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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.

Fall 2016 Seminars

Greco-Roman Scientific Texts
Alexander Jones
ISAW-GA 3002-001
Mondays, 2:00-5:00pm

Study of a selection of Greco-Roman texts in the mathematical and physical sciences with particular focus on their presentation in manuscripts, both ancient and medieval, and their manuscript traditions. Prerequisite: knowledge of ancient Greek and/or of a language or languages in which scientific works in the Greek tradition are transmitted.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Art and Archaeology of Early Medieval China
Lillian Tseng
ISAW-GA 3010-001
Wednesdays, 2:00-5:00pm

This seminar surveys diverse visual and material cultures from the 3rd to the 6th centuries in China, a historical period marked by political division and ethnic integration. We will examine both transmitted and excavated objects, with special attention to their historical and archaeological contexts. Issues to discuss include ideology, religion, identity, patronage, and cultural interaction. Mediums to explore range from architecture, sculpture, calligraphy, painting to decorative arts.

This course is intended to provide intensive analyses of primary sources and related scholarship for graduate students who have sufficient knowledge of the field. 

Ability to read Classical Chinese and permission of the instructor are required.

Reception Studies and the History of Scholarship
Frederic Clark
ISAW-GA 3012-001
Fridays, 2:00-5:00pm

This seminar will explore two enterprises that have played important roles in shaping our approaches to, and definitions of, the ancient world—namely, reception studies and the history of scholarship. We will examine both perceptions of the ancient past and the techniques used to study it from approximately 1400 to 1800—i.e. from the emergence of Renaissance humanism to the rise of modern professionalized disciplines in the nineteenth century. In doing so, we will investigate how early modern scholars came to define certain segments of the past as “ancient,” and query the cultural values they attached to the distant past and its reconstruction. By tracing the prehistory of such fields as philology, archaeology, epigraphy, numismatics, lexicography and the like, we will interrogate the disciplinary, temporal, and cultural assumptions that went on to shape the study of the ancient world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—the legacies of which we still grapple with today. Specific topics to be considered include periodization, the history of “classicism” as concept, debates over authenticity and textual criticism, antiquarianism, the emergence of medieval scholarship, and the study of ancient pasts beyond the Greco-Roman world. We will conclude by considering the uses of reception as an interpretive tool for students of the ancient world.

Students will complete a research paper as part of the course.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Iranian Archaeology in the 21st Century
Daniel Potts
ISAW-GA 3018-001
Wednesdays, 9:00am-12:00pm

This seminar focuses on recent scholarship (since 2000) in Iranian archaeology and pre-Islamic history. Particular emphasis is placed on understanding how new discoveries have advanced our understanding of old problems, or introduced entirely new areas of research. Students will be expected to speak each week about a particular site/region/issue, with reference to recent scholarship and the earlier status quaestionis. Reading knowledge of French and German highly recommended.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Frontiers and Fictional Lands in the Ancient Near East
Gina Konstantopoulos
ISAW-GA 3018-002
Thursdays, 2:00-5:00pm

This course will explore how the ancient world described, constructed, and abstracted the concept of space and place, through the creation of an actual frontier, which could and did shift over time, the imagining of the lands and peoples that may lay beyond that same frontier, as well as the creation of lands which were entirely fictional. While we will focus on the creation and articulation of such spaces in Mesopotamia, we will also study comparative spaces in the broader ancient Near East and Mediterranean, as well as more distant geographic and chronological examples. Readings will involve ancient texts in translation as well as secondary source studies, and the reading load in this course is heavy. Methodologically, we will tie the creation of these ancient borders and imagined spaces into a wider framework concerning the creation of fictional lands throughout history and the general themes governing mental maps, invented cartography, and utopian studies, to examine points of connection between the ancient world and later examples. 

Students will complete a research paper and presentation as part of the course.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Introduction to Digital Humanities for the Ancient World
Sebastian Heath, Tom Elliott, and David Ratzan;;
ISAW-GA 3024-001
Tuesdays, 2:00-5:00pm

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, though we will also explore alternative models such as graph databases and the JSON data format. 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. The role of libraries in information-rich scholarly environments will likewise be a regular theme. 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.

