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Institute for the Study of the Ancient World

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Course Descriptions

To enroll in an ISAW course, 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.

Fall 2017: Seminar on the Interconnected Ancient World: Themes

Beyond Content: Materiality, Spaciality, Visuality, and Iconicity of Text and Image in Antiquity
Beate Pongratz-Leisten and Roderick Campbell
bpl2@nyu.edu; rbc2@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3030-001
Tuesdays, 2:00pm-5:00pm

Generally, image and language, discourse and icon are considered disjunctive symbolic systems. These distinctions even resulted in scholarly discourses that were classified as the “linguistic turn” and the “iconic turn.” In this approach, writing is considered phonographic only, rendering the spoken word. Writing in its materiality, however, operates on various levels, the structural one, i.e. as medium in space. Here notational iconicity operating with spaces, indentations, paragraphs, etc. comes to the fore; the semiotic one, i.e. as referencing hidden or invisible cognitive contents; and the performative one, which emphasizes the operative function of reading and writing as cultural technique.

Recently in scholarship the notion of notation has been investigated in the broader scope of all kinds notational systems including mathematics, choreography, musical scores and more (Schriftbildlichkeit). In our seminar, beyond writing, we will look at ancient maps and the representation of time as notational systems.

Moreover, many monuments and artifacts in antiquity combine text and image. The goal of the seminar will be to investigate their relations from a variety of perspectives to explore how multimodality, multimediality, the shape of the carrier of writing intensified or hid the intended message and promoted inferential and interpretative processes.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Fall 2017: Seminars

Introduction to Ancient Astronomical Traditions
Alexander Jones
alexander.jones@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3002-001
Mondays, 9:00am-12:00pm

Four Old World traditions of astronomy are well attested through textual sources and, to a lesser extent, material culture. Those of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece became interconnected at various periods through transmissions and adaptations, whereas Chinese astronomy appears to have developed with little or no contact with the traditions of the Near East and Mediterranean until the mid first millennium CE, offering interesting possibilities for comparative study. In this course, the focus will be on the character of the surviving evidence, and on the methods and applications of ancient astronomies. Knowledge of one or more of the relevant ancient languages is a desideratum.

Permission of the instructor is required.

The Transmission of Ancient Science into Arabic
Robert Hoyland
rgh2@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3007-001
Tuesdays, 9:00am-12:00pm

This course will explore the different paths along which knowledge of Antiquity passed into Muslim intellectual culture and how it was received and interpreted.  The focus will not just be on the so-called ‘translation movement’, but also the broader question of how pre-Islamic histories and cultures fared in the Middle East after the Arab conquests.  There was plausibly a considerable amount of translation from Middle Persian and Sanskrit and maybe even from Central Asian/Buddhist texts, but too little work has been done on this to be sure.  Greek texts translated into Arabic receive vastly more attention, because they are regarded as crucial to understanding how classical learning was conveyed to Europe and because classicists are always hoping to find lost Greek works preserved in Arabic.  There has also been an interest in understanding how the Islamic world dealt with the classical legacy (reception history).

 Permission of the instructor and knowledge of Arabic and Greek are required.

Archaeology of Anatolia from the Neolithic to the Hellenistic Period
Lorenzo d’Alfonso
lda5@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3012-001
Fridays, 2:00-5:00pm

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 Urartu, 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 be 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. Presentation, final test / paper.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Art, Archaeology, & Museology
Lillian Tseng and Jennifer Chi
lillian.tseng@nyu.edu; jyc4@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3012-002
Wednesdays, 2:00pm-5:00pm

This seminar explores how museology facilitates the study of art and archaeology in the ancient world. We will learn how museums function as cultural institutions through curatorial efforts in acquisitions, exhibitions, conservation and publications. Special attention will be paid to the importance of considering how decisions made around the way in which we install ancient material can significantly affect a viewer’s interpretation and perception of a given artifact or groups of artifacts. Issues for discussion include the history and development of museums from Antiquity to present, narrative methodologies that are currently employed with ancient art exhibitions, the role that cultural property plays in the selection of objects for exhibitions, acquisition and permanent installations, and how digital assets are now changing the way we display art.

