The American School of Classical Studies at Athens

ASCSA Director’s Statement Regarding the Fate of US Government Funding for the Humanities, the Arts, and International Exchange

Today we are facing a threatened abolition of critical government support for scholarship through such programs as NEH, NEA, and Title VI/Fulbright-Hays International Education programs of the Department of Education.  The ASCSA and its members and affiliated projects have benefited enormously since the creation of these programs.  The following statement argues why maintaining such programs is important for our country and its standing in the world.

It is a fact that the modern world that we enjoy is one that was made by scholarship.  Renaissance humanism spawned both the humanities and the natural sciences.  Over more than six hundred years of enquiry, exploration, documentation, and experiment, scholars have pieced together the past of ancient civilizations and the origins of the earth and all that lives upon it.  They have advanced mathematics and the physical sciences and spawned a world of invention.  They have turned all that knowledge into the practical things of our world.  One of their instruments was the scholarly society that provided a forum for exchange of ideas.  From Galileo to Benjamin Franklin to Albert Einstein these societies have promoted useful knowledge.

In our modern era we believe that scholars have a responsibility to the public.  In the United States the establishment of government funds has advanced that goal. The NEH, NSF, NEA, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the Title VI/Fulbright-Hays International Education programs of the Department of Education have supported research and artistic expression. They have made it available for public enjoyment through programming in communities throughout the country and around the world using radio and television and the Internet. Modest annual investment of public monies has had an exponential impact by encouraging further support from foundations and individuals. These are investments in an infrastructure of knowledge. As with any infrastructure, it is used by a multitude and often taken for granted. But it must be renewed if it is to be effective. When it is neglected, the public good is harmed.   Knowledge infrastructure is not a commodity but, as is the tradition with humanists and artists, something to be shared.

The preservation of our knowledge infrastructure is more than an investment in the present. It is an investment in our future hopes and aspirations. It is an investment in our security. Programs like those of NEA, NEH, NSF, Fulbright-Hays and others support the exchange of knowledge across borders.  On one hand they spread the unique American culture of enquiry by making it accessible in other countries.  They support Americans who, in learning the languages and mores of other cultures, have enormous impact abroad as ambassadors of the best of American values. On the other hand these programs bring scholars, artists, and technicians to our shores to participate in our rich and unique culture through teaching, research, and performance. These cross-border ties are life-long. They establish and strengthen networks of cooperation and collaboration. They amplify knowledge and strengthen bonds of trust. They advance conversation and open paths for resolving conflict. They continue an ancient tradition of curiosity and sharing.

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens is a prime example of a scholarly community that shares in American and in international arenas the fruits of its research.  As the oldest and largest overseas American research center, it is a private institution that, since 1881, has been promoting programs of study and research into the civilizations of Greece and the Mediterranean.  Today it is a consortium of nearly 200 colleges, universities, and research institutions in the US and Canada with hundreds of members who teach and research across the American continent.

The School sponsors research and programming in Greece that extends from the Palaeolithic to the present.  It arguably is a premier center for our understanding of the continuing importance of the centrality of the Hellenic world for contending with the problems that confront the world today, not least through research into their historical antecedents.

Members of the School helped found the Fulbright Foundation in Greece, which has over 5,000 alumnae who, since 1948, have been active in government, educational, and private sectors throughout Greece and the United States.  Since its founding NEH has provided critical funding for member institutions of the ASCSA to carry out research in Greece, both through the provision of fellowships and through matching and outright grants for archaeological research.  NEH and USAID have invested in the physical infrastructure of the ASCSA. That has enabled it to maintain its world-renowned libraries to the American and to an international community of scholars.  Last year we had over 15,000 visitors to our libraries.

The School’s premier research centers at Ancient Corinth and at the Agora of Ancient Athens provide programming for understanding two of the great cities of antiquity, where in one St. Paul famously preached and where in the other democracy was invented. These portals to the past help our society to grasp the extent of the great tradition of which we are a part and to appreciate the timelessness of human experience through the ages.

The American School of Classical Studies’ tradition of supporting education and research over its 136 years of existence is an outstanding example of how the investment of modest public monies has a wide reach that extends across the American continent.  Since 1881 the School’s advancement of the humanities has had an incalculable, positive effect on the lives of generations of Americans.  Continued funding by US government agencies of efforts such as the School’s is an important signal of the United States’ commitment to continuing the tradition of scholarly enquiry and public education that continues to enrich and improve the world in which we live.

James C. Wright

22 March 2017

Director, American School of Classical Studies at Athens