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Site Reports

The second trip of the regular program begins on Sunday, and I will give a site report on the Late Antique phase(s) at Ancient Olympia.  Site reports are the bread-and-butter of the Regular Program at the American School.  Typically, they involve a short (ca. 20 minutes, although some run much, much, (much) longer), usually critical description of a building, site, archaeological or historical issue or topic. 

Most material presented in site reports derives from archaeological reports or secondary sources.  They typically do not feature “original research” but rather involve collating material into a concise, comprehensive presentation.  For some places this is relatively easy… for others, like Late Antique Olympia, this is incredibly difficult as one must find a way to synthesize such diverse matters as excavation history, ceramic chronology, settlement phases, epigraphy, architecture, even geology.

While a good site report can resolve a difficult problem or complex site with clarity, the core pedagogical impetus behind these reports seems (to me) to be a demonstration of competence (this is to say, in some cases leaving complexity as complexity demonstrates a heightened degree of expertise and reinforces the authority of the speaker before one’s peers, but one always has to stop short of the dreaded “gobbly-gook/kooky talk” which suggests an inability to clarify or essentialize difficult issues.). 

With site reports, in particular, the performative aspect of regular membership comes to the fore.  The key in almost all aspects of American School academic life is the perform in a professional way before your future colleagues and peers.  And, unlike in a graduate program in the U.S., the nature of American School life — i.e. living together in Loring Hall, working in close quarters in the main reading room of the Blegen library, travelling together, eating together — ensures that the performance of professionalism extends far beyond simply putting together a competent site report.  With some allowances for differences in work patterns and study methods, one is expected not only to present the end result of one’s research in a way that demonstrates professional awareness, but also to conduct research in a way that is clearly professional as well (and even talk informally about doing research in a professionally sophisticated way!).  Thus the performative aspect of the American School program encompasses almost every moment of one’s day (listen for the murmurs: “I haven’t seen him/her in the library much lately…” or “how did he/she get THAT fellowship…”) and offers a rich venue for academic and intellectual gamesmanship.  In some cases the stakes can be high, which adds to the thrill, but mostly it’s just harmless posturing.


For my part, I have always really enjoyed playing a largely insincere and transparent disciplinary shell game.  When thinking or talking about archaeology, I profess to be a historian.  When talking about history, I can always shrug my shoulders and admit to being “mainly an archaeologist”.  Others play their parts a well; common forms of professional or disciplinary identification start with such phrases: “As a philologist…” (i.e. don’t blame me if I don’t understand the stratigraphy here”) or “As a visual person…” (i.e. don’t ask me to explore the grammatical niceties of a textual passage…”).

In any event, an awareness of all this doesn’t stop me from getting all agi-ma-tated about my site report.  Olympia in Late Antiquity is really complex!  How will I even sort all the various discussions into a 20 minute report to give on site?

Wish me luck!

Categories: Notes From Athens
  1. Aaron Barth
    October 8, 2007 at 11:52 am

    Just checking in here. I read some of your crazy and highly interesting blog.
    In response to categorizing people who categorize the past: What becomes problematic about Identifying one’s profession also stems from the other, who is understandably more interested in telling you what they think, or what they’ve read — every man his own Universe.
    For example: someone says they study history, or were trained to study history, and the immediate reply is, “Oh, have you read the Da Vinci Code!?”
    …perhaps that’s why your method works so well: side-step that incoming crazy with a different Title, or Identity, whether feigned or real.
    Back to it…

  2. November 3, 2007 at 2:01 am

    How funny. I think I know some of the people in that picture.

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