During her 37 years on the humanities faculty of Case Western Reserve University, Jenifer Neils acquired an international reputation for her original, thought-provoking writings on classical art and culture. As an archaeologist, curator and teacher—and most recently as director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens—she has opened up new fields of research and changed the ways in which scholars understand and study depictions of Greek gods and heroes, both in vase paintings and in the monumental frieze of the Parthenon.
Six years after Neils retired as the Elsie B. Smith Professor in the Liberal Arts in the Department of Classics, the university is recognizing her contributions to Case Western Reserve and to her discipline by awarding her the Frank and Dorothy Humel Hovorka Prize. She will receive the award during the university’s convocation ceremony Wednesday, May 17.
Neils is “one of a very small number of scholars of ancient art and culture who rank at the top of the field,” said Rachel Sternberg, one of her former colleagues on the classics faculty.
The author or editor of 15 books, Neils has also published more than 70 articles or book chapters. Her work, Sternberg noted, “meets the highest standards of scholarship and yet remains accessible to non-specialists.”
Neils has contributed to major archaeological excavations in both Greece and Italy. In 2003, she co-curated the museum exhibition Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past, the first extensive examination of childhood in the classical world. She has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies and the American Philosophical Society, among others.
Before joining the classics department at CWRU in 2014, Neils was the Ruth Coulter Heede Professor in Art History and a faculty member in the Department of Art History and Art, which she chaired from 1986 to 1998.
“I benefited professionally—as did our students—from CWRU’s close association with the Cleveland Museum of Art,” Neils said. “It launched many successful careers.”
Neils’ selection as the first-ever female director of the American School of Classical Studies in 2017 was, in Sternberg’s words, “a “spectacular breakthrough within classical studies and archaeology.” During her five-year term, Neils co-organized a major conference on Greek vase painting, sculpture and architecture, and she provided leadership for several other scholarly and institutional projects.
“While here in Cleveland, she was a campus treasure,” Sternberg said. “Now that she has gone on to greater things, she continues to reflect well upon us all.”
About the award
Established in 1994 by the late Dorothy Humel Hovorka, a leader in the arts and community affairs and an honorary member of the university’s Board of Trustees, the Frank and Dorothy Humel Hovorka Prize honors the late Frank Hovorka, who was a distinguished member of the faculty in the Department of Chemistry for many years.
The prize is awarded annually to an active or emeritus faculty member whose exceptional achievements in teaching, research and scholarly service have benefited the community, the nation and the world. The recipient is selected on the recommendation of a committee consisting of previous awardees.