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.

Fall 2021: Research Seminars

Ancient Astrological Texts, Theories, and Methods
Alexander Jones
aj60@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3002-001
Fridays, 9am-12pm

This course will center on reading and analysis of handbooks of astrology in the Greco-Roman tradition, with emphasis on the concepts and doctrines, their applications in astrological practice, and the transmissions and vicissitudes of the texts. Knowledge of ancient Greek required.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Classical Arabic Texts and their Context
Robert Hoyland
rgh2@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3012-001
Tuesdays, 2-5pm

This course is aimed at students with a grounding in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) who wish to deepen their knowledge of Classical Arabic (CA) and to acquire familiarity with the range and breadth of CA texts. This is not primarily a language course, though there will be discussion of the ways in which CA differs from MSA and also from spoken forms of Arabic. The principal aim is to explore the variety of CA texts and to investigate the contexts that generated them and the audiences that consumed them. 

Prerequisite: competence in Modern Standard Arabic.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Cultural Interactions in Eurasian Art & Archaeology
Sören Stark & Lillian Tseng
ss5951@nyu.edu; lillian.tseng@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3012-002
Wednesdays, 2-5pm

Cross-cultural inquiries over the Eurasian continent are still, to a considerable degree, hampered both by the fragmenting character of traditional academic divisions (such as Near Eastern, Central Asian, East Asian, South Asian studies) and considerable language barriers. Whereas the current academic divisions encourage the in-depth investigation of issues derived from the ‘core areas’, it does not facilitate the cross-border inquiry that addresses the interconnectedness between assumed ‘core areas’.

This seminar is intended to bridge academic gaps by exploring the wealth of cultural interactions between Central Asia and East Asia, with diverse topics such as elite representation, frontier societies, diaspora communities, urbanism, commercial networks, and religious plurality/competition. We will tackle these topics by focusing on a series of representative cases of archaeological sites or material assemblages dating between the 5th/4th century BCE and the 9th century CE, which either have come to light only relatively recently, or received a fundamental reassessment in current research.

Reading knowledge of Chinese and Russian is recommended, but alternative English readings are available if necessary.

Permission of the instructors is required.

Curating Ancient Art
Niv Allon & Clare Fitzgerald
Niv.Allon@metmuseum.org; cpf213@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3012-003
Mondays, 9am-12pm

This course explores major issues in the curation of ancient art through study of past and present modes of collecting and display in museums. Central topics will include acquisition and cultural property, development of exhibition narratives, approaches and challenges surrounding questions of race and identity in exhibitions, use of design and technology in contemporary modes of display, as well as audience development and engagement. Through these inquiries we will ask how we might bring visitors into meaningful conversations with the ancient world.

Permission of the instructors is required.

The Sumerian Problem
Daniel Potts
dtp2@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3013-001
Tuesdays, 2-5pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor 

This seminar will examine the controversy surrounding the identity of the Sumerians, the first literate occupants of southern Mesopotamia. This will commence with the 'rediscovery' of the Sumerians at Lagash in the 1880s, and move on to the battles over their ethno-linguistic affinity in the early 20th century. Topics to be considered include the question of their geographical origin; whether or not they represent the 'aboriginal' population of lower Mesopotamia; the archaeological evidence of continuity and discontinuity in material culture during and after the first appearance of evidence deemed 'Sumerian;' and how race and ethnicity have been treated in early Mesopotamian studies.

Prerequisites: reading knowledge of French and German.

Permission of the instructor is required.

The End of the World in Context: Perspectives on Societal Collapse in the Ancient World
Sarah Adcock
sarah.adcock@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3013-002
Mondays, 2-5pm 

The past five years have seen a surging interest in the study of societal collapse in the ancient world (e.g., Faulseit 2017; Harper 2017; Weiss 2017; Vogelaar, Hale, and Peat 2018; Middleton 2020). This growing scholarly engagement coincides with contemporary preoccupations with geopolitical uncertainty, climate crisis, mass extinction, and global disease. In this seminar we will work to situate the study of societal collapse in the past within its broader context, both within the academy and beyond. Over the course of the semester, we will examine how the study of societal collapse is approached by a range of disciplines: history, anthropology, archaeology, sociology, political economy, and environmental studies. We will seek to understand what collapse is, who or what is affected by it, and why. At the same time, we will consider how definitions of societal collapse have changed over the past several decades in concert with shifting explanatory frameworks in archaeology and ancient studies, which are, in turn, often inflected by contemporary concerns. We will explore the usefulness of collapse as analytic as well as potential alternatives. Theoretical material will be anchored by case studies spanning time and space. These will be rooted in the ancient world but will branch out to include contemporary examples, as well as the post-apocalypse. We will also touch on topics of contemporary interest, including environmental change, modern ruins, the Anthropocene, and depictions of collapse in popular culture.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Emar under Hittite Dominion
Beate Pongratz-Leisten & Daniel Fleming
bpl2@nyu.edu; daniel.fleming@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3018-001
Tuesdays, 9am-12pm

