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Home > Graduate Program > Current Seminar Descriptions

Current Seminar Descriptions

Current Seminar Descriptions


To enroll in an ISAW seminar, you must first obtain the permission of the instructor. You may then forward the permission email to to get the registration access code.

All classes are held in the 2nd floor seminar room unless indicated otherwise.

ISAW-GA  3009
Mobile Pastoralists in Late Iron Age Central Eurasia (4th cent. BCE-4th cent. CE).
ören Stark

Thursdays, 10:00am – 1:00pm

The boom of Xiongnu archaeology in present-day Mongolia and Buriatia (Russia) during the past two decades has decisively shaped and improved our understanding of Late Iron age nomadic cultures in Eastern Central Asia. Ever since, new data (not least resulting from a more comprehensive application of scientific analyses) and new methodological approaches have considerably stimulated the discussion of aspects such as elite representation between Han China and the ‘Hellenistic west’, transfer of technologies (in and outside the steppes), or non-elite life-ways among pastoral societies in the area.

At the same time, however, we dispose of a considerable mass of older data on nomadic ‘cultures’ from the territories of the former Soviet-Union, contemporary with the Xiongnu in Mongolia and Buriatia: the so-called ‘Hunno-Sarmatian horizon’. In many ways, this older data now awaits reconsideration in light of the recent advances in Mongolia and Buriatia. In addition, we see the rapid accumulation of new data from present-day Xinjiang, Gansu and Inner Mongolia (China), pertaining to the same cultural horizon.

The aim of our seminar is to re-evaluate older data and to integrate it together with new data into a systematic, regionally structured overview of Late Iron Age pastoral cultures from the trans-Caspian steppes to Inner Mongolia (China), and from Southern Siberia to present-day northern Afghanistan. This will allow us to better understand regional specifics and supra-regional dynamics within and beyond the nomadic world of the ‘Hunno-Sarmatian horizon’ in an integrated way. And, it is hoped, it will help us to line out potential avenues for future research on pastoral ‘cultures’ in Central Eurasia during antiquity.

Advanced reading knowledge of Russian or Chinese and permission of the instructor is required.


ISAW-GA 3010
Art, Archaeology, and Museology
Lillian Tseng, Jason Sun
Thursdays, 2:00-5:00 pm

This seminar explores how museology facilitates the study of art and archaeology through an upcoming special exhibition on the Qin and Han Empires (221 BCE- 220 CE) in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. We will study the objects to be displayed and investigate the characteristics of early imperial Chinese art and archaeology. We will also learn how a museum functions as a cultural institution through the curatorial efforts in acquisitions, exhibitions, and publications, especially how research and diplomacy play significant roles in developing international exhibitions.

Prof. Lillian Tseng at ISAW and Dr. Jason Sun at the Metropolitan Museum of Art will teach the seminar together. The class will take place not only in a seminar room at ISAW but also in the storage rooms of the Museum.

Permission of the instructors required.


ISAW-GA 3013
Astrological Texts in Papyri and Medieval Manuscripts
Alexander Jones
Wednesdays 2:00-5:00pm

This seminar will constitute an introduction to the fundamentals of Greco-Roman astrology and its transmission, through the study of selected texts and documents preserved in Greco-Egyptian papyri and medieval manuscripts.

Knowledge of ancient Greek and permission of the instructor is required.


