North American Scholar

DOW, Sterling

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1903-11-19
  • Born City: Portland
  • Born State/Country: ME
  • Parents: Sterling Tucker & Alice Verrill D.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1995-01-09
  • Death City: Cambridge
  • Death State/Country: MA
  • Married: Elizabeth Sanderson Flagg, 1931.
  • Education:

    A.B. Harvard 1925; Fiske Scholar, Trinity Coll., Cambridge, 1925-26; A.M. Harvard, 1928; Ph.D., 1936; student ASCSA, 1931-6; Guggenheim fell., 1934-35; excavated at Corinth, 1934; LL.D., U. California Berkeley, ; Litt.D., St. Francis Coll., L.H.D., Boston Coll.

  • Professional Experience:

    Instr., tutor. Harvard, 1936-41; asso. prof. 1941-46; prof. history & Greek, 1946-49; John E. Hudson Prof. Archaeology, 1949-70;  vis. prof. Gk., civilization & history, Boston Coll., 1970-78; Sather Prof. 1964; ann. Prof. ASCSA 1966-67 Blegen prof. Vassar Coll.. 1978-79; OSS, Washington & Cairo, 1942-44; war archivist, Harvard, 1944-45; a founder, Tchrs. of Classics in New England; pres. 1947-60; a founder Am. Research Center in Egypt, trustee, 1950-53, 1955-59; trustee Byzantine Inst. Radcliffe Coll., 1953-59; adv. Board Guggenheim fellowship, 1959, 1966-67; pres. AIA, 1946-48; hon. Pres. 1949-95; pres. CANE, 1955-56.

  • Dissertation:

    “Athenian Inscriptions in the Official lettering of 230-200 B.C.” (Harvard, 1936).

  • Notes:

    Sterling Dow died only months after his ninety-first birthday. At Harvard he was a member of both the Classics and History Departments. In a life and career of remarkable achievement he combined qualities not often joined in one person: He was an exact and prolific scholar, an innovative visionary and activist, a stimulating and devoted teacher, and a witty and eloquently laconic speaker and stylist whose manner of expression and view of life were wholly guided by his New England Yankee principles and character.Born in Portland, Maine, he went from Kennebunk by way of Phillips Exeter Academy into the Harvard class of 1925 that also contained Mason Hammond and John Finley. His revered mentor was the ancient historian, W.S. Ferguson, under whose auspices he was supported for several years of research in Greece. He returned in 1936 with a completed book and doctorate and began a teaching career at Harvard that lasted, with a break for wartime service, until his retirement in 1970.Sterling and his wife, Elizabeth, arrived in Athens just as the Agora excavations were beginning. The discoveries there, the scholars associated with them, and the American School of Classical Studies were henceforth of central importance for his professional life and work. Of equal importance at the time was his close collaboration with thegreat epigrapher, Johannes Kirchner. He himself developed a superior technique for making squeezes of inscriptions, and aided by this wife, he made an immense collection that subsequently provided a treasure house of material for his own research and the dissertations of his students on all aspects of Athenian public life and prosopography. His first monograph was on the Prytaneis (Councillors), with a first demonstration of how the kleroterion (voting machine) worked. In all his wide-ranging scholarship, from Linear B, literacy, and Homer to religious calendars and epigraphical method, he always started from physical evidence and kept in view the practical realities and economic constraints of daily life. After the Second World War, foreseeing new pressures on the study of the classics, he initiated a series of imagina­tive enterprises. He organized the Teachers of Classics in New England to bring together school and college teachers; he was the founding father of Archaeology magazine; he instigated the revised edition of Smyth's Greek Grammar, and he helped found Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies. After retirement from Harvard he taught as a Distinguished Professor at Boston College for seven years and then in 1978 as Blegen Distinguished Professor at Vassar. Earlier he served as President of the Archaeological Institute of America, the American Classical League, and the Classical Association of New England. He was Sather Professor at Berkeley and Annual Professor of the American School in Athens. He was awarded three Guggenheim Fellowships and was an Honorary Life Member of the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies and the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut. He was awarded three honorary degrees and was a Life Member of the American Philologi­cal Association.In his teaching he attracted and stimulated students at all levels, from large lecture courses to seminars, in part by indicating that there were many interesting problems still to be solved. To graduate students especially he imparted his own confidence in the paramount importance and high worth of scholarly research. His students took from him a sense of accomplishment and pride in their work, which they repaid with a deep loyalty matched by his own to them.Sterling could be said to have had three spiritual homes; the southern coast of Maine, especially the region of Cape Porpoise; Athens, especially the Agora and the American School; and Cambridge, especially his study in Widener Library. During his lifetime he was seldom far from them in body or in spirit. He died within sight of Harvard, lucid in mind and independent to the end.

  • Sources:

    APA Newsletter (April 1995) 16-17; WhAm; NYTimes 14 January 1995; Harvard University Gazette 31 May 2001; Alan Boegehold & Mortimer Chambers, CW 88,6 (July-August 1995) 473.

  • Author: Zeph Stewart