GSAS Alum John Humphrey Becomes Seventh BMC Archaeology Grad to Win AIA’s Highest Honor

Posted March 3rd, 2010 at 12:06 pm.

Photo of John HumphreyBryn Mawr’s famed Department of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology added an entry to its long list of laurels last month when alumnus John Humphrey, Ph.D. 75, became the seventh graduate of the department to win the Archaeological Institute of America’s Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement. Two other winners of the award were Bryn Mawr professors; thus Bryn Mawr-affiliated archaeologists make up nearly one fifth of the winners of the AIA’s highest honor (see a list of other Gold Medal winners from Bryn Mawr below).

Humphrey, whose fieldwork has concentrated on Carthage and other North African outposts of the Roman Empire, founded the Journal of Roman Archaeology in 1988. “Perhaps no other single individual,” says the AIA citation, “has played a greater role over the past two decades in shaping the discipline of Roman archaeology.” Humphrey “recognized and filled an enormous gap in the journal coverage for the ancient world,” the citation continues. “It is now hard to imagine what the field of classical archaeology, and archaeology in general, would look like without it.”

When Humphrey entered Bryn Mawr’s graduate program in the 1970s, he says, “Roman archaeology was considered a poor cousin of Greek. The subject matter of the existing professional journals was heavily weighted toward Greek and Near Eastern archaeology. But there isn’t any logical reason that Greek archaeology should have been more important than Roman in North America.”

Humphrey, a native of Great Britain who earned his undergraduate degree at Cambridge University, was especially struck by the disparity because, he says, the two fields were held in equal esteem in Europe. “I founded the journal to restore the balance,” he says.

According to the AIA, he has largely succeeded. Since the journal’s founding, it has published work by 3,300 authors from around the world. The journal is unusual in that it accepts articles written in French, German, Italian, and Spanish as well as English.

Despite Roman archaeology’s lesser prominence in the United States when he entered Bryn Mawr’s Ph.D. program, Humphrey says, “I knew that I wanted to do Roman, and I wasn’t going to be persuaded to switch to Greek or Etruscan or Near Eastern. You have to give the department credit for the fact that they didn’t try to twist my arm. They really encouraged me to learn from scholars of Roman archaeology anywhere within striking distance of the College.”

Humphrey left Bryn Mawr with more than a degree: he met his wife, Laura Goodman Humphrey, M.S.S. 74, at Bryn Mawr’s Graduate Center (now Brecon Hall). Later, Laura became his business partner as well when she took over the business operations of the journal.

Their daughter, Leah, is a Bryn Mawr sophomore who seems to have inherited her father’s fascination with the ancient world: she hopes to declare an independent major in Egyptian, Greek and Latin literature. Leah, too, has contributed to the family business: she maintains the journal’s Web site, for which she created an index of the publication’s articles. “The indexing of the site was all her original work,” her father notes with pride.

Previous AIA Gold Medalists from Bryn Mawr

  • 1966 – Hetty Goldman, A.B. 1903, was the leading female archaeologist in Greece and Turkey in the early 20th century. She was the first professor in the school of historical studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
  • 1969 – Rhys Carpenter established classical and Near Eastern Architecture as an independent department at Bryn Mawr in 1914. Famous among both archaeologists and art historians for his work on Greek sculpture, he directed the American School of Classical Studies in Athens and founded its journal, Hesperia.
  • 1977 – Lucy Shoe Meritt, ’27, Ph.D. 35, did pathbreaking work on the study of architectural moldings on Greek, Roman and Etruscan buildings. Her careful classification of these theretofore-neglected architectural details was invaluable in establishing dates for many buildings and revealing the ways architectural motifs are transmitted from one place to another.
  • 1987 – Dorothy Burr Thompson, 23, Ph.D. 31, did groundbreaking work on ancient terracotta figurines and was the first female Fellow of the Athenian Agora excavations. In 1936, she discovered the garden of the Temple of Hepaistos and became an expert on garden lore not only of early Greece but of Babylon, Egypt and Italy as well.
  • 1988 – Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway, Ph.D. 58, was a disciple of Rhys Carpenter who transformed the study of Hellenistic sculpture by focusing on original works rather than a combination of textual sources and Roman copies, an approach that had resulted in many erroneous attributions and dates; as a corollary, she pioneered the study of Roman copies as art objects in their own right. She served as the editor of The American Journal of Archaeology.
  • 1989 – Virginia R. Grace, 22, Ph.D. 34, vastly increased the understanding of economic exchange in the ancient world through her study of ceramic transport vessels.
  • 1991 – Machteld Mellink joined Bryn Mawr’s faculty in 1949. She was cited by the AIA as “‘Dean’ of American excavators in Turkey, preeminent scholar of Anatolian cultures, tireless defender of ‘the Record of the Past’ and of ethics in archaeology.” She served as president of the AIA between 1980 and 1984.
  • 2006 – Maria Coutroubaki Shaw, Ph.D. 67, and her husband, Joseph Shaw, led the important excavations at Kommos, on the south coast of Crete, where they found a Minoan town that was a major emporium for trade between the Aegean and other cultures from Sardinia to Egypt, and an Iron Age sanctuary that was a link between the Phoenician and Greek cultures.

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