October 26, 2021
This month, we’re delighted to feature two incredible members – Bill and Suzanne Murray of the Tampa Bay Society. Both Bill and Suzanne teach in the Department of History at the University of South Florida. They started the Tampa Bay Society in 1989 and have served as its President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Program Coordinator over thirty years. Bill has also been a lecturer in the National Lecture Program since 1989, holding various lectureships including Norton, Bass, and Joukowsky. Suzanne recently served on the AIA’s Outreach and Education Committee and together they’ve led over five tours of the Mediterranean with AIA Tours. In 2020, they received the Martha and Artemis Joukowsky Distinguished Service Award for their contributions to the Institute.
We asked Bill and Suzanne some questions about how they got involved with the AIA and we’re excited for you to read their words!
What interests you about archaeology?
Bill: Like many who study antiquity, I’m captivated by archaeology because the artifacts it reveals provide tangible, direct links to the past and inform us about human practices that are not recorded in ancient literature. By training, I am an ancient historian and often deal with literary texts that have been studied by scholars for centuries. Believe it or not, we are able to discover “new” insights from these well-trodden texts by determining the original intent of the author, or the historical context that shaped the nuanced meanings of nouns, verbs, and expressions the author used, or by discerning the influence of one author on another’s narrative or conclusions. I particularly enjoy how archaeology opens another avenue toward our understanding of the past. Ancient inscriptions provide new insights or correctives to our literary texts, as do coins and papyri. I’m currently studying ancient naval history, and enjoy trying to fit the discoveries of underwater archaeology into the framework provided by ancient texts. The “fit” is sometimes perfect, but more often than not, the new evidence requires rethinking events that were once thought to be known, pointing out the imperfections of ancient texts and the biases that produced our surviving historical narratives.
Suzanne: I was drawn to the cultures of Ancient Greece and Egypt from an early age, and gravitated in college toward courses in Ancient Art and Prehistoric Archaeology, culminating in an advanced degree as an art historian. Early in my graduate studies, I undertook a solo trip to museums and sites in Europe to see “in the flesh” what I had been studying from afar. In Athens, I viewed the first exhibit of the remarkable frescoes found on Thera, followed by a visit to Crete to see the Minoan palace at Knossos. These piqued my interest in the Aegean Bronze Age and the puzzles presented by fragments of wall-paintings, which became the focus of my graduate research. Information about Bronze Age cultures in Greece comes almost exclusively from archaeological evidence, and it is through the art and artifacts produced by these peoples, and the contexts in which these occur, that they speak to us about themselves. One of the wonderful things about archaeology is that there is always the potential for new discoveries to help us resolve some of the mysteries of the past—or present new ones!
How did you find out about the AIA?
Bill: I first learned about the AIA from my undergraduate mentor, Eugene Borza. He was President of the Central Pennsylvania Society (Penn State) at the time and got me involved back in the early 1970s when I was 19 years old. I continued my association with the AIA during my graduate school years at the University of Pennsylvania.
Suzanne: I found out about the AIA through my Ancient Art and Classics classes at the University of Minnesota. When I first joined the Minneapolis/St. Paul Society as a grad student, the Society President was Nancy Wilkie, who later served as President of the AIA.
How did you get involved with the Tampa Bay Society?
Bill: When my wife Suzanne and I moved to Tampa in 1982, there was no local AIA Society here and USF was very much a provincial outpost among the State Universities of Florida. Our first concern was to start a Society so we could benefit from the AIA’s National Lecture Program, which at the time sent three lecturers per year to every Society. By 1985 we had the support of my Dean and Department Chair, and had collected a small group of colleagues, archaeology buffs, and Tampa Museum of Art members who were interested in working with us. Four years later, the Tampa Bay Society was formally approved by the AIA and for the next 30 years, Suzanne and I served as President, Program Coordinator, and Secretary/Treasurer. Our numbers grew to more than 100 and then stabilized around 50 when other Societies were subsequently formed elsewhere in the region. After 30 years in charge, we were eventually able to hand over the Society to younger colleagues who were eager to continue our work. Through the Tampa Bay Society we were able to host scores of colleagues and friends over the years, benefit from their knowledge, expose our students to their discoveries and keep in touch with old friends. The AIA has been an important part of our professional lives.
Suzanne: Both Bill and I had the invaluable opportunity to be immersed in the archaeology of Greece during 2+ years as student members of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, where we were doing our Ph.D. research. So, upon moving to Florida, it was particularly important that we establish an AIA Society in order to maintain a sense of connection to emerging discoveries and scholarship in the world of archaeology. Concurrent with establishing the Tampa Bay Society of the AIA, I was working with the Tampa Museum of Art to bring the Joseph Veach Noble Collection of Ancient Art permanently to Tampa, with the result that there was a blossoming of interest in and enthusiasm for Greek and Roman archaeology in our region. The National Lecture Program and the museum collection have been great assets to have in concert with teaching Ancient History and Classical Archaeology courses at our university. Personally, hosting speakers has allowed me to reinforce connections to the field and learn lots of “insider” details. Operating an AIA Society has had its challenges, especially with a small budget, but, with the help of enthusiastic students and some welcome supporters, we made it work.