At the American Academy 30 Sep-2 Oct 2010, a Conference on the 1960 Rome Olympics

Rome 1960: Greco-Roman wrestling in the Basilica of Maxentius. Credit: George Silk, LIFE/Google

A multi-disciplinary conference hosted by the American Academy in Rome from 30 September-2 October 2010 will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics. The conference focuses on these Games as a cultural turning point, with a significance—for Italy, the United States, the Soviet Union, and many other  countries—that far transcends the actual sporting events, where the level of competition was unusually high. Collaborating with the AAR in this conference are the Centro Studi Americani and the British School at Rome. Organizing the conference is AAR Mellon Professor Corey Brennan. You can find the Facebook group for this event here.

Contributions are encouraged on a broad range of topics that touch upon the XVII Summer Olympics, going far beyond sports history to encompass fields such as cultural politics, urban planning, architectural history, and media studies. It is anticipated that there be twelve speakers in all, chosen by an American Academy committee in response to this international call for papers. The schedule will be designed to accommodate short film presentations and ample discussion, in addition to a site visit to various points in the city important to the history of the 1960 Games.

The selected speakers will receive basic expenses for their stay in Rome (travel, housing, some meals) for the period of this conference. It is expected that the proceedings of the conference will be published.

Abstracts to be considered for the conference may be up to 750 words in length. They must be submitted (with an accompanying CV) as a .pdf to corey.brennan@aarome.org. Submitted abstracts should not substantially duplicate work that already has been published. The due date for submission of abstracts is 31 May 2010. Acceptance notification is 14 June 2010.

The 1960 Rome Summer Games were the Olympics of US track stars Rafer Johnson and Wilma Rudolph, as well as the boxer Cassius Clay; where the USSR powerfully asserted its dominance in women’s gymnastics as did Italy in men’s cycling; where the barefoot Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila, just 25 years after the Italian invasion of his country, won the dramatic torchlit marathon competition that started at the Vittoriano, traversed the Appian Way, at long last passed the ancient Ethiopian Obelisk of Axum, and shortly afterward finished at the Arch of Constantine.

But the games also threw into high relief the Cold War tensions between West and East, friction between China and Taiwan, the civil rights crisis in the US, apartheid in South Africa, and anticolonial sentiment across a range of participating nations—as well as a host of newly emerging problems that ran the gamut from drug use by athletes to slippery running shoe endorsements. These topics have received a superb and highly readable recent treatment in David Maraniss‘ book Rome 1960 (Simon & Schuster 2008).

The topic of the conference also has much to do with memory, a theme to be explored for the ancient world at the AAR in the years 2011-2014. As Olympics historian Ann M. Keen has shown, one driving force in Rome’s sponsorship of these Games, the first specifically staged for television, was to expunge the all-too-familiar searing images of the city from 1922-1945. In all the Games saw almost 94 hours of television coverage for Europe.

To house the events, the Games’ organizers adapted ancient ruins (Baths of Caracalla, Basilica of Maxentius), appropriated Fascist-era constructions (the Foro Italico complex, with its Stadio Olimpico), and built fresh several major venues. Chief among these are Pier Luigi Nervi’s iconic Palazzo dello Sport (with Marcello Piacentini) and Palazzetto dello Sport (with Annibale Vitellozzi), and also the Villaggio Olimpico of Adalberto Libera, Luigi Moretti and others.

Plus much of Rome’s infrastructure, from the water supply to roads, the airport system, and public transportation, saw a significant upgrade for the XVII Olympiad. The story of the post-event adaptation of structures used or built for the Olympics—such as the Foro Italico or Villagio Olimpico—in itself is expected to be a crucial component of the conference, in both the paper sessions and site visit.

Opening ceremony for XVII Olympiad, 25 August 1960. Credit: Mark Kauffman LIFE/Google

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