Early Life and Academia

While Whittemore was seemingly predestined for academia, his passion for the Fine Arts—in particular, all things Byzantine—would lure him abroad and lead him to forge a truly unique and multifaceted career.


Young Thomas Whittemore Young Thomas Whittemore

Education and Early Career, 1871-early 1900s

Born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, on January 2, 1871, Thomas Whittemore was the only child of real estate and insurance broker Joseph Whittemore and his wife, Elizabeth St. Clair Whittemore. He was named after his grandfather, the Reverend Thomas Whittemore, who had been a prominent Universalist minister and a co-founder of Tufts College in Boston. Young Thomas, it seems, was born with ties to academia.

Whittemore began his studies at Tufts in 1889 and he quickly attained success in the academic and extracurricular realms. In addition to serving as a member and later the president of the Mathetican Society (Tufts’s prestigious debating club) and the Tufts Publishing Association, Whittemore was editor-in-chief of the Tuftonian literary magazine and was also involved with the school’s tennis and baseball associations.Holger Klein, "Tarifi Zor Whittemore: Erken Dönem, 1871-1916 - The Elusive Mr. Whittemore: The Early Years 1871-1916," in The Kariye Camii Reconsidered, ed. by Holger Klein, Robert Ousterhout, and Brigitte Pitarakis (Istanbul, 2011), p. 468. See also Maura Kenny, Anne Sauer, and Zachary E.Crowley, Athletic Rosters of Tufts University (Digital Collections and Archives, Tufts University, 2003), http://hdl.handle.net/10427/14797. In 1894, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and was quickly hired by his alma mater.Photograph of Whittemore, 1894: http://hdl.handle.net/10427/3961. See also Alaric Bertrand Start, ed., History of Tufts College, 1854-1896 (Medford, MA: Tufts College, 1896), p. 57. While steadily ascending the ranks in the Tufts English Department, Whittemore enrolled in Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.See Whittemore's Graduate Student transcript (UAV 161.272.5) from the Harvard University Archives, and Klein 2011, p. 469. It is likely here that he first devoted himself to the study of the Fine Arts, for he began to introduce courses surveying the art, history, and culture of ancient civilizations into the Tufts curriculum in the early 1900s.Anne Sauer et al., Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History, 2000 (Digital Collection and Archives, Tufts University, 2000), http://hdl.handle.net/10427/14829. See also Klein 2011, p. 470.

List of readings and lecture topics by Thomas Whittemore at Tufts College List of readings and lecture topics by Thomas Whittemore at Tufts College

Broadening Horizons, 1908-1910

Although Whittemore never obtained a graduate degree from Harvard, his fascination with antiquity only grew. He made several trips overseas, taking a leave of absence from Tufts in 1908 and studing architecture at the Sorbonne in Paris.Klein 2011, p. 472 He also visited such diverse locales as England, Italy, Russia, Bulgaria, and Germany.Guiney, Louise Imogen, "Letter from Louise Imogen Guiney to George Norton Northrop, October 17, 1908," in Letters of Louise Imogen Guiney, vol. 2. Guiney, Grace, ed. (New York, 1926), p. 280. http://solomon.nwld.alexanderstreet.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/asp/philo/nwld/getdoc.pl?S2060-D097. See also Klein 2011, p. 473 It is possible that he made his way to Turkey during this period. Many scholars believe that it was at this stage of Whittemore’s life that Byzantine enthusiast Matthew S. Prichard, who was at the time an affiliate of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, sparked the English professor’s interest in Byzantium.Klein 2011, p. 475.

In 1908, Whittemore was invited to teach a course on ancient Egypt and Greece as part of a summer program at Columbia University.ibid, p. 472. In the spring of 1910, he became a docent in the Egyptian Department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.ibid, p. 474. Whittemore also tried his hand at lecturing on antiquity in non-university settings, which ultimately developed into a long tradition of speaking engagements intended for the general public.

Academia Meets Archaeology, 1911-1930

After being named the American Representative for the British-run Egypt Exploration Society (EES; formerly known as the Egypt Exploration Fund) in early 1911, Whittemore, the amateur archaeologist, traveled to Egypt in order to assist with ongoing excavations.Dwight Lathrop Elmendorf, “Egyptian Exploration Work: Why it needs to be hastened because of the Great Nile Dam,” The New York Observer (March 9, 1911), 312. While he resigned from his post at Tufts in the following year, he remained an academic at heart. For instance, in publishing a plethora of articles relaying the excavators’ discoveries to archaeologists and lay readers alike,Thomas Whittemore, “Stone Vases of the Bisharin,” Man 12 (January 1912), 124-125. See also Letter to Marie M. Buckman reprinted in “Older Than Egypt’s Dynasty: Ruins Found of People Who Lived Long Before the Pharoahs,” The Washington Post (April 4, 1912), 6, Whittemore effectively preserved his connection to the scholarly realm. In 1921, Whittemore was named a “Special Collaborator in the Bureau of Education” (an organization that was administered by the Department of the Interior) and was tasked with studying foreign educational systems while conducting relief work and architectural studies overseas (particularly in Russia and Bulgaria). Additionally, he continued his public lecture circuit throughout the decade, regularly appearing at luncheons and benefits sponsored by members of the American elite so as to educate his compatriots about ongoing relief efforts in war-torn Europe.“Notes and News,” The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 3, 1 (January 1916), 58.

Whittemore made his official return to academia in 1927 when New York University invited him to teach a course on Byzantine art.C. S. Sherril to Thomas Whittemore, letter dated January 31, 1927, Bibliothèque Byzantine, Fonds Thomas Whittemore. Quickly promoted to the rank of Assistant Professor, he remained at the University through 1930, the year he founded the Byzantine Institute.


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