Course Descriptions

Professor and students with laptops around table in classrom ©Kahn: Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau 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 will be held in the 2nd-floor Seminar Room at ISAW unless indicated otherwise.

Spring 2022: Seminar on the Interconnected Ancient World

The Early First Millennium CE
Sebastian Heath & Lillian Tseng;
ISAW-GA 3031-001
Tuesdays, 2-5pm

Drawing on the expertise of various ISAW faculty members and invited guests, this seminar will examine the period c. 1-500 CE across Eurasia and Africa. Special attention will be paid to how ancient empires facilitated cultural interactions within or beyond their borders and how overland and maritime trading networks connected various places and political entities between the Roman Empire in the west and the Han and its successive dynasties of China in the east. Readings will be drawn from multiple disciplines that range from literature, history, archaeology to art history. Based on all the contextual and thematic studies, students will formulate and present their own large-scale narratives of the interconnected world.

Permission of the instructors is required

Spring 2022: Research Seminars

Ancient Near Eastern and Early Greek Epic: World-Making and Myth-Making
Beate Pongratz-Leisten & Antonis Kotsonas;
ISAW-GA 3012-001
Tuesdays, 9am-12pm

Stories revolving around heroic figures have a long history in the ancient Mediterranean and the Near East reaching back to the end of the third millennium, when the first evidence of episodes of the Gilgamesh Epic emerged in Southern Mesopotamia. Tales woven out of the military deeds of the historical kings of Akkade quickly developed into a cultural repertoire for modeling the idea of kingship. And by the first half of the second millennium the literary corpus celebrating the figure of the heroic king encompassed royal praise songs, epics, and mythic narratives that were performed at court, were part of the school curriculum and the cultural repertoire kept in temple and palatial libraries as well as in libraries of ancient scholars. The spread of cuneiform writing and its curriculum throughout the entire ancient Near East and into the Levant and Anatolia, and the development of large territorial polities into empires, created a variety of venues that fostered cultural exchange and the transfer of ideas and knowledge, and more particularly of cultic and literary practices. It in these palatial, cultic, and other venues that we have to imagine the spread of literary themes that informed the emergence of the Iliad and Odyssey. This emergence has come to occupy the nexus of complex discourses (better known as the Homeric Question) concerning by whom, when and why a range of oral stories, which circulated in different parts of the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean in the second and early first millennium, were woven together to formulate the two monumental works of early Greek poetry which have had a profound impact on the Classical to modern world.

This seminar will engage with these issues by problematizing the notion of epic poetry, and by exploring possible venues of poetic and other exchange and histories of reception of heroic stories, including questions of oral and written transmission and the canonization of text. We will further consider the agents of transmission (wandering poets and scholars, mercenaries) and the actual routes (via the sea, or overland, through Phrygia) and contexts involved. Further topics of inquiry are the common themes in Greek and Mesopotamian epic literature, and the impact of regional traditions on textual composition. We will also be addressing questions surrounding the historicity of the epics, which has been pervasive in both ancient Near Eastern and Classical studies, and we will re-evaluate the historicizing element in literature, with emphasis on the traditions for the cities of Aratta and Troy. The world-making potential and power of epic and myth and their intermediality with material expressions of culture and ritual will also form part of our investigation. Last but not least, we will be exploring the appropriation of the Gilgamesh Epic and the Iliad and Odyssey for political, economic, and cultural purposes, and we will be reflecting on the ways in which these epics and their material correlates have been communicated to the wider public through museum exhibitions. 

Permission of the instructors is required.

Art, Representation and Ontology in Early China
Roderick Campbell
ISAW-GA 3012-002
Fridays, 2-5pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor

The rapid pace of archaeological work in the People’s Republic of China has produced a bonanza of new materials some of which are re-writing the art history of Early China. From the stone carvings at Shimao to the jades of Liangzhu scholars have rushed to link Neolithic representational traditions to those of the better-known Shang across gulfs of centuries and across hundreds of kilometers, largely on the unspoken assumption that they are all, somehow, Chinese. Shang art in turn, mired in decades of debates over its (non) representational nature is scarcely better understood beyond its putative ritual context. But what is ritual? According to some scholars, ritual underlies all early Chinese art until the end of first millennium BCE, but ritual lives a dual life in Early China - as a poorly examined anthropological category and as a translation for the often anachronistically projected Confucian notion of li. Combine this issue with the fact that the vast majority of the corpus of things that makes up Early Chinese art history comes from tombs and Early Chinese “art” becomes unintelligible without an understanding of its larger mortuary context. Among all these issues of context and meaning we will raise a further and more fundamental one – what are the ontologies of representation present in the Early China corpus and how (rather than what) do they mean?

