Then and now

Classicist plumbs ancient world to construct peace in modern times

Bruce Hitchner’s career straddles two worlds: One is rooted in the Roman Empire, where he has conducted excavations and has included his recent tenure as editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Archaeology. The other is based in events of only a decade ago—which he came upon in part because of an accident of geography.
bruce hitchner

Bruce Hitchner © Mark Morelli

Hitchner came to Tufts last September from the University of Dayton, where he was a professor of history and director of international programs for 15 years. In 1995, the Dayton Peace Accords were signed, bringing an end to the conflict in the Balkans. Hitchner and his wife, Rebecca, talked about the idea that Dayton should do more than lend its name to the agreement. They were further encouraged the following summer, when a group of French elementary school students visited the archeological excavation Hitchner was directing near Arles. When the French teacher asked her students, “What is Dayton?” the children responded in French, “the city of peace.”

Inspired by that comment, Hitchner in 1996 founded the Dayton Peace Accords Project, a non-governmental organization dedicated to furthering the goals of the Dayton peace process through citizen advocacy. The organization sponsored policy conferences, workshops and related projects involving senior-level policymakers from Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia, Serbia-Montenegro and the international community. Hitchner also was instrumental in establishing a sister city relationship between Dayton and Sarajevo, bringing the Dayton and Sarajevo philharmonic orchestras together in Dayton to perform a concert for peace and in sponsoring a training program for young Bosnian entrepreneurs. The project’s most recent conference, “Lessons Learned from the Balkan Conflicts,” was held in collaboration with the Center for Balkan Development at Boston College in October. Tufts was a co-sponsor, and Hitchner and Kevin Dunn, dean of academic affairs for Arts and Sciences, gave the opening remarks.

Since 2000, the peace project has awarded the Dayton Peace Prize to an individual who has made a significant contribution to global peace. Among the recipients are former President Bill Clinton and businessman and philanthropist George Soros.

Explaining how he reconciles his two interests, Hitchner said, “One nourishes the other. Working on the Dayton Peace Accords Project represents another way to advance knowledge and understanding. He said he is interested in “translating what we know into information that society can use more effectively.” He has written numerous op-ed pieces on the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and Darfur. Hitchner is planning a major conference at Tufts next spring to mark the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords. The goal of the conference, which will include senior Bosnian officials and others from the international community, is to produce a roadmap for Bosnia’s transition into Europe. “One of the reasons I thought coming to Tufts would be useful was that it would provide the opportunity to test interdisciplinary practice,” he said.

Now the chair of the classics department at Tufts, Hitchner has directed National Endowment for the Humanities and National Geographic Society-funded archeological projects in Tunisia and France and is currently writing a book on the Roman Empire as an example of early globalization that will be published by Oxford University Press. He said his work with the Dayton Project has given him new insights into the nature and scale of economic, cultural and political integration of the ancient world during the long Roman peace.

“My work in public policy has helped reshape my thinking in my original field. It’s important to have a deeper understanding of the world as lived—particularly in the often-difficult conditions of places such as the Balkans and North Africa—to understand antiquity. Antiquity helps us come to grips with a range of experiences that define what it means to be human.”