Lessons Learned at the American Academy in Rome

I left Rome a few weeks ago and have now had a bit of time to absorb the three months I spent at the American Academy as part of the Rieger Graham Prize. Different from any travel or education in my past, this experience was so memorable, and I find it challenging to sum it up in a short blog. Instead, I’d like to reflect on a few themes that stayed with me throughout my time in the city.

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Observing the retraced route of the Possesso

Dinners in the courtyard under the soft glow of Roman twilight, the steady roar of water from the Acqua Paola on the walk down the Janiculum, and flocks of parakeets jumping through the umbrella pines all bring back memories, but my lasting impression of the American Academy is its diverse and engaging community. The people I encountered encouraged me to become more well-rounded and to stay curious. Often, I find it too easy to get overly engrossed in a topic (usually architecture) and to lose track of other interests—and to some extent, today’s world encourages such specialization. The American Academy however, filled with great minds and texts on subjects throughout the arts and humanities, challenged this habit and asked me to search for connections across disciplines as a means of sharpening my thoughts and making them more globally applicable. Learning about the methods that archeologists use to understand a site, listening to writers describe Rome, and discussing an artist’s approach to their creative process encouraged me to develop a broader understanding of the world.

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A view of Rome

This lesson tied perfectly into what is perhaps my strongest impression of Rome: the manifest presence of millennia of minds, hands, and bodies that shaped the city. In Rome, I was overwhelmed by the length of man’s impact on one place: basilicas lie buried under centuries of history, mausoleums have second and third lives as palaces and fortresses, and myths live on for generations, constantly updating to the times. To me, the city became the endorsement for our potential to create a beautiful culture through the synthesis of our experiences. In one place, I could see the impact of artists, writers, archeologists, architects, and more. I could see how their efforts worked in concert,whether intentionally or not, to make Rome the rich symphony that it is today.

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Looking into the courtyard at the American Academy

Three months ago, I stepped off a jetway into Rome, primed to begin my research of a very specific topic. Over the rest of my time in the city, I felt myself subtly pulled back and asked to place my work into a broader context. Before arriving, I imagined myself buried deep in the archives of a vast library. And while my work was certainly (and happily) filled with much time in the library, I also found myself called into the city and into conversations with my colleagues. Perhaps the most lasting lesson I learned from my time was to work to be more open, inclusive, and broad-reaching in my thought.

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Equestrian monument of Giuseppe Garibaldi on the Janiculum

It has been a formative and unique opportunity to be a part of such an invigorating community and to have the time to reflect while in a city as provoking as Rome. For this life-changing opportunity, I would like to thank the ICAA and the Rieger Graham Prize for their special gift.

Villa Doria Pamphili and gardens

Villa Doria Pamphili and gardens

Read additional blog articles by Brendan Hart, including “Roman Inspiration from Brendan Hart, 2016 Rieger Graham Prize Winner” and “Brendan Hart, 2016 Rieger Graham Prize Winner, on the Roman Forum and the Perseverance of the Eternal City.” 

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