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 are held in the 2nd-floor Seminar Room unless indicated otherwise.

Spring 2020: Seminar on the Interconnected Ancient World: Periods

Ancient Eurasia at the End of the 2nd Millennium BCE
Lorenzo d'Alfonso & Roderick Campbell;
ISAW-GA 3031-001
Tuesdays, 2-5pm

The end of the Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean is essential to the study of Antiquity since it provided, together with the biblical narrative, the main impulse to archaeology from the 19th century onward. Today we know that its most representative case, the Graeco-Roman epics of the war and fall of Troy is only one of a rich number of major Bronze age centers of the eastern Mediterranean experiencing a dramatic process of change from a rich, interconnected palace-based political system controlled by a club of big powers, to novel forms of knowledge and aggregation. Though this stage has been labeled a Dark Age because of the scanty textual evidence, archaeological work of the last decade has rapidly changed the situation.

Between the late 13th and the 11th c. BCE Western Asia experienced 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, though both were marked with significantly reduced territorial control and by the development of an even stronger sense of political identity and tradition.

At the opposite side of the continent, in East Asia, the Great Settlement Shang was founded at Anyang in the reign of Wu-ding in the 13th century BCE, becoming the largest center in East Asia (and perhaps the world) by the time of its conquest in the 11th century BCE. The Great Settlement was both the culmination of millennia of social political development and at the same time the site of a suite of novel sovereign technologies – writing, the horse and chariot, monumental royal tombs and mass human sacrifice. Under pressure from the north and west, the Shang polity shrank and was finally conquered by a confederacy of Western groups led by the Zhou who then spread their conquests across north China, replacing the Shang hegemony. Despite the collapse of kingdoms, the movement of people, novel developments and the integration of disparate regions, the narrative of Early China has always been told as a story of the cyclic rise and fall of dynasties – chapters in the history of the world's longest continuous civilization.

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 processes and transformations of complex societies across 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.

Spring 2020: Research Seminars

The Greek Sciences of Optics and Harmonics
Alexander Jones
ISAW-GA 3002-001
Mondays, 2-5pm

Optics and Harmonics developed as partly mathematical, partly physical approaches to understanding aspects of visual and auditory perception. In this course we will focus on a few landmark texts, including the Optics and Sectio Canonis in the Euclidean corpus, Aristoxenus, and Ptolemy's Harmonics and Optics, bringing them into relation with philosophical treatments of sense theory and epistemology, and highlighting their diverse approaches to mathematical and empirical demonstration and modelling.

Permission of the instructor is required.

The Economic Policy of the Roman Empire
Gilles Bransbourg;
ISAW-GA 3012-001
Wednesdays, 9am-12pm

According to a widely shared view, Rome’s imperial authorities were essentially reactive, minting coins and raising taxes mainly in order to pay the army and fund urban elites' lavish lifestyle, with no concern or even awareness of what the concept of economic policy might be. More generally, pre-Adam Smith societies are often deemed to be hopelessly devoid of economic rationality. This seminar will for the most part work around quite a different narrative, as articulated economic thinking predates economics as a recognized scientific field. The Roman state, far from simply adjusting its policy to short-term events and risks, conceptualized its existential challenges and developed a set of pragmatic policies that aimed at ensuring its long-term sustainability as a hegemonic political entity. With a quantitative focus, we will aim at a global and dynamic narrative of the economic policies that managed to successfully bring the city-state of Rome to imperial status in the 2nd century BCE and then supported its further expansion, prosperity and survival until the Empire’s 7th century CE partial disintegration. We will cover the topic’s most major aspects, dealing with the set of legal, monetary, fiscal, political, military, and logistical policies implemented during the Roman imperial era.

Our focus will include - without being exhaustive - the implementation, expansion and management of Roman and provincial monetary and taxation systems, the question of the annona (feeding Rome and the army), the relationships with local authorities (the Empire as a federation of cities and ethnies), the relationships between the nascent imperial bureaucracy and private actors (eg mining, land management, road transport and shipping). We will take into account the geographic and chronologic diversity of the various solutions that were implemented: eg, the successive manners by which taxation was levied - unequal treaties and military plundering at first, then through private intermediaries and local elites, and finally through an Empire-dependent bureaucratic aristocracy.

Coin and ceramic finds will be used as a support when needed, the American Numismatic Society resources playing a critical role.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Scientific Methods in Archaeology
Federico Carò
ISAW-GA 3012-002
Mondays, 9am-12pm 

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.

The Mediterranean and the Near East (ca. 1200-500 BCE)
Antonis Kotsonas & Lorenzo d’Alfonso;
ISAW-GA 3013-001
Tuesdays, 9am-12pm

The collapse of the palatial centers in the Eastern Mediterranean ca. 1200 BCE was the catalyst for major socio-economic developments which gradually integrated the Mediterranean and brought extensive parts of this region in close contact with the Near East, especially from the turn of the 1st millennium BCE onward. This seminar explores the development of these phenomena over several centuries, until the major confrontations of ca. 500 BCE, which created previously unattested notions of polarity between east and west which inform cultural and political history to the present day.

