From the Archives: Classical Summer School

Grant Showerman leads the Classical Summer School on a visit to the Roman Forum in 1926 (photograph from the Institutional Archive, American Academy in Rome)
Grant Showerman leads the Classical Summer School on a visit to the Roman Forum in 1926 (photograph from the Institutional Archive, American Academy in Rome)
Grant Showerman leads the Classical Summer School on a visit to the Roman Forum in 1926 (photograph from the Institutional Archive, American Academy in Rome)

First held in 1923, the Classical Summer School was designed to give American high school Latin teachers direct experience with places in Italy associated with antiquity and return with a renewed enthusiasm for and greater understanding of their subjects. Participants, five in the first year, visited sites associated with Caesar, Cicero, Ovid, and Virgil in the morning, followed by an afternoon lecture on Roman history or literature as well as instruction in modern Italian.

University of Wisconsin professor Grant Showerman (1900 Fellow), who conducted the first session and served as director until 1932, “was a great believer in the popularization of the classics” who “possessed a deep knowledge and love for Rome in all its periods and aspects,” according to Stephen L. Dyson in Ancient Marbles to American Shores.

The Classical Summer School evolved quickly, embracing a larger picture of classical antiquity through an emphasis on archaeology and augmented by specialist talks from Fellows. Graduate students began to enroll, and by 1927, over two hundred classicists had journeyed to Rome. Women outnumbered men three or four to one. Class size peaked at fifty-four one year, which nearly led to more selective registration if World War Two had not suspended the program.

The Classical Summer School reopened in summer 1947, a few months before the Academy welcomed its first class of postwar Fellows in October. Henry Thompson Rowell, who had directed the program in the late 1930s, took the reins again. Rowell “made each day a more exciting one of discover than the last,” wrote AAR director Laurance Roberts, “and gave his pupils a picture of Roman civilization sound in fact, full in detail, and exciting in conception….” Before the year ended the Board of Trustees voted to formally approve the summer session as an integral part of regular Academy programming.

In the early 1960s, Fulbright scholars had composed two-thirds of each summer session. In the twenty-first century the program, ever a model of rigor, attracts a mix of graduate students, undergraduates, and teachers. Classical Summer School leaders in more recent decades include John H. D’Arms (1972 and 1984 Resident), Katherine Geffcken (1955 Fellow), Genevieve Gessert, Susann S. Lusnia (1996 Fellow), and Gretchen Meyers. Sanjaya Thakur of Colorado College is the current director. For more information, visit aarome.org/apply/academic-programs.

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