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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 2018: Seminar on the Interconnected Ancient World: Periods

The Later First Millennium BCE
Alexander Jones and Claire Bubb;
ISAW-GA 3031-001
Tuesdays, 2-5pm

The period from the mid 4th century to the end of the 1st millennium BCE saw enormous political change, both east and west. Power fluctuated among smaller states and empires across the Eurasian continent, ultimately to be largely subsumed by the two massive empires of the dawn of the Common Era, the Roman and the Han. To the west, the naval powerhouse of Carthage struggled against the rapidly expanding Roman Republic, while the aftermath of the campaigns of Alexander the Great left the Kingdoms of the Diadochi to navigate a newly broadened Hellenistic World, stretching all the way to the edge of the Mauryan empire in modern India. To the east, the gradual decentralization of power in the Zhou dynasty led to the contentious Warring States period, leading eventually to the unification of China under the Qin and later the Han dynasty. Against this tumultuous backdrop, the period saw significant cultural and intellectual innovation in many different fields. This course will offer a broad picture of the changes that unfolded during this enormously eventful timeframe, attempting to draw out lines of continuity and contact across space and time.

Permission of the instructors is required.

Fall 2018: Research Seminars

Advanced Study in Chinese Art and Archaeology
Lillian Tseng
ISAW-GA 3010-001
Wednesdays, 2-5pm

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

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

History of Money
Gilles Bransbourg;
ISAW-GA 3012-001
Wednesdays, 9am-12pm

Money is probably more ancient than writing, as most of the earliest Mesopotamian tablets already deal with financial accounts. And money will survive handwriting as it is evolving with the digital revolution. However, it is so ubiquitous that most users of money would not be able to provide a clear definition of it.

This seminar will explore the conditions that surround its birth, its various (de)materializations through time and space, as well as how its functions evolved within the societies it contributed to shaping. It will not follow a linear, chronological path, but will rather adopt a concept-based structure, where several key issues linked to the subject are exposed in a sequential fashion.

Since many of the concepts that have led to money as we know it nowadays were developed in Antiquity, a significant proportion of the seminar’s materials will deal with that period’s coinage and monetary systems. At the same time, the seminar will explore some of the alternative forms of exchanges that have been developed by societies, which do not belong to this tradition. This will allow a fruitful dialogue between economic thinking, ethnography and history. No knowledge of economic modelling is needed, economic concepts will be explored only to the extant they allow a better understanding of historical phenomena and developments. The seminar will approach some of the more contentious topics that increased leverage of money have created in societies, past and present.

Students from many different fields of knowledge will be able to use the course’s relevant contents in order to help them further their research and reflections, particularly in areas but not limited to history, classics, economics, and business. The course’s structure will foster open discussions and participants will be encouraged to contribute by suggesting specific topics that are relevant to the seminar’s broad subject, and then present their findings during short presentations.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Global Approaches to the Ancient World
J. Andrew Dufton
ISAW-GA 3012-002
Mondays, 2-5pm

What does it mean to undertake a global study of the ancient world? An ongoing push for academic interdisciplinarity has extended to the study of the past, encouraging both students and scholars to bring their materials into direct dialogue with other regions, eras, and disciplines. How might we effectively craft this type of comparative scholarship, marking meaningful similarities across widely disparate people, places, and periods?

This course explores different scholarly approaches to a global antiquity, including Mediterraneanization, globalization, network theory, and economic or ecological models of connectivity. Through a combination of theoretical overview and practical case studies, we will explore some of the ways academics are working across chronological and geographic boundaries. Weekly discussions will address the strengths and weaknesses of this latest fashion for thinking big, and assessments will focus on applying these ideas to students’ own research. Ultimately, the course will provide the robust intellectual framework needed for a comparative take on the global past.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Late Antique Arabia and the Rise of Islam
Robert Hoyland
ISAW-GA 3013-001
Tuesdays, 9am-12pm

Medieval accounts of Muhammad’s life, and the modern ones that are based on them, focus almost wholly on the Mecca-Medina region of Arabia and on the period of the prophet Muhammad’s lifetime (ca. 570-632). Yet if we are to gain a better appreciation of the context of the rise of Islam we need to cast our net wider and deeper. In the three centuries before Muhammad was born Arabia underwent a series of momentous changes. First, the smaller kingdoms of ancient Yemen that had endured since at least the middle of the first millennium BC are replaced in the second half of the third century CE by the single kingdom of Himyar, based at a new capital, Zafar. Second, the pagan gods spoken of in Arabian inscriptions for over a millennium vanish from the epigraphic record and instead it is to the one merciful God, lord of the heavens, that Arabians pay homage.  Third, Arabic begins to be written down for the first time. Fourth, there is a substantial decline in settlement in a number of areas of this land mass. This course will explore these and other changes and consider in what way they played a part in the rise of Islam and the Arab conquests.