This course will range from the Neolithic to the first empires and from the Mongolian steppe to the semi-tropical south. The course will be both a survey of representational forms in Early China and an extended exploration of what representation (or better, mediation) might be and how it might be studied.

Ability to read Chinese and Japanese secondary sources is desirable, classical Chinese is also a plus, but curiosity and an open mind is even better. The course is open to those with any of the above characteristics.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Aramaean Kingdoms and Aramaic Texts in the Hellenistic and Roman Near East (ca. 300 BC- 300 CE)
Robert Hoyland
ISAW-GA 3012-003
Wednesdays, 9am-12pm 

In the aftermath of the fall of the Achaemenid Empire a number of small kingdoms and principalities emerged that used Aramaic as their official language. Most famous are those based at Petra (Nabataeans), Palmyra, Hatra, Charax Spasinu (Characene), Hazza (Adiabene) and Edessa (Osroene). They seemed to flourish as a result of the decentralized nature of Seleucid and Parthian rule and came to an end due to the increasing encroachment and centralization of, first, the Roman Empire, and, later, the Sasanian Persian Empire. This course will explore their interaction with the empires of their day and the basis of their economies (usually perceived as mercantile, some of them famously characterized by Rostovtzeff as ‘Caravan Cities) and investigate the nature of their identities and the relationship between Aramaic and local languages. A major source for our knowledge of these polities is the Aramaic inscriptions that all of them produced, often in large numbers. These help us to understand the character of these statelets and we will look at some of them, principally in translation, but also in the original (for which I will provide some basic instruction in Aramaic).

Prerequisites: none, but some exposure to a Semitic language will be helpful.

Permission of the instructor is required.

After the Empire: Post-Hittite Polities of Anatolia, Syria and the North-eastern Mediterranean
Lorenzo d'Alfonso
ISAW-GA 3012-004
Mondays, 9am-12pm

In western Asia the LBA-IA transition was felt nowhere as politically disruptive as in the core of the Hittite empire. After considering the discussion on a 'Hittite collapse? The course will try to trace the different local political trajectories developing during the Early and the Middle Iron Age in the former territories of the empire, with a particular attention to material remains and figurative art. While exploring the micro-regional, specific developments of the single post-Hittite polities, questions of economic strategies, strategies of political legitimation, (re)definition of cultic institutions, of social stratification, of long and short distance contacts, the impact and modalities of movements of peoples, of technological innovations and of the specific intercultural contacts with the east (Assyria), the west (Mediterranean), and the south (southern Levant, Biblical world) and the models used to represent them in modern scholarship will be widely discussed.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Greco-Roman Zoology
Claire Bubb
ISAW-GA 3013-001
Tuesdays, 9am-12pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor

This seminar will explore Greco-Roman intellectual engagement with animals. The core texts under study will be Aristotle’s Parts of Animals and History of Animals, which are foundational to the development of zoology as a distinct field of inquiry. We will read and analyze both texts in their entirety. Beyond these central texts, any ancillary topics that the course covers will depend in large part on the interests of the participants and may include one or more of the following topics: the reception of the texts, encompassing Aristophanes of Byzantium’s epitome of the History of Animals and Galen’s handling of the material—including an evaluation of James Lennox’s claim that Aristotle’s zoological program essentially disappeared in antiquity until being revived in the twelfth century; the alternative zoological programs present in Roman texts like Pliny the Elder’s Natural History and Aelian’s Nature of Animals; other Aristotelian texts relevant to his zoological program, for example Motion of Animals, Progression of Animals, or Generation of Animals; the geographical range of animals covered in Aristotle’s text and their original cultural contexts and accessibility to Greco-Roman thinkers.

Reading knowledge of ancient Greek strongly recommended.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Social Contexts of Ancient Sciences
Claire Bubb & Alexander Jones;
ISAW-GA 3013-002
Thursdays, 2-5pm 

This seminar will situate the ancient sciences in their broader social contexts. While the scientific thinkers of antiquity are most typically studied as important figures in the course of the history of science, they also influenced and were influenced by their historical and cultural surroundings. We will explore such questions as: the audience and register of various scientific texts, the degree of lay interest and proficiency in different scientific traditions (medicine, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, biology), the influence of scientific knowledge on contemporary literature and culture (and vice versa), and the popularity of para-scientific texts and studies (physiognomy, miscellany, scientific texts by non-experts, etc.). The primary focus of the course will be on the Mediterranean Hellenistic and Roman periods; however, we may broaden temporally and/or geographically in some areas as the interests of participants dictate.

Reading knowledge of at least one relevant ancient language is recommended.

Permission of the instructors is required.

