The American School of Classical Studies at Athens

The Daly family say goodbye: Kevin, wife Stephanie Larson and their kids Maggie and Sean


Outgoing Mellon Professor Kevin Daly Leaves His Mark

Joanie Blackwell

Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Classical Studies Kevin F. Daly is completing his three-year appointment, during which he headed the School’s Regular Program, highlighted by his trips to Northern and Central Greece in the fall and the Athens/Attica seminar in the winter. He advised Associate Members on their research projects and led members to new destinations for optional trips in the spring including Israel, Jordan, and Ethiopia. Daly returns to Bucknell University, where is he is Associate Professor of Classics & Ancient Mediterranean Studies.

What were some of your goals when you started as Mellon Professor in 2014?

My biggest goal was fairly straightforward: to get the students to as many ancient sites as possible. What we do here is a team sport—and, to continue the sports metaphor, I think getting as many players onto as many fields as possible works best. In my view, there's no way to command all the material from all the different periods and sites with anything approaching an objective level of expertise. So, I tried to approach this job with a healthy level of humility. I decided at the start never to shy away from saying, "I don't know." At the same time, I made an honest effort to learn as much as I could about as many aspects of Greece as I could. But, let's face it, one person can only do so much. And so that's why we do this as a group: so that we can rely on and learn from each other. Our mix of students is so very strong, that if it's about the Mellon too much then the group experience suffers.

What inspired you to embrace this opportunity earlier in your career than most?

First, I'm really quite old and decrepit—let's not forget that. Second, I recognize that my life changed because of the ASCSA and what I learned from my Mellon (John Camp), my Whitehead (Ron Stroud), and my Summer Session leader (John Younger). I wanted to be a part of that dynamic—a relationship that can change a student's approaches and directions.

Who was your Mellon Professor and how have your experiences as a student under that person influenced your own Mellon Professorship?

John Camp was my Mellon Professor, and he was very much my model. Jim Wright recently likened the Mellon Professorship to an apostolic procession. He might be right. So, I looked to John's way of doing things quite a lot. But I also tried to reach out to other predecessors. As I said, I had Ron Stroud as my Whitehead Professor, so I saw how a future Mellon thought about things as well, especially in terms of integrating ancient authors and inscriptions. I contacted Merle Langdon about the whereabouts of horoi (boundary markers). I also got two great bits of input from former Mellon Professors Jim Sickinger and John Oakley. Jim advised me to let the students see what I really thought was interesting and exciting, since enthusiasm makes for better teaching and learning. In other words, he told me to put my own stamp on things as early as possible. John Oakley said that the one thing that he remembered most from his own Mellon (Colin Edmonson) was a clear love of Greece and a desire to see new things. He told me that he tried to share that with his students. And, I must say that my predecessor Margie Miles helped me in innumerable ways. I was tremendously lucky to follow Margie. The School has been around a long time, and we have learned—through both successes and failures—what works. If I had some things go right, much was due to received knowledge.

Did you start any new traditions or make any changes to the program?

The School has gone lots of places over the years, and sometimes things drop off the schedule or reemerge. I tried to see where new, important information was coming to light, and made an effort to extend the reach of trips into those places. I added a day so that we could see some of eastern Achaia (in the northwest Peloponnese)—giving time to Voudeni, Teichos Dymaion, and Patras. And I added time in the region of Thesprotia (northwest Greece between Corfu and Ioannina). I also rebooted a longer version of an Euboia (second largest Greek island, just east of Athens) trip. Thanks to all the new highways, we were able to see more than when I was a student. There's always something new.

Kevin lecturing on the Temple of Hephaestus to the academic program students

What was it like teaching advanced graduate students when you are accustomed to undergraduates at Bucknell?

It's kind of like the difference between looking at a book's table of contents versus actually reading the whole book. Many parts of the general outline and flow are the same, but the devil (and the fun!) is in the details. In teaching undergrads, it's often most helpful to them to help frame a narrative, whereas graduate students sometimes can use help destabilizing the narratives they know. I have taught—and will teach—very capable undergrads at Bucknell, so it's not so much about baseline intelligence or ambition as much as a depth of knowledge or experience. I think (and hope!) wisdom is a real thing. A strong student at 21 is very different from a strong student at 26 (or older). The difference is one of volume of knowledge and experience. 

