Update from Dr. Katherine Larson (IPCAA PhD, 2015)

Former IPCAA graduate student and now Dr. Katherine Larson successfully defended her dissertation earlier this month! Below is a brief abstract of her dissertation, which she has kindly provided. Further cause for celebration is that Kate already has a position lined up as a Curatorial Assistant at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York (a museum that lines up well with her interests, as you can read below). Congratulations Kate!!!

Dissertation Title: From Luxury Product to Mass Commodity: Glass Production and Consumption in the Hellenistic World

“My dissertation research began with the question of why glass vessels and small objects were so common in Mediterranean assemblages of the Roman period and later, but were quite rare in the first millennium BCE. Traditionally, this major change has been tied to the invention of glass blowing, which spread from the eastern Mediterranean to Italy and the west in the later part of the first century BCE (the earliest known blown glass comes from a deposit in Jerusalem dated to the second quarter of the first century BCE). But having worked on archaeological sites in Israel, I knew that glass was quite common in Syro-Palestine, Egypt, and some Aegean islands (like Delos and Rhodes), where grooved glass bowls, feather decorated beads, polychrome perfume vessels, and small gaming pieces are considered standard objects in Hellenistic assemblages. Anthropologists who study craft production and technology have been arguing against deterministic narratives of invention as the single driver of technological progress for some time now, and I was interested in complicating the traditional teleology of the so-called “blown glass revolution” as being solely responsible for the major change in glass production and consumption habits during the early Roman period.

As I argue in my dissertation, the key change in ancient glass production and consumption habits was a conceptual, not technological, revolution. Beginning in the second century BCE, individuals began to drink from glass bowls, adorn themselves with glass beads and pendants, spin with glass spindle whorls, play games with glass astragaloi and gaming pieces, and decorate their furniture with glass inlays. While some of these objects and behaviors existed previously, they were deployed in larger quantities and in a wider variety of contexts and sites than ever before. No longer restricted to funerary, religious, and palatial arenas as they had been in the Classical Mediterranean and Achaemenid Near East, glass objects appeared in urban and rural houses, refuse deposits, and construction fills with increased regularity over the course of the second and first centuries BCE. By documenting published glass objects from archaeological contexts dated from c. 350-50 BCE in the Mediterranean, Black Sea, and Near East, I have demonstrated the overall rise in quantity of objects and a shift in their contexts of use and deposition over these three centuries. This change was localized in the eastern Mediterranean, and especially southern Syro-Palestine.

I conceptualize this change in glassware as a progression from luxury to mass production and consumption. Luxury glass objects continued to be produced and used throughout antiquity, but the adoption of glasswares into a quotidian, lesser elite sphere was a dramatic functional shift of the Hellenistic period which in turn allowed for the experimental innovation of glass blowing. Ambitious and moderately wealthy individuals engaged in elite identity practices centered on glasswares, including conspicuous consumption and elaborate drinking and dining. Producers responded to growing consumer demand by exploiting natural resources to manufacture raw glass, simplifying manufacturing processes, and opening new workshops, which trained more workers and reached additional markets. In turn, such experimental and entrepreneurial workshop behavior eventually facilitated the technological innovation of glass blowing. But the concept of glass as a mass commodity sparked the invention and application of blown glass technology, not the other way around.”

Sites with Hellenistic period glass objects. Image credit: Katherine Larson.kate_news_________________________________________________________________________

Have updates of your own to share? Submit them to ipcaanewsletter@umich.edu

Context and Craft Production of Lamps from Roman Sepphoris in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology Collection

IPCAA student Christina DiFabio is currently studying the Kelsey collection of lamps from Roman Sepphoris and has recently presented her work at the annual American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) conference in Atlanta, GA. Below is an abstract of her work, which she ultimately plans to integrate into the Kelsey museum through a digital project.

For more information, you can contact her at cdifabio@umich.edu

“This [project] presents new research on an assemblage of lamps from Roman Sepphoris in the collection of the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan. In 1931, Professor Leroy Waterman conducted excavations at Sepphoris to study the city’s theater, the so-called “basilica,” and the water systems. My research focuses on two aspects of the lamps excavated during Waterman’s study: I attempt to place the assemblage within its greater archaeological context of Sepphoris and within the craft production network of Roman Judaea/Palaestina.

