Monday, November 26, 2012


John Griffiths Pedley, The Life and Work of Francis Willey Kelsey: Archaeology, Antiquity, and the Arts. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012. Pp. xi, 468. ISBN 9780472118021. $75.00.

Reviewed by Pablo Alvarez, University of Michigan (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Francis Willey Kelsey (1858-1927) was an individual of extraordinary energy and intellect. While he started his academic career as Professor of Latin at Lake Forest University (1880-1888), he spent the rest of his professional life at the University of Michigan, where he was Professor of Latin from 1889 until his death in 1927, and Chair from 1890 until 1927. His firm view on the importance of classical education in a democratic society, along with a strong conviction that the interpretation of classical texts ultimately relied on the understanding of material culture, compelled him to be involved in numerous academic associations as well as expeditions to Italy and the greater Middle East. As president of the American Philological Association (1907) and of the Archaeological Institute of America (1907-12), Kelsey dramatically raised the profile of classical studies in North America, effectively supporting newly created Institutions such as the American School of Classical Studies in Rome. He organized pioneering excavations at Carthage, Antioch in Pisidia, and Karanis. His editions of Caesar, Cicero, Ovid, Lucretius, and Xenophon were the standard teaching texts of the time. During his travels through Europe and the greater Middle East he acquired numerous artifacts illustrating daily life under the Roman Empire to be used for teaching and research. The papyri uncovered during the excavations at Karanis became the foundation of what is now the largest papyrus collection in America. Kelsey also inaugurated the publication of the Humanistic Series at Michigan, the forerunner of the University of Michigan Press, and, with the assistance of Henry A. Sanders, edited most of the seventeen volumes that were published before his death. But he is probably best remembered for his translation and numerous editions of August Mau's Pompeii: Its Life and Art .To accomplish all this, Kelsey developed a special talent to obtain the continuous support of an ever-growing circle of wealthy acquaintances from the prosperous industrial city of Detroit.

A comprehensive account of all those deeds, and more, can now be enjoyed in the remarkable biography The Life and Work of Francis Willey Kelsey: Archaeology, Antiquity, and the Arts, by John Griffiths Pedley, Emeritus Professor of Classical Archaeology and Greek at the University of Michigan. Pedley follows a chronological approach based largely on Kelsey's diaries, written between 1901 and 1927. Kelsey was also a compulsive writer of letters, and for some glimpses of Kelsey's personality in the context of his family and friends, Pedley occasionally draws on his daughter's notes. The extensive footnotes open a window to the early history of the University of Michigan and classical studies in America at the end of the nineteenth and first decades of the twentieth century. In many ways, Kelsey's life was about the network he was able to create almost single-handily. As Pedley states in the introduction, "this biography attempts to untangle the thread of Kelsey's great circle of acquaintances and to highlight once again the effect he had on so many" (5).

Pedley is fully aware that individuals like Kelsey were not born in isolation but were a product of their age and personal circumstances. In Chapter 1, the author describes Kelsey's modest family background, underscoring the fact that Kelsey had the extraordinary opportunity to attend the Lockport school, an American pioneer in offering free education beyond the elementary level. For a small extra fee it was also possible to study languages, including Latin and Greek, German, French, Spanish, and Italian. It was a stroke of great fortune indeed, considering that by 1870 there were just 160 public schools in the country. Moreover, Kelsey's early years coincided with the American Gilded Age, an era characterized by an unprecedented industrial development, progress, and optimism. To these circumstances Pedley adds Kelsey's strong religious faith, articulated, for example, by his support of the First Presbyterian Church throughout all his life. As the author aptly summarizes, "the crescendo of materialism went hand in hand with belief in religion—not least that intensely Protestant view that worldly success evidenced personal salvation—and a belief in philanthropy, which flourished" (15-6).

