can work under his own instructor, Van Hook [Annual Professor for 1930-31]… Personality is an important thing and I hate the Jews with a few exceptions, but these fellowships are given for scholarship and ability to do research work and not merely on the grounds of personality.’” Read the rest of this entry »