Robert Ackerman, 23 May 1996
Twenty years ago I was about to leave the English Department at Columbia University to spend a year at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton: my project was a biography of J.G. Frazer. At Columbia I had written a dissertation on the literary-critical legacy of the ‘Cambridge Ritualists’ (Jane Ellen Harrison, F.M. Cornford, Gilbert Murray and A.B. Cook, turn-of-the-century classicists who had written on the connection between Greek myth and ritual and the origins of drama), and had then read a good deal of Frazer, who influenced the Ritualists greatly. The project held many difficulties. Chief among them was that, because Frazer worked in classics, anthropology and the history of religion, as an outsider I would have to teach myself the history of all those disciplines. I decided to tap Columbia’s considerable resources first, by talking to colleagues in order to get some sense of how my subject resonated with them.