Brendan Burke

Brendan Burke at ancient Eleon

In July 2021, Brendan Burke began a three-year appointment as the American School’s new Andrew W. Mellon Professor. He is Professor of Greek and Roman Studies at the University of Victoria and has co-directed the Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project (EBAP) since 2007. He holds a B.A. from the University of Florida and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles.

As an archaeologist of Bronze Age and Classical Greece, he has broad experience teaching graduate and undergraduate students in the classroom and on-site throughout Greece and Turkey. He has a deep familiarity with the history and mission of the School, especially its academic program, having been a Regular Member (1994–1995), the Doreen Canaday Spitzer Fellow (1996–1997), and the School’s first Assistant Professor of Classical Studies (2000–2002). He has served on the Managing Committee since 2003.

In addition to survey and excavation experience at the Phrygian capital of Gordion in Turkey, Burke has worked at Inishmore among the Aran Islands of western Ireland. In Greece, he has excavated at Corinth, Agios Konstantinos on Methana, and at Pylos. He has participated in surveys of the Morea in the western Peloponnese and Dorati near Sikyon.

Your long association with the American School gives you an intimate perspective of its academic program. What made you decide to apply for the Mellon Professorship?

The cohort of Regular Members is always a very strong, diverse group of graduate students from North America who are extremely enthusiastic about seeing as much of Greece as possible. They are the reason the job of Mellon Professor can be regarded as “the best job in Classics,” to quote a former Mellon Professor. Exploring Greece with them and having extended interaction with colleagues from other foreign schools and Greek colleagues throughout the country provide unique teaching opportunities. In addition to the School’s libraries and resources, the changing mix of students and scholars makes it an excellent place for research and creates a lively intellectual community.

What has been the most exciting part of the academic program so far?

Getting on the road and seeing so much of Greece during the fall trips with the Regular Members was certainly the high point. We all have a long way to go before getting back to any kind of “normal” with COVID restrictions, but in the fall we were able to focus on what the School has always done—explore Greece and get to know its landscape and history firsthand. The Ministry of Culture has done so much to enhance archaeological sites and revitalize museums in recent years. For me, it has been great to revisit places I love and see the results of continuing archaeological work and share that with the group.

What are your aspirations for the Regular Program over the next three years?

As foreign scholars and students, we are guests in this country, and it is part of my job to make the next generation aware of the richness of the Greek past and the many ways available to them for future study. It is truly a privilege to work and study as we do. I hope the various backgrounds and research strengths that the Regular Members bring to Greece are complemented by their peers and the teaching staff of the School, providing them with learning experiences that they would not get in their home departments. I am also hoping we can expand the reach of the academic program, getting Regular-year applications from interested people whose backgrounds are not often seen at the School. The field of classical studies is multidisciplinary and has great potential to benefit from hearing multiple perspectives of Hellenic history and its impact on the world.

What do you see as the program’s current strengths?

One advantage of the academic program is that the American School has a great network of collaborators who contribute in various ways to our programs. We have built friendships with many colleagues who generously offer their time and expertise to help our members and advance our research and teaching goals. Greek and foreign-school colleagues know that our Regular and Associate Members are serious, committed, and interested in taking full advantage of their time in Greece. The relationships that the academic program can help establish between School members and others can last throughout someone’s career and yield great results.

What changes do you plan to make?

The many Mellon Professors who have come before me have established a very strong pedagogical program, so I do not see the need to make “changes” necessarily. I do see potential for adjustments and adaptations, building on my own strengths and those who happen to be at the School from year to year. On the first trip, we visited both Thasos and Corfu, and sites in between. Having both Nigel Kennell and Teresa Shawcross as Whitehead Distinguished Scholars have been great additions to our program this year. In mid-March, I am planning a short trip to the Saronic Gulf, to Aegina, Methana, Poros and Galatas. I would also like to incorporate visits to Hymettos into the Attica sessions. In future years, I hope to lead a trip to central Anatolia to explore connections between the Greek world and the Hittites and Phrygians, among other fascinating cultures.

How will you incorporate your expertise in Aegean and Anatolian prehistory into the program?

I recognize that my profile is not typical of previous Mellon Professors, and I am proud of having a strong background in prehistoric archaeology. Some of the founding figures in Greek archaeology focused on the prehistoric periods, and its importance both to the history of the larger discipline of classical studies and to Greek identity is undeniable. I am excited to help students appreciate the full range of the Greek past and the full variety of archaeological evidence. My experience working in Anatolia, at Gordion, helped me appreciate the interconnectedness of Greece within the broader Mediterranean, and that is something important to explore in all chronological periods.

