His father Tevfik Erim was a diplomat who was a member of the Political Section of the Secretariat of the League of Nations in the 1930s (attending as such the Évian Conference) and of the Turkish delegation to the United Nations in the 1950s. So, although of Turkish birth, Kenan Erim was raised and educated in Geneva, Switzerland, and undertook university studies in the USA. He took his first degree in Classical archaeology at New York University (NYU) in 1953, and his PhD at Princeton University in 1958. In 1957 he lectured at Indiana University, and from 1958 on he was employed by NYU, where he became full professor in 1971. NYU still supervises the excavations at Aphrodisias to this day. There is a charming memorial to Professor Erim near the magnificently restored main gate.