The Summer Seminar: A Brief History

by Rick Witschonke and Joe Ciccone


Eric P. Newman speaking with Seminar students, 1983

Now known as the Eric P. Newman Graduate Summer Seminar in Numismatics, the Seminar began over fifty years ago, and has a rich and fascinating history. The actual commencement of the Seminar in 1952 grew out of efforts by ANS President Herbert Ives during World War II to publicize the availability of the Society’s collections to students and scholars, while most European collections were unavailable. In 1943, the Society distributed a circular to this effect, and in 1944 established the Edward T. Newell Fellowship, which provided a stipend of $300 for a student to spend time at the ANS, to help with the assimilation of the massive Newell bequest of ancient coins. In 1945, the ANA added a second $300 fellowship for work on coinages of the Americas, and the ANS began to hire graduate students to assist the curators in their work on the collections and the photo file. Throughout the late 1940s, there were typically two or three students working at the Society under these programs. In 1951, a prize of $100 was offered for the best numismatic paper, and it was awarded to Cornelius C. Vermeule III, who went on to become a distinguished numismatic scholar. Also in 1951, four students were brought into the ANS for the summer, and were provided some formal training by the staff while they were working. (One of the four was Howard Adelson, who subsequently lectured at and directed the Seminar, and wrote the 1958 history of the ANS, an important source for this article.) This session provided a prototype for the formal Seminar commencing the following year, as the Society finally recognized that the curatorial workload of the students over the brief summer session significantly interfered with their program of numismatic learning, and that the two would have to be separated. In his proposal to the Council for the Seminar in its present form, President Louis West wrote that “the original plan for these summer positions proved a failure.” He then went on:

We are interested in obtaining recognition of numismatics as a recognized field of humanistic studies—One that is at least as important as the study of epigraphy. One of the ways to accomplish this is to demonstrate to an ever widening group of students in the field(s) of history, economics, (and) art, the indispensable contributions that numismatics can make to these other fields.


First class of Graduate Summer Seminar, 1952. Pictured (clockwise around table from front): Dericksen Brinkerhoff, Brooks Emmons, Eva Brann, Theodore Buttrey, Jr., Roger Hornsby, Norman Cantor, Robert Benson, E. Marie Spence (standing), Jonathan Gell, Joachim Gaehde, Jean Davison. Not pictured: John Snyder.

Thus, in 1952, the ANS established the Summer Seminar in Numismatics, with West as the driving force behind it. Ten fellowships of $500 were approved for graduate students to spend ten weeks at the Society reading in numismatics, attending lectures and discussion sessions, and preparing and delivering a paper utilizing numismatic evidence, a formula that has proven successful and is followed to this day. There were so many qualified applicants that first year that thirteen fellowships were awarded. The first class included two returnees from the 1951 session: Brooks Emmons (now Levy), who went on to a distinguished curatorial career at Princeton and subsequently lectured at the Seminar, and Roger Hornsby, who became an ANS Council member and Chairman of the Classics Department at the University of Iowa. The 1952 class also included Theodore Buttrey, who went on to teach at Yale, Michigan, and Cambridge, and publish extensively on numismatics. Buttrey also returned to lecture at the Seminar twenty-one times, from 1956 to 1999, a record which still stands, and was awarded the Huntington Medal in 1996. The faculty of lecturers for the inaugural session was equally distinguished; it included Alfred Bellinger of Yale (who had won the Huntington in 1943 and lectured thirteen times through 1967), Glanville Downey of Harvard and Dumbarton Oaks, Albert Friend of Princeton, Harold Ingholt of Yale (lecturer, 1952-1966), Thomas Mabbott of Hunter College, Lily Ross Taylor of Bryn Mawr, William Wallace of Toronto (lecturer, 1952-1965), and ANS President Louis West of Princeton. Clearly, the Seminar was off to an excellent start.

However, West had in mind one more enhancement to the formula: the addition of a “Visiting Scholar,” an internationally recognized numismatist who would participate in the entire Seminar, giving lectures and advising students. So in the fall of 1952, West sent former ANS President Arthur S. Dewing to try and recruit either Philip Grierson of Cambridge (who died January 15 of this year at the age of 95; see obituary in this issue), or Humphrey Sutherland of Oxford to fill this role for the following summer. West preferred Grierson because he was a medievalist, an area of weakness for the Society, so Dewing approached him first, and he accepted. He was offered a stipend of $4,000 for a six-month stay, in order to allow time for training of the ANS staff as well as the summer students. Unfortunately, Grierson had a previous commitment to the Paris International Numismatic Congress through mid-July, so he missed the first half of the Seminar, but he more than made up for this in subsequent years. Grierson served as Visiting Scholar in 1953, 1954, and 1959, lectured at the Seminar fourteen times between 1957 and 1977, and was awarded the Huntington medal in 1962.