After eight years at Lake Forest University (Chapter 2), Kelsey joined the Department of Latin at the University of Michigan. From then on, and chapter by chapter, Pedley's narrative consistently describes an individual always moving forward to undertake an endless list of duties, which included not only the regular tasks of lecturing and research, but also his participation in academic societies and fundraising initiatives.

Those interested in the history of Classical Archaeology will greatly benefit from the last three chapters of the book. They describe the two great expeditions Kelsey organized in 1919-21 and 1921-27, including trips to Europe, Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Tunisia, and Egypt. Pedley also includes a broader historical picture of the sometimes difficult conditions in the French and British colonies of the greater Middle East after the end of World War I. Indeed, Kelsey's organizational and diplomatic skills proved to be essential to smooth things out whenever politics, or even rivalries between archaeologists, interfered with the objectives of scholarship. Whereas the aims of these expeditions were fairly extensive, such as the photography of ancient monuments and the acquisition of manuscripts and papyri, the most important goal was the search and establishment of archaeological sites in Turkey, Carthage and Egypt.

It is indeed fascinating to learn about the goals as well as the type of methodology that were then established for these excavations. For instance, at Antioch in Pisidia the aim was to unveil the architecture and decoration of three major public buildings so that they could be drawn in paper: a city gate, a Christian basilica, and a sanctuary of the imperial cult. Special attention was paid to the structure of the aqueduct that supplied water to the city, and it was expected to find epigraphic evidence of the Res Gestae of Augustus. In fact, more than two hundred fragments were uncovered (325-8).

Regarding the fieldwork at Carthage, Pedley emphasizes the successful excavation of the sanctuary of the Punic goddess Tanit, which uncovered three levels of Punic activity, a basic stratigraphy that is still considered accurate today. Urns were found in these strata, most of them containing burnt bones of infants. While Kelsey was reluctant to accept the thesis that Carthaginians sacrificed children, as we read in literary sources, a Harvard team that revisited the site in the 1970s concluded that infant sacrifice actually took place there (341-5).

Unquestionably, the excavations in the village of Karanis, Egypt, became one of the most important achievements in Kelsey's career. He predicted that a site in Egypt would provide him with an excellent opportunity to learn about social history by using the tools of archaeology and philology. Just a few years before the first expedition, Bernard Grenfell and Arthur Hunt had excavated in Oxyrhynchus, finding about half a million papyri in six seasons of excavations up to 1907. Thus, in the course of his two expeditions, Kelsey avidly searched for papyri and established a fruitful consortium between American universities and British libraries: by not bidding against each other, they kept prices reasonably low. While Grenfell sought Ptolemaic papyri on behalf of the British Museum and the John Rylands Library in Manchester, Kelsey was interested in Roman material for the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin. The newly acquired papyri were normally shipped to the British Museum, where they would be sorted out and sent to the participating institutions. Gradually, other research institutions joined the consortium. But contrary to the practice of focusing exclusively on the search for papyri, Kelsey realized that full-scale excavations at Karanis would eventually reveal a more complete picture of life in a Graeco-Roman Egyptian village (385).

In brief, this biography is an important record of a visionary man who happened to live in a critical moment in the study of classic in America. If one might be tempted to emphasize the impact of Kelsey within the context of the University of Michigan in its early history, the scope of his professional achievements nationally, and internationally, clearly proves that his legacy transcends the boundaries of geography and time.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations xi
Introduction 1
1. Setting the Stage 6
2. Apprenticeship: Lake Forest University 15
3. Quickening the Pace: The First Decade at Michigan, 1889-1900 38
4. A Man of Many Parts, 1900-1906 62
5. A National Profile: Kelsey and the Archaeological Institute of America, 1902-12 118
6. A Regional Presence: Kelsey Close to Home, 1907-12 158
7. Leading the Way, 1913-18 205
8. The First Expedition (1919-21): Battlefields and Manuscripts 254
9. The Second Expedition (1921-27): Kelsey on the Move 301
10.The Final Passage 374
Bibliography 407
Index 417

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