The structure of the seminar will revolve around key concepts and themes, including migration and colonization, resilience and revolution, Orientalism, Orientalizing, and Orientalization. Moreover, we will also explore regionally-based case-studies from different areas of the Mediterranean to appreciate the engagement of different communities and social groups with imports and imitations, the role of foreign styles in the formation and the negotiation of social identities, and the appropriation of local styles and symbols of power by newcomers. Emphasis will be given to the range of modes of contact and cultural and economic exchange, and the agency of different populations and social groups: from rulers and warlords, to seafaring coastal populations, to indigenous communities extending from the Levant to Iberia. To this end, we will be examining a notable range of textual evidence (both literary and epigraphic) and different forms of material culture (luxury objects to bulk commodities) from historical, archaeological and art-historical perspectives. The seminar will also involve recurring visits to the Metropolitan Museum and engagement with relevant finds from a wide range of regions and cultures in the Mediterranean and the Near East.

Permission of the instructors is required.

Interdisciplinary Approaches to Gender in the Ancient World
Daniela Wolin
ISAW-GA 3013-002
Thursdays, 2-5pm 

This course takes an interdisciplinary approach to studying the gendered past by drawing on an array of evidence, such as ancient texts, artistic representations, archaeological remains, and osteological analyses. In order to understand the current state of research on gender, we will first review the impact of feminism on scholarship in the social sciences and humanities, focusing specifically on fields related to antiquity. We will also disentangle the concepts of sex and gender and explore how research on non-binary expressions of gender in past societies have been approached.

This foundation will allow us to delve into various themes in the ancient world that scholars have questioned, deconstructed, and/or reimagined through gender theory, including: masculinity, power, and authority; violence and warfare; division of labor; and sexuality and the body. By investigating a range of contexts within these themes – spanning the ancient New and Old Worlds – we will be able to make larger, cross-cultural comparisons about gender-related issues.

Throughout the course, students will be encouraged to 1) critically question approaches to and assumptions about gender in their regions of study, 2) engage with and integrate social theories on gender into their research, and 3) explore how the longue durée perspective and access to diverse case studies can allow scholars of the ancient world to contribute to contemporary dialogues on gender.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Advanced Reading of Akkadian: Myths in Mesopotamia
Beate Pongratz-Leisten
ISAW-GA 3018-001
Thursdays, 11am-1pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor 

In addition to consolidating the knowledge of Akkadian grammar the Advanced Reading of Akkadian Class is designed to introduce into the Standard Babylonian language typical of literary texts.

In this class we will read a selection of excerpts from Babylonian Myths including Atrahasis, the Gilgamesh Epic, the Anzu Myth and the Creation Epic Enuma Elish. We will analyze and compare former existing translations and establish our own understanding of the texts.

Requirements: At least one year of Akkadian

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

Permission of the instructor is required.

Creation, Iconoclasm, & Abduction of the Image: The Pictorial & Textual Discourse
Beate Pongratz-Leisten
ISAW-GA 3018-002
Wednesdays, 2-4pm
Large Conference Room, 6th Floor 

In the ancient Near East divinities are not fixed entities, rather their personality is subject to change according to historical and cultural-specific contexts. As epithets, paraphernalia, emblematic animals, symbols, etc. may to some degree fluctuate between members of the pantheon, what are for us, as modern interpreters the possibilities to recognize a particular divinity? How do functions and competences defined in the textual sources relate to the pictorial representation?  Divine agency operates along a spectrum of divine presence which, according to context, might change with regard to the media – statue, symbol, astral body, emblematic animal, etc., while within the particular media itself one might observe some adherence to a traditional repertoire. Combinations of various iconographic elements drawn from different divinities and accumulated onto one can convey syncretism. With regard to the theological profile of a divinity as expressed in image and text context is important. In other words, cultic texts should be related to the cultic image, historical texts to historical reliefs and seals, etc. Texts such as hymns, in particular, may convey a very complex image of a specific divinity that in its various details of appearance and agency cannot be matched by the pictorial representation. What then are the cultural choices of reduction? How do the mental image or visual epiphany of a divinity and the actual statue relate to each other? How do image and text relate to each other in these various cultic, juridical, historical contexts and how are themes such as the creation, destruction, and abduction of the image negotiated in the media of text and image? 

Requirements: The research seminar is open to graduate students, visiting scholars, and faculty. Any primary sources will be provided with translations, knowledge of Sumerian and Akkadian will be advantageous though. Students are required to do short response papers to the readings and a presentation in combination with a written final paper.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Data Modelling and Querying
Sebastian Heath
ISAW-GA 3023-001
Wednesdays, 2-5pm 

This course will survey approaches to creating and querying Ancient World datasets. The semester will begin with relational models that rely on columns and rows queried with SQL. Students will learn how to create databases using this approach and also how to share results on the public internet. We will next look at graph databases that define connections 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 topics such as spatial querying and mapping, data visualization, network analysis, and integrating structured data and textual corpora. 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 that they believe can be improved by better use of well-structured digital resources. There are no prerequisites, but also no “holding back” in the expectation that students work to become confident users of the digital tools and methods we explore. It is a requirement that students bring their own notebook computers to class.

Permission of the instructor is required.

Spring 2020: Other Courses

Intro to Ancient Egyptian II
ISAW-GA 1001-001
Niv Allon
Fridays, 9am-12pm

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.

Past Seminars