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Dinsmoor, William Bell [Sr.]

Date born: 1886

Place Born: Windham, New Hampshire

Date died: 1973

Place died: Athens, Greece

Architectural historian of classical Greece; Columbia University Professor of Art and Archaeology. Dinsmoor graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor of science degree in 1906. After working in an architectural firm, he joined the American School of Classical Studies in Athens in 1908 and in 1912 became the School's Architect. Dinsmoor joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1919. In the early 1920s, he consulted on the erection of the concrete replica of the Parthenon in Tennessee (a wooden structure had previous been at the Nashville site). His assumptions regarding the original construction were verified by the construction, which took roughly the same number of years as the orginal. From 1924-28 he returned to the American School as professor of Architecture. He married Zillah Frances Pierce (1886-1960). During those years he compiled his magum opus, a rewritten edition of the Architecture of Ancient Greece by William Anderson (1844-1900) and R. Phené Spiers (1838-1916), which appeared in 1927. In 1929 he received an [honorary?] doctorate from Columbia. In 1934, following the resignation of S. Butler Murray (q.v.), the Department of Fine Arts was reorganized to include the Department of Archaeology and Dinsmoor was made chair. He held this position of executive director of the Department of Fine Arts and Archaeology until 1955. During the mid-1930s, Dinsmoor took on a celebrated debate on the configuration of the three phases of the Parthenon with the eminent Acropolis scholar Wilhelm Dörpfeld (q.v.). In 1935 he was named professor of archaeology at Columbia. Between 1936 and 1946 he was president of the Archaeological Institute of America. During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Dinsmoor chair of the Committee for the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas. For much of his career he taught at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens as Fellow in Architecture and Professor of Architecture. Dinsmoor returned to the American School in 1947 as a visiting lecturer. He retired from Columbia University in 1963. In 1969 he was awarded the gold medal for his archaeological achievements by the Archaeological Institute of America. He died of a stroke while in Greece, just short of his 87th birthday. His son, William B. Dinsmoor, jr., (q.v.) was also a distinguish classical architectural historian.

Dinsmoor's reputation rests on two key works. The first is his complete rewriting of The Architecture of Ancient Greece (1927). Although Dinsmoor always allowed much credit for the work to Anderson and Spiers, the revision of the book was essentially a unique accomplishment of Dinsmoor's. In 1931 Dinsmoor published his discovery of the archons from the Propylaia in Athens. These lists of magistrates assisted greatly in the study of other objects exhumed from the Athenian Agora. Dinsmoor gleaned the original design to the Propylaia in Athens, but never published his complete findings.

Home Country:  United States

Sources:   Medwid, Linda M. The Makers of Classical Archaeology: A Reference Work. New York: Humanity Books, 2000 pp. 86-88; [obituaries:] “W. B. Dinsmoor, 87, an Archaeologist; Expert on Greece Is Dead--Long on Columbia Faculty.” New York Times July 3, 1973, p. 26; Archaeology 26 (October 1973): 308; A History of the Faculty of Philosophy, Columbia University. New York: Columbia University Press, 1957, p. 54, 263-64; Nicgorski, Ann M. "Dinsmoor, William Bell." Encyclopedia of the History of Classical Archaeology. Nancy Thomson de Grummond, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 363-64.

Bibliography: [complete bibliography:] “Bibliography of William Bell Dinsmoor.” Hesperia 35 (1966): 87–92; (1st Dinsmoor edition:) Anderson, William J., and Spiers, Richard Phené. The Architecture of Ancient Greece: an Account of its Historic Development, being the First Part of the Architecture of Greece and Rome. 2nd ed. New York: C. Scribner's,1927; The Architecture of Ancient Greece: an Account of its Historic Development. 3rd ed. New York: Batsford, 1950; Observations on the Hephaisteion. Baltimore: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1941; The Archons of Athens in the Hellenistic Age. Cambridge, MA: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Harvard University Press, 1931; "Anchoring two floating temples [of the Agora, Athens]." Hesperia 51 (October/December 1982): 410-52; [Parthenon date debate:] "The Burning of the Opisthodomos at Athens. I: The Date." American Journal of Archaeology 36 (1932): 143-172; "The Burning of the Opisthodomos at Athens. II: The Site." American Journal of Archaeology 36 (1932): 307-326; reply, Dörpfeld, Wilhelm. "Der Brand des alten Athena-Tempels und seines Opisthodoms. American Journal of Archaeology 38 (April 1934): 249-57; reply, continued, Dörpfeld, Wilhelm. "Parthenon I, II und III." American Journal of Archaeology 39 (October 1935): 497-507; [rejoinder by Dinsmoor] "The Older Parthenon, Additional Notes." American Journal of Archaeology 39 (October 1935): 508-9.