William Andrew McDonald

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William Andrew McDonald
BornApril 26, 1913
Ontario, Canada
DiedJanuary 11, 2000
Academic background
EducationAmerican Classical School, Athens
Alma materUniversity of Toronto,
Johns Hopkins University
ThesisThe Political Meeting Places of the Greeks (1940)
Academic work
InstitutionsLehigh University,
University of Texas,
Moravian College,
University of Minnesota

William Andrew McDonald (April 26, 1913 – January 11, 2000) was an American archaeologist.


He was born in Ontario, Canada. In 1935, he graduated from the University of Toronto (where he also played rugby union and hockey) with first class honors in classical studies. In 1936, McDonald received his master's degree in ancient history from the same university. He studied classical archaeology at Johns Hopkins University and received his Ph.D in 1940. His dissertation entitled The Political Meeting Places of the Greeks is still regarded as an important fundamental study of Greek public architecture. From 1938 until 1939, McDonald was a student of the American Classical School in Athens and participated in excavations at Pylos and Olynthos. Under his supervision, the first Linear B tablets were discovered at Pylos on April 3, 1939. In 1953, McDonald continued excavating at Pylos until Carl Blegen convinced him to focus his efforts towards surveying the territory comprising the Late Bronze Age kingdom of Pylos. During this time, McDonald undertook his first of many interdisciplinary projects whereby he collected modern place-names across southwest Greece. In 1958, McDonald began to collaborate with Richard Hope Simpson who was conducting an archaeological survey of Laconia. In 1961, McDonald contributed to the establishment of the University of Minnesota Messenia Expedition, which emphasized the interdisciplinary rather than multidisciplinary collaboration between archaeologists, natural scientists, social scientists, and humanists. The expedition resulted in 1,400 square miles (3,600 km2) of territory being surveyed. The results of the overall expedition were published in preliminary reports in the American Journal of Archaeology and in a comprehensive volume entitled, The Minnesota Messenia Expedition: Reconstructing a Bronze Age Regional Environment.[1]

From 1969 until 1975, McDonald concentrated his efforts towards the excavations at Nichoria, which was a significant Late Bronze Age and early Iron Age settlement in Messenia. McDonald chose Nichoria because he believed that it was time for archaeologists to research more ordinary ancient remains rather than focus on recovering monumental sculptures, architecture, and other artistic artifacts that usually end up being displayed in museums. McDonald's meticulous work at Nichoria first appeared in preliminary reports published in Hesperia. The full details of McDonald's work were published in three volumes entitled Excavations at Nichoria in Southwest Greece. For his scholarly work, McDonald was awarded Guggenheim Fellowships in 1958 and in 1967. He was also interested in communicating to the general public about the excitement of archaeology. His vivacious account of Bronze Age archaeology in Greece entitled Progress into the Past: The Rediscovery of Mycenean Civilization was written from both an historical and biographical standpoint. The book was successful since it was updated and reissued in 1990.[1]

McDonald is also recognized for his ability to teach. From 1939 until 1943, he taught at Lehigh University. Afterwards, he taught at the University of Texas from 1945 until 1946 and also taught at Moravian College from 1946 until 1948. He joined the faculty of the Department of Classics at the University of Minnesota in 1948 and maintained his position there until his retirement in 1980. Moreover, he was instrumental in establishing the Honors Division of the College of Liberal Arts and served as its first director from 1964 until 1967. For his significant contributions to undergraduate education, McDonald was awarded the Standard Oil-Horace T. Morse Award in 1967. McDonald was always interested in exploring and developing new teaching methods and decided near the end of his career to stop lecturing and to focus instead on class discussions. He believed that lectures were merely "a means of getting information from a professor's notes to the students' notes without going through the heads of either."[2]

In 1973, McDonald was appointed as Regents' Professor of Classical Studies, which was the University of Minnesota's highest award. Shortly afterward, he contributed to establishing the Center for Ancient Studies, which was an interdisciplinary graduate program in archaeology that was an extension of the Minnesota Messenia Expedition. He served as its first director from 1974 until 1979. The Archaeological Institute of America awarded McDonald the Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement in 1981 citing him as a "pathfinder" who "pioneered in bringing about changes in the theory, methodology and general conduct of archaeological research in Greece."[3] William Andrew McDonald died in Washburn, Wisconsin on January 11, 2000.[1] To honor his memory, many of McDonald's friends, colleagues, and students established the William A. McDonald Lectureship in Aegean Prehistory as part of the National Lecture Program of the Archaeological Institute of America.[3]

Published works (selection)[edit]

  • McDonald, William A. (1972). "Excavations at Nichoria in Messenia: 1969-71". Hesperia. American School of Classical Studies at Athens. 41 (2): 218–273. doi:10.2307/147682. JSTOR 147682.
  • McDonald, William A. (1991). "Archaeology in the 21st century: six modest recommendations". Antiquity. 65 (249): 829–839. doi:10.1017/S0003598X00080558. S2CID 164012916.


  1. ^ a b c Wilkie, p. 1.
  2. ^ Wilkie, pp. 1-2.
  3. ^ a b Wilkie, p. 2.