My Grad Years by Wayne Dynes

From William A. Percy
Jump to: navigation, search

Looking back on my initial IFA experience in the years 1956-58 (the close of the Warburg Mansion era), two conclusions stand out, one fairly narrow, the other broader.

A) For a dedicated full-time IFA student, as I was, the world narrowed down to a patch of about a half square mile on the Upper East Side. We would go to the Warburg mansion at 17 E. 80th when it opened, and proceed to the library. Fairly soon we went across Fifth Avenue to the Met library which was so much better stocked. Then a quick lunch, sometimes at the Met cafeteria, otherwise from one of the sandwich shops in the neighborhood. In the afternoon and evening there were the exciting classes, ones that we audited as well as those we were actually enrolled in, taking as many notes as possible. Around 4 PM or so many of us would adjourn to confer with others over a Danish and coffee at the French Coffee shop on Madison Avenue (the building no longer exists). Once in a while we would treat ourselves to a movie on 86th Street, and perhaps a meal at the Automat there.

Of course we accepted this spatial compression to a tiny patch of Manhattan as a means to an end., the first stage of a logical sequence. Europe, where would do our research, beckoned. Since jobs were plentiful in those days, we felt certain that after completing the Ph. D. we would be able to obtain a stable position, either in college teaching or in a museum.

B) The other observation is more general. It took me many years to realize the full implications of the fact that the teachers who most influenced me--Krautheimer, Lehmann, and Panofsky--were part of a much broader phenomenon known as the Transatlantic Migration. In almost any field one can name, from philosophy and nuclear physics to film production and analysis, these wonderful individuals, most of them of German-Jewish origin, revitalized American intellectual life, dispelling our complacency and opening new horizons. There is now a considerable literature on the overall phenomenon. In art history, see Karen Michels’ searching monograph Transplantierte Kunstwissenschaft (}

Since the principles advocated by the Transatlantics of necessity varied from field to field, I will attempt to characterize only those I absorbed at IFA in those distant years of the middle of the twentieth century.

1) The researcher must command the existing apparatus of scholarship, and accordingly most courses began with a literature review. Since much of this deposit was in the German language, one had to get cracking on that task ASAP. Fortunately, there was a resident German teacher, the charming Edith Weinberger, wife of Professor Martin Weinberger. One of my friends, who was actually quite fluent in German, incurred the wrath of Walter Friedlaender for quoting Jacob Burckhardt from a faulty English translation instead of consulting the original text.

2) A sharp distinction was maintained between primary and secondary sources (the latter being the category just discussed). It was essential carefully to scrutinize the primary sources--memoirs, contracts, ecphraseis and so forth--utilizing critical editions in the original language as far as possible.

3) A valid interpretation, the ultimate fruit of marshaling these techniques, required a careful balance of conjecture and empirical instantiation. One must be not be afraid of formulating bold hypotheses. Yet by the same token, these hypotheses had to be ruthlessly discarded if they proved unviable. One could always devise other conjectures, subjecting them to the same rigorous testing. Later, after I moved to London, I came to regard the work of Sir Karl Popper as the definitive statement of this essential procedure. But that is another story.

Personal tools