ISAW-GA 3014
Ritual Text and Ritual Performance in the ANE
Beate Pongratz-Leisten
Tuesdays, 2:00-5:00pm

Among other media, culture is constituted and articulated also in cultural performances including ceremonies, festivals, theater, and games. Inspired by theater studies, in the eighties and nineties interdisciplinary research of ethnology, anthropology, religious studies, and historical studies concerned with cultural performance of any kind promoted the performative turn by emphasizing the body and bodily action over the thought and mind. This move towards action, i.e. the doing of things, entailed a move away from the text. More recently, anthropology and sociology sidestepped these mind/body, thought/action dichotomies by introducing the concept of social drama and emphasizing social interaction. Within the last decade ritual studies have turned towards a more precise definition of ritual versus theater and performance and have reintroduced the complex relationship between text and performance (see the research project Ritualdynamik: Soziokulturelle Prozesse in historischer und kulturvergleichender Perspektive at the University of Heidelberg). The seminar Ritual Text and Ritual Performance pursues a similar direction by exploring the various forms of ritual texts transmitted in ancient Near Eastern literature; the relationship between ritual text and ritual performance, i.e. of whether and how far we are allowed to consider cuneiform ritual texts as scripts for the execution of ritual action; the role of narrative for ritual performance; the combination of incantation, prayer, and action within the ritual complex; the memoria-aspect of ritual constituting identity, order, and continuity.

We will combine the reading of primary sources with the theoretical approaches.

Requirements: Knowledge of Akkadian and permission of the instructor required.


ISAW-GA 3018
Archaeology of Anatolia from the Neolithic to the Hellenistic Period
Lorenzo d’Alfonso
Mondays, 2:00pm-5:00pm

Within Ancient Western Asia the archaeology of Anatolia has a specific position. Separated from Mesopotamia and the Levant by the imposing Tauros Mountains, Anatolia maintained communication, kept up with the developments taking place in the Fertile Crescent, and developed its own peculiar organization of complex group societies. Starting with the Neolithic, the course will explore the archaeological data reflecting the first evidence of social hierarchies and regional power, the development of metallurgy in the EBA, the creation of an empire in the mountains with a territorial organization, and the many and diverse developments and ultimate fall of this empire. We will then go on to look at the remains of then-new kingdoms of Phrygia and Lydia, already in direct contact with archaic Greece, as well as the impact of the Achaemenid conquest, up to the Hellenistic period. The course will offer an overview of the most important historical and archaeological themes connected with the ancient history of Anatolia; for each period, one key Anatolian site will presented with the scope to make students familiar with the relation between theory, historical reconstruction, and the rough archaeological data on which they are based.

Permission of the instructor required.


ISAW-GA 3020
The Discovery of Iranian Antiquity
Daniel T. Potts
Tuesdays, 9am – 12:00pm

The invention of printing in the late 15th century, coupled with increased traffic between European capitals and the Safavid court in the 16th and 17th centuries, resulted in a growth of interest in Iran’s pre-Islamic past. Europeans visited major sites like Persepolis, Pasargadae and Naqsh-e Rustam; compared their situations with accounts in Classical sources; copied inscriptions; and brought portable antiquities back to their homelands. Enlightenment scholars (philologists, antiquarians, numismatists) of the 18th century worked assiduously on this material and established a substantial baseline of knowledge that served as a springboard for the better-known investigations, both archaeological and historical, of the 19th century. This course will look at what early modern Europeans contributed to the growth of Iranology.

Prerequisites: very good reading knowledge of French and German (ability to read Gothic script is an advantage). Permission of the instructor required.


ISAW-GA 3023
Mapping and Data Visualization for the Ancient World
Sebastian Heath

Wednesdays, 10:00am -1:00pm

This course considers tools and methods for the effective communication of scholarly research through data-driven maps and the visualization of small and large datasets. By frequent hands-on use and demonstration of their work, students will gain confidence in using web-based tools as well as software that runs directly on their own computers. A constant focus will be the ability of such tools and software to import and export data in standard formats and to enable sharing of the maps and visualizations that students create. Accordingly, students will gain expertise in data interchange formats such as the Javascript Object Notation (JSON). Topics stressed over the course of the term will include the temporal component of spatial data as well as connectivity within data sets. We will also survey current approaches to the application of digital methods to historical and archaeological research and teaching. A particular outcome for students will be the ability to assess the relevance of both current and future tools for their own work. The majority of our examples will come from the ancient world as ISAW defines it, though students with other interests can enroll. It is expected that students will bring their own computers to class. While there are no prerequisites, participants should be willing to commit considerable time to rapidly gaining the technical skills that will be presented in class.