For archaeological context, I first reinterpret the data presented by Waterman and Yeivin in their 1937 archaeological report. The lamp assemblage in question was found in the “basilica,” which has now been reinterpreted as a Roman villa by the University of South Florida excavations from 1983-1989.  I then look to more recent excavations of Sepphoris to understand the local lamp distribution. For craft production, I analyze the style of the lamps in the assemblage to similar Roman discus lamp comparanda from the region. I also look to studies of ceramic craft production within the Roman Galilee in order to identify potential production centers for the assemblage and potential trade networks for Sepphoris. Through this study, I offer new insights on where and how the residents of Roman Sepphoris used these objects, how the residents participated within local trade in the Galilee, and how my reinterpretations can be utilized for further research and public education within the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology galleries.”


Fig 1: Comparison of a Roman discus lamp type typically dated to the 2nd to 3rd c. CE and a lamp from the Sepphoris collection in the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology (accession number 0000.08.9905). Left image from pg. 377 of Sussman, Varda. 2012. Roman Period Oil Lamps in the Holy Land: Collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Oxford: Archeopress.


Have updates of your own to share? Submit them to ipcaanewsletter@umich.edu.

Upcoming Dissertation: Nicole High-Steskal

Nicole High-Steskal will be defending her dissertation later this week and was kind enough to offer us a sneak peak of her research with the following abstract. Best of luck on Thursday Nicole!

“Gladiators, animal fights, and public executions of criminals are events generally
associated with the Romans. As part of the munus, these popular events took place over
the course of multiple days and were an integral component of the social and political
life of many communities across the Roman Empire. Floor mosaics and wall paintings
found in areas once part of the Roman Empire impressively attest to the popularity of
gladiatorial combat and animal hunts.

Rather than reduce the images to illustrations of historical narratives, I argue
that depictions of these spectacular events are visual constructs that condense
perceptions of the events into abstracted, abbreviated images. The images do not
function as ‘eye-witness’ snapshots of the events but instead are commentaries on a
multivalent event.

In my dissertation I reevaluate a corpus of 79 known spectacle images dating
from the 1st century BCE to the late 5th century CE. Based on the historical background of the munus, the visual representations themselves, the archaeological contexts of the
representations, and the geographical setting in which such representations occur, I
identify both commonalities among images from the provinces and their regional
variations. The stylistic analysis of the images reveals that the images are formulaic and
were often consciously adapted to fit specific architectural contexts. My reassessment
of the archaeological contexts indicates that the great majority of spectacle images
come from publicly accessible spaces of private houses, including hallways, reception
rooms, and bedrooms, in addition to dining rooms. The distribution of spectacle images
throughout the Roman Empire is surprisingly uneven, with the largest clusters of images
found at three sites: Cos (Greek Islands), Leptis Magna (Libya), and Trier (Germany).
These clusters are the result of local fashions, historical associations, and the presence
of prolific workshops.

In contrast to earlier scholars, I understand the images of spectacle as
celebrations of victory that drew upon established conventions for representing the
munus. My study shows that the images fulfilled a variety of functions that reflected the
social setting, wealth, and identity of a patron, all of which were often heavily
influenced by the regional context.”



Have updates of your own to share? Submit them to ipcaanewsletter@umich.edu.

Update from Dr. Angela Commito (IPCAA PhD, 2014)

Since receiving my Ph.D. in May 2014, I have enjoyed the process of carving out a new life after graduate school.  I was delighted when Christina DiFabio asked me to talk to a group of current IPCAA students about my experiences teaching as an adjunct at two institutions while working on publications and remaining active in fieldwork.  What I wanted to offer these students was one account of the challenging but rewarding process of figuring out what to do after graduation when that postdoc or tenure-track job does not come through.  This is a very different kind of alumni up-date from the others included in this newsletter, but I hope my thoughts and observations will hearten students who feel anxious about what is an undeniably difficult job market.