The Ancient World at the End of the Bronze Age (c. 1250-1050 BCE)
Lorenzo d’Alfonso and Roderick Campbell;
ISAW-GA 3025-001
Mondays, 9am-12:00pm

The end of the Bronze age in the eastern Mediterranean is quintessential to the study of Antiquities since it provided, together with the biblical narrative, the main impulse to archaeology from the 19th century onward. Its most representative case, the Graeco-Roman epics of the war and fall of Troy, is considered today only one above a rich number of major Bronze age centers of the eastern Mediterranean experiencing a traumatic and short process of change from rich, interconnected palace-based political system controlled by a club of big powers, to novel forms of knowledge and aggregation. The latter have been labeled for a long time a Dark Age because of the scanty evidence informing us about them, but this situation has rapidly evolved in the last decade. Western Asia experienced between the late 13th and the 11th c. BCE two parallel historical developments. The fall of the Palace systems produced a phase of new local experimentations in Greece, Anatolia, Syria and the Levant. In Mesopotamia and Egypt, by converse, the kingdoms of Assyria, Babylonia and Egypt survived the political turmoil, even though the change of the times was perceived concretely by a significantly reduced territorial control and at the same time by the development of an even stronger sense of preserving and reaffirming themselves and their continuity with their past. At the opposite side of the continent, in East Asia, in the 13th century Anyang in the reign of Wu-ding became the biggest megacenter of Bronze Age China. This is clearly the culmination of a political organization per megacenters, typical of BA China, but at the same time the realization of the new Shang dynasty reached a dimension, and required a socio-political complexity and the development of social practices and technologies—not least writing, not experienced before. As in western Asia, the Shang polity collapses (in the 11th c.); the new west Zhou polity arising after it is presented in the traditional narrative as directly following the previous power, in a typically Chinese narrative of cyclical uninterrupted succession of powers that build up a long lived civilization.  In fact, archaeology and a revision of the sources suggest a strong hiatus and a drastic change in settlement pattern and economic system. For both areas movements of peoples have clearly played a crucial role, and in both cases the impact of populations moving from the steppes in Central Asia are relevant. Central Asia itself had at his time by its own extraordinary developments which we mainly connect with horse breading, chariot riding elites and their sedentary production sites changing into the advent a new phase characterized by the iron metallurgy, and horse-riding nomads. Global climate change occurred at the turn of the 13th century BCE, and the different historical outcomes are there to show how microclimatic features, as well as the social process of perception and response generate multiple, often opposing results both in adjoining regions and in far away regions. The course aims at introducing participants to the different realizations of the process we label “the end of the Bronze age,” along the Asiatic continent. Through the discussion of the main interpretative works, and the focus on paradigmatic and at the same time unique case studies, it will explore the different dynamics and the different questions asked by historians and archaeologists often directly linked with the set of primary sources typical of each area.

Permission of the instructors is required. 

Fall 2016 Other Courses

Introduction to Ancient Egyptian I
Ogden Goelet
ISAW-GA 1000-001
Meeting Time and Location, TBD

This course, in the first part of a full year course over two semesters, introduces students to the Middle Egyptian (Classical) dialect of the Ancient Egyptian language in its hieroglyphic form. The classes are structured primarily according to the lessons in J.P. Allen, Middle Egyptian. An Introduction to the Language and Culture of the Hieroglyphs. The course will usually proceed at the rate of one chapter per week, but occasionally a chapter may be skipped or two chapters will be combined. The goal of the first semester is to reach the treatment of the Egyptian verb and the infinitive in Allen’s 13th and 14th chapters. The lessons will be supplemented with readings from A.H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 3rd. edition, M. Collier and B. Manley, How to Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs, revised edition, and occasional excerpts from Egyptian funerary stelae.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Advanced Ancient Egyptian I
Ogden Goelet
ISAW-GA 1002-001
Meeting Time and Location, TBD 