Prof. Lillian Tseng and Dr. Jennifer Chi will lead the seminar together. Guest speakers will be invited to address different topics. The class will take place not only in the seminar room and the exhibition hall at ISAW but also in various museums and galleries in New York City. Through the guidance of Dr. Chi, students will participate in the installation of the upcoming exhibition, “Restoring the Minoans: Sir Arthur Evans and Elizabeth Price,” at ISAW in the fall of 2017 as well as the planning of the spring of 2018 exhibition.

 Permission of the instructors is required.

Shang Visual Culture: Beyond Decoration vs. Representation
Roderick Campbell
rbc2@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3013-001
Fridays, 9:00am-12:00pm

Shang visual culture, especially that seen on Shang bronzes, has been the contested ground for some of the greatest scholarly battles in the study of Early China. What do the mesmerizing patterns mean? Are they shamanistic masks, references to myth, depictions of spirits, or merely the fanciful elaboration of decorative patterns? Or is the study of Shang visual culture an inherently doomed enterprise – permitting only narrow formalist study at best; anachronistic, subjective or arbitrary speculation at worst?

This seminar will not only explore the history of the debates about the meaning and content of Shang visual culture, but also, drawing on the anthropology of art, look into the wider problem of studying the visual cultures of non-Western traditions. In addition to engaging broadly with contemporary theory, we will also review what is known about the social, political and religious context of Shang visual culture – combing relevant materials from the oracle-bones, Shang archaeology and later texts with a close and systematic analysis of the visual cultural materials themselves. Finally, the seminar will end with an attempt to historicize Shang visual culture within the long traditions of Chinese art.

Prerequisites: work ethic and an inquisitive mind. Permission of the instructor is required.

Assyrians, Urartians, Manneans, Medes, and Others
Daniel Potts
daniel.potts@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3018-001
Wednesdays, 9:00am-12:00pm

This seminar will examine the archaeological and historical evidence available on the indigenous Iron Age populations of western Iran (mod. Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Luristan). It will also investigate the archaeological and historical evidence of the Assyrian and Urartian presence in these regions. No prerequisites but ability to read French and German will be a great advantage.

Permission of the instructor is required.

The History of Assyria in Ancient and Modern Historiography
Beate Pongratz-Leisten and Martin Worthington
bpl2@nyu.edu; mw179@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3018-002
Thursdays, 11:00am-1:00pm
6th Floor, Large Conference Room

This seminar is not geared towards an event-oriented history of Assyria. It is also not concerned with the social science oriented history including quantitative sociological and economic history modeled after the natural sciences and its claim for objective truth. Rather than a history from below, the emphasis is on the study of the textual production as it related to or occurred at the Assyrian courts throughout their history and on how ancient historiography proceeded from facts or empirical events to create a coherent story about the deeds of the king that met the expectations linked with the office of rulership, which were informed by a longstanding tradition and the world view of the time. We will educate ourselves as to how to interpret the various text genres that Assyriologists have classified as chronicles and annals by critically re-evaluating our modern taxonomy applied to the ancient texts and explore how these ‘genres’ interface with what we tend to subsume under fiction and literature. In addition to such critical attitude toward the text, informed by postmodern literary theory and linguistics, linguistic features of the ancient texts and the shape of the tablet as well as the context of the text will illuminate our interpretation of the ancients’ intentionality. We will explore to what degree the writings were indeed concerned with the past, what the inserting of ‘historical factual data’ was aiming at and further critically evaluate the assumption that history needs always to be written in a narrative.

