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Haskins Lecturers


Phyllis Pray Bober

1995 Haskins Lecturer

Leslie Clark Professor Emeritus in the Humanities, Professor Emeritus of History of Art, and Professor Emeritus of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology
Bryn Mawr College

The lecture was delivered on April 29 during the 1995 ACLS Annual Meeting in New York, NY.

From the lecture program:
Phyllis Pray Bober was born on December 2, 1920, in Portland, Maine. She decided to become an archaeologist at the age of nine, inspired by reading J.H. Breasted's history of Egypt. She went to Wellesley College where she majored in art, minored in Greek, and took all the courses deemed appropriate to an aspiring archaeologist, including comparative anatomy. Her greatest mentor was Sirarple der Nersessian, who urged her to attend graduate school. She chose the Institute of Fine Arts (N.Y.U.), where she completed her Ph.D. at the age of 25 with a dissertation on Roman provincial sculpture directed by Karl Lehmann. The dissertation yielded three published articles, including the widely admired "Cernunnos: Origin and Transformation of a Celtic Divinity" (American Journal of Archaeology, 1951) and also garnered the Alumnae Gold Key Award for the outstanding dissertation submitted at New York University in 1946.

While a student at the Institute, Phyllis Pray met Harry Bober, a brilliant medievalist and connoisseur, whom she married in 1943. In 1947, while Harry Bober was completing his dissertation, Phyllis Bober was chosen to be the archaeologist for a pioneering project which aimed to identify the antiquities actually seen by Renaissance artists and antiquarians. The "Census of Antique Works Known to the Renaissance" became the chief focus of her scholarship for nearly 40 years, and informs many publications including Drawings after the Antique by Amico Aspertini (1957), Renaissance Artists and Antique Sculpture (written with her collaborator on the Census, Ruth O. Rubinstein, 1986; second edition forthcoming), and the annotated edition of Ulisse Aldovrandi's Le Statue di Roma, 1556 (currently in progress). Sponsored by the Warburg Institute in London (since 1949) and by the Institute of Fine Arts (1954-73), the Census grew under her leadership into an internationally used resource and, with funds from the J. Paul Getty Trust, a data base of extraordinary richness and utility. Professor Bober taught at Wellesley from 1947 to 1949 and from 1951 to 1954, when the Bobers moved to New York. After taking time out to be with her children Jonathan (b. 1955) and David (b. 1957), in 1965 she become Adjunct Associate Professor of Fine Arts at the University Heights campus of New York University, where she single-handedly staffed an art history minor. She was made chair of the newly created Department of Fine Arts in 1967 and Professor in 1970. One of her many innovations at University Heights was a course on ancient cuisines (Roman, Amerindian, and ancient Chinese), which sparked a second distinguished train of scholarship on culture and cuisine. In 1973 Professor Bober went to Bryn Mawr College as Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, a position she held until 1980, when she stepped down to return to teach¬ing and research. She was named Leslie Clark Professor in the Humanities in 1987.

Professor Bober's international reputation for leadership, scholarly distinction, and willingness to work on behalf of others has led to prominent positions in numerous professional organizations, including the presidencies of the Renaissance Society of America (1983-84) and of the College Art Association (1988-90). Her honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship (1979-80) and a Senior Fellowship from the Society of the Humanities, Cornell University (1984). Since retiring from Bryn Mawr in 1991, Professor Bober has continued to serve on the Board of Corporators of the Medical College of Pennsylvania, as she has since 1979. In 1994 she completed a term as Democratic Committeewoman from Lower Merion/ Narberth (Ward 8), Pennsylvania. Scholarly works in progress include Culture and Cuisine, a book which will present an integrated history of the culinary arts and fine arts from prehistoric cultures through the Futurists and Surrealists.


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