This course is based on readings from actual Egyptian hieroglyphic texts in their original form. In the early stages of the course, the readings will be presented in both a “normalized” form with the individual sentences and clauses demarked as well as in the original, continuous text format. The readings will be drawn from a wide range of genres and will increase in difficulty as the course progresses. Where appropriate, photographs and line drawings will be used so that students will learn to handle hieroglyphic text as it actually appears on Egyptian objects. The readings are drawn from a text book in progress.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Anatolian Languages of the 2nd and 1st Millennium BCE: Hieroglyphic Luwian and Lycian
Lorenzo d’Alfonso
ISAW-GA 3003-001
Mondays and Thursdays, 2:00-2:45pm
Small Conference Room, 6th Floor

With Hittite and Palaic, Luwian is the oldest Indo-European language, attested epigraphically from the early 2nd millennium BCE in Anatolia. While Hittite ended with the end of the Hittite empire, Luwian, also officially adopted within the empire as language for display inscriptions of the ruling elite, survived the end of the empire and is one of the main elements of transmission of the Hittite political and religious legacy to the regional kingdoms of first millennium Central and Western Anatolia.

Lycian is a daughter language of Luwian, attested epigraphically in homonymous Lycia, southwestern Anatolia. The corpus of the Lycian inscriptions is small in number, confined in geographic extension as well as chronological development (6th-4th cc. BCE). Nonetheless, it provides a unique case study of the interaction between inner Anatolian post-Hittite local development and the gradual but growing interaction with the Greek world.

The course is organized as a tutorial. Participants will meet twice a week for short meetings of 45 min., one devoted to the language, one to read and translate inscriptions. The first ten weeks will be devoted to Luwian, while the last four will focus on Lycian and its context.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Sumerian I
Gina Konstantopoulos
ISAW-GA 3018-003
Mondays, 2:00-4:45pm
King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, Basement 

The oldest written language in the world, Sumerian holds a central place in the history of Mesopotamia, or roughly modern-day Iraq. An enormous number of texts have survived to the modern day, providing us with examples of literary texts and epics, magical incantations and exorcisms, religious rituals, personal letters, royal documents, and economic documents – all of which provide a window into the cultures and lives of people from over four thousand years ago.

This course will cover the grammar of Sumerian and introduce vocabulary and cuneiform signs, allowing students to work through more basic Sumerian texts over the course of the term and provide students the tools for approaching more advanced texts.

Grading will include regular quizzes, a midterm, and a final.

While knowledge of other cuneiform languages will be helpful, it is not a prerequisite for this class.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Spring 2017 Seminars

Aristotle on Animals
Claire Bubb
ISAW-GA 3007-001
Mondays, 9:00am-12:00pm 

We will read Aristotle’s De partibus animalium closely and in its entirety, supplemented by passages from his other biological writings, especially De historia animalium and De generatione animalium. The text offers Aristotle’s division and interpretation of the vast material gathered in his De historia animalium. Thus, while detailing his understanding of animal physiology, it also delves into broader questions of taxonomy, homology, causality, and teleology.

Permission of the instructor and knowledge of Greek are required.

Art and Archaeology of the Iranian Plateau and Western Central Asia during the Early Islamic Periods (7th-12th Centuries CE)
Sören Stark and Martina Rugiadi;
ISAW-GA 3009-001
Thursdays, 9:00am-12:00pm

The conquest of the Iranian Plateau and the oases of Western Central Asia by Muslim armies since 636 and the subsequent inclusion of these areas into the Caliphate marked the beginning of a profound cultural transformation in these territories. However, this was a gradual and multifaceted process, that was different in the various regions of Iran, in the Indo-Iranian borderlands, and in the territories beyond the Amu-Darya (Mā warāʾ al-nahr). In this course we will follow up these changes, leading to the formation of the classical Islamic culture of the Turko-Persian world, down to the Mongol conquest. Taking the perspective of archaeology and art history, we will specifically look at aspects such as the transformation of old and the appearance of new elites, new economic trends, new forms of urbanism, innovations in architecture and visual arts, as well as in ceramic production. For this purpose we will comprehensively discuss selected important urban centers, such as Nishapur, Merv, Samarkand, Ghazni, and others. Classes will be held both at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World and in the collections of Metropolitan Museum of Art. Assessment will be by means of a final paper.