The goal of the seminar is threefold: 1) to familiarize ourselves with the various text categories, 2) to acquire knowledge in the various dialects of the Assyrian language as well as in the ‘hymnic epical dialect’ by reading primary sources related to the general discussion and 3) to acquire an insight into the cultural and intellectual setting in which historiography was written by the ancient scholars for the political elites.

Permission of the instructor and knowledge of Akkadian are required.

Historiographies of Ancient Egypt
Emily Cole
ec124@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3020-001
Thursdays, 2:00pm-5:00pm 

The political history of Ancient Egypt has been constructed and viewed largely through the eyes of Manetho, a native Egyptian writing during the Hellenistic period in the Third Century BCE. Modern scholars continue to use his periodization of Egyptian history into dynasties in order to construct Egypt’s historical narrative. However, it is important to ask how this structure affects our understanding of the Egyptian past. What is the nature of Egyptian historiography, both as it was understood by the Egyptians and then later interpreted by foreign authors and modern scholars?

This seminar will take as a starting point an examination of Manetho’s work and its role in creating the divisions of Egyptian history used by scholars to this day. For the first part of the course, we will then move backward in time in an attempt to understand pharaonic Egyptian concepts of history, time, and antiquity. In the second part of the course, we will look at the ways in which Greek and Roman historical writing was applied to Egyptian history before looking at the place of those Classical traditions in the formation of Egyptology as a modern discipline.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Introduction to Digital Humanities for the Ancient World
Sebastian Heath, Tom Elliott, David Ratzan, and Patrick J. Burns
sebastian.heath@nyu.edu; tom.elliott@nyu.edu; david.ratzan@nyu.edu; pjb311@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3024-001
Mondays, 2:00pm-5:00pm

This course will introduce students to the use of digital tools and computational methods in the study of the Ancient World. There are no technical prerequisites and the course will be of particular interest to early stage graduate students who want a broad introduction that involves hands-on work. The course will progress through areas such as applying structure to text via XML-based markup languages, introduction to the programmatic manipulation of textual data, and how scholarly resources are shared on the public internet and edited in collaborative environments, including GitHub. There will also be a focus on structured datasets stored in relational databases. Students will gain practical experience in acquiring, creating, querying, and displaying spatial data. Visual approaches such as 3d modeling will also be explored. There will be frequent introductions to existing work in disciplines that are part of the study of the ancient world, including papyrology, numismatics, textual studies, history, and archaeology. Readings will introduce students to current trends in Digital Humanities and will encourage discussion of the impact digital methods and open-licensed content are having on research, teaching, and public engagement with scholarly practice. Over the course of the semester students will design and then implement a final project that can overlap with existing research interests. Students are required to bring their own notebook computers to class.

Permission of the instructors is required.

Spring 2018: Seminar on the Interconnected Ancient World: Periods

From Late Antiquity to Early Islam in the Eurasian World: 600-800 AD
Robert Hoyland and Sören Stark
rgh2@nyu.edu; soeren.stark@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3031-001
Tuesdays, 9:00am-12:00pm

The seventh and eighth centuries of the common era witness an enormous amount of change. Old empires vanish (the Persian, Turkic and, in all but name anyway, the Byzantine), new empires emerge (Arab, Tibetan, Tang, Khmer). Some religions boom (Islam, Buddhism), some wane (Zoroastrianism), others mutate (Judaism, Christianity, Manicheism).  Elites seem to be rapidly replaced (it has been observed for Europe and the Near East there are hardly any noble families that maintain their status intact across these two centuries). Patterns of trade routes change (Red Sea ports of the sixth century seem to all go out of use, but new ones emerge across the Indian Ocean, and some overland routes are reconfigured).  Greek, a lingua franca for a millennium or so, is discontinued, but Persian, even though the empire that supported it disappears, reinvents itself as a courtly language of Central Asia, and Arabic enjoys a meteoric rise from nothing to world language. In this course we will explore these and other phenomena and discuss the degree to which the changes reflect long-term processes or were the outcome of pandemics or climatic events. We will also consider in what ways, if at all, the different cultures and polities in this region were linked to one another or were interdependent, and if so whether stresses in one area could therefore influence developments across Eurasia.  The emphasis will inevitably be on change given how many actors come and go in these two centuries, but we will also try to elucidate the continuities that inevitably do exist.

