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11/15/2016 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Fruits of the Silk Road

The Spread of Agriculture through Central Asia

Robert Spengler

The Silk Road was the largest commerce network of the ancient world; it linked the disparate ends of the vast Eurasian supercontinent and in doing so connected the imperial centers of East and Southwest Asia. While organized trade, including military outposts and government taxation, along the Silk Road dates back to the Han dynasty in the second century B.C., the exchange of goods, ideas, cultural practice, and genes, through the thousands of kilometers of desert and mountainous expanses comprising this region dates back to the third millennium B.C. This flow of cultural traits through Central Asia during the past four and a half millennia was a major driving force in the development of cultures across the Old World and shaped cuisines around the globe.
11/17/2016 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

ARCE Lecture: Imhotep Comes Forth by Day

Janice Kamrin

This lecture will focus on the Book of the Dead of the Priest of Horus of Hebenu, Imhotep (MMA 35.9.20a-w), one of the masterpieces displayed in the recently renovated Ptolemaic galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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11/29/2016 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Late Antiquity in Early Modernity

Debating the End of the Roman World in the Centuries Before Gibbon

Frederic Clark

In 1776, the English historian Edward Gibbon published the first volumes of his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon’s paradigm of “decline and fall” maintained that the ancient world had swiftly and dramatically crumbled into a millennium of medieval darkness, torn asunder by what Gibbon labeled “barbarism and religion.” This temporal map did much to shape the emergent discipline of Classics, formalizing distinctions that, over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, would privilege a supposedly canonical Greco-Roman antiquity over other cultures and periods of the past. Yet Gibbon, whose History extended all the way to the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453, hardly considered himself merely an ancient historian. Rather, as he claimed, his Decline and Fall would do nothing less than “connect the ancient and modern history of the world.” This lecture explores just what Gibbon meant by linking the ancient and the modern. In doing so, it examines how early modern European scholars in the centuries before Gibbon defined such categories as antiquity and modernity. When had modernity begun, and which portions of antiquity should this nascent modernity replicate or imitate? Which eras counted as truly ancient? And what purposes did a millennium-long “middle” period between ancient Rome and contemporary Europe serve? Retracing the history of these historical concepts—and their many paradoxes—promises to shed new light on our own approaches to the ancient world and its temporal boundaries.
12/01/2016 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Exhibition Lecture: Weeks, Months, and Years in Greek and Roman Calendars

Daryn Lehoux

This talk looks at how time was structured in Greek and Roman antiquity. How and why was the year divided into just this many units and not more or less? Where did the seven-day week come from? How was the division of the year into weeks, days, and months related to religious and political cycles and duties?
12/08/2016 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Muhammad's Community and the Spread of Monotheism in Late Antique Arabia

Robert Hoyland

From Yemen to the Persian Gulf to the eastern shores of the Red Sea, monotheism, principally in the form of Christianity and Judaism, was spreading its tentacles around the edges of the Arabian peninsula in the Late Antique period and by the time Muhammad began his preaching, around 610 AD, of Muhammad, it had begun to penetrate the land's vast interiors. It used to be thought that the Qur'an was a reaction to paganism, but now it is becoming increasingly evident that it should be understood rather as a response to the Judeo-Christian currents swirling around its birth place in west Arabia. But why did Muhammad and his followers not simply adopt one of the two established monotheist faiths, what was their objection to them and what was the nature of their new community? This talk will look at some of the new discoveries of Christian and Jewish remains in Arabia and present the latest perspectives on the origins of Islam and the Muslim community.
12/13/2016 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

A Cumulative Han Culture

Paradigms of Tradition and History in the Study of Early China

Yitzchak Jaffe

In the field of Ancient China studies, scholars have often turned to the more recent past and its many textual sources, to aid them in their efforts of illuminating the deeper past. What has allowed this ‘free movement through time’ is the notion that Chinese civilization is monolithic and unchanging: a cumulative culture that adds to its solid core. The issue of continuity vs. change is certainly not unique to Chinese scholarship, and ways in which scholars choose to reconcile long term regional developments, historical projections, and archaeological data in their studies vary widely. This talk calls for the continued reevaluation of the ways in which we approach the past by focusing on the tension between traditional narratives of a unified Han center and the existence of regional cultures during the Western Zhou period (1046-771).
01/26/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Exhibition Lecture: Geographical Portable Sundials

Reliable Instruments or Roman Fashion Statements?

