Homer A. Thompson Papers


Collection Number: GR ASCSA HAT 046
Name(s) of Creator(s): Homer ArmstrongThompson (1906-2000)
Title: Homer A. Thompson Papers
Date [bulk]: 1929-1996
Date [inclusive]:
Language(s): English
Summary: The collection contains personal and professional correspondence, diaries, manuscripts, lectures, notes, diplomas and honors, and photographic material (prints, negatives, and slides). His papers document his broad range of personal and professional contacts, the many-faceted world of Greek archaeology during the last three quarters of the 20th century, his thoughts about his work at the Agora and interesting glimpses into life in the United States, Canada, and especially Athens during the rapidly changing years of World War II, the Greek Civil War, and the following decades.
Quantity: 30 linear meters
Immediate Source of Acquisition: Gift of Homer A. Thompson, 1998.
Information about Access: The collection is available for research (with some restrictions)
Cite as: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Archives, Homer A. Thompson Papers (Αμερικανική Σχολή Κλασικών Σπουδών στην Αθήνα, Αρχείο Homer A. Thompson)
Note: The collection was processed and catalogued by Lizabeth Ward Papageorgiou, 2001-2007.

For more information, please contact the Archivist:
The American School of Classical Studies at Athens
54 Souidias Street, Athens 106 76, Greece
phone: 213 000 2400 (ext. 425) 
Contact via E-mail


In the summer of 2000, Homer A. Thompson’s papers (from his house and his office at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton) were packed in one hundred and thirty-eight boxes and delivered to the ASCSA Archives. (In addition, a box of T. Leslie Shear, Sr.’s correspondence and articles were included in this delivery and later, a box of correspondence from Lucy Shoe Meritt’s office, which she had shared with Homer A. Thompson at the IAS was added to this collection.) 


Homer A. Thompson was born in Devlin, a frontier village in Ontario, Canada on 7 September 1906. He received his B.A. and M.A. from the University of British Columbia and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. In 1929, when he was still a student at the University of Michigan, one of his professors, Benjamin Dean Meritt—a man who would become a close friend and colleague at the Institute for Advanced Study—recommended Mr. Thompson to T. Leslie Shear, Sr., who was assembling a staff for the American School of Classical Studies in Athens’ first year of excavation of the Athenian Agora. Thus began Homer Thompson’s life-long involvement with the Agora. During the excavations in 1931, he met Dorothy Burr, the first woman appointed a Fellow of the Athenian Agora excavations. Three years later, in 1934, they married.
Teaching was as much a part of Thompson’s life as excavating: for decades he spent his summers in Athens and the academic year behind the lectern. His first appointment was at the University of Toronto where he was a professor of Classical Archaeology and Art and Archaeology (1933-1947) and also served as Assistant Director of the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto and Curator of the Classical Collection (1933-1947). But in 1942, when war enveloped the world, Thompson put his professional life on hold and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve. From 1943 to 1945 he spent much of his time in Bari, Italy serving as an Intelligence Officer. (His intelligence activities allowed him to keep abreast of what was happening in Athens, as seen in his letters from Bari to family and friends [see Series VI].) When the Germans retreated from Athens, Thompson returned and began arranging for the resumption of excavations in a tragically impoverished city now in the throes of the Greek Civil War.
In 1947, Thompson was appointed Director of the Agora Excavations and, in the same year, he became a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, where he remained until retirement. But along with his excavating and research, he continued to teach: visiting professor at Princeton University (1954-1971) and Columbia University (1968-1969), George Eastman Visiting Professor at Oxford University (1959-1960), Geddes-Harrower Professor at the University of Aberdeen (1964), Regent’s Lectureship at the University of California, Berkeley (1978), and the Archaeological Institute of America’s Norton Lecturer (1978-1979). He also traveled across the United States and Canada delivering lectures for the Archaeological Institute of America and was appointed to guest lectureships in Australia, Canada, England and Sweden. It appears he could never say “no” to an invitation to talk about his consuming interest, even accepting requests to speak at high schools and social clubs.
He was also an active member of many organizations: he served on the managing board and many committees of the ASCSA and the Archaeological Institute of America and rarely declined requests for contributions to support excavations and a myriad of associations. He was awarded honorary degrees from universities and colleges in the United States, Canada, Switzerland, France and Greece. He was awarded the Archaeological Institute of America’s Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement (1972), the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania’s Lucy Wharton Drexel Gold Medal (1978), the British Academy’s Kenyon Medal for Classical Studies (1991), and the American Philosophical Society’s Thomas Jefferson Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities (1996).
Thompson’s scholarly reputation in the field of Greek archaeology is preserved in his many articles and books, but his correspondence reveals a glimpse of the man as well as the scholar. His contacts stretched around the globe and counted not only a who’s who of twentieth century archaeologists, classicists and art historians but many notable names outside the field. He was a prolific and prompt correspondent; even the simplest queries from young children received well-considered answers. Although, in his oral history, he disclaimed helping his junior colleagues, the incredible number of recommendations and grant applications he wrote in support of young scholars refute his claim. He encouraged and supported scholars from the former Soviet Union to study in the U.S. at a time when such support was not the norm. He was generous with his material and open-minded to new ideas in the field. Never an ungenerous word about a colleague, often turned to as a mediator, he is repeatedly revealed as a man who simply found discord unproductive and distracting.
Homer A. Thompson is a biographer’s delight – it appears he threw nothing away. The wide variety of papers he kept document his broad range of personal and professional contacts, the many-faceted world of Greek archaeology during the last three quarters of the twentieth century, his thoughts about his work at the Agora and interesting glimpses into life in the United States, Canada and especially Athens during the rapidly changing years of World War II, the Civil War and following decades.


