At the 2002 Meeting of this Association the first in the annual series of Outstanding Publication Awards was presented to Tom McGinn for his book Prostitution, Sexuality, and the Law in Ancient Rome. Every year since then the Committee that I chaired this year has carefully read and reviewed the books that come before it in order to designate one book as the Committee's choice to receive the Association's Award for Outstanding Publication. The Committee's mandate is broad: to consider all nominated or otherwise identified first books, textbooks as well as monographs, written by Association members and published, typically, within the previous three years. The record now shows that the Committee has preferred studies of breadth and depth that illuminate the texts and the times of our discipline in distinctive or innovative ways. The members of the Committee have honored books that take risks while maintaining the rigorous standards that govern our mutual endeavors to make better sense of events and places at once familiar and yet unlike our own. They have valued authors who show an interest in working across the disciplines and who reveal their appreciation for the varied evidential bases and methodologies of our own. They have recognized that painstaking research comes to life on the page through lucid and vivid writing.
The record doesn't necessarily show, however, how gratifying for its members is the work of this committee: what could be more enjoyable and profitable than being required to read some of the best new books in our field and discuss them with colleagues? But at the same time the high quality of so much of the scholarship produced by CAMWS members makes the Committee's assignment a challenging one. Nevertheless, this year's committee, which included (in order of years of service) Betty Rose Nagle, Vanessa Gorman, Noel Lenski, Kathy Gaca, and Michael Gagarin, after diligent reading and re-reading identified one book as a truly outstanding publication,”a book that takes its readers on a fascinating journey through the schools of late antique Athens and Alexandria; that exposes the passions and the quarrels, the friendships and the animosities, of the famous teachers of the day; and that asks what difference Christianity made for the intellectual and scholastic traditions that had long reigned supreme in the Classical and Hellenistic Mediterranean world. I speak, of course, of Edward Watt's City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria, the forty-first volume in the University of California Press' series titled the "Transformation of the Classical Heritage," whose general editor is Peter Brown.
City and School is a panoramic book, broad in sweep, rich in detail. Edward Watts sets an ambitious agenda and fulfills it through sensitive reading of a wide range of literary and philosophical texts and calculated command of a vast array of secondary scholarship. His study affirms the continued importance of classical paideia to the social formation of the elites of late antiquity, particularly in the Eastern Empire, and to their success in public careers that valued the skills of verbal fluency and the moral probity guaranteed by facility with the classical tradition. For Christians as well as non-Christians the rhetorical and philosophical schools continued to teach the classical texts that offered, as Watts put it, "an outline of ideal and virtuous living (21)" and a set of cultural assumptions capable of bridging religious and other differences.
But Watts' study goes well beyond this familiar terrain to settle down in two of the leading academic and intellectual centers of the late ancient world, the Athens and Alexandria of his title. Here he explores the impact of Christianity's social victory, a success story that necessarily complicated attitudes towards the religious elements of classical literature and traditional education. "The study of education in late antiquity," Watts writes, "chronicles the conflict between its religious aspects and its vital purpose as a source of upper-class cultural unity" (21). This dynamic is at the heart of Watts' exploration of the different fates of the schools of the schools of Athens and Alexandria between the second and the sixth centuries. The former city Watts sees as a relatively sleepy university town with an influential pagan population and professoriate, while Alexandria was a vibrant metropolis with powerful Christian interest groups as well as a long-standing pagan intellectual establishment. Whereas these Alexandrian social realities actually led to compromise as well as collaboration, at Athens their was less incentive to adapt to changing circumstances and it was the Athenian schools, not those of Alexandria, that would be officially closed in the sixth century. Only close study of the local situations, Watts shows, can explain the changes experienced by the civic institutions and educational elites of Athens and Alexandria in late antiquity.
It is the mission of City and School to reconstruct this story in exacting detail. Along the way we meet a cast of colorful characters: the ultra wealthy Herodes Atticus; Prohaeresius, the Christian rhetorician; Proclus, the fifth-century neo-platonist; and at Alexandria, the leading intellectuals, Origen and Ammonius Saccas, as well as Hypatia, whose murder inspired by the city's bishop Cyril was a set back, but only temporary, for almost all parties. Moreover outside events often impinge on local politics and Watts makes it clear that a "history of education" is also a history of civic and social life. Thus, though perhaps incidentally, City and School's ambitious agenda has implications that extend to the academic and educational debates of our own day. For all these reasons, and more, it is my great pleasure to present this year's Outstanding Publication Award to Professor Edward J. Watts for his 2006 book City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria.