This week I’ve traveled on from Istanbul to Athens, where I’m using the bibliographic resources of the American School of Classical Studies to research my next book project, which deals with changing attitudes towards the dead in late antiquity. In particular, I’m interested in the increasing presence of the dead in cities (intra-mural burial) and the increasing number of settlements near cemeteries outside of formal, urban boundaries. Both of these processes signal a departure from the classical model of the city, a break-down of the centuries-old taboo surrounding dead bodies, and the beginning of an urban model similar to what can be found in many modern cities. However, as I’m finding in my research, the process by which this happens differs significantly various parts of the eastern Mediterranean and western Europe.
More on that in a later post, however. Today, I want to briefly discuss the role of American overseas research institutes and the ways in which they can benefit scholars. The American School at Athens, where I’m presently working, has tremendous bibliographic resources, combining the Blegen Library (which contains mostly works dealing with Greek and Roman antiquity), the Gennadius Library (which contains work dealing with Byzantine and Early Modern Greece), and the library of the British School of Archaeology (located next door to the American School). Today, scholars can access all of these libraries through one digital catalog, cleverly designated Ambrosia. There are few libraries were scholars can access so much material in a one-block radius. As many readers will know the American School also runs non-credit educational programs: the year-long “Regular Member” program, geared towards graduate students, and the summer-session programs geared towards graduate students and advanced undergraduates. More on those programs can be found here. As a former “Regular Member” myself, I can say that there is no comparable educational experience for those who want to learn about archaeology in Greece. The American School also oversees the excavations in the Athenian Agora and the excavations at Corinth. The latter is where many Regular Members (including myself) train at the end of their academic year in Athens.
|Dinokratous Street — Near the American School and on the way from my apartment
But, to focus on the American School’s educational programs and its bibliographic resources misses one of the key functions of the School and similar institutions. They are great places to meet people, and the American School, in particular, facilitates such meeting through traditions like Tea, served throughout the year (in summer at 5:30 p.m.) in Loring Hall. (Incidentally, tea can also be had at the British School, of course). This week I’ve been able to meet several scholars I would otherwise have been unlikely to meet because we are all working in and around the American School. Even in an age of sharing information digitally (like this blog) the ability to meet people in real time and in real space working on similar projects is extremely important and the American School is a great place for such meetings.
The American School is not the only place were such meetings happen, however. While in Istanbul, I was able to visit and briefly use the facilities of the American Research Institute in Turkey (ARIT). The ARIT facility is located in an idyllic area of Istanbul (photo below) and its reading rooms are wonderful places to read. It is, however, on a different scale than the American School in Athens and does not have the same sort of bibliographic resources. It does, however, have a good collection of books dealing with Byzantine, Ottoman, and Modern Turkey. Perhaps more importantly, it can function as a meeting place and space for American and foreign scholars. Also, ARIT can function as an institutional base for American scholars who want to use the resources of other foreign institutes (like the German Archaeological Institute), Turkish academic libraries, and to visit museums and archaeological sites in Turkey.
|Arnavuktöy, near ARIT Istanbul
While I was in Jerusalem, I was able to use the facilities of the Albright Institute, formerly known as the American School of Oriental Research and formerly one of the “sister” institutes of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. The Albright provides funding for number of scholars who use its residence and research facilities. Like ARIT and the ASCSA, it can also serve as a base for scholars to use nearby library resources and to visit archaeological sites and museums. Like the School in Athens, the Albright has “tea” and functions as place for scholars to meet and exchange ideas and information. Additionally, the Albright can serve more practical and emergency needs, as when it recently helped to facilitate the placement of excavators from Ashkelon into the Megiddo Expedition, after the Ashkelon excavations were suspended due to rocket fire from Gaza. More on that story here. In sum, overseas research centers like the Albright, ARIT, and the American School serve a practical and necessary role in facilitating the meeting of scholars, the exchange of ideas and information, and sometimes assisting scholars, students, and their families with the practicalities of living and working in sometimes unpredictable places.