Permission of instructor required.


ISAW-GA 3003-001
Directed Study: Hittite Texts
Lorenzo d’Alfonso
Thursdays, 5:00-7:00pm (6th Floor Large Conference Room)

Hittite, the earliest Indo-European language, is attested on cuneiform tablets, and was created as a means of recording numerous and various types of information collected by the royal court of Hattusa, and by some other administrative centers on the periphery of the Great Kingdom of Hatti. In some cases different types of information were recorded in different textual genres, and because of cuneiform schooling it is not rare that different genres used a wider or more restricted number of cuneiform signs, values, as well as a different vocabulary, formulary or phrasary. The course aims at introducing the participants to the different types of texts written in Hittite. Each lesson will be devoted to transcription and translation of ca. 30 lines of one ‘genre’. Thus, a sample from the Hittite Laws, letters, treaties, edicts, annals, prayers, rituals, feasts, oracular inquiries, inventories, poems and mythic narratives will be transcribed and translated along the semester, and for each text genre a piece of secondary literature about form and/or content of the genre will be discussed by the class.

Prerequisites: an introductory course of Hittite Language (Hittite I) and permission of the instructor.

Fall Seminars 2014

The Exact Sciences in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages
Alexander Jones
Mondays, 2:00pm – 5:00pm

ISAW-GA 3002

In this seminar we will examine episodes in the circulation of scientific knowledge and practices in the Mediterranean world (broadly conceived) from the third century CE to the end of the first millennium. The approach will be primarily through study of original texts, some of which will be chosen according to the specific interests and expertise of participants.

Knowledge of one or more of the relevant ancient languages (Greek in particular, Latin, Arabic, ...) is required. Permission of the instructor required.

Late Antique Documents
Roger Bagnall
Mondays, 9:00am – 12:00pm
ISAW-GA 3007

The seminar will examine a series of papyrus archives from late antique Egypt and Palestine, mostly in Greek but with some documents partly or entirely in Latin, Coptic, and Arabic. The archives will range from villages to cities, private to public, and secular to monastic. Readings will be mostly of primary documents but also some modern discussions of the archives. The central focuses will be on the formation of what we call archives, their potential for historical study, and their limitations.

A reading knowledge of Greek and either French or German is required. Permission of the instructor required.

Art, Archaeology and Material Culture
Lillian Tseng
Wednesdays, 2:00pm – 5:00pm

ISAW-GA 3010

This seminar explores various approaches that help us understand and elaborate the unearthed objects of extraordinary craftsmanship, a large corpus of fascinating material that has not yet been fully studied by archaeologists or art historians. The seminar seeks to strike a balance between methodological reflections and case studies. Theories and examples to be investigated are not limited to any specific cultural area.

Permission of the instructor required.


Early Chinese Literary Manuscripts
Adam Schwartz
Fridays, 1:00 – 4:00pm
ISAW-GA 3012

This text-reading course will introduce the major corpora of newly discovered Early Chinese literary manuscripts and the philological methods fundamental to work with them.  Readings will be from the Zhou through the Han, with focus on Warring States genre and popular readership, provincial scripts and stationery.

Permission of the instructor required.

Greek and Roman Portraiture

Hallie Franks
Mondays, 2:00pm – 5:00pm

ISAW-GA 3013

This course will engage with critical issues that surround the study of ancient portraiture traditions in the Greek and Roman worlds. Some of the questions we will address over the course of the semester include: How do modern assumptions about the function and genre of portraiture, and its relationship to the subject, impact approaches to ancient material? How do we develop a vocabulary for the different potential relationships between subject and visual product? How do we think about intent, and what kinds of material provide context for interpretation? How do portraits serve in public or private roles in different ways? How can we use traditions of portraiture to think about ancient concepts of and expressions of various identities? This course deals primarily with classical material, but it also involves critical engagement with and analysis of the visual and the processes of contextualization.

