With move to Greece on horizon, classics’ Jenifer Neils wins Baker-Nord prize

Entering her 37th (and final) year at Case Western Reserve University, Jenifer Neils—an internationally renowned scholar of ancient Greek and Roman art—has won the 2017 Baker-Nord Center Award for Distinguished Scholarship in the Humanities.

After the academic year, Neils, the Elsie B. Smith Professor in the Liberal Arts in the Department of Classics, will move to Greece, to become the first female director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) in the institution’s 135-year history.

“She’s brilliant. Prolific. Her mastery of the field is mind boggling. Her knowledge is encyclopedic,” said Rachel Sternberg, an associate professor in the Department of Classics. “This is not just her reputation (at Case Western Reserve), but all over the world.”

Before Neils leaves, she is studying a newly acquired bronze Apollo statue at the Cleveland Museum of Art, which will be the subject of her Feb. 1 lecture—“The Sauroktonos (Lizard-slayer) from Praxiteles to Charles Ray”—as part of her Baker-Nord prize.

Jenifer Neils
Jenifer Neils, the Elsie B. Smith Professor in the Liberal Arts in the Department of Classics

According to the Baker-Nord Center, the award “recognizes the outstanding scholarship of [CWRU] faculty in the Humanities and their contribution to the university’s reputation. … Recipients receive $5,000 to support their research and deliver a public lecture as part of the Baker-Nord Center’s spring program.”

A magnet for classics graduate students and advanced scholars, the ASCSA is a research institute maintaining two major libraries and a laboratory, sponsoring archaeological fieldwork, offering seminars and learning expeditions, while publishing widely.

“In our field, this is where you go to get grounding in topography, monuments, temples and buildings,” said Neils, who, over her five-year directorship, will start a new excavation of a temple in Sicily. “It’s the best of both worlds because it’s studying the Greeks in Italy.

“In our field, there’s a new discovery almost every day. We’re constantly rewriting our history of the past,” added Neils, who chaired the Department of Art History and Art at Case Western Reserve from 1986 to 1998 and also served as the Ruth Coulter Heede Professor of Art History and Classics.

Neils is known in particular for her scholarship on the Parthenon, yet familiarity with the monument has not dulled her appreciation. “I still pinch myself every time I see it,” she said.

Case Western Reserve has a long and storied history with ASCSA: Its first student, Harold North Fowler, enrolled in 1881, and later become a professor of classics at the former Western Reserve University. Henry Robinson, who was classical studies chair at CWRU and held a professorship named for Fowler, directed the ASCSA from 1959 to 1969.

“The directorship is a prestigious position that few people are ever able to hold,” said Sternberg. “It’s a brilliant capstone to a brilliant career for Dr. Neils. Deeply deserved. We all admire Jenifer to no end.”