Knowledge of Arabic and permission of the instructor are required.

Colonization in the Ancient Mediterranean and the Black Sea
Antonios Kotsonas
ISAW-GA 3013-002
Fridays, 2-5pm

One of the most formative phenomena in the history of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea in the 1st millennium BCE is colonization. This seminar will discuss the social, economic, political and cultural processes that shaped the expansion of the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Etruscans, and the Romans (in the Republican period). We will approach these phenomena in the context of broader current discussions on mobility and Mediterraneanization, of network analyses, and of cross-cultural discourses on colonialism in the ancient and the modern world.

Particular emphasis will be placed on historiography and the ways in which modern agendas, and past and current terms and concepts, have shaped our understanding of the complexities of ancient colonization in its different manifestations. Opting for integrated analysis of archaeological and historical data, we will be exploring: how similar and how different was the Phoenician, Greek, Roman colonization; whether the Etruscan expansion can be called colonization; what were the main reasons and processes for colonizing; which regions or cities spearheaded overseas expansion and which regions proved particular appealing to colonists; the range of modes of interaction between colonists and local populations and their impact on cultural identities.

This seminar will help students develop an understanding of the diverse sources available for the study of the subject, including their different focus or agendas, research potential and limitations, as well as to appreciate how archaeological and textual data are interwoven in scholarly interpretations. We will engage major discourses on ancient mobility and evaluate how these have been colored by the modern historical experience.

Please note: The first meeting of this course will take place on September 21, 2018.

Permission of the instructor is required. 

Landscapes, Urban Design, Monumentality, and the Interface between Anatolia, Assyria and the Northern Levant during the First Millennium BCE
Beate Pongratz-Leisten and Lorenzo d'Alfonso;
ISAW-GA 3018-001
Tuesday, 2-5pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor 

The end of the Bronze Age is associated in Anatolia and northern Mesopotamia with a reorganization of sociopolitical institutions, in some regions characterized by a claim of continuity with the legacy of the Late Bronze Age territorial states, in others as a strict change. An adequate understanding of this period once named a dark age is allowing us new insights into the definition and growth of the Assyrian empire during the first centuries of the first millennium and the nature of the growing intercultural contacts between the Syro-Anatolian political entities and Assyria. Social-political dynamics such as the emergence of the Syro-Anatolian kingdoms after the collapse of the Hittite empire, the process of sedentarization of Aramean groups and the emergence of the Assyrian empire were accompanied by the redefinition of use and concepts of space, landscape and population.

What were the landscape visions developed by these various political entities? One characteristic element is the monumentality of urban centers and how space was turned into a semiotic space through deliberate human intervention and meaning making. Landscape as physically built environment is both context for human interaction and socio-political activity as well as a symbolic system of signifiers with wide-ranging affordances activated by social actors to position themselves and others (Jaworski and Thurlow 2010). This seminar will investigate topography as practice and knowledge put to use (Duncan and Levy 1993) and the way in which social formations are made visible on the ground; topography as a strategy of domination and the way it reinforces boundaries, secures norms and treats social conventions as unquestioned social facts; the iconic images of urban centers: buildings, statues, steles, gardens and how they have been incorporated into the imaginings of identity; the indexical signs identifying specific representational and perceptual spaces; as well as at the way landscape features such as mountains, rivers, coastal areas alongside architectural features and engineering interventions were produced to create a semiotic space. Case studies will involve the centers of the Syro-Hittite states as well as the residences and provincial centers in the Assyrian empire.

Permission of the instructors is required.

Problems in the Archaeology of Mesopotamia and Iran
Daniel Potts
ISAW-GA 3018-002
Thursdays, 11am-2pm

This seminar will consider a variety of issues in the archaeology of Mesopotamia and Iran from late prehistory through the end of the Bronze Age. Emphasis is on interaction between the states of southern Mesopotamia and their counterparts in both the Iranian lowlands (Khuzestan) and on the Iranian Plateau.

Reading knowledge of French and/or German and permission of the instructor are required.

Ritual Text and Ritual Performance in the Ancient Near East
Beate Pongratz-Leisen
ISAW-GA 3018-003
Thursdays, 9-11am
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor

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. 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.

Knowledge of Akkadian and permission of the instructor are required.

