Women in Archeology com Mentoring and Networking Greece, 1927-1928

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Exile from Olynthus July 2005




Women in Archeology.com
Mentoring and Networking

Greece, 1927-1928

Raymond Dessy

Virginia Tech

Wilhelmina van Ingen

Ethel Bell van Ingen

Based upon letters to "my little Mother"

from Willy, and her diary entries

Prof. David (Davy) Robinson


Some books are written. Others create themselves. This book grew from a feminine strand of mitochondrial DNA that was stumbled upon in a Classical History course taught by a charismatic Professor, Glen Bugh of Virginia Tech. Dr. Bugh, an Hellenic epigrapher, often lectures aboard the Smithsonian’s sailing ship in the Mediterranean, educating and entertaining its passengers with the world that was around them 2500 years ago. During one lecture at Virginia Tech he mentioned briefly the papers of Wilhelmina van Ingen, a young girl, 22 years of age, who had attended the 1927-1928 American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). She had participated in the first years dig at Olynthus in the Spring of 1928, working with Prof. David Robinson. Those papers were found in 15 boxes, totaling ~ 30 cubic feet of space in the Storage area for the Special Collections Division of Newman Library at Virginia Tech. Her husband Herschel Elarth donated the boxes to the University after Dr. van Ingen’s death in 1969. Only half of the collection was then inventoried, but the Control Folder of that material was intriguing. There were personal five-year diaries covering the period from 1927-1968, some personal letters she wrote to her Mother, shoeboxes full of postcards from travels she and her husband made around the world during their marriage, and a hodge-podge of personal papers and mementoes. Months of reading eventually unfolded the portrait of a young woman with an incisive, logical mind exploring the real world of study-abroad and archeological field-work. She was just beginning studies toward a Ph.D. in art and archeology at Johns Hopkins. Ms van Ingen was, fortunately, a former student and friend of Mrs. (Dr.) and Dr. Bert Hodge Hill. The latter, the pioneer of excavations at Corinth, had been just recently deposed as director of the ASCSA. Mrs. Hill provided introductions to Mrs. (Dr.) and Dr. Carl Blegen. He became the internationally known archeologist of Troy and many other locations. His wife became a professional and social doyenne in Athens. Ms van Ingen, "Willy", soon became a star pupil at ASCSA, and was asked to join with her mentor from Johns Hopkins, Dr. David Robinson, "Davy", who was beginning excavations at Olynthus, a Chalcidic Grecian city ravaged and destroyed in 348 B.C. by Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander.

In the period from January to early May 1928 the student/mentor relationship between Davy and Ms van Ingen eroded, crumbled and exploded. The then bright lights of archeology— Hill, Blegen, Bonner, Carpenter, and the soon-to-be famous Mylonas— were all entangled in the tattered tale. Ms van Ingen left as an Exile from Olynthus, and pursued her Ph.D. degree at Harvard/Radcliffe under continuing Carnegie Corporation support.

It is possible to piece together most of the real story. It is a classic case of an egoistical, domineering and status-seeking mentor developing insensitivity to the needs of the student. Archeology had become archeology.com, and external image, notoriety, publications and position became a circular set of forces that let the student drop out of the equation. The political and fiscal intrigues within ASCSA that had led to Bert Hodge Hill’s forced removal, Carpenter’s temporary directorship, and the scission from ASCSA of Carl Blegen— Hill’s close professional and personal colleague—added to the flames.

As a chemist who has trained over 100 Ph.D. level students over a 40 year career, and as a scientist who built a career in the halcyon years between the late 1950’s (Sputnik) and the late 1980’s (Relevant Research), the poignant plight of the student in 1928 Athens and Olynthus was familiar. The university has become the university.com, and students’ needs are increasingly forgotten in the “greed for the green”. It was natural to let Ms van Ingen's letters and words flow to paper, trapping the mind of the student, and the mood and mania of the professor as an example of a critical lapsed responsibility. Mentoring was important in 1927-28; it is more important now. Those pre-Depression, pre-WWII students faced a future fraught with uncertainty. Today’s students face a world of globalization, mergers, divestiture of non-core assets, more “creative accounting”, and a lessened emphasis on the importance of basic research. Human nature has not changed, but the above worldly factors create tense surroundings in which a lack of trust and truth in people and governments is even more tragic.

Robinson’s Olynthus dig did enlarge his reputation, but time has increased the professional stains on his work— strains in his performance that originally started the tears in his student/mentor relationship with Ms van Ingen. Ms van Ingen’s 1928 analyses were correct— but she was just a student then, and few listened— then. Perhaps this document will give her mind a new voice.