I think my background, including my experience directing an active excavation in central Greece, demonstrates that having broad knowledge of many subdisciplines is helpful to understanding the complexity of the Greek past. Providing our Regular Members with exposure to a range of fields in classical studies can only help them on the daunting and competitive job market.

Tell us about your research interests and the work you have been doing on the Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project.

The Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project (EBAP) started as a synergasia with colleagues (Bryan Burns and Susan Lupack) whom I met during my Regular and Associate Member years at the School (1995–1997). Our Mellon Professor, John Camp, introduced us to Dr. Vassilis Aravantinos, Director of the IX Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, Boeotia, and the Archaeological Museum of Thebes, during the fall trips and we continued friendly contact with him as we became young professors. In 2007, Dr. Aravantinos suggested we investigate the site of ancient Eleon located on an elevated plateau west of the village of Arma. Together, we formulated a systematic regional survey project of agricultural areas around three villages, Tanagra, Arma and Eleonas, as a synergasia of the Canadian Institute in Greece and the Ephorate. Our work developed into a trial excavation in 2011. In 2012, with Dr. Alexandra Harami of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Boeotia, Bryan Burns and I began full-scale excavations which have produced very exciting results. We have material from the early Mycenaean period (ca. 1700 B.C.), the later Mycenaean age (ca. 1200–1100 B.C.), and the Archaic through Classical periods. With vital funding from the Institute for Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP) and the Social Sciences Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), we have been able to provide archaeological training for many students from Canada, the U.S., Greece, and elsewhere. Many of our collaborators are members of the ASCSA community and several have worked with original research material as part of their dissertations and post-doctoral projects.

Incoming students at the School frequently receive advice to engage with the wider Athens community beyond the gates of the Blegen and Gennadius Libraries and Loring Hall, and to make connections with potential colleagues at foreign schools. How will you encourage the Regular and Associate Members to foster these ties?

I think relationships with members of foreign schools are very important, but even more so, I hope American School members meet Greek scholars and graduate students who are doing interesting and important research. Regular and Associate Members should make an effort to learn modern Greek. Within their short time here, and with their busy schedules, it is difficult for most to attain fluency, but every member of the School should be able to meet and greet a Greek colleague, student, site guard, and just be a good member of their new community.

Also, in terms of getting beyond the compound walls, I have the advantage of knowing this issue from both sides. I remember being a Regular Member when time and money are precious resources that need to be used judiciously. I have also been a member of another foreign school in Athens (the Canadian Institute in Greece, where I was interim Director in 2018–2019). American School members have their time heavily programmed during the academic year, and the School itself has a very active lecture series, with Wiener Lab talks, Gennadius talks, tea talks, School lectures, etc. In addition, there are multiple lectures during the academic year at other foreign schools and at Greek universities and associations. Anyone who has spent time in Athens knows that this is the great advantage of being here and I will encourage Regular Members to be aware of the busy lecture calendar and help them to make the best use of their time. I will encourage them to attend talks relevant to their areas of research but also explore topics with which they may not be very familiar. It is at these venues that, for generations, professional relationships and friendships have been established.

What are some of your favorite things to do in Athens?

I enjoy exploring different neighborhoods in Athens. Walking to Vryonas, for example, and then up the slopes of Hymettos is both great exercise and provides great views of the city, from the Acropolis to the Piraeus. I also play darts occasionally on Tuesday nights with a varying group of archaeology-connected locals and drop-in visitors. Finally, I like finding new tavernas and exploring new kinds of cuisines in Athens.

You are living on campus. What aspects of this experience at the School do you look forward to?

Canaday House is a very interesting residence with a lot of character and I am grateful for it. I have had fun making it into a home for the next few years, and I very much appreciate how Niamh and colleagues have helped while also finishing the Loring Hall project. I am very fortunate to be living there with such proximity to the Blegen and Gennadius Libraries. I look forward to having lunch in Loring Hall, which is always the highlight of a typical workday during the academic year. I enjoy playing tennis and very much appreciate the shared court the School has with the British School of Athens.

What are your favorite memories from your term as the School’s Assistant Professor of Classical Studies?

I really valued the community of the School—members, visitors, and staff—who were present during those years (2000–2002). This, too, was a volatile period in history, and it was sometimes tough to be an American living and traveling abroad. I have fond memories of the big gatherings like Thanksgiving, and also quieter times when there were just a few of us in residence. The members of the School relied on each other for all manner of support. Many of those former students are now colleagues with established positions, and several have reached out to me just recently with well-wishes and congratulations, so I would like to thank them here!