New York University President John Sexton and Shelby White, trustee of the Leon Levy Foundation, today jointly announced the creation at NYU of a unique institute for multidisciplinary study of the ancient world that will be funded by the Foundation with a gift of up to $200 million. The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World will be a graduate research and Ph.D. degree-granting center with its own faculty and a roster of postdoctoral scholars and research fellows whose study of antiquity will cross traditional geographic and cultural boundaries.
As part of its mission, the Institute will have an extensive program of colloquia, lectures, and exhibitions that will be open to the public; it will also acquire and maintain an extensive library dedicated to the ancient world.
The Institute will be housed in a magnificent 100-year-old, 27,000 sq. foot, six-story townhouse at 15 East 84th Street that the Leon Levy Foundation purchased in 2004. It is now being renovated by the well-known architect Annabelle Selldorf.
The decision to establish the Institute at NYU comes six years after Leon Levy, a renowned investor who died in 2003, and his wife, Ms. White who both devoted time and effort to learning about the ancient world assembled an advisory board of scholars to consider ways to advance the understanding of the ancient world and to encourage the next generation of leading scholars. The discussions of the advisory board, which continued for five years, ultimately led to talks between the Foundation and NYU, with which Mr. Levy had a long relationship through the Institute of Fine Arts (NYU’s renowned graduate program in art history and conservation), where he had been vice chairman of the IFA and chairman of its investment committee.
The creation of the Institute by the Leon Levy Foundation continues a long tradition of philanthropy related to archaeology and advanced study that Mr. Levy supported during his lifetime. The efforts he supported include the Shelby White-Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications at Harvard, which for 12 years has given grants to archaeologists so they may publish their field research; the excavations at the ancient site of Ashkelon in Israel, which began in 1985; and the Shelby White Leon Levy Travel Grant program for students at the NYU Institute of Fine Arts.
The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World will have a wider geographic span than other programs that focus on the ancient world, incorporating not only Europe and the entire Mediterranean basin, but also Central and East Asia. In its research and its teaching of doctoral students, the Institute will emphasize an interdisciplinary approach, one that transcends modern boundaries of nation. It will support scholarship that crosses customary disciplinary boundaries art history, literature, archaeology, history, geography, geology, economics, and sociology, among others to create a new intellectual framework for understanding the ancient world, and to train a new generation of scholars steeped in that integrated approach.
Ms. White said, “As an investor, Leon took a long term approach his knowledge of antiquity, Gibbon was his favorite author, gave him perspective, and he believed that studying the past could enrich our lives and help us contribute to society.”
Dr. Sexton said, “I am struck by what an extraordinarily good fit this gift is for NYU. The study of antiquity is one of the truly fundamental elements of a classical education. But the Institute’s emphasis on interdisciplinary study and on developing a new intellectual approach to the ancient world is precisely the kind of new and forward-looking scholarship for which NYU is justly renowned. It will chart a new course in the study of the ancient world, and alongside existing scholarship being pursued across NYU, it will contribute powerfully to the scholarly dialogue on antiquity.”
The Institute will begin its work as soon as a director is chosen. A search committee to recruit the director will be established this spring. The first Ph.D. students are expected to enter the institute in fall, 2008.
The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World will have a structure within NYU similar to that of the Courant Institute for Mathematical Studies and the Institute of Fine Arts. The director and the faculty of the institute will be members of the NYU faculty and receive tenure in accordance with existing University processes. Students will receive their degrees through NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science.
The late Mr. Levy and Ms. White, who over a 30-year period assembled a collection of ancient art, have a substantial history of philanthropy, which includes in addition to the programs cited above gifts to establish the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College; to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for conservation and to create the soon-to-open galleries for Roman, Etruscan, and Hellenistic Art; and to support neuroscience research at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and Rockefeller University, among other institutions and projects.