In Memoriam: George W. Houston

Black and white photograph from 1978 depicting two light skinned women flanking a light skinned man; they stand in a Roman garden
George W. Houston (center), Cipriana Scelba, executive director of the Fulbright Commission (right), and an unidentified woman at a Classical Summer School reception at the Academy in 1978 (photograph from American Academy in Rome, Institutional Archive)

George Woodard Houston, a professor in the Department of Classics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill from 1969 to 2005 and a 1969 Rome Prize Fellow, died on January 25, 2024. He was 82 years old. An expert in Latin literature and Roman history, Houston specialized in Latin epigraphy, Roman libraries and book collections, ancient technology, and Roman historiography.

Born in New York in 1941, Houston attended the Milne School before earning a bachelor’s degree from Haverford College, in 1963. He spent two years at the Academy as a predoctoral Rome Prize Fellow and completed his PhD in classics at Chapel Hill in 1971, writing on “Roman Imperial Administrative Personnel during the Principates of Vespasian and Titus (A.D. 69–81).”

In addition to a long career in North Carolina, where he won the Bowman and Gordon Gray Professorship for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, Houston was a visiting professor at the University of Bologna in 1982. He also served as president and vice president of the Vergelian Society of America and cofounded the American Society of Greek and Latin Epigraphy.

Houston returned to the Academy in 1977, directing the Classical Summer School for three years. Katherine Geffcken, who led the program after him, said that he was “careful and kind” with her as she took the reins. Geffcken accompanied him and his students in summer 1979 on a “wonderful day” at Lenovium and the Garden of Ninfa, and she retained some of the program schedule that he had established during his leadership.

Houston is the author of Inside Roman Libraries: Book Collections and Their Management in Antiquity (2014). He wrote prolifically for journals, publishing articles and reviews in the American Journal of Archaeology, Classical World, Libraries and the Cultural Record, Syria, the American Journal of Philology, the Classical Journal, Transactions of the American Philological Association, and the Journal of Roman Studies, among others. He also contributed to volumes 36, 48, and 53 of the Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome.

Upon Houston’s return to the United States after his fellowship, he wrote, “I think it is safe to say that my wife [Jean] and I have never had a more exciting, happy, and challenging time than we did while we were in Rome, and we will always remember the past two years as a very special experience.”

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