The American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a prestigious Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for $578,750. The School must raise a three-to-one match to the NEH grant or approximately $1.8 million. This grant will support improvements and renovations to the School’s two world-renowned humanities research and library facilities, the Blegen Library and the Gennadius Library. The total costs for the renovations to both libraries are around $10 million.
The combined holdings of the Blegen and Gennadius libraries provide unparalleled resources for all aspects of Greek studies. The Blegen Library covers virtually the entire field of prehistoric and classical antiquity with holdings of more than 94,000 volumes, supporting the scholarly work of students and scholars. A significant expansion of the original mission of the School was made possible in 1922 by a gift of some 26,000 rare books manuscripts, and archives from John Gennadius, bibliophile and former Greek ambassador to Great Britain. It was Gennadius’ dream that the Gennadius Library become “a world center for the study of Hellenism.” That library has grown to over 116,000 volumes today and is an exceptional resource for students and scholars from the U.S., Greece, and other countries on the history, language, literature and art of Greece, especially from the Byzantine period to contemporary times.
The goals for the Blegen Library renovations include the installation of a well-functioning climate control system and the creation of a new “smart” classroom. In order to keep the temperature and humidity at optimal levels for the books, as well as for the many researchers who use it year round, a complete overhaul of the climate-control system in the library will be undertaken. The NEH Challenge Grant funds will also support the creation of a “smart” classroom using the latest technology for long-distance teleconferencing and the latest presentation equipment. As the world grows smaller due to improved telecommunication advances, the School aims to facilitate an increased level of communication among scholars in the United States, Greece, and worldwide. This new “smart” seminar room will be larger than the present one, with built-in flexibility to accommodate small seminars (20-30 participants) as well as medium-sized meetings and workshops (30-60) for which there is currently no suitable space at the School.
The Gennadius Library is one of Greece’s national treasures, and its collections comprise vital sources for American and international scholars conducting research on the post–classical history of Greece and its neighboring countries. The NEH grant and matching funds will provide support for a project to renovate the library with a view to providing improved access to the collections as well as a new exhibition space. The renovation focuses on creating an area for open stacks access in the library. Currently, all of the library resources, both rare and non-rare, are in closed stacks, with library attendants bringing the books from storage to researchers in the reading room. To accommodate open stacks for the non-rare research collections and study areas for students and scholars, the library will be expanded to the west with a two-story underground extension. The currently unusable West Wing of the Library will also be renovated and linked to the new extension, providing for more study, stacks, and storage spaces. An exhibition space for display of the unique collections of the Library will be created beneath the main reading room and in the West Wing.
The NEH panelists praised many aspects of the School and the funded project, and below are several brief excerpts from their comments:
“The American School at Athens has proven through the years to be an extraordinarily important resource for scholars. It has offered life-changing experiences to students who have attended its programs.”
“This is a premiere educational and research center, with more than a century of contributions to our understanding of the ancient and modern Greek worlds. The two libraries are the leading repositories for researchers in the topic areas. The School has a strong consortium of U.S. universities (182) and well developed programs for training graduate students (and oversight by 300+ members of the academy!) Hesperia is the leading journal in the field, and key to dissemination of research results.”
“The value of the ASCSA for classicists in America and around the globe can be seen from the number of scholars who have received training there, as well as the number of institutions that are partnered with the ASCSA. Renovations of the two library buildings would significantly improve the research experiences for these scholars, while at the same time it would preserve the archives better (with a climate-controlled system at the Blegen Library) and provide space for exhibits, a smart classroom and a new seminar room. The new seminar room, for example, would allow for the availability of digital materials for talks, seminars and panels.”
Since the School’s founding nearly 130 years ago, teaching, research and the dissemination of knowledge have been its core mission. The School’s two libraries are at the very center of that mission. Funds from this NEH Challenge Grant will allow the School to continue to provide outstanding humanities research opportunities for students and scholars from the United States and from around the world.
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