From the 21st to 24th of October, I was at Yale University conducting research for my undergraduate honors thesis. My thesis aims to trace the institutional history of the American Society of Papyrologists and, more broadly, to study papyrology’s development in the US throughout the 20th century.
Yale was indispensable to papyrology’s spread across the Western Hemisphere. In the 1930s, Russian émigré and renowned historian Michael I. Rostovtzeff imported papyrology to Yale, laying the foundation for Yale’s being the nucleus of papyrological study in North America until the mid 1960s. Then, in 1963, Yale administration hired Eric A. Havelock, a Harvard philologist, to rectify what they perceived to be an imbalance between Yale’s historical and philological scholarship. Within two years, hostility between Havelock and Yale’s ancient history faculty had escalated into multiple resignations and, effectively, the gutting of papyrology from Yale’s Classics Department.
My trip had two objectives. First, I went to study Havelock’s papers in the Sterling Library. These papers gave me vital insight into the ins and outs of the Yale controversy, allowing me to better understand how personal, political, and intellectual motivations coalesced into such a heated dispute. Second, I wanted to interview Professor Ann Hanson, with whom I stayed, about her role in resurrecting papyrology at Yale, and what she remembered of the controversy when she was undergraduate at University of Michigan. Moreover, at Professor Hanson’s suggestion, I visited the Dura Europos exhibit at the Yale Art Gallery. Rostovtzeff led the excavation of Dura Europos in the 1930s, and it was rewarding to experience his legacy in such a tangible way. Overall, the trip was both fruitful and enjoyable, and I am deeply grateful to the Undergraduate Research Support Office and the Classics Department for enabling me to go.