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 2023: Seminar on the Interconnected Ancient World

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

The period from the mid-fourth century to the end of the first 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. 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 eventful timeframe across Eurasia, paying particular attention to the themes of cultural transmission and cultural identity and hybridity.

Permission of the instructors is required.

Spring 2023: Research Seminars

The Sciences of the Stars in Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean Civilizations
Alexander Jones
ISAW-GA 3002-001
Mondays, 9:30am-12:30pm

In this course, we will explore the main lines of development and transmission of the astral sciences (astronomy and astrology) in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Greco-Roman world, loosely from 7th century BCE Nineveh (Assyrian scholars observing and interpreting celestial omens) to 2nd century Alexandria (the works of Claudius Ptolemy). Knowledge of one or more of the relevant languages (Akkadian, Egyptian, Greek, Latin) will be an asset though not a prerequisite.

Permission of the instructor is required.

'Hellenistic' and 'post-Hellenistic' Central Asia beyond 'Hellenism'
Sören Stark
ISAW-GA 3012-002
Wednesdays, 9am-12pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor

Alexander the Great's conquest (and Seleucus' I re-conquest) of the northeastern satrapies of the Achaemenid Empire is commonly understood as an important historical caesura, that led to the formation of 'Hellenistic' Central Asia by bringing Macedonian and Greek forms of governance, religion, and lifestyle to faraway Bactria, Sogdiana, and Margiana – mainly as a result of Macedonian and Greek rule over these regions in conjunction with the presence of military and civilian colonists from the 'west.' As a consequence, historical and archaeological research on 'Hellenistic' Central Asia has been decidedly focused on the Greek/Macedonian settler society and their urban environment in southwestern Central Asia.

In our class we will take a broader chronological and cultural perspective: We will inquire into how this part of Central Asia looked during the preceding Achaemenid period as well as after the end of Macedonian/Greek rule. Also, we will move the focus from Greek/Macedonian colonies to the rural countryside, which is almost exclusively known to us only from archaeological data. This will, hopefully, lead us to a more complete and more balanced picture of this important period in the history of southwestern Central Asia.

Requirements: Reading knowledge of German required; French and Russian are recommended, but not required.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Domination, Subordination, and Identity in the Ancient World
Roderick Campbell & Lorenzo d'Alfonso;
ISAW-GA 3012-003
Fridays, 2-5pm

This seminar explores the topic of domination and subordination and their constitutions of identity in the ancient world. If the convict, the slave and the human sacrifice stand at one end of the spectrum of personhood, the conditions for their social death are to be found in the social, political and economic matrixes of particular societies. The structure of authority, the bonds of kinship, economic roles and relations all play a role in shaping the topography of domination and subordination. Moral economies of permissible and impermissible violence interact with hierarchies of worth and care to create the possibility of non-persons but also structure the distribution of status and obligation more broadly. In this seminar we will explore theories of power and subjectivity, personhood and violence as well as analyze historical and archaeological cases, surveying sources and methodologies.

Permission of the instructors is required.

Advanced Study in Early Chinese Art
Lillian Tseng
ISAW-GA 3013-001
Thursdays, 2-5pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor

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

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

The Formation of Cultural Memory: Ancient Near Eastern Libraries, Archives, and Schools
Beate Pongratz-Leisten
ISAW-GA 3018-001
Tuesdays, 9am-12pm

Ancient disputation and dialogue literature as well as other texts reveal that there was a tradition of competition between ancient centers of learning in Mesopotamia. Knowledge of important Babylonian cultural centers can still be detected in the writings of Strabo. So far, scholarship has occupied itself primarily with publishing the contents of libraries, and often – due to the quantity of texts and particular research questions – such effort has focused on particular genres rather than on entire collections. Much effort has gone into the reconstruction of school curricula. Less attention has been paid to the actual owners of the libraries and their professions, what particular texts or genres were collected and for what potential purposes in one particular place. The workshop intends to approach Mesopotamian libraries holistically, by taking a closer look at their content, situating them in their sociopolitical context, and exploring who owned them. This approach will probe the possibility that Mesopotamian libraries can be defined as much as places for the acquisition and transmission of knowledge as for its construction and production. Further, the workshop will attempt to map a geography of knowledge and to test whether we can identify traditional centers of knowledge as well as staging posts in the flow of knowledge.

