Friends of Michael H. and Virginia Jameson

Honoring a Friend and Colleague

Friends of Michael H. Jameson have proposed naming the new Student Center's West Colonnade in memory of Michael H. Jameson. They want to honor his extraordinary contributions to the study of ancient Greece and unwavering dedication to the American School. This endearing veranda is located on the first floor of Loring Hall and is accessible through the Eugene Vanderpool Dining Room. Students and scholars come to this space to dine, learn, and socialize.

Michael H. Jameson

Support the Friends of Michael H. and Virginia Jameson Campaign

The American School is currently in the midst of a capital campaign to completely renovate, remodel, and expand Loring Hall, the intellectual and residential heart of the campus and future site of the new Student Center. Spaces in this complex are being named in honor of special members of the community. Please consider making a contribution to help recognize Michael Jameson's extraordinary impact on archaeology and commitment to the American School. Your gift is tax deductible, so click the link below to make a donation today. Thank you for your generous support.

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His Life and Legacy

Michael Jameson’s long association with the American School began in 1949 as a Fulbright Scholar. He then became a Visiting Professor in 1965 and chaired its Committee on Personnel from 1973 to 1975. He was a dedicated Managing Committee member and member emeritus for more than 40 years and a three-time Senior Associate Member.

Tribute by Edward Cohen

Edward Cohen, Trustee Emeritus of the American School and Adjunct Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote this poignant tribute in The Classical World (Volume 98, Number 4, 2005), an academic journal published by Johns Hopkins University:

Characteristically minimizing his massive contributions to classical studies, Michael Jameson (1924–2004) toward the end of a long, productive, multifaceted career expressed some satisfaction in having been at least “a catalyst.” In fact, for decades he had certainly been far more (and no less) than “a catalyst”—producing innovative insights and transformative approaches to diverse aspects of ancient Greek studies, opening new avenues of research that were often hotly pursued thereafter by others. Of signal importance were his paradigmatic studies on Athenian slavery, on Greek religion, on ancient and postclassical Greek economic and legal subjects, and on “spatial” aspects of Athenian life, architecture, and topology. He first identified Porto Cheli in the Argolid as ancient Halieis and wrote important articles on such fundamental and varied subjects as ancient sacrifice, animal husbandry, Athenian constitutional arrangements, and the tenancy of real property.

Charming and hospitable, he integrated his academic studies with his entire life. Socializing with local Greeks in a coffeehouse in the Peloponnesos in the late 1950s, he learned of a village stone which he ultimately identified as containing the text of the “Themistocles Decree,” the most important document yet discovered dealing with the Persian Wars. Jameson’s subsequent masterful publication of the editio princeps of this inscription (detailing Athenian preparation for the decisive naval battle with the Persians, and providing for the prior evacuation of Athens) generated an enormous scholarly response. Even beyond issues relating directly to the content of the document, Jameson’s discovery led ultimately to a substantial increase in our knowledge of many aspects of Greek history, including such matters, for example, as the authenticity and preservation of documents in antiquity, and the nature of Athenian self-presentation in the fourth century. Likewise, Jameson’s origination and codirection of extensive and pioneering site surveys of the Argolid, and his initiation and stewardship over many years of underwater excavations at Halieis, produced important topographical and ecological insights—and introduced new archaeological techniques and novel dimensions of investigation which here too were later implemented and developed by a host of others.

A Greek historian of towering international repute, but a person of unusually broad humanistic interests, he thought it appropriate from time to time to teach courses in Latin (Lucretius), to hold fellowships at both the American Academy at Rome and at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (and to study anthropology at Oxford University), to do verse translations of Greek tragedy (Sophocles’ Trachiniae), and to write on such literary topics as the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. In his writing, Michael Jameson consistently achieved a rare mixture of precise thinking and elegant style—indeed, a beauty of presentation seldom attained by other technically skilled scholars. And he shared his unusual talents and prodigious knowledge almost prodigally with legions of students and colleagues. As he once said of the late David Lewis, Professor of Greek History at Oxford, “only now that he is gone do we excruciatingly appreciate how much he gave us.”

He was a prodigy, graduating from the University of Chicago at seventeen, and attaining (as a teenager serving in the U.S. Armed Forces in World War II) a proficiency in Japanese sufficient to qualify him as a military translator. Although he was attracted to Japanese studies and lived for a time in Japan after World War II, he still finished a challenging Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago before he was twenty-five. Throughout his life, he consistently received the highest academic recognition (membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and in the American Philosophical Society; the presidency of the American Philological Association; innumerable visiting professorships; and the honor of a multitude of scholarships, lectureships, and fellowships at universities and research institutions throughout the world). He served with innovation, administrative skill, and characteristic modesty in important academic posts. At the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught from 1954 to 1976, he was Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, but, more importantly in his estimate, founded and for years headed a then-unique Center for Ancient History which transcended traditional academic boundaries, mixing students of the most diverse ancient civilizations at a time when, for many, ancient studies were still equated with classical Greek and Latin civilization. At Stanford University, where he was Professor of Classics, Humanistic Studies, and History from 1976 until his death (emeritus from 1990), his catholicity of interests, accessible and supportive personality, and inspiring scholarship appealed to numerous graduate and undergraduate students. During the Stanford years, his decades of work in the Argolid culminated in the publication of the encyclopedic A Greek Countryside: The Southern Argolid from Prehistory to the Present Time, of which he was senior author. The important A Lex Sacra from Selinous, of which he was coauthor, similarly drew on a lifetime of important work on Greek law and Greek religion.His relationship with Virginia, his wife of fifty-eight years—herself a teacher and scholar—began in a graduate-level class in Thucydides. Together they traveled and worked in Mediterranean lands, and together they welcomed and sustained students and classicists at warm gatherings and individual evenings in their homes first in Pennsylvania and later in California. She survives him, as do their four sons—and numerous scholars and students whom he inspired and selflessly aided throughout his life. At what was to be my final visit with him—shortly before his death—he told me that he had just learned of the disease which was rapidly to kill him. He was facing death with tranquility, but not without concern—concern for those who were planning various symposia and celebrations to honor his eightieth year, then six months away. He wanted to bring a halt to their preparations, so that “they might spend their time more productively than planning to honor someone who won’t be here.” Many scholars will now “spend their time” less productively because of our loss of this irreplaceable colleague.

Remembrance by Ronald Stroud

Ronald Stroud, former Mellon Professor at the American School, reminisced, "I first met Michael Jameson in Athens in the early sixties, soon after the news broke that he had discovered the 'Themistokles Decree,' one of the most spectacular epigraphic finds of our era. Although I was just a graduate student at Berkeley at the time, when we were introduced, he said that he had heard that I was interested in Greek inscriptions and that there was a passage in the Themistokles Decree that he wanted to ask me about. This was typical of Mike's even-handed and modest approach to teaching and scholarship and began a friendship lasting many decades, extending into the years when we were west coast colleagues at Stanford and Berkeley."