Scientific Methods in Archaeology
Federico Carò
ISAW-GA 3013-003
Wednesdays, 2-5pm 

This course explores the application of scientific methodologies to the investigation of archaeological objects and works of art, with a specific focus on inorganic materials. This introductory course aims at providing the students with the appropriate knowledge and tools to understand advantages and limitations of traditional and cutting-edge analytical techniques commonly available to archaeologists, and to implement them into successful interdisciplinary archaeological research. Students will be introduced to the science of most common archaeological materials, and will examine how scientific analysis can help characterizing them, disclosing manufacturing processes and techniques, and reconstructing raw material procurement and trade.

The goal of this course is to give each student the knowledge necessary to understand, for each technique, its primary area of application, its strengths and weaknesses, and finally, how to couple complementary scientific techniques to tackle specific archaeological problems.

Upon completion of the course, students should have accomplished a basic knowledge of the techniques presented and will be able to discuss and design an analytical protocol around an archaeological question of their choice. Students will be involved in lectures, classroom discussions, hands-on exercises and analytical projects that will take advantage of the equipment in the department of Scientific Research of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while certain portable analytical instruments will be made available at ISAW.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Archives and Ancient History
Rhyne King
ISAW-GA 3013-004
Mondays, 2-5pm 

How can scholars use ancient archival evidence to write social, cultural, and economic history?  Although archival studies are among the main research tools for historians of the modern world, ancient historians study archival evidence far less frequently.  Nevertheless, numerous archives survive from across ancient Eurasia, and these corpora offer insight into aspects of the ancient world often invisible in other types of primary sources.  In this course, we will discuss methodology for approaching archival evidence, and we will examine how scholars write history using archival evidence across numerous case studies.  The case studies will include material from Sumer, New Kingdom Egypt, the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Achaemenid Empire, Hellenistic Egypt, Roman Britain, Roman Egypt, late antique Central Asia, and Chinese Inner Asia.  The seminar will culminate in a research paper which students will write in an area of their specialty using primary source languages of their choice.

Prerequisite: Reading knowledge of at least one ancient language

Permission of the instructor is required.

Spring 2022: Other Courses

Intro to Ancient Egyptian II
Niv Allon
ISAW-GA 1001-001
Fridays, 2-5pm 

This course, the second in a two-semester sequence, will introduce students to the Middle Egyptian (Classical) dialect of the ancient Egyptian language. Students will become familiar with the hieroglyphic writing system, as well as key elements of the grammar and vocabulary of Middle Egyptian.

Prerequisite: ISAW-GA 1000-001, “Intro to Ancient Egyptian I” (or equivalent coursework).

Permission of the instructor is required.

QGIS for Archaeologists and Historians
Sebastian Heath
ISAW-GA 3003-001
Wednesdays, 5:15-6:45pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor

This two-credit course will provide an opportunity for students to gain skills working with spatial data though the mechanism of close engagement with the capabilities of the open-source (therefore freely available) Geographic Information System (GIS) software QGIS. This application implements all the common tasks and many of the more advanced methods that are expected of modern software for geographic analysis. Loading vector, raster, and geospatial point-cloud data; map composition and the display of descriptive data; and spatial analysis can all be done within a single environment. Over the course of the semester, students will learn these techniques, complete weekly assignments, and then, during the last weeks, apply what they have learned to their own research projects. Weekly assigned readings will provide case studies illustrating how the methods that QGIS implements have been applied in the pursuit of varied research agendas. Readings will also offer constructive critiques of "GIS" as an approach. The audience is any student or scholar interested in a practice-oriented introduction to the role of spatial approaches in their own work. The course may be particularly useful to students turning their attention to their anticipated dissertation work. There are no prerequisites.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Advanced Hittite
Lorenzo d'Alfonso
ISAW-GA 3003-002
Thursdays, 2-4pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor 

The goal of this two-credit course is to achieve a sufficient control of Hittite cuneiform, and a view over the different text genres attested in the Hittite archives, with their specific lexikon and structure. For each class, students will be asked to transcribe and translate ca 20 ll. from cuneiform text belonging to a given genre, and to discuss with the instructor secondary literature on the said genre.

A previous course of introduction to the Hittite language and script is required to take the class.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Ancient Egyptian Textual Objects in New York Collections
Yekaterina Barbash
ISAW-GA 3003-003
Fridays, 10am-12pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor

Three credits.

Note: the course will include visits to the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Prerequisites: ISAW-GA 1000, "Intro to Ancient Egyptian I"; ISAW-GA 1001, "Intro to Ancient Egyptian II"; ISAW-GA 1002, "Advanced Ancient Egyptian I"; ISAW-GA 1003, "Advanced Ancient Egyptian II" (or equivalent coursework).

Permission of the instructor is required.

Advanced Akkadian: Mythic and Epic Texts
Beate Pongratz-Leisten
ISAW-GA 3018-001
Thursdays, 11am-1pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor 

Permission of the instructor is required.

Past Seminars