American Academy in Rome

  • Corey T. BrennanEmail author
Living reference work entry

Basic Information

The American Academy in Rome, founded in 1894 and chartered by the US Congress in 1905 and 1912, is an independent center for the development of US artists and scholars. Its present institutional form dates to 1914, when the American Academy, newly consolidated with the American School of Classical Studies in Rome (founded in 1895 under the auspices of the Archaeological Institute of America), took up a joint campus on the Janiculum Hill, encompassing 11 acres.

The Academy still operates under its 1912 charter as “an institution for the study and practice of the fine arts and for the study and investigation of the archaeology, literature, and history of the Classical and later periods.” The Academy appoints its “Rome Prize” Fellows through a juried competition (with now typically four out of an annual total of c. 30 fellowships reserved for ancient studies). In addition to a small staff (which includes a Professor-in-Charge for the humanities), a complement of residents (appointed by the Academy’s Director), affiliated fellows, and visiting scholars and artists presently fill out the Academy community each year.

Major Impact

The Academy’s most significant contribution to archaeology is the five decades (1947–1999) of excavation it organized at the site of the Latin colony of Cosa in southwestern Tuscany, tracing developments in the town and its territory from the important era of growth in the second century BCE through the early and later imperial and then Medieval periods. More generally, the Academy can be credited for the field training of many American archaeologists at Cosa and other more loosely sponsored digs in Rome and Italy, as well as through various summer programs it has offered.

By the time of the physical merger of the American Academy and American School on Rome’s Janiculum in 1914, the School had a substantial library, an archaeological museum (principally assembled by Richard Norton, its Director from 1899 to 1907) and cast collection, a $100,000 endowment, and continuing subscriptions from a number of foundations and colleges. It also had admitted women members since the turn of the century. However, the consolidated American Academy, now organized into two schools (“Fine Arts” and “Classical Studies”), would see women as full Fellows only in the Classics and Archaeology fields until the post-World War II period.

The pivotal year 1914 opened with Albert William Van Buren (American School Fellow in 1906) as Professor of Archaeology and in charge of the library. In that same year, the death of Thomas Spencer Jerome (US Consul on Capri) brought an important endowment jointly to the Academy and University of Michigan for a lecture series on Roman topics that bears his name. A journal, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, began in 1915, with a Papers and Monographs series soon to follow in 1919. In the period between the two Wars, Van Buren closely supervised an archaeologically based course of study for the Classical Fellows and shorter-term visiting students that included intensive explorations in Rome and travel in Latium, Campania, and Greece. (Links between the new Rome Academy and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, which date to 1881, were close from the start.) A Classical Summer School was founded in 1923 that condensed the curriculum for Rome and environs for the benefit of American teachers of classics.

The disruptions caused by World War II led to the shutting of the Academy from 1940 to 1945. By that time, the institution had firmly established itself as a premier archaeological training ground for future American academics and museum curators. The Academy’s impact here can perhaps best be seen in the significant number of both its scholars and artists who played a prominent role in forming and serving in the military Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFA&A) section that proved highly effective in preserving cultural properties in Europe during and immediately following the Second World War. The Academy also opened its properties in 1945 and 1946 for “leave courses” in archaeology and other subjects to military personnel and members of the US Embassy in Rome.

During the war years, the Academy’s Trustees decided that it would henceforth broaden the institution’s humanistic fields to encompass Medieval and Renaissance studies and (apparently with a view toward reducing overhead) discontinue the system of courses in both the Schools of Fine Arts and Classical Studies. These were significant choices that proved decisive for the Academy’s present identity as a center for independent study and advanced research. Other measures included a revitalization of the Jerome Lectures and energetic participation in the new (1946) International Union of the Academies in Rome and International Association of Classical Archaeology (AIAC). The creation of the Fulbright Program in 1946 soon enabled the Academy to introduce two Italian scholars per year into the community, many of them archaeologists. One of the most important dividends of the “internationalization” of the postwar Academy was German photographer Ernest Nash’s establishment there in 1957 of the Fototeca Unione archive, which remains a vital center of visual documentation on Roman architecture and topography.