Grierson had never been to the United States before, so he took the opportunity to get to know American scholars. Having been introduced to Dumbarton Oaks by Glanville Downey and Bellinger, who was on the board, Grierson began a life-long affiliation with that institution, which allowed him to visit the United States nearly every summer, dividing his time between New York and Washington. The relationship came full circle in 1956, when Downey wrote to Sawyer Mosser of the ANS (who ably administered the Seminar for many years), asking for information so that Dumbarton Oaks could initiate its own Seminar along similar lines, which they subsequently did. In Downey’s words: “We are thinking of organizing a Byzantine summer seminar for propaganda purposes, and I am making a study of comparable undertakings.”


Louis West, 1954

The Visiting Scholar concept proved very successful, and, in the first decade of the Seminar, the list of Scholars included such distinguished numismatists as Henri Seyrig (Huntington medal, 1952), Andreas Alföldi (Huntington, 1965), Kenneth Jenkins (Huntington, 1976), Humphrey Sutherland (Huntington, 1950), Peter Berghaus (Huntington, 1984), Colin Kraay (Huntington, 1980), and Rudi Thompsen. Lecturers included Joseph Strayer, Joachim Gaehde, R. Ross Holloway, E. Baldwin Smith, William Wallace, Robert Lopez, and George Kustas. The invited lecturers were, of course, supplemented by the ANS curatorial staff. Initially, the students (and most of the lecturers) were from Ivy League schools, but this was gradually expanded to include other U.S. and Canadian students and, eventually, international participants. The number of students fluctuated between eight and twelve, depending upon the quality of applications, for many years. Recently, the number has been reduced to 6-8, so that each student can receive more individual attention.

The early success of the Seminar concept was summed up by Sutherland in his comments on his experience as the Visiting Scholar for 1957:

The seminar does not try to turn out embryo specialists, but seeks to integrate the numismatic with other historical disciplines and to suggest that what has often, and misguidedly, been left to “specialists” is in part at least the business of the historian. The fruit of this experiment (though now it is much more than that) will certainly be seen in a very few years, by which time an impressive number of young historians, mainly classical and medieval, will exist in whom some knowledge of numismatic criticism (directed towards political, economic or religious problems) takes its place alongside essential understanding of textual, epigraphical, papyrological and other documentary techniques.

In 1963, Howard Adelson, who had been a lecturer at the Seminar since 1954, took over for a three-year tenure as Director. In 1964, the Council appointed an ad hoc committee, including Ingholt, Bellinger, and Samuel Milbank, to “examine the future procedures of the Society’s Summer Seminar.” Then, in 1965, a committee, consisting of Buttrey, Adelson, Fagerlie, Miles, Thompson, and Mosser, was established to administer the program. Beginning in 1966, George Kustas served as program director. Kustas had been a Seminar student in 1956, and served as a lecturer since 1959. He also briefly served as the Society’s Curator of Roman and Byzantine Coins in the late 1950s. Kustas continued on as Director until 1969. Up to this point, the Seminar had been largely led by a group of academics on the Council, but this changed in 1970, when Chief Curator Margaret Thompson took over the Seminar Directorship. Under Thompson, the number of formal lectures was reduced from ten to five, and a series of twelve informal discussion sessions on particular topics was introduced. In 1973, the Seminar was not held, due to the conflict with the International Numismatic Congress, hosted jointly by the Smithsonian and the ANS. Beginning in 1975, the Society was faced with financial difficulties, and the Seminar was funded through grants from the Smithsonian (1975) and the Lilly Endowment (1976). Distinguished Visiting Scholars during this period included Otto Mørkholm (Huntington, 1981), Hansjorg Bloesch, Paul Naster (Huntington, 1986), Robert Carson (Huntington, 1977), Anne Robertson (Huntington, 1970), John Kent (Huntington, 1994), Paul Balog (Huntington, 1971), Martin Price, Peter Franke (Huntington, 1992), Herbert Cahn (Huntington, 1983), and Tony Hackens. Lecturers included Richard Brilliant, Speros Vryonis, Pierre MacKay, Richard Mitchell, Fred Kleiner, Richard Salomon, and Henry Boren.

Upon Margaret Thompson’s retirement in 1978, Curator William Metcalf took over the Seminar Directorship, and held the position for the next twenty years. In 1981, Councillor Eric Newman stepped forward in support of the Seminar by donating $10,000 and agreeing to make annual gifts of the same amount. Newman (Huntington, 1978) also participated as a lecturer nearly every year between 1969 and 1999, and, in 1996, fully endowed the Seminar with a major donation. It is entirely fitting that the Seminar was renamed in his honor, since its survival without his support would have been problematic.