Having been involved in many mentor defections in the ‘graves’ of academe, and having to often help extract the students from the Laocoon tangles of ineffective Graduate Committees and Graduate Schools, helped channel the initial quest into avenues that examined the political and fiscal environment within ASCSA in 1922-1928. Using the 1927-1928 ASCSA class cohort one can examine the strength of that well-constructed environment which, despite problems, produced such people as Virginia Grace, Wilhelmina van Ingen, and Herbert Couch, and began the short, but brilliant career of Frederick Grace. It was a strong, select group that helped change their scientific field.

The author finally recognized that during the Olynthus dig Ms van Ingen lived in an area that had become a refugee camp during the mass migration of ~1.5 million people between Turkey and Greece. This migration resulted from a poorly constructed, careless, Western-oriented peace treaty at Lausanne that supposedly ended the Greco-Turkish war— a war that was fanned, if indeed not lit, by Western interests in Near-East Oil. The Western powers did not understand, and did not care, about the ethnic issues that were stirred by their tacit support of a Greek incursion into deep Turkey— an incursion that was cut off bloodily by Kamil Ataturk. The West stood by while Smyrna burned. Greece was badly hurt, in spirit and development, like Willy.

But Olynthus was also besieged and leveled, like Carthage, by Philip II for reasons of political hegemony. He was viewed by Demosthenes, who never met him, as the Axis of Evil. Demosthenes’ speeches, the “Philipics” are eloquent presages of what became disinformation strategies or justified calls-to-arms, depending upon your viewpoint. These paralleled to some extent the propaganda distributed by ASCSA in justifying Bert Hodge Hill’s expulsion.

The similar paths trod by professors, politicians, and inhabitants of professional-ponds suggest a commonality- tanks of fish that are not cleaned out often enough. And that analogy suggests a comparative examination with the habits, hubris, horrors and hostilities of Homer’s heroes in the Iliad and Odyssey. The clan and tribal nature of man may be more generic and general than supposed. It is such an easy path to becoming an Exile from Olynthus.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Research in the humanities is quite different from that in experimental science. In the latter, if the data do not quite agree or fit the hypothesis, experiments can be repeated or new ones devised. In the humanities the experiments, the events, the evidence and the time-line cannot be re-experienced or repeated. The record is what it is— fragmented, incomplete, unreadable, misplaced, or lost. The Internet helps a great deal, but ultimately one requires the assistance of reference librarians, archivists, and living colleagues who will share the needed connecting information and links.
Prof. Glen Bugh of Virginia Tech (VT) deserves special thanks for creating the spark that flamed the van Ingen trail. The gracious and professional assistance of the following individuals was essential to a scientist swimming in the humanities- Gail McMillan, Director of the Digital Library and Archives and Special Collection at Virginia Tech, and D. Jane Wills, John M. Jackson, Tamara Kennelly, and Jennifer Meehan of Special Collections. Jan Carlton and Marney Andrews also provided encouragement and direction in the first month of the year 2000 when this quest began. Heather Ball, Librarian at the Art and Architecture Library at VT, was instrumental in locating the lost text-books used by Ms van Ingen. Archivists were vital to pursuing the career of Frederick R. Grace— at the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University, Abigail G. Smith; at the American School for Classical Studies at Athens, Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan. Prof. Brunilde S. Ridgway, Rhys Carpenter Professor at Bryn Mawr, provided valuable insight into Carpenter's unique mind and character, and Eileen Markson, Director of the Rhys Carpenter Library at Bryn Mawr provided the leads to biographical information concerning him. Jeffrey A. Cohen of Bryn Mawr located the trail-heads needed for exploring the American School for Classical Studies at Athens. Ione Mylonas Shear, daughter of Prof. George Mylonas shared some personal remembrances of her Father, who played such an important part in the Olynthus story, and subsequently in American archeology. She also shared warm, intimate revelations that suggest how small and close the archeology community was in the first half of the 20th Century. Her husband served as the third director of the Agora excavations; his father was the first. Ione met her husband at a dig at Eleusis.
Special thanks to those who permitted use of quotations from their Web sites, cited in the text: Nick Cahill, Martha Joukowsky, Alan Kaiser, David Rhees, Susan Rotroff , Stephen Tracy, and Jan Trembly. Maps are by David Greenspan.

John Baird and his Digital Imaging, Learning Technologies Group, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, in conjunction with D. Jane Wills, scanned the Van Ingen portrait photographs from the Van Ingen-Elarth collection. These portraits are also available at ImageBase (http://imagebase.lib.vt.edu/), housed and operated by the Digital Library and Archives, VT University Libraries. Other images of the Greek scene were scanned using the services of the New Media Center at VT. The latter photographs, originally taken by Ms van Ingen, are used through the courtesy of Eunice Burr Couch. The portrayed coins came from Dr. van Ingen-Elarth, who left them with the author in 1968 to be cleaned. Her premature death buried them temporarily. Willy's pottery examples are held within VT's Special Collections.


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