Permission of the instructor is required. Akkadian is required for those who attend the reading sessions. Evaluation Criteria:  preparation for the reading sessions (35%); active participation in the discussion sessions on the basis of short written summary statements of the required readings (35%); final paper 30%.

Death and Burial in the Ancient Near East
Daniel Potts
ISAW-GA 3018-002
Wednesdays, 2-5pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor

Permission of the instructor is required.

Graph Databases and Network Analysis
Sebastian Heath
ISAW-GA 3023-001
Mondays, 2-5pm

This course will explore the relationship between two overlapping approaches to working with data: Graph Databases and Network Analysis. Students will learn to apply these approaches to their own work within the broad scope of the Ancient World. A "Graph Database" is a collection of heterogeneous entities and the relationships between them. The software tools that allow querying of these collections start from the perspective of the individual entities and allow these entities to be selected, grouped, and counted. For the purposes of this course, a "Network" is a collection of nodes and the edges that connect them to other nodes in the same set. A focus of the tools for working with networks is the whole collection. Which nodes are highly connected? What is the nature of the paths that exist between all the nodes? What subgroups exist within a network and which nodes mediate between those subgroups? It is the case that 'nodes' are analogous to 'entities' and that 'edges' are analogous to 'relationships'. Starting with working examples, the course will explore these similarities as students learn how to implement these concepts within the context of their own work. How do these generic terms, methods, and questions relate to the past phenomena we study? Existing resources, including the Wikidata graph database and the networks that can be derived from it, will introduce students to specific tools such as the SPARQL query language and the Python programming-language libraries for working with networks. Visualization of results will be one focus of our work. While there is no prior technical expertise required, an openness and commitment to learning digital methods is essential. As the course progresses, students will increasingly work with their own data and this will lead to the development and implementation of a final project that uses the methods we learn in class. Weekly readings will explore working examples of both technologies and explore the impact they are having on scholarship and research in the Ancient World. The course may be particularly useful to archaeologists, historians, art historians, and philologists who want to explore how Graph Databases and Network Analysis can contribute to their own research.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Spring 2023: Other Courses

Advanced Akkadian: International Relations during the Second Millennium BCE
Beate Pongratz-Leisten
ISAW-GA 3018-003
Thursdays, 11am-1pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor

While generally the Amarna Age has become synonymous with international relations in the ancient Near East, evidence for diplomacy goes far back to 24th century kingdom of Ebla in Northern Syria, and its relations with Mari and other kingdoms. During the Old Babylonian period we see Mari using the full range of diplomatic strategies including dynastic marriages, gift-giving, treaties and oaths and their accompanying rituals, the use of etiquette and protocols, and kinship terminology in the letters and treaties. With the Late Bronze Age we then enter the period of the balance of power between various political formations of region extent including Egypt, Hatti, Mitanni, Assyria, and Babylonia with the metaphor of 'brotherhood' expressing the political alliances between peers and evoking the notion of the royal houses belonging to an "extended family of international setting" (Liverani, Prestige and Interest). In this seminar we will read letters and treaties from the Early Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age to familiarize ourselves with the diplomatic strategies developed during these periods.

Requirements: Knowledge of Akkadian. Participation in class 50%; Final 50%.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Advanced Ancient Egyptian II
Niv Allon
ISAW-GA 1003-001
Fridays, 9am-12pm

This course will focus on reading Middle Egyptian texts in a variety of genres. Special consideration will be given to the grammar of the texts, as well as the materiality and historical, cultural, and archaeological context.

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.

Tracing the Biographies of Ancient Objects
John Hopkins
ISAW-GA 3003-001
Mondays, 3:00-5:45pm
Silver Center for Arts and Science, Room 302

4 credits. Ancient objects have long lives. They were crafted millennia ago and were often used for decades or centuries before being buried in the ground. After a long slumber, millions of objects have reemerged as people have searched for the past or accidentally stumbled upon it. In their modern and contemporary years these objects have experienced often-tumultuous life-moments and circumstances. In this seminar, you will learn to trace and uncover these biographies, looking through their chains of custody (their provenance) to find their locations of use and deposition (provenience). Each week we will explore different philosophies and techniques (conservation practices, close looking, provenance research, and more) and study how and why scholars have been so concerned with recovering and re-centering the often-fragmented stories. As your semester-long project, each of you will select an ancient object in the collection of NYU, housed in the Conservation Center at the IFA. You will study this object all semester, looking for the holes in its biography and applying the techniques you've learned in hopes of filling out its past.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Past Seminars