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Alum of the Month

June 2017 Alum of the Month: Jerome J. Pollitt '53

Jerome J. Pollitt '53 is Sterling Professor Emeritus of Classical Archaeology and History of Art at Yale University, where he spent his entire professional career. He is distinguished as one of few individuals in Yale's long history to have served as chair of two departments, Classics (1971-1972; 1975-1977) and History of Art (1981-1984).

"What stands out in my memory of my years at Hotchkiss is the high quality of its faculty," Pollitt says. "Several of its members had a significant influence on my later life, perhaps most notably the late Dr. Allan Hoey (master of Greek and Latin from 1941-1972), who was a very inspiring classics teacher. By the time I went to Yale, I was so well-prepared that the first few years there were really quite restful." Among the courses Pollitt took at Yale was Ancient Greek. "I took that as a bit of a lark, but I was also fortunate enough to take art history courses with the renowned Vincent Joseph Scully Jr., Sterling Professor Emeritus of the History of Art in Architecture. I was greatly stimulated by these courses, even though at the time I had no idea that classical archaeology and art history would become my lifelong profession."

After graduating from Yale in 1957 with a B.A., Pollitt became a Fulbright Scholar at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), a graduate research school, which has administrative responsibility for all American excavations in Greece. ASCSA was founded in 1881 by a consortium of nine American universities in collaboration with leading businessmen and has become the preeminent center for the study of the Greek world, from antiquity to the present day. By training qualified young scholars, sponsoring and promoting archaeological fieldwork, providing resources for scholarly work, and disseminating research, the school promotes the study of Greece's cultural heritage, critical to understanding the civilizations, history and culture of Europe, the Mediterranean, and Western Asia.

After returning to the States, Pollitt was drafted and served a term in the U.S. Army. Following his military service he decided to "take a chance" and apply to Columbia University. He entered the graduate program there in art history and archaeology, in due course received his doctorate, and ultimately accepted a job offer from Yale. This turned out to be a pivotal decision. "When it came to deciding on a teaching position, I felt that Yale offered the best opportunity for me to develop and to refine such teaching skills as I had." In 1962, Pollitt joined the Yale faculty as an Instructor in Classics, and thereafter for several years held a joint appointment as Assistant Professor and then Associate Professor in Classics and Art History. He was appointed Professor of Classical Archaeology and History of Art in 1973. From 1973 to 1977, he also served as Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Archaeology.

In 1986, Pollitt was named Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences by then-Yale President-designate Benno C. Schmidt Jr. P'85, who, in announcing the five-year appointment said, "Mr. Pollitt embodies the strengths of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He is an accomplished and dedicated scholar of classical art and literature and an inspiring teacher. His work ranges across a number of disciplines, and he has broad interests in the array of work in the humanities, the sciences, and in the social sciences that goes forward in the Graduate School. He will be an invaluable advisor about all academic issues facing the University. In my judgment, Yale is fortunate once again to attract a scholar of such distinction to this demanding assignment."

In 1990, Pollitt was appointed the John M. Schiff Professor of Classical Archaeology and History of Art, and finally, Sterling Professor in 1995. While holding joint appointments in Classics and in History of Art, he at various times served as chairman of both departments. His administrative duties, which included curriculum development, endorsing promotions within the departments, and personnel issues, mirrored the interdisciplinary nature of his scholarly work, which focused on the relationship of Greek art to the history, literature, and politics of its time.

In recognition of his many contributions to Yale University and to Classical archaeology, Pollitt has been the recipient of both the William Clyde DeVane Medal from the Yale chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, awarded for distinguished scholarship and teaching, and the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal from the Alumni Association of the Yale Graduate School, presented each year by the Graduate School Alumni Association to a small number of outstanding alumni. This medal recognizes distinguished achievements in scholarship, teaching, academic administration, and public service - all areas in which the legendary Dean Cross excelled.

The author of numerous publications and six books, Pollitt has written: The Art of Greece: ca. 1400-31 B.C.: Sources and Documents; The Art of Rome: ca. 753 B.C.-A.D. 337: Sources and Documents; Art and Experience in Classical Greece; The Ancient View of Greek Art; Greek Vases at Yale (co-authored with his wife, Susan Matheson); and Art in the Hellenistic Age.

For almost 40 years, Pollitt has brought his enthusiasm for classical archaeology and the history of art to the classroom and his students. He credits his time at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens for much of his inspiration. "The time I spent in Greece was magical. A lot of my research and excavation was done through ASCSA, and I am not unique in this way. Almost every scholar in this field has had an affiliation with this school, and it played a major role in making my career possible."

Now retired, Pollitt reflected about how students themselves have changed over the years. "One of the biggest changes came early in my career, sometime around 1970, when Yale began accepting females, many of whom were very good students. I have always felt that the quality of my classes improved dramatically at the undergrad level when that happened. (Nowadays, of course, half of the undergraduate student body is female.)" When addressing the broader question of why study classical archaeology, Pollitt explains, "So much of what exists today - conventions of literature, art, and even politics - is derived from our Classical heritage. The past is vitally important in understanding the world in which we now live."