Series IA: Personal and Professional Correspondence (A-H), (Boxes 1-31), contains Homer A. Thompson’s correspondence with over a thousand colleagues, friends, relatives and strangers. It is not possible to separate his professional and personal correspondence (a collection of letters to friends and family written during WWII is filed in Series VI) because so many of his correspondents were friends and colleagues and professional and personal concerns often appear in the same letter; see for example, Benjamin Dean and Lucy Shoe Meritt, Lily Kahil, Lucy Talcott.

Series IB: Personal and Professional Correspondence (I-Z) (Boxes 32-77) continues Homer A. Thompson’s correspondence with over a thousand colleagues, friends, relatives and strangers.

Series II: Correspondence with Associations (Boxes 78-102) includes correspondence with hundreds of universities and schools, professional associations and societies, museums, social clubs, foundations, congresses, committees and domestic and international governmental institutions.

Series IIA: Archaeological Institute of America (Boxes 103-107) comprises notices to AIA members and correspondence which reveals Homer A. Thompson’s active participation in the AIA as a member of the governing body, several committees and a lecturer to AIA societies throughout the United States and Canada.

Series IIB: American School of Classical Studies at Athens (Boxes 108-121) covers almost all aspects of the ASCSA during Homer A. Thompson’s professional life. The bulk of this series is organized chronologically under “Management” and contains correspondence between the trustees, managing committee members, treasurers, directors of the School and the Agora and concerns the everyday running of the ASCSA including progress of the excavations in the Agora, restoration of the Stoa of Attalos, construction of the museum, extension of the Agora land, proposals for funding, financial matters, personnel and more. Series IX covers the same material as found in this Series.

Series IIC: Institute for Advanced Study (Boxes 122-126) concerns the inner workings of the IAS from 1947 when Homer A. Thompson was appointed to the Institute until his retirement. The material includes prosaic IAS memos and announcements; School of Humanities memos, announcements of seminars and colloquia; discussions about proposed permanent or temporary members of the School or the Institute; participation on various committees; personal and work-related issues such as salary, requests for supplies, books, hiring of assistants, retirement; as well as interesting historical issues like the House on Un-American Activities’ accusation against Robert Oppenheimer in the 1950s.