Permission of the instructor required.

Advanced Reading of Akkadian: The Political and Cultural Relations between Assur and Babylon

Beate Pongratz-Leisten
Tuesdays, 2:00pm – 5:00pm

ISAW-GA 3014-001

In addition to consolidating the knowledge of Akkadian grammar the Advanced Reading of Akkadian Class is designed to introduce into various dialects of Akkadian from a diversity of regions and periods and to familiarize the student with a diversity of paleographies as well as text categories. The text corpus to be studied will include royal inscriptions, letters, letters from gods to the king, and chronicles.

At least one year of Akkadian is required. Permission of the instructor required.

Advanced Reading of Akkadian: Incantations, Prayers, and Rituals

Beate Pongratz-Leisten
Thursdays 11:00am – 1:00pm

ISAW-GA 3014-002

In addition to consolidating the knowledge of Akkadian grammar the Advanced Reading of Akkadian Class is designed to introduce into various dialects of Akkadian from a diversity of regions and periods and to familiarize the student with a diversity of paleographies as well as text categories. The text corpus to be studied will include incantations, prayers, and rituals from Ebla, Kanesh, Emar in Northern Syria as well as Assyrian and Babylonian cities.

At least one year of Akkadian. Permission of the instructor required.

Peoples and Lands of the Zagros: From Gutium to Ellipi

Daniel T. Potts
Tuesdays, 9:00am – 12:00pm

ISAW-GA 3018

This seminar will examine the native peoples and regions of the Zagros mountain regions (Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Luristan) from their first appearance in cuneiform sources of the third millennium BC to the end of the Assyrian/Neo-Elamite period. Principle groups and regions that will be considered include Gutium, Simurrum, Lullubum, the Turukkaeans, Mannaea and Ellipi. The role of Ur III, Kassite, Assyrian and Urartian territorial ambitions in the region will be investigated as well as the nature of the landscape and the groups that inhabited it through time.

No formal requirements, but good reading knowledge of German and French would be helpful. Permission of the instructor required.

The Transition from Late Antiquity to Early Islam

Robert Hoyland
Tuesdays, 9:00am – 12:00pm

ISAW-GA 3020-001

This course focuses on the question of what changed and what did not change in Near Eastern society in the course of the fifth to ninth centuries AD.  Consideration will be given to both the micro level (individual objects, themes, groups etc) and the macro level (was Pirenne right about the disruptive nature of the Arab conquests, is Becker's characterization of Islam as the culmination of late antique culture apt, etc). and to literary and archaeological themes and sources.

Permission of the instructor required.

The Body in the Ancient World
Claire Bubb
Wednesdays, 9:00am – 12:00pm

ISAW-GA 3020-002

This seminar will consider ancient understanding of and attitudes towards the human body. Our primary goal will be to trace the shifting conceptions of human physiology from Egyptian medical papyri to the Arabic tradition, with a heavy focus on the Greeks and Romans. How did cultures with strong taboos around the body form theories about the organs hidden within it? How did the ancients grapple with the brain, the nervous system, and the interrelationship of the soul and the body? How did the concept of the humors develop and what were the rival theories? How close did the Greeks come to understanding blood and the circulatory system and why did they miss its circular nature? Why did Galen’s physiology come to dominate Western thought for centuries after his death, and how did the Arabic authors responsible for much of its transmission receive and respond to his theories? In order to understand the cultural context behind the development and evolution of these theories, we will also briefly consider religious, literary, and artistic treatment of the body, including burial customs, the centrality of the body to early Christianity, and the fascination with the body revealed across literary genres, particularly rhetoric and the novels.

Permission of the instructor required.


Past Seminars