Permission of the instructors is required.

Spring 2018: Seminars

Early Chinese Manuscripts and Processes of Textual Formation (ca. 3rd-1st Centuries BCE)
Ethan Harkness
harkness@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3010-001
Fridays, 2:00pm-5:00pm 

This seminar will examine a variety of recently excavated early Chinese manuscripts with a focus on those technical subjects specifically exempted from the censorship policy enacted by the Qin authorities in the late 3rd century BCE. When possible, archaeologically recovered texts will be read in conjunction with passages from transmitted counterparts such as Huainanzi, Huangdi neijing, and Jiuzhang suanshu to gain insight into the many ways texts can evolve naturally or be shaped by guiding hands. Variant witnesses among excavated manuscripts will also be closely compared to better understand concepts such as early Chinese authorship, editorial practices, regional idiosyncrasies, and other elements of textual production and transmission. No previous experience with Chinese paleography or technical subjects will be assumed, but students should be willing to grapple with the detailed mechanics of texts in subjects such as divination, medicine, and mathematics.

Knowledge of Classical Chinese and permission of the instructor are required.

Food and Diet in Greco-Roman Antiquity
Claire Bubb
cc148@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3012-001
Thursdays, 2:00pm-5:00pm

This seminar will consider food and diet in Greco-Roman antiquity through three different lenses: science, practice, and culture. Beginning with an overview of theories of nutrition and digestion, we will discuss medical advice on diet, which had an outsized role in both preventative and therapeutic medicine. Next, we will move to the practicalities of diet, considering both textual and archaeological sources; topics will include agriculture, animal husbandry, hunting (both natural and staged), the role of sacrifice, and the role of the state (military diet, grain doles, etc.). Finally, we will turn to the culture surrounding food, including philosophical attitudes, the ethnography of diet, cookbooks, and satire.

Ability to read Greek and/or Latin and permission of the instructor are required.

Holistic Approaches to Modelling Ancient Political Economies
Roderick Campbell
rbc2@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3013-001
Fridays, 9:00am-12:00pm

The economies of ancient polities have long been a topic of relevance to disciplines as varied as classics, anthropology, sociology and economics. Nevertheless, and despite significant cross-disciplinary conversation, major differences separate humanities and social science approaches. While the former tend to focus on the particular and specific to the exclusion of overarching theoretical frameworks, the latter tend to be more concerned with model building than with details. These varied approaches also tend to be centred on (or biased by) different sources and types of data. Much more rarely are attempts made to synthesise different disciplines, approaches and bodies of theory, striving to come to holistic perspectives on what are inherently fragmentary objects of study.

This course will build an interdisciplinary holistic approach to ancient political economies in three components. The first part of the course will explore major theoretical approaches to ancient political economies across different disciplines including anthropological archaeology, sociology, history and economics. The second component of the course will introduce a range of methodologies used to analyse past political economic systems, their strengths and their shortcomings. The third and largest component will consist of working through case studies on a number of scales from macro-sociology to institutional history. In addition to exposing students to a range of disciplinary approaches to political economy, their strengths and weaknesses and appropriate scale of analysis, a major goal of this course will be to assemble a flexible toolkit for the construction of holistic political economic models.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Social Groups & Material Cultures: The Archaeology of Ethnicity and Culture Contact
Yitzchak Jaffe
yj14@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3013-002
Mondays, 2:00-5:00pm