Special Topics in Digital Humanities for the Ancient World: 3D Modelling and Virtual Realities
Sebastian Heath
ISAW-GA 3023-001
Thursdays, 2-5pm 

The premise of this course is that virtual representations of the ancient world are becoming increasingly important to both research and teaching as the ability to acquire, create, work with, and share such digital resources becomes less expensive and more widely available. Accordingly, the course will combine hands-on experience with creating and using virtual representations of ancient material culture, including objects and architectural spaces, with a review of current practices being employed by museums, archaeologists, and other researchers. In all aspects of the course, the emphasis is on using these highly visual technologies to tell stories and to communicate and illustrate a wide range of recoverable aspects of ancient societies. Students will use such tools as the introductory 3D modeling software SketchUp, the more capable open-source 3D-suite Blender, game editing software, and tools for making 3D models from photographs. We will explore the acquisition, editing, creation and sharing of richly-textured 3D models of real objects as well as create and explore immersive virtual environments. Readings will include reports of ongoing work as well as discussions of why "3D" is important and how it is being used in teaching and in the field. Students will often be using their own computers and should be willing to apply themselves energetically to learning the digital skills the class introduces.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Fall 2018: Other Courses

A Retroactive Manifesto for Mesopotamian Architecture
David Kertai
ISAW-GA 3014-001
Tuesdays, 10am-12pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor 

It is exactly 30 years since Rem Koolhaas published his Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan. In this book, Koolhaas reconstructs the implicit manifesto behind the architectural experiments resulting in the birth of the modern metropolis. The book deals with a dilemma that is familiar to archaeologist: how to reconstruct architectural concepts and ideas when its creators did not make them explicit?

The common approach would be to scavenge ancient sources and make comparisons with buildings that are as similar in time, function, and place as possible. The result has not been very satisfactory and has mostly led to tracing of similarities in floorplans and finding the origin of architectural elements such as columns. Such analyses are a poor substitute for the lack of architectural treaties or for the general absence of contemporary sources such as stories set in the palace, diaries etc.

This course is an experiment in creating a different type of architectural history. We will use modern architectural theories as a framework to look anew at Mesopotamian architecture. This course is about asking different questions and finding new topics to explore. Students will become familiar with Mesopotamian architecture as well as with different architectural theories. Each class is centered on a topic such as the similitude between cities and buildings, the constitutive role of ornament, the tectonics of mud etc. Relevant theoretical texts will be discussed and contextualized. Each class will explore its topic through a case study on a specific Mesopotamian building.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Advanced Ancient Egyptian I: The Ramesseum Papyri
ISAW-GA 1002-001
Marc J. LeBlanc
Mondays, 10am-1pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor 

This course will focus on the so-called Ramesseum Papyri. Students will read texts in a variety of genres from this collection and consider the historical and archaeological context for these papyri and associated objects.

Prerequisites: ISAW-GA 1000, "Intro to Ancient Egyptian I," and ISAW-GA 1001, "Intro to Ancient Egyptian II" (or equivalent coursework).

Permission of the instructor is required.

Spring 2019: Seminar on the Interconnected Ancient World: Themes

Water Management in the Ancient World
ISAW-GA 3030-001
Daniel Potts, Sören Stark, & Stephanie Rost,,
Tuesdays, 2-5pm

Ancient water management, in particular irrigation, has featured prominently in theories on the evolution of socio-political complexity. As many early civilizations, in particular of the Old World, have developed in large river valleys, scholars have assumed a causal relationship between the organization of irrigation and the formation of early states. The underlying assumption was, and at times still is, that the management of water for irrigation and other purposes requires centralized control, which had set early farming communities in arid zones on a similar evolutionary trajectory. Many of the earlier theories, in particular Karl Wittfogel’s hydraulic hypothesis of “Oriental Despotism” have been refuted based on archaeological and ethnographic evidence; however, the role of water management in early state formation is still a topic of considerable scholarly interest.

This class will cover three major themes related to water control and ancient societies: a) the theoretical debate on water management and state formation, b) the variety of water works in the ancient world, and c) alternate explanations of the role of water management in the development and functioning of ancient states. Theme a) will review the most influential essays that shaped the scholarly debate on water management’s impact on ancient societies. The body of literature will include, both, archaeological as well as ethnographic case studies. Ethnographic cases studies are particular relevant as they provide detailed insights into the social organization of water management to help formulate more effective research designs for a more nuanced understanding of ancient water management. b) The case studies discussed in this class will be chosen to reflect the great variety of water control in different parts of the world and environmental contexts. The discussion of these different case studies will focus on the interplay of the physical agency of water control structures and the social agency of managing them for specific purposes. This “global” overview will also include a review of the methodological approaches to the study of ancient water management. Armed with that knowledge the last theme c) of the class will evaluate the most recent theoretical approaches to the function of irritation in early state formation. 

Permission of the instructors is required.

