PBK Lecture 2006: Dr. George Greenia

Dr. George Greenia of the College of William and Mary delivered the inaugural University of Louisville Phi Beta Kappa lecture on February 22, 2006

“Sacred Steps: Pilgrimage Medieval and Modern” by Dr. George Greenia

The founding editor of American Pilgrim magazine visited the University of Louisville in February 2006 to deliver the inaugural University of Louisville Phi Beta Kappa lecture. Dr. Greenia spoke about a medieval pilgrimage route that still draws a quarter-million travelers annually.

George Greenia, Spanish professor at the College of William and Mary, presented an illustrated lecture titled “Sacred Steps: Pilgrimage Medieval and Modern” at 5:30 p.m. in Speed Art Museum Auditorium. Dr. Greenia discussed Camino de Santiago, the medieval road to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Although the path through Spain and France has its roots in the Middle Ages, contemporary pilgrims continue to make the trek for personal self-discovery.

Professor Greenia specializes in the literature, language, art and social history of the Spanish Middle Ages. He edits American Pilgrim, a magazine of public scholarship on  pilgrimage studies, and also La Coronica: A Journal of Medieval Spanish Language and Literature. He has taught at William and Mary in Virginia since 1982 and also directed the college’s program in medieval and Renaissance studies for 10 years.

The free, public talk was sponsored the College of Arts and Sciences, the Phi Beta Kappa Association of Kentuckiana, Cathedral Heritage Foundation and Speed Art Museum. Additional A&S co-sponsors included the Commonwealth Center for the Humanities and Society,  the Department of Fine Arts, and the Department of Classical and Modern Languages.

Dr. Greenia's remarks at a Phi Beta Kappa reception hosted by University of Louisville President James Ramsey

February 21, 2006

"President Ramsey, fellow members of Phi Beta Kappa, members of the Univeristy of Louisville community –

It is a great pleasure to bring you the greetings of the faculty of the College of William & Mary and of the Alpha Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Established in 1693, William & Mary is understandably proud of its history, being the first American college to become a university and ranking as the second oldest college in the English speaking New World. The only college older than William & Mary is something up in Boston, and they say it’s a respectable place, still holding its own in higher education.

But allow me to recall that William & Mary is also the founding home of Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest, most distinguished, and largest of all undergraduate honorary societies in America. It came into existence on December 5, 1776, not on our campus per se but in the Apollo Room of the Raleigh Tavern, a well frequented drinking establishment just down Duke of Gloucester Street from the Wren Building. The formality of the traditional British program of study, even on the eve of our adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s curricular reforms, left little room for the intellectual breadth that Jefferson, George Wythe, John Marshall, Patrick Henry, George Washington and so many other Virginia notables longed for.

So students themselves formed a discussion and debating society which they called Phi Beta Kappa, a philosophical society whose earliest sessions were dedicated to exploring themes such as good government, the deposition of unjust monarchs, and whether the company of the fair sex was injurious to a scholar’s advancement. One debate devoted itself entirely to the issue of "Whether Adam had a navel".

The themes may have included the light hearted, but the character forged in that atmosphere of free inquiry yielded a town, and a colony, and a college that many refer to with pride as The Alma Mater of a Nation. From among the founding members of Phi Beta Kappa at William & Mary are numbered fifteen who fought in the Revolutionary War, two who became Chief Justices of the Supreme Court (John Marshall and Bushrod Washington), two United States Senators, two members of the Continental Congress, five members of the United States House of Representatives, and 21 of the Virginia Assembly. Eight were members of the Continental Congress which ratified the United States Constitu‑tion, and their six‑to‑two split tipped the final balance in favor of ratification.

The Univ. of Louisville, enviably endowed with members of Phi Beta Kappa on its own faculty, seems destined for such greatness. You have come together to present yourself to petition for a charter for a new chapter, and Alpha of Virginia wishes you well. You are already producing students of Arts and Sciences of a caliber that might win them this distinction on other campuses, and the joint resolve of your faculty and administration will carry you forward to build the structures that will sustain the requisite quality of programs and resources.

You will find, as has William & Mary over the past two centuries, that the scrutiny of academic accomplishment, breadth of knowledge, character and leadership that merits inclusion in this Society will identify for you future leaders of your community and Commonwealth, and of our nation. From these ranks you will assuredly find your own representatives, senators, Supreme Court justices, and perhaps even a Thomas Jefferson of your own.

Speaking of whom – and no Virginian is allowed to travel or address a gathering unless Thomas Jefferson is mentioned – the Alpha Chapter and the faculty of William & Mary thought hard about what sort of gift they could send with me to present to the University of Louisville. It had to represent the best of the Arts and Sciences, embody the spirit of inquiry that flourished in our taverns and classrooms, and if you please, be even older than Harvard.

The gift I bear comes from our Geology Dept. and is over 4 million years old. It is a specimen of the Chesapecten jeffersonius, a species of coastal scallop whose fossilized shells, collected near Jamestown, were the first prehistoric fossils described in the New World. By petition of the College of William & Mary in 1993, the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia declared the jeffersonius, named for our most famous alumnus, the official state fossil, thereby sparing any member of the faculty from receiving that honor.

I would like to present President Ramsey with this token of our esteem and best wishes."

- George D. Greenia, College of William & Mary