Ancient Mediterranean Studies is one of Emory’s smallest programs. Six years ago, only two students chose it as a major; today, that number has risen to nine. But the topics and fields touched upon by courses in the major are vast and interconnected, according to program director and Professor of History Cynthia Burchell Patterson. Despite its small size, there’s major rapport and camaraderie among its members.
Among the strengths of the program, Patterson highlighted the familiarity among students and faculty as setting the major apart.
“We get to know everybody,” Patterson said. “It’s like a family, we do things together. We just have a way of making sure that each student is completely part of the program. For students [in other majors], often there isn’t much of a chance to get to know faculty in a very small scale setting.”
Patterson said the program will likely stay small because it allows students to determine the classes taken to fulfill major requirements.
“It’s never going to be a huge program because it [requires] too much independence,” Patterson said. “It requires people [to] kind of make up their own program. You aren’t given a list saying take this, take this, check this off. It’s, ‘What language would you like to study? How would you like to build the major? Who would you like to work with?’”
Students can become more deeply involved with the program through the Dig It! Emory Archaeology Festival, which is held on March 2 and directed by a four-member student board of Ancient Mediterranean Studies majors. Lectures included “History of the Carlos Museum” from Emory University Historian and Senior Adviser to the President Gary Hauk and “Emory’s Indiana Jones,” a talk given by Andrew Hoover (20C) based on his summer research program on a 20th century Emory collector of Egyptian artifacts.
In addition to Dig It!, the program sponsors a series of seminars designed to foster student-faculty interaction, which include a Q&A session.
“We have a colloquium series which now is in its seventh year … [consisting of] talks by faculty and some graduate students,” Patterson said. “It’s another way in which we try to bring what the faculty are doing to engage students at the undergraduate level. We essentially treat them as members of our community.”
Patterson traced the origin of the Ancient Mediterranean Studies program back to Robert W. Woodruff’s (12C) 1980 gift of $105 million to Emory, which led to the hiring of William Arrowsmith, a professor of classics and comparative literature at Emory from 1982 to 1986. Patterson described Arrowsmith as a renowned translator of both ancient and modern European literature who took initiative to create a greater presence for the study of classics at Emory.
The resulting classical studies program served as the origin for what would become the Ancient Mediterranean Studies program. When Arrowsmith left Emory in 1986, Patterson and her colleagues thought about how the program could evolve and expand.
“We began to look more at our own engagement across departments [including] history, art history, religion, Middle Eastern and South Asian studies,” Patterson said. “We didn’t lose the interest in the classical tradition, but we began to be much more interested in the interconnectedness of Ancient Mediterranean societies and [in looking] across disciplines.”
What resulted is a program that Patterson describes as both interdepartmental and interdisciplinary. Ancient Mediterranean Studies is not a formal department at Emory but draws on faculty from a diverse array of departments, including political science, classics, philosophy, art history and religion. Patterson believes that this designation has benefits and drawbacks.
“It’s always a challenge,” Patterson said. “We have to rely on the interest, time and generosity of the faculty who also have their own departmental responsibility.”
Noting that their interest spanned from ancient Egypt to early Christianity, the founding faculty members realized that their program needed a new name, and in January 2005, changed the name from Classical Studies to Ancient Mediterranean Studies, officially incorporating the program as an official major.
Patterson said that the Michael C. Carlos Museum’s collection of Greek, Roman, near Eastern and Egyptian art is of great use to the program, as it underscores the idea that Mediterranean societies influenced one another. Carlos, an Atlanta businessman, contributed to the collection during the 1980s and ‘90s, the same era during which the Ancient Mediterranean Studies program was taking shape.
“The collection is such a wonderful way to introduce students to ancient societies in an interconnected way, “ Patterson said. “[We don’t] separate Greece and Rome as one unit that is influential to Europe. Rather, [we emphasize] that there’s back-and-forth, influence and connectedness in Egypt, in the Near East, in Greece, in the Roman Empire. Think of it as Mediterranean, not European, Asian or African, but Mediterranean history.”
This philosophy is reflected in the curricular requirements of Ancient Mediterranean Studies majors. The major begins with ANCMED 101: Introduction to Ancient Mediterranean Societies, a class that changes its content depending on the instructor. When Patterson taught it, she focused on kings and queens in the Mediterranean. She said other professors have focused on religious exchange in the region or the development of empires and cities. Following this introductory course, majors choose between ANCMED 201 or 202, which emphasize either archaeology or literature, respectively. Patterson said these courses tend to be cross-listed, allowing courses from different departments to contribute towards the major.
From there, majors have to take the equivalent of two semesters of an ancient Mediterranean language. Students can choose classical languages like Greek or Latin, or can opt to independently study ancient languages from regions including Sumeria, Egypt and Syria.
Ancient Mediterranean Studies majors then choose six or seven electives from multiple departments across the university. Students are advised by faculty as they develop a coherent course of study delving into a specific area of interest.
The program is capped off with a required senior thesis, which is only made possible by the major’s small size. Patterson said other departments with more undergraduates are limited by the number of faculty who can supervise senior theses.
“The other requirement at the end of the program is a senior thesis, which a lot of departments don’t have,” Patterson said. “They have honors programs but not a senior thesis for all majors. But since we’re small we can do this.”
Patterson gave Max Faas’ (19C) senior thesis as an example of the topics available to majors. Fass, a Chemistry and Ancient Mediterranean Studies double-major, is conducting a chemical analysis of residues left in ancient fragrance vessels at the Carlos Museum, aiming to determine their original contents.
Current Ancient Mediterranean studies major Jonathan Tao (20C), who is completing his senior thesis on the cultural legacy of Alexander the Great in the East, wrote in a March 13 email to the Wheel that he was drawn to the program because of his interest in the origins of human culture.
“I am interested in learning about the inner workings of how human society (and our species) developed, whether that be in regards to knowledge, culture, religion, or philosophy,” Tao said. “The ancient Mediterranean provides one of the best sources of knowledge for these answers.”
Patterson said that the Ancient Mediterranean could serve as a “distant mirror” to the present and said that Emory was unique in its ability to study the region because of its diverse faculty offerings.
“One of the things that makes Emory a really good place to study Ancient Mediterranean is that, within each department, the people who do Ancient Mediterranean studies are usually in minority, [but] if you add up everyone in all the 10 departments and the Candler School of Theology, you have a really strong ancient Mediterranean faculty, [which makes] Emory a great place to study it,” Patterson said.
Next year, Patterson is taking a research position at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, Greece, where she will teach a class on Hippocratic medicine and work on a book about Plato. Patterson will continue to be a part of the Ancient Mediterranean Studies program, but a permanent new director will come on board as she teaches in Athens for a year.
According to Patterson, the program has changed as faculty interests have changed. In recent years, as faculty with expertise in Egyptology have come aboard, that region has become a focus. Because the program is flexible, this process will likely continue, and as the faculty and student composition of the program changes, the emphases and options available to majors could shift as well. What likely will not change is the small size of the major, and the freedom it offers students to follow their specific interests.
“That’s what makes it really exciting and imaginative,” Patterson said. “We talk across these traditional boundaries.”