Spring 2019: Research Seminars

The Hippocratic Corpus
ISAW-GA 3012-001
Claire Bubb
Mondays, 2-5pm

The Hippocratic Corpus comprises medical texts from diverse Greek authors, mostly dated to the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. Generally considered, both in antiquity and by modern scholars, to be the heart of rational Greek medicine, the corpus has exerted an enormous influence on the development of western medical thought (and beyond). Scholarship is also increasingly attuned to connections between these texts and contemporary literature and philosophy. In this seminar, we will read through the entire corpus. In addition to our main focus on the content of the texts, we will also consider contemporary context and influences, with occasional reference to secondary literature as desirable.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Networks & Network Theory in Ancient History & Archaeology: Theory & Application
ISAW-GA 3012-002
Roderick Campbell & Sebastian Heath,
Thursdays, 2-5pm

From formal graphing to actor network theory and from social networks to society as networks, networks are ubiquitous in academic discourse from the humanities to the natural sciences. The very popularity of networks creates both opportunities and confusion. On the one hand, there are a myriad of approaches that use the word network, from social theory to computer applications, each with its own potential uses, and, on the other, it is not always clear what sort of network one is referring to when one speaks of network theory. Some theoretical approaches, like actor network theory and Michael Mann’s social power use networks as metaphorical constructs rather than employing formal graphing techniques, but it is not clear that these disparate approaches cannot be reconciled.

In half of this co-taught course Professors Roderick Campbell and Sebastian Heath will explore network theories and their applications across a range of disciplines of potential relevance to ancient history and archaeology. The other half of the seminar will be spent learning to use and apply software to various network theory applications. While there are no pre-requisites in terms of specific digital skills, we do ask students to be comfortable using their own computers during class and to be willing to learn new digital methods.

Permission of the instructors is required.

Wine Production and Wine Drinking in the Ancient World: From Domestication to the Symposium
ISAW-GA 3012-003
Lorenzo d'Alfonso
Fridays, 9am-12pm

Among the agricultural products, wine occupies from its very origin a special role in ancient societies. This role originates in the uncommon conditions needed for the cultivation of grapevine, as well as in the toxic properties, both essential for determining its high value. The seminar aims at introducing the participants to the basic botanic and agricultural notions behind wine production, as well as to means and proxies for its study in antiquity. From there the course will move to explore the origin, the techniques of cultivation, storage and production of wine, but above all its use and significance in the different historical contexts of ancient western Asia and the Mediterranean until the definition of the institution of the symposium, in ancient Greece.

Permission of the instructor is required. 

Current Debates in Ancient Art History & Archaeology
ISAW-GA 3013-001
Hallie Franks
Thursdays, 9am-12pm 

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 the study of ancient material culture. What kinds of questions are presently being asked of monuments and 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 in new directions? In looking to these questions, we will also look back and forward, situating recent studies in relationship to the scholarly history on which they depend.

Discussion topics may involve the use of new technologies, the construction of ancient “social imaginaries”, historiographical treatments of race, ethnicity, and gender, and environmental change. That said, topics for many of our classes will be determined on students’ fields, interests, and on research exercises. In addition to exposing students to a variety of approaches to ancient material culture, the hope is that this class will help each student to form a picture of their field as a whole and to position their research—present or future—in relationship to contemporary scholarship.

Permission of the instructor is required.

The Qur'an: New Theories & Approaches
ISAW-GA 3013-002
Robert Hoyland
Wednesdays, 2-5pm

The Qur’an has become the most important document of Islam, the very word of God and as such the key for Muslims seeking to understand God’s plan for mankind.  For the same reason it has been a focus of attention for non-Muslim polemicists (past and present) wishing to refute Islam’s claim to be a divinely revealed religion, for modern secularists (Muslim and non-Muslim) wanting to loosen God’s hold on Islamic society, and for modern revisionist scholars striving to demonstrate that the Qur’an has a history and did not become an invariable, canonical scripture overnight. Qur'an Studies has boomed in the last decade and a half and in this course we will engage with this new scholarship as well as revisit the more staple fare of language, transmission and exegesis.

Knowledge of Arabic and permission of the instructor are required.

Greek and Mediterranean Ceramics: Material Culture and Historical Interpretation
Antonios Kotsonas
ISAW-GA 3013-003
Wednesdays, 9am-12pm

Permission of the instructor is required. 

Spring 2019: Other Courses

Advanced Ancient Egyptian II
ISAW-GA 1003-001
Niv Allon
Time & Location, TBD

Prerequisites: ISAW-GA 1000, "Intro to Ancient Egyptian I," ISAW-GA 1001, "Intro to Ancient Egyptian II," and ISAW-GA 1002, "Advanced Ancient Egyptian I" (or equivalent coursework).

Permission of the instructor is required.

Past Seminars