You are co-director of the Excavation in the Sanctuary of Ismenion Apollo in Thebes. How did serving as the Mellon Professor impact your work there and vice versa?

Working on an excavation is all about teamwork, and it becomes even more clearly so when you direct an excavation. I co-direct the project with my wife, Stephanie Larson. I couldn't do it without her. (And by "it" here, I mean the Mellon Professorship, the excavation, the parenting, the living, everything.) On the excavation side, I got to work closely with an Ephoreia of Greece’s Ministry of Culture, and I learned tons from our Greek colleagues—both what they know and how the various moving parts work over here. I also got to see things emerge every day as we went deeper. And I guess that's how the excavation and the professorship influenced each other most greatly—there was an ever-deepening knowledge of a particular spot, but a widening broader view of Greece and archaeology. I got to be at the center of those two webs.

You chose locations for the optional trips that had not been previously visited by ASCSA groups: Ethiopia and Israel/Jordan. What convinced you to lead trips to these places and what was most memorable about the visits?

Opportunity knocked, and I answered. Elizabeth Fisher, one of the supervisors at our Thebes project, has long been interested in Bronze Age ties to Africa. She had a Fulbright at Aksum University in Ethiopia during my second year as Mellon, and so we developed a trip that could work. It was great. I am good friends with Matt Adams, the Director at the Albright in Jerusalem. We had talked about getting our students together before we came overseas from the US (Matt taught at Bucknell briefly, and we both headed to our current posts in the same year). In my first year as Mellon, things were unstable in Israel, but this year the time seemed right. One of the great benefits of both trips was having the students at the ASCSA meet with their peers in Ethiopia, Israel, and Jordan. It's hard to pick just one memory, so I'll dodge the question a bit by saying that the best thing for me was the experience of being there with like-minded and interested people.

Your family came with you for your term and made for a welcome presence on campus. What were some of the highlights of taking this adventure together?

Stephanie and I met at the School. When Maggie was four months old, we all came over while I was working in the Athenian Agora, and she returned as a two-year-old when Stephanie and I had a sabbatical term. Sean and Maggie also have been with us in Thebes every summer. For them, Greece and the School are pretty much as familiar to them as the US. Most of the specific family memories fall outside of the School. We had lovely Easters in Corinth each year, but we did a lot when the program was on break and/or the students were away while in the hands of someone else for a trip. Recently, as we prepare to go back to the US, we've been making lists about what is "Greek" in our life ("park wherever you want—just put the flashers on!") and what is "American" ("I can't wait for single-stream recycling!"). I'm going to dodge the question about highlights again by saying that we're very happy with what we have had: a life with many scene changes.

You've spent a considerable amount of time living and working in Greece. What did you learn new during these last three years?

Greece itself is new. I think it's hard to express how much the twin crises of economic collapse and refuge inflow has affected Greece and the Greeks we know. The Greek crisis is less visible in Kolonaki, but you even see it here—and pretty much everywhere else. Stephanie has been deeply involved in refugee aid, so she sees that experience firsthand many times a week. While the School can be an insular place—and that can work both to its advantage and its disadvantage—there's no hiding from the general stress level at this moment in Greek history. But we are amazed how folks find a way to get through it all. It's a mess, but I'm honestly not sure any other nation could have absorbed these blows. Think Hurricane Katrina—with all the corresponding issues of race, poverty, feckless government, and desperation—then make it last five years, let it embrace different languages, grapple with different religions, and toss in disputes about borders and international law.

What advice have you given to incoming Mellon Professor Sylvian Fachard?

Sylvian and I have been meeting and talking frequently. He will do a superb job. The advice I gave him was to learn from how we've done things, to adapt as he sees fit, to give it all a new spin expressing his own voice and passion, and to take people to as many places as daylight allows.