Already in 1944, the Academy’s Trustees had started discussions about finding a working excavation site once peace was restored in Italy. In 1947, former Fellow (and Yale University faculty member) Frank E. Brown returned to the freshly reopened Academy as Professor-in-Charge and Director of Excavations. Brown moved quickly to systematize and prune the Academy’s museum holdings and to identify Cosa as the most promising site for an institutional dig. Excavations started at Cosa in 1948, and work continued (under Brown for almost three decades, followed by Russell T. Scott, and then Elizabeth Fentress) at regular intervals until 1999 with a series of publications that is still ongoing. The Academy also constructed a small museum on the site (1964–1968), which it turned over to the Italian government in 1981 when it was fully furnished. The research methods and results from especially the early years of work at Cosa have done much to stimulate work in Republican urban archaeology elsewhere in Italy, most directly Fregellae, and provided valuable comparanda for other sites, including the situation of Republican Rome itself. Excavations that followed up the Academy’s work resumed at Cosa under Russell T. Scott in 2013.

The postwar years saw the Academy make repeated attempts to expand its public acceptance in the United States and to increase revenues for its ambitious programs, including the Cosa excavations. Financial pressures led to the creation of a full-time paid Executive President based in New York starting in 1969. But one of many welcome developments was the decision in 1973 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to endow the position of Professor-in-Charge, with Frank Brown as the first incumbent (1974–1976).

Though the central organization of the sustained work at Cosa as a multiyear institutional project has so far proved unique, the Academy has sponsored numerous other excavations at varying levels. These range from work in Rome by Frank Brown on the Regia (1964–1966), Russell T. Scott in the Area Sacra of Vesta (1987–1996), and Eric Hostetter on the northeast slope of the Palatine hill (1989–1995) to formal patronage of a large-scale University of Michigan excavation at Gabii in Italy conducted by Nicola Terrenato (2008–present), the Porta Stabia excavations at Pompeii (Steven Ellis, University of Cincinnati) and the Contrada Agnese at Morgantina (Alex Walthall, University of Texas). The American Academy also has established a series of summer programs on the analogy of its long-standing Classical Summer School, ranging from immersive experiences in general archaeology (annually from 1991 to 2012) and Roman pottery (first in 2006) to a series of rotating skills courses including epigraphy, ancient building documentation, and digital finds analysis. An effort of some 25 years to reorganize and properly catalogue the Academy’s museum holdings has resulted in the creation of a new (2008) archaeological repository and seminar room dedicated to Richard Norton and A. W. Van Buren and a new archive for its excavation documentation, including the Cosa and Regia excavations, much of which is also available online at the Academy’s website (

Notable past Fellows of the American Academy and its predecessor the American School who have made significant contributions in Mediterranean archaeology include Charles Rufus Morey (completing his Fellowship in 1903), Esther Boise Van Deman (1909), Charles Densmore Curtis (1915), Lily Ross Taylor (1920), Charles Alexander Robinson (1926), Howard Comfort (1929), James Henry Oliver (1930), Frank E. Brown (1933), Lucy Shoe Merritt (1937), Lawrence Richardson, Jr. (1950), Emeline H. Richardson (1952), William L. MacDonald (1956), Michael Jameson (1959), R. Ross Holloway (1960), Maria Teresa Moevs (1964), James Packer (1964), Susan Downey (1965), Russell T. Scott (1966), Malcolm Bell III (1970), Joseph Carter (1971), Eric Hostetter (1983), Ingrid Edlund-Berry (1984), and C. Brian Rose (1992), among many others. Archaeologists have often filled the rotating post of Professor-in-Charge, most recently Elizabeth Fentress (1996–1999), Archer Martin (1999–2001), and 2006 Fellow Kimberly Bowes (2012–2014, then serving as Academy Director into 2017).


Further Reading

  1. Bonfante, L., and H. Nagy, eds. 2016. The collection of antiquities of the American Academy in Rome. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  2. Goldman, N.W., ed. 2001. New light from ancient Cosa: Classical Mediterranean studies in honor of Cleo Rickman Fitch. New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  3. Kohl, B.G., et al. 1995. The centennial directory of the American Academy in Rome. New York/Rome: American Academy in Rome.Google Scholar
  4. Scott, R.T. 1995. The academy and the school of classical studies. In American Academy in Rome: Celebrating a century, 84–88. New York: American Academy in Rome.Google Scholar
  5. Valentine, A., and L.N. Valentine. 1973. The American Academy in Rome, 1894–1969. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ClassicsRutgers University-New BrunswickNew BrunswickUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Jeffrey A. Becker
    • 1
  • Alison Barclay
    • 2
  1. 1.Dept. of Classical and Near Eastern StudiesBinghamton University - SUNYBinghamtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Modern Languages and ClassicsSaint Mary's UniversityHalifaxCanada