The American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Whitehead Professor McEnroe on Gournia with students


Q&A with Whitehead Professor John McEnroe

John McEnroe, John and Anne Fischer Professor of Fine Arts at Hamilton College (NY), served as ASCSA Elizabeth A. Whitehead Professor in 2016-2017. He conducted research to complete site plan of the Minoan town of Gournia, and taught a graduate seminar entitled Κοινότητες: The Architecture of Communities in Ancient Crete.

Since completing excavations at Gournia, Crete in 2014, you and Matt Buell have led the effort of completing a plan of this highly complex site. What parts of that project have you been able to make headway on this year in Athens?
We brought in another tech guy from the Polish Academy of Science and decided to expand out to a 50 hectare radius, so now it is huge! Before, we were just doing the center of the town, a smaller cluster of 60 houses; but now we are mapping the surrounding cemetery area and landscape. Soon we’ll have a 3D model of the whole thing. The complexities of the entire town is our primary interest right now, and we’ve given several talks this year on what we’re understanding from the interpretive level now.

What are the publication plans once everything is complete?
We have study seasons the next couple summers, and after that Matt and I will have completed a draft of our separate volume on the architecture to be published by INSTAP Academic Press.

What was it like visiting Gournia with the Regular Members on the Crete trip?
We spent a little bit of extra time there. It happened to be the world’s nastiest day: people holding on to rocks from being blown away…but it was fun. It was a typical ASCSA trip in this way!

Are you working on anything besides Gournia or do you have plans to at some point?
Right now, I’m just focusing on this, but after it’s finished I’m due for a big change. I’m thinking about working on later periods to get something new going on.

How long has Gournia been your primary research topic?
I started it in 2010, so it has been seven years; it will be at least eight or nine years total.

How has being a Whitehead Professor advanced your current research?
It has in a number of different ways. Since I work in remote upstate NY, just to be surrounded by the academic facilities and other people working on similar ideas has been great. It’s been helpful to talk to different people, and share ideas, and hear new takes on directions scholarship is going…and really great to work with students in the seminars.
I’ve been really amazed by the intellectual climate shift here, in terms of what people are looking at and how they are looking at it. I think there are some general trends to greater complexity and diversity. When I was here for the first time in the 70s, we were happy to compartmentalize things and put them in little intellectual boxes and they stayed put. People are now looking at connections: spatial connections, time connections, cultural connections…things are looking a lot more complicated.

What do you think caused this intellectual climate shift?
I’m not so sure. We talked about it a little in the seminar. It’s part of a world issue and we are part of that world. Living in Athens, you can see how complex things have become here. I think scholarship is reflecting how we are being asked to look at the world. I see this change not only in Minoan architecture talks, but also talks on Roman architecture, Cretan music, and other lectures. It’s all a part of the increasing complexity of the world that we are all witnessing.

What has it been like doing a graduate seminar with ASCSA members? How is it informing your work? How is it different from teaching undergrads at Hamilton?
I’ve learned a lot about teaching here, and I’ve been teaching for 40 years. It was fascinating: at first I thought all I had to really do was to make connections with the various topics they were dealing with—with broader theoretical levels—but halfway through the seminar, I didn’t have to do that anymore because they were making the connections themselves. It just kind of took off and it was fun to watch. In fact, the less that I did, the better it was…and if I do it right, I think that it will be translated back to Hamilton. I think that I just need to give my undergraduates a little more responsibility to take on things. It was great; a wonderful group of young colleagues and a great seminar to experience.

Have any experiences this year inspired new ideas for research or teaching?
For a long time, I’ve been interested in why each Minoan town is different from every other Minoan town, and how that happens. I think this has to do with an increasing interest in complexity, and it goes back a few years to a number of scholars: Josh Ober, Nick Cahill, Carl Knappett. It has to do with self-organization and how cities sort of plan themselves in a way, and take on their own character. It is something that I want to spend some time thinking about, but is also related to some important broader trends in scholarship.

Have you had a chance to visit other parts of Greece?
I went on four of the School trips. I had never been to northwest Greece, which I’m embarrassed to say, but that was a real eye opener. I’ll be going back again with my wife since she still hasn’t been there. I also did the Argolid/Corinthia trip, the Crete trip, and the Sicily trip.

What is it like for you return to the School?
I had been back fairly recently for a semester at a time, so returning as a Whitehead Professor didn’t feel entirely new. Even though I work mostly in Crete, I always try to stop off in Athens for a short time to use the Blegen library. I think about the school all winter long, whether I am there or not, because it gives me something to look forward to when dealing with 10 feet of snow in March. So it is never really that far away.
But it has been great to see the positive changes—they are finishing up the last stages of the Gennadeion construction and the new Wiener Lab is an amazing facility— as well as the familiar things, like the well-stocked bookshelves, that bring back nostalgia, as well. The school is moving on in a lot of interesting directions; there are some fascinating intellectual things going on in addition to the spiffy new buildings.