This course will survey the relationship between material culture and social groups and how this in turn plays into discussions on culture contact in archaeological studies. It will be divided into two parts: the first will provide a foundation in key works addressing aspects of group social identity and their archaeological modes of study, including: ethnicity, race, genetics, styles, social class, communities and nationalities. The second part will build on the first to examine the dominant paradigms in studies of culture contact and macro level inter-group interactions, including the notions of diffusion, trade, migration, World Systems, colonialism and globalization. The goal of the class is not to instill any one particular perspective, but instead to provide students with a broad exposure and sound foundation to these topics and theoretical approaches.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Ancient Near Eastern Literature: Topics, Issues, Approaches
Beate Pongratz-Leisten
bpl2@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3018-001
Tuesdays, 2:00pm-5:00pm

In the last decades the category of ‘literature’ in the Ancient Near East has come repeatedly under scrutiny. It included among other topics fierce discussions about how to define the literary corpus, orality and aurality, the notion of genre, the validity of historical references in literary works and the fluid boundaries between ‘literature’ and ‘historiography,’ where to locate literary production - school, temple, or palace, and how far the production process determined functional and pragmatic aspects of literary works. 

To isolate literature from its historical context as l’art pour l’art aesthetics favoring formalistic features over pragmatic and historical concerns certainly does not do justice to ancient literary works. While formalistic features such as the use of literary dialects might operate as a way of categorization, recently, due to the nature of the texts, narratology as well as fictionality have been considered equally important. Literature rather should be defined as a particular medium alongside other media as part of the social and cultural discourse. Moreover, what makes an oeuvre historically significant, is not necessarily established by the qualities of the work or by the author but by its history of reception and its intertextuality and intermediality. The seminar investigates what constituted literary works, how literary works became part of the stream of tradition, were affected by and affected historical conditions, and entered intertextual and intermedial relations.

The research seminar is open to graduate students, visiting scholars, and faculty. Students are required to do read primary texts in Akkadian and to do short response papers to the readings as well a presentation in combination with a written final paper.

Knowledge of Akkadian and permission of the instructor are required.

Alexander's Conquest of Iran and its Aftermath
Daniel Potts
daniel.potts@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3020-001
Wednesdays, 9:00am-12:00pm

This seminar will examine the archaeological, literary and epigraphic evidence pertaining to Alexander's conquest of Iran and the region's subsequent fate under his Seleucid successors. The geographical emphasis will be on western Iran (Media, Susiana, Persis). The chronological cut-off point will be the conquest of Susa by the Arsacids in the mid-2nd century BC. No prerequisites but ability to read French and German will be a great advantage.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Mapping and Data Visualization for the Ancient World
Sebastian Heath
sebastian.heath@nyu.edu
Course Number TBD
Wednesdays, 2:00pm-5:00pm

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 cloud-based tools and software that runs directly on their own computers. A constant focus will be the ability of such tools and software to import, manipulate and export data in standard formats and to enable sharing of the maps and visualizations that students create. While this is not a programming course, students will use the Python language throughout their work. Students will also 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 interoperability between data sets. Assigned readings will survey current approaches to the practice and theory of applying 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 assignments will be drawn from the ancient world as ISAW defines it, though students with other interests can enroll. Students are encouraged to pursue their own research as part of the required final project. 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 the instructor is required.

Spring 2018: Other Courses

Narratives of Power in Text and Image
Beate Pongratz-Leisten
bpl2@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3014-001
Thursdays, 11:00am-1:00pm
6th Floor, Large Conference Room

In the ancient East most of the production in the arts occurred in the context of the temple and the court and was destined to promote a particular world view and particular royal image. The focus of this tutorial will be on the many monuments and artifacts that combine text and image in order to explore their difference in narrativity.  The goal of the seminar will be to investigate their relations from a variety of perspectives to explore how multimodality, multimediality, the shape of the carrier of writing intensified or hid the intended message and promoted inferential and interpretative processes.

Knowledge of Akkadian and permission of the instructor are required.

Past Seminars