Series III: Correspondence with Businesses (Box 127) includes personal bills, orders, business flyers, requests for services, ticket stubs and (marked with *) queries and purchases of materials for the Agora.

Series IIIA: Publishers and Printing Companies (Boxes 128-129) has book orders, publishers’ requests for his opinion about books to be published, requests for permission to publish photographs of Agora objects and arrangements for printing Agora publications.

Series IV: Professional publications (Boxes 130-133) contains subscriptions to, announcements about and correspondence with the staff of publications ranging from the American Journal of Archaeology to Who’s Who in America.

Series IVA: Popular Press: Print, Audio, Visual (Box 134) has correspondence about proposed articles, films, television and radio programs about the Agora or interviews with Mr. Thompson, as well as his subscriptions to these media.

Series V: Athenian Agora Excavations (Boxes 135-153a-f) includes excavation reports; notes, plans,and  drawings of Agora sites; inventory and concordance notebooks; bound financial statements and grant proposals; photographic albums prepared for public relations; a large collection of plans chiefly concerning the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos and the construction of the museum, and a scrapbook with photos and other publicity material from the dedication of the Stoa in 1956. ASCSA management correspondence about Agora issues are found in Series IIB.

Series VI: Personal History (Boxes 154-164) contains Homer A. Thompson’s lecture notes and exams from his student years at the University of British Columbia and the University of Michigan, his lecture notes when teaching at the University of Toronto, family and travel photographs, an oral history and curricula vitae, a collection of letters from and articles about the war years, his diaries and agendas from 1929-1998, and other personal material.

Series VII: Manuscripts, Lectures and Lecture Outlines (Boxes 165-169) of Homer A. Thompson published and/or delivered from 1930 to 1984.

Series VIIA: Research Notes and Newspaper Clippings (Boxes 170-172) includes offprints and notes about subjects he was researching and newspaper clippings about archaeological news and miscellaneous subjects.

Series VIII: T. Leslie Shear, Sr. (Boxes 173-175) was included with Homer A. Thompson’s papers and includes some of T. Leslie Shear Sr.’s correspondence and many of his published articles.

Series IX: Lucy Shoe (Meritt) (Boxes 176-181) was found in the office of the Institute for Advanced Study, which was shared by Lucy Shoe and Homer A. Thompson and concerns the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos; it duplicates and expands the material found in Series IIB “Management”.

Series X: Photographs and Negatives (Boxes 182-188, 201-205) is a large collection of mounted and unmounted black and white and colored photographs of archaeological sites in and outside of Greece, archaeological objects in European and North American museums, photographs of the excavations at the Agora and construction of the Stoa of Attalos, excavated objects and more, as well as 1624 negatives (digitized under ESPA in 2015, available online).

Series XI: Objects (Boxes 189-200) includes Homer A. Thompson’s degrees and honors, film reels, negatives, academic robes, briefcases, and other small objects.

Series XII: The Lantern Slide Collection includes 1984 slides from the Agora Excavations (1931-1939, 1947-1948), the Corinth Excavations (1925-1926, 1928-1930, 1949), the Sardis Excavations (1921-1922), and from other miscellaneous sites (e.g., Rhodes, Knidos). Most of the collection originally belonged to T. Leslie Shear, but was later used by Homer Thompson. It also includes slides from Dorothy Burr Thompson's  lectures.

Series XIII: A Supplement (Boxes 206-210). These papers were found in a storage space at the Institute for Advanced Study in 2008, after the bulk of Thompson's papers had been catalogued. They include personal papers (correspondence with the ASCSA, financial papers, articles about Homer A. Thompson, personal photographs, honors, awards, and his obituary), a biography, and the transcription of his diaries by his daughter, Pamela Sinkler-Todd; a large number of photographs (mock-ups of photographs for articles in Hesperia and Agora Picture Books, large B/W mounted photographs of various sites and some miscellaneous photographs).