Oral Presentations, 25% of the grade;
 Contributions to class discussion, 25% of the grade;
 Research Paper, 50%.

Permission of the instructors is required.

Sogdiana: History, Archaeology, and Identity
Fiona Kidd
ISAW-GA 3009-002
Fridays, 9:00am-12:00pm

As “the most important traders on the Silk Roads,” the Sogdians have traditionally offered an important point of entry for understanding early medieval cosmopolitanism in Central Asia. Yet, despite its pivotal location, the history of Sogdiana prior to this period remains little known because of the scant available sources. This course takes an interdisciplinary approach to the Sogdians from their first appearance in the Achaemenid records, to the early medieval period. We ask critical questions to challenge stereotyped views of the region: who were the Sogdians? How has their history traditionally been approached? What does the material culture of Sogdiana tell us about the region? What other approaches can we take to better understand the Sogdians? We will explore the dynamic region of Sogdiana in depth, but our conversations will always be framed by key issues in the historiography and archaeology of Central Asia, including agro-pastoralism, urbanism, exchange, and globalism.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Art and Archaeology of the Qin and Han Empires
Lillian Tseng
ISAW-GA 3010-001
Wednesdays, 2:00-5:00pm 

Permission of the instructor is required.

History and the Eastern Eurasian Paleo-environment
Roderick Campbell
ISAW-GA 3013-001
Fridays, 2:00-5:00pm 

This seminar will tackle the recent flood of paleo-environmental work on Eastern Eurasia and the attempts to link reconstructed environmental phenomenon to human history. The readings will largely be from the environmental science literature and an advanced understanding of historiography will be assumed. The goal of the seminar will be to produce a paper on the uses and abuses of paleoenvironmental reconstruction for history and, at the same time, the state of the field in Eastern Eurasian paleoevironmental reconstruction.

Pre-requisites: advanced knowledge of one or more paleoenvironmental technique, advanced understanding of historiography and the application of multi-scalar approaches. Reading knowledge of Chinese and or Russian would also be useful.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Current Debates in Classical Art History and Archaeology
Hallie Franks
ISAW-GA 3013-002
Tuesdays, 9:00am-12:00pm 

Rather than working around a theme or set of sources, this course aims to delineate some of the major current debates around and approaches to Greek and Roman art. What kinds of questions are presently being asked of visual sources, both those recently discovered and long known? What theoretical approaches are being newly brought to bear on this material, and to what ends? What, in other words, are the kinds of issues that concern ancient art historians and archaeologists today, and how are they moving the study of ancient art forward? In looking to these questions, we will situate recent studies in relationship to the scholarly history on which they depend, trying to anticipate where the field is going next.

Discussion topics may involve the application of sociological theories to ancient space, the construction of ancient “social imaginaries,” recognizing visual jokes and puns, the legacies of connoisseurship, the reception of Classical art, and the use of new technologies. That said, topics for many of our discussions will be determined by the class, based on the students’ interests and on research exercises. In addition to exposing students to a variety of approaches to visual sources, the hope is that this class will help them to form a picture of the field as a whole and to position themselves and their research—present or future—in relationship to contemporary scholarship.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Dilmun, Magan and Meluhha
Daniel Potts
ISAW-GA 3018-001
Wednesdays, 9:00am-12:00pm 

This seminar examines key problems in the archaeology and early history of the Persian Gulf and adjacent regions. The chronological scope is from the Neolithic through late Antiquity. Evidence will be drawn from Kuwait, eastern Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman. Related areas, including Mesopotamia, Iran and Baluchistan, will be considered in relation to developments in the Persian Gulf region.

Permission of the instructor is required.

The Late Bronze Age in Northern Mesopotamia: Mittanni, Assyria and the Syrian Local Kingdoms
Beate Pongratz-Leisten and Lorenzo d’Alfonso;
ISAW-GA 3018-002
Tuesdays, 2:00-5:00pm

During the Late Bronze Age northern Mesopotamia consists of two major regions that highly differ in their political trajectories. East of the Euphrates, two major powers grew prominent, one after the other, and became major players in what is known as the age of diplomacy: one is the kingdom of Mittanni, the other is Assyria. West of the Euphrates, instead, we see a fragmented political landscape with local kingdoms wavering between the major powers. The two regions, however, strongly interacted from very early times in history; with the Late Bronze Age, the expansion of the kingdom of Mittanni and Assyria toward the west promoted and intensified the interaction between local interests and external hegemonic pursuits in the administrative, political, cultural and economic spheres.

