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Due to expected inclement weather, the public lecture that was scheduled for Wednesday 3/21 has been postponed. Please refer to Events for an updated schedule.

Institute for the Study of the Ancient World


Graduate Studies

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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.

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;
ISAW-GA 3031-001
Tuesdays, 2:00-5:00pm

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
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
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
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
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
ISAW-GA 3018-001
Tuesdays, 2:00pm-5:00pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor 

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
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
ISAW-GA 3023-001
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
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