Much information about the ancient political landscape comes to us through the written or built products of the great centers of power. Across time and place, however, we often get a view of power from below, and such perspectives are as important for understanding political systems as the efforts of the centers. For the late second millennium BCE, one such opportunity is offered by the finds from Emar, which through the 13th century stood at the southeast frontier of the great Anatolian kingdom of Hatti. Situated at the major roads connecting Mesopotamia with the North as well as the Mediterranean in the West, Emar has been an important hub since the third millennium BCE, which explains the Hittite interest in this region. The cuneiform texts from Emar display the variety of practice and messiness of application for authority in a small Syrian city securely attached to a larger kingdom. Hittite involvement in Emar affairs appears to have been mostly indirect, carried out through the regional capital at Carchemish, with ebb and flow of contact that remain to trace and understand. The rich and diversified cuneiform material from Emar including  administrative records, legal documents, letters, public rituals, divinatory texts, cultic and literary texts allows to examine the many dimensions of its cultural, civic, and political life in a regional context and to build a more adequate conception of how great power intersects with local life and custom in a particular setting.

Permission of the instructors is required.

Introduction to Digital Humanities for the Ancient World
Sebastian Heath, Tom Elliott, & David Ratzan
sh1933@nyu.edu; tom.elliott@nyu.edu; david.ratzan@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3024-001
Thursdays, 2-5pm 

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 topics and methods 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 content management systems. There will also be a focus on structured datasets stored in relational databases. Students will gain practical experience in acquiring, creating, querying, and displaying spatial data. The integration of visual media such as digital images and 3D models will be explored. There will also be frequent introductions to existing digitally-informed work in disciplines that are part of the study of the ancient world, such as textual studies, history, and archaeology, as well as more specific fields such as papyrology and numismatics for which exemplary digital projects exist. Readings will introduce students to current trends in Digital Humanities and will encourage discussion of the impact that digital methods and open-licensed content is 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 their existing research interests. It is a requirement that students bring their own notebook computers to class.

Permission of the instructors is required.

Fall 2021: Other Courses

Intro to Ancient Egyptian I
Marc J. LeBlanc
marc.leblanc@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 1000-001 (cross-listed as FINH-GA 2520-002)
Fridays, 2-5pm

This course, the first 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.

There are no prerequisites, but previous study of foreign languages and a strong general understanding of grammar are recommended.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Advanced Akkadian: Incantations and Prayers
Beate Pongratz-Leisten
bpl2@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3018-002
Thursdays, 11am-1pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor 

Permission of the instructor is required.

Spring 2022: Seminar on the Interconnected Ancient World

The Early First Millennium CE
Sebastian Heath & Lillian Tseng
sh1933@nyu.edu; lillian.tseng@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3031-001
Tuesdays, 2-5pm

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
bpl2@nyu.edu; ak7509@nyu.edu
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
rbc2@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3012-002
Fridays, 9am-12pm 

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
rgh2@nyu.edu
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.

Greco-Roman Zoology
Claire Bubb
cc148@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3013-001
Thursdays, 9am-12pm 

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
cc148@nyu.edu; aj60@nyu.edu
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
Federico.Caro@metmuseum.org
ISAW-GA 3013-003
Wednesdays, 2-5pm 

Permission of the instructor is required.

Archives and Ancient History
Rhyne King
Mondays, 2-5pm
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
Niv.Allon@metmuseum.org
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
sh1933@nyu.edu
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
lda5@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3003-002
Wednesdays, 9-10:30am
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.

Advanced Akkadian: Mythic and Epic Texts
Beate Pongratz-Leisten
bpl2@nyu.edu
ISAW-GA 3018-001
Thursdays, 11am-1pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor 

Permission of the instructor is required.

Past Seminars