In the seminar we will explore the evolution of the settlement patterns of northern Mesopotamia from the Middle Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age; the change of the agrarian landscape from the Old Assyrian to the Middle Assyrian period, and the process of centralization; the development of provincial systems and related administrative structures; the fortification systems; the transmission of knowledge from southern and central Mesopotamia into northern Mesopotamia and Syria; the conceptualization of kingship as reflected in major literary works (Epic of Tukulti-Ninurta, Idrimi, Ba’l cycle); the historical and methodological problem of how to interpret the rise of the kingdom of Mittanni; the new phase of balance and conflict between Assyria, Hanigalbat, and Hatti.

Permission of the instructors is required.

Advanced Data Structures and Querying for the Ancient World
Sebastian Heath
ISAW-GA 3023-001
Thursdays, 2:00-5:00pm

This course will survey advanced approaches to structuring and querying Ancient World datasets. The semester will begin with relational models that rely on columns and rows queried with SQL. That work will show the rigid structure of such databases to be an uncomfortable fit for much humanities data. We will next look at graph databases that define relationships between entities. Our particular focus will be RDF-based triplestores that are accessed with the SPARQL query language. With these fundamental approaches in hand, students will work on such topics as spatial querying, data visualization, and incorporating structured data into text-based resources. Practical work will include acquiring, manipulating, and querying existing datasets found on the public internet. We will explore the set of best practices known variously as “Linked Open Data” and the “Semantic Web.” Efficient representation and querying of hierarchical typologies will also be a focus. Students will have ample time to develop their own digital resources as a final project, and this course is likely to be useful to students who have defined a research topic that they are pursuing. There are no prerequisites, but also no “holding back” in the expectation that students work to become confident users of the digital tools we explore. It is a requirement that students bring their own notebook computers to class. 

Permission of the instructor is required.

Spring 2017 Other Courses

Introduction to Ancient Egyptian II
Ogden Goelet
ISAW-GA 1001-001
Meeting Time and Location, TBD 

This course is a continuation of the first semester. The course will proceed at the rate of a chapter per week through J.P. Allen, Middle Egyptian. An Introduction to the Language and Culture of the Hieroglyphs. From time to time, passages from actual Egyptian texts will supplement the examples in Allen’s grammar. Depending on the progress of the class, the last weeks of the course will cover the hieroglyphic transcription of The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor, an actual Egyptian literary tale.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Advanced Ancient Egyptian II
Ogden Goelet
ISAW-GA 1003-001
Meeting Time and Location, TBD 

This is a continuation of the fall semester course, using additional sources of increasing difficulty. Depending on the progress of the class, there will be occasional readings from hieratic primarily based on sources that the students have already read in hieroglyphic transcription during this course and the previous semester.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Advanced Reading of Akkadian: Old Assyrian and Middle Assyrian Texts
Beate Pongratz-Leisten
ISAW-GA 3014-001
Thursdays, 11:00am-1:00pm
Large Conference Room, Sixth Floor

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. In particular cases it will include the reading from photos of the originals to provide practice for reading originals of tablet collections in museums.

The course will extend the students’ ability of reading cuneiform writing and consolidate the knowledge of syntax and morphology of Akkadian. It is intended to provide an insight into the dialects of Old Assyrian and Middle Assyrian including their particularities in paleography and grammar. The cuneiform readings include a mix of epistolary literature, royal inscriptions, and literary texts including Old Assyrian Sargon Legend, the poem of The Hunter, excerpts from the Tukulti-Ninurta Epic. Ina addition, letters from Tell Sheikh Hamad will provide some insight into the Assyrian conquest of and administration in the West (Habur area).

Grading: Reading of the texts (50%); Mid Term (25%); Final (25%)

Permission of the instructor and at least one semester of Akkadian are required.

 Past Seminars