Richard Talbert

This lecture considers one type of Roman sundial represented in the exhibition that has not been sufficiently appreciated from geographical, cultural, and social perspectives. These are the miniature bronze instruments fitted with adjustable rings to accommodate the changes of latitude liable to occur during long journeys. This lecture will explore the possibility that often they were valued not so much for practical use, but rather as prestige objects.
01/31/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Brahmins, Monks and Their Astral Lore

The Origin, Development and Transmission of Greco-Indian Astral Science in South Asia and Beyond

Bill M. Mak

Described by the Indian scholar and Sanskritist P. V. Kane as “a problem not satisfactorily solved,” the introduction of a new form of astral science in India during the early centuries of the first millennium C.E. which resembles its Greco-Babylonian counterpart has been a heated topic in Indian historiography and history of science between Indian and Western scholars. Subsequent to the meticulous comparative analysis of David Pingree and his 1978 publication of a critical edition of the Yavanajātaka (“Genethliacal astrology of the Greeks”) dated to the second century C.E., a great number of questions concerning the origin and evolution of Greco-Indian astral science were clarified. However, with the recent discovery of new manuscripts and other materials, the issues appear to be far from being settled and some of Pingree’s widely accepted assertions now require serious reconsideration.
02/02/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

ARCE Lecture: Enigmatic Sites and Headless Nubians

Exploring the Eastern Desert of Late Roman Egypt

Colleen M. Darnell

Scattered throughout the southeastern desert of Egypt are several late Roman sites, comprising clusters of dry-stone structures (often including more than a hundred separate buildings). Similarities in architecture and ceramic material reveal a connection between these settlements, all of which appear to have flourished between 400 and 600 CE. Often termed "enigmatic sites," the purpose or even the ethnic affiliations of their inhabitants remain sources of speculation. New archaeological work and survey over the past seven years has revealed not only new examples of these settlements, but also exciting information about why these sites were built, and who might have built them.
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02/02/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

ARCE Lecture: Enigmatic Sites and Headless Nubians

Exploring the Eastern Desert of Late Roman Egypt

Colleen M. Darnell

Scattered throughout the southeastern desert of Egypt are several late Roman sites, comprising clusters of dry-stone structures (often including more than a hundred separate buildings). Similarities in architecture and ceramic material reveal a connection between these settlements, all of which appear to have flourished between 400 and 600 CE. Often termed "enigmatic sites," the purpose or even the ethnic affiliations of their inhabitants remain sources of speculation. New archaeological work and survey over the past seven years has revealed not only new examples of these settlements, but also exciting information about why these sites were built, and who might have built them.
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02/21/2017 06:00 PM ISAW Lecture Hall

Fantastical Space and Heroic Journeys in Mesopotamian Literature

Gina Konstantopoulos

Sumerian literary texts from the Old Babylonian period (ca. 1800 BCE) are often stories with larger-than-life protagonists, featuring warriors, heroes, and kings – and occasionally individuals who manage to be all three at once. While many texts, such as those concerning the warrior Gilgamesh, are centered around a climatic battle or other martial events, they also incorporate a journey into the structure of the narrative. These journeys, a common feature of both literary texts and royal inscriptions, allow the narrative to transition to a more fantastical setting, and thus better accommodate the expanded heroic actions of the narrative. The distant and faraway nature of these spaces, however, is more complicated, as the more fantastical depictions of these locations must also exist within the framework of the real interactions that are also depicted within the cuneiform record.
02/27/2017 09:30 AM ISAW Lecture Hall

Cosmos, East and West: Astral Sciences in South and East Asia and Their Interaction with the Greco-Roman World

Conference organized by Bill M. Mak (ISAW Visiting Research Scholar) and Lillian Tseng (ISAW)

The conference is now fully booked. We are no longer accepting RSVPs or names for the waitlist.
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