As part of its 1983 125th anniversary celebration, the Society published a Directory of Alumni of the Seminar. And, in January 1991, the first Graduate Seminar Alumni Conference was held, where three students from the 1990 Seminar presented expanded versions of their summer papers. This Conference was continued through 1999, and was renamed the David M. Bullowa Memorial Conference in recognition of the financial support provided by Catherine Bullowa. In response to a decline in applications, the student stipend was raised from $1,200 to $2,000 for the 1992 Seminar. The effect was immediate, and thirty-two applications were received. Since then, the stipend has been increased several times to the current $4,000, in order to keep up with inflation, and ensure that the Seminar remains accessible to the best students, regardless of their means. In December 1997, a Graduate Seminar Alumni Group was formed, and it issued several newsletters. Unfortunately, this group has become inactive.


Andrew Burnett, 1982

Visiting Scholars over this period included Bernhard Overbeck, Andrew Burnett (who replaced the ailing Colin Kraay in 1982), Michel Amandry (Huntington, 2004), P. J. Casey, Ian Carradice, Christof Boehringer, Guenther Dembski, Georges Depeyrot, Roger Bland, Georges LeRider (Huntington, 1968), Harold B. Mattingly, Giovanni Gorini, Francoise de Callataÿ, Andrea Saccocci, Michael Alram, Christopher Howgego, and Olivier Picard. Some of the non-ANS lecturers were Pierre Bastien (Huntington, 1975), Peter Gaspar, Nicholas Lowick, Giles Carter, Leo Mildenberg (Huntington, 1985), J. P. Northover, Jere Bacharach, Pere Pau Ripolles, Michael Hendy, Jennifer Sheridan, G. Michael Woloch, Jane De Rose Evans, Brooks Emmons Levy, Warren Schultz, Stuart Sears, and Ben Damsky.

In 1999, President Arthur Houghton appointed a committee to “review the program in its entirety.” And, in light of the impending relocation to William Street, the Seminar for 2000 was not held. In 2001, Executive Director Ute Wartenberg Kagan and Kenneth Harl took over the Seminar on an interim basis, when the curatorial staff was radically cut down due a severe financial crisis. They were succeeded in 2002 by Curator Peter van Alfen, the current Director. Visiting Scholars for this period were Kenneth Harl, Haim Gitler, François de Callataÿ, Michel Amandry, and Koray Konuk. These scholars were supplemented by lecturers Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert, Paul Keyser, Christopher Lightfoot, John Kroll, Kenneth Sheedy, Donald Scarinci, and Roger Bagnall. In recent years there has been an increased emphasis on numismatic methodology, and several enhancements are planned for 2006, including a session on legal and ethical issues. The Visiting Scholar this year will be Andrew Meadows, Curator of Greek Coins at the British Museum. A large number of excellent applications were received before the February 15 deadline, and out of these nine students have been selected; the Seminar begins this year on June 5 and will run through July 28.

So how well has the Seminar succeeded in fulfilling the objectives that President West set out over fifty years ago? Anyone who is familiar with numismatic scholarship, particularly ancient and medieval, cannot help but be impressed by the list of students, lecturers, and visiting scholars who have participated in the Seminar. And the impact of the Seminar has been very broad. The 549 students who have attended since 1952 represent ninety-six different universities and include students from thirty foreign countries. Not only have these students received a basic education in numismatic methodology, they have been connected to important numismatic scholars and to one of the major numismatic organizations in the world. Based on the questionnaires completed by attendees for the 1983 Directory of Alumni, 47 percent of the graduates have published at least one numismatic work, and 18 percent have gone on to become recognized numismatic scholars. But perhaps more important, 63 percent have gone on to university teaching or curatorial positions, where they regularly employ numismatics as a discipline in support of the teaching of their subject. In fact, the list of Seminar graduates, from 1952 to the present, reads like an honor roll of distinguished historians, classicists, archeologists, and numismatists. So, as West put it so well:

These students and their successors help to ensure the continuing usefulness of the efforts of those collectors whose former possessions are now in our vaults or on our shelves . . . We are not now, and I hope we never shall be, merely a storehouse for the preservation of inanimate objects. Rather, we are striving to have our possessions and facilities used for serious study, for the increase of knowledge, and particularly for the stimulation and encouragement of real scholarship that is equipped to interpret fully the coinages of the past.

The Society can be justly proud of the contribution the Seminar has made to the spread of numismatics as a discipline in its first fifty years, and look forward to building on that accomplishment in the future.

To learn more about the Summer Seminar, visit the Society’s website at: http://www.numismatics.org/archives/GraduateSeminar.html.