North American Scholar

GRAHAM, Alexander John

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1930-03-09
  • Born City: Lowestoft
  • Born State/Country: England
  • Parents: Godfrey Michael and Edith Mary Meek G.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 2005-12-26
  • Death City: London
  • Death State/Country: England
  • Married: Jenny Elizabeth Fitter, July 6, 1963
  • Education:

    B.A. Cambridge, 1952; M.A. 1956; Ph.D., 1957; Cromer Greek Prize, British Academy, 1956; Hare Prize, Cambridge, 1960; NEH Fellow, 1981-82.

  • Professional Experience:

    Asst. lectr., U. London, 1955-57; asst. lectr. to sr. lectr., U. Manchester, 1957-77; prof. classical studies, U. Pennsylvania, 1977-95; external examiner ancient history, University of Leeds, Cambridge University, University of Liverpool. 1970-77; sr. fell., Center for Hellenic Studies, Washington, 1989-94.  

  • Dissertation:

    "The Relations between Greek Colonies and Their Mother Colonies" (Cambridge, 1957).

  • Notes:

    Graham began his foray into classical studies under the tutelage of Victor Ehrenberg and John Burtt at Bootham School, the Quaker boarding school in York, in his native England.  He served in the National Service and then attended King’s College, Cambridge, where he earned a BA with Distinction in Ancient History in 1952, winning the Richards Prize. In 1953 he studied at the University of Munich and later at the British School at Athens before earning his MA (1956) and PhD (1957) under Frank Adcock at Cambridge. His dissertation was awarded the Hare Prize from Cambridge, and he received the Cromer Greek Prize from the British Academy for his JHS article of 1960. After a brief stint at the University of London, followed by two decades at the University of Manchester, he moved to the University of Pennsylvania, where he remained until his retirement in 1995.

    Graham is most celebrated for his pioneering work on the history of Greek colonization, which includes Colony and Mother City in Ancient Greece, dozens of succinct and careful articles in the most-prestigious international journals, and his magisterial essays in the Cambridge Ancient History (second edition).  Yet his versatility reveals itself in his articles on Philip, the Severans, and even ancient beekeeping, as well as in the breadth of topics pursued by his many doctoral students at the University of Pennsylvania.  His work is conspicuous for its consistent exactitude and shrewdness, especially when dealing with inscriptions.  He accepted well-proven ideas, but did not hesitate to challenge a traditional interpretation if the contrary evidence was persuasive.  One of his telling characteristics as a scholar is that, rather than publish extensively in edited volumes, he preferred to submit his articles to journals, where they were subject to the referee process individually and were thus forced to stand on their own merits.

    To his many students, Graham was the model for how to do ancient history: learned, patient, inspiring, and kind.  He taught philology: the exact reading of the text and due diligence with the evidence. A facile argument might be greeted with his telling sidelong glance and the understated suggestion, “There may be more to it than that.” Yet he was not beyond mischievously baiting a class of fresh graduate students with the comment, “You probably know more about this than I,” and then casting about with a sparkle in his eye to see if anyone dared to bite.  Those scholars who learned from him spend the remainder of their careers holding him up as the measure of their own work, wondering always, would John Graham be persuaded?  

  • Sources:

    Festschrift: Oikistes. Studies in Constitutions, Colonies, and Military Power in the Ancient World, Offered in Honor of A.J. Graham, ed. Vanessa Gorman & Eric W. Robinson, Bibliotheca Classica Batava (Leiden: Brill, 2002). DAS 10 (2001) 102.

  • Author: Vanessa B. Gorman