North American Scholar

FERGUSON, William Scott

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1875-11-11
  • Born City: Marshfield
  • Born State/Country: PE
  • Parents: Donald, a senator, & Elizabeth Scott F.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1954-04-28
  • Death City: Cambridge
  • Death State/Country: MA
  • Married: Mary Alena White, 20 June 1902.
  • Education:

    A.B., McGill, 1896; A.M. Cornell, 1897; Ph.D., 1899; study at Berlin & Athens, 1899-1900; Litt. D., Louvain, 1927; LL.D., U. Toronto, 1934.

  • Professional Experience:

    Instr. to assoc. prof. Gk. & Rom. hist., U. California, 1900-8; res. assoc. Carnegie Inst. of Washington, 1906-7; asst. prof, to prof. anc. hist. Harvard, 1908-12; McLean prof, anc. & mod. hist., 1929-45; prof. ASCSA, 1913-4; dean fac. arts & sci. Harvard, 1939-42.

  • Dissertation:

    “The Athenian Archons of the Third and Second Centuries before Christ” (Cornell 1899); printed CSCP 10 (1899).

  • Publications:

    The Athenian Secretaries (New York, 1898); “The Premature Deification of Eumenes II,” CP 1 (1906) 231-5; “The Death of Menander,” CP 2 (1907) 305-13; “The Athenian Phratries,” CP 5 (1910) 257-84; Hellenistic Athens: An Historical Essay (London, 1911); Greek Imperialism, Lowell Lectures (New York, 1913); Chapters 9-11, Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 5 (Cambridge, Eng., 1927); Chapter 1, Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 7 (Cambridge, Eng., 1928); The Treasurers of Athena (Cambridge, 1932); Athenian Tribal Cycles in the Hellenistic Age (Cambridge, 1932); “Polykeutos and the Soteria,” AJP 55 (1934) 318-36. Bibliography: “Bibliography of William Scott Ferguson to July, 1940,” HSCP 51 (1940) 1-9, supplemented by Sterling Dow, Gnomon 27 (1955) 61.

  • Notes:

    William Scott Ferguson, who as a graduate student conceived a brilliant insight into dating Athenian inscriptions (“Ferguson's Law”), had a long and productive career as author of scholarly monographs, rounded historical narrative, and popular presentations of the Greek world. He directed the dissertations and influenced the careers of some of the most distinguished American historians of the ancient world, including Sterling Dow, J. A. O. Larsen, Charles Edson, Vincent Mary Scramuzza, and A. E. R. Boak. As an administrator, he helped guide Harvard in the tumultuous academic world that preceded World War II. His scholarly work still remains, though largely assimilated, important for research into the complicated world of the Mediterranean in the Hellenistic age.While a graduate student at Cornell, Ferguson had noticed that although the eponymous archons appear in our accounts in no significant order, the secretaries of the council (boule) follow one another from year to year in the official order of the tribes. This discovery made a viable chronology of Hellenistic Athens possible. Following the completion of his thesis and dissertation, Ferguson wrote a number of articles confirming the details of his discovery. From 1904 he wrote articles on a variety of controversies in the study of the Hellenistic age, culminating with Hellenistic Athens: An Historical Essay. His emphasis is on political and constitutional history, but there is also attention to the cultural and religious life. Greek Imperialism shows his ability to generalize and popularize, but his masterpiece of scholarly generalization is his introductory chapter to the seventh volume of Cambridge Ancient History, devoted to the “leading ideas of the new period,” that is, the Hellenistic age. The essay surveys a wide area with a combination of scholarly accuracy and historical judgment.

  • Sources:

    AmHistRev 60 (Oct. 1954) 253; AJA 58 (Oct. 1954) 333-4; Sterling Dow, Gnomon 27 (1955) 60-1; E. Christian Kopff, “William Scott Ferguson,” Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Historians 1866-1912 (Detroit, 1986) 92-7; NatCAB 42:682; Arthur Darby Nock, Year Book APhS (1954) 416-8; WhAm 3:277.

  • Author: E. Christian Kopff