I started teaching in the Classics Department at Union College and in two departments at the University at Albany (State University of New York) in the fall of 2014.  Before I defended my dissertation in February of the same year, I had already moved to Albany and had sent out a portfolio of application materials (letter, CV, writing samples, teaching and research statements, student evaluations) to the chairs of all relevant departments at all regional colleges and universities.  I met face-to-face with six departmental chairs at four of these institutions, and four of those meetings turned into job offers for adjunct positions.  Now, we all know about the trials of teaching as an adjunct, but for the first year and a half after graduate school, doing so has offered me a number of rewards: experience designing and teaching my own classes; exposure to local academic communities, resources, and opportunities; and the flexibility to spend time on research, writing, and fieldwork.

I was, for example, able to create and teach two courses I’ve been thinking about for a long time that dovetail with my research interests: “Environmental History of the Ancient Mediterranean” and “Cultures in Collapse: Lessons from the Ancient World.”  Since, for better or worse, adjunct-taught classes often fly under the radar, I felt free to experiment with new materials and teaching methods.  That first year of teaching was also an excellent time to identify my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher, and to learn where to invest my time and energy most efficiently.

As an adjunct, it’s easy to feel like an outsider, but it is important to make a place for yourself in the local academic community, by going to as many functions as possible and speaking at institutions in the area.  Three of the departmental chairs to whom I had introduced myself when I first moved to Albany invited me to give papers, at Skidmore College, the University at Albany, and the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Empire State.  These were not major international conferences like the AIA and SCS Joint Meeting, but they provided me with a means of receiving feedback on my research and a forum for introducing myself and my work to a community of potential future colleagues and students.

But teaching and community involvement cannot come at the expense of the work you need to do to make yourself as attractive a job candidate as possible.  I have always struggled with making the most of my time and opportunities, but one year of working in “the real world” can change one’s perspective dramatically.  It’s essential to keep in mind whatever goals you have set for yourself.  My goals are to continue to do fieldwork and to teach students about the ancient world.  In 2014 I became involved in two new field projects, the Notion Archaeological Survey (a Michigan-Brown project directed by Christopher Ratté) and the Brown University Labraunda Project (with Felipe Rojas), both in Turkey.  I am working on publications that will present the results of archaeological surveys at Aphrodisias in Turkey and Vani in western Georgia (both Michigan projects).  I have also begun to turn my dissertation research into publication-appropriate writing projects.  This research examines major changes in Graeco-Roman life at the end of antiquity in Anatolia and pulls together my interests in the archaeology of the countryside, urban abandonment, and social resilience in times of crisis – or what I like to think of as the archaeology of apprehension.

Speaking of apprehension, being an adjunct can indeed make you anxious about the future.  It makes you financially insecure, and sometimes you wonder whether anyone appreciates all the work you put into your classes.  Some of your colleagues may never be aware of your efforts, but the students will.  One of the unanticipated rewards of the past year has been transferring my own personal feelings of vulnerability and apprehension about the future into empathy and understanding for undergraduate students, many of whom, especially the seniors, are suffering through the same emotions.  If I have been able to use any of my 13 additional years’ worth of life experience to make their lives more fulfilling, then I consider this past year a success.

Being an adjunct can make you feel like small fry, but it also means you are free of the administrative and service-related responsibilities of a tenure-track or other full-time academic position.  That’s the trade-off: security and status for time and flexibility.  Since what many recent Ph.D. students need immediately after graduation is time to transform from a student to a professional, to turn their research into publication-worthy writing, and to plan their next career moves, being an adjunct for a while is not such a bad thing.  Time and flexibility: that’s the silver lining.


Have updates of your own to share? Submit them to ipcaanewsletter@umich.edu.

Welcome to our New Graduate Student: Sheira Cohen

The IPCAA family would like to give a warm welcome to one of our new members, Sheira Cohen. She has kindly provided the brief bio seen below in order to introduce herself. Welcome!

“I have been hoping to come and study at Michigan since I volunteered at the Gabii Project in 2011 as an undergraduate. I was born in New Zealand to Israeli immigrant parents, and I studied Ancient History and Anthropology at the University of Auckland, graduating with a BA (Honours) in 2012. My work in Auckland focused on mortuary archaeology in central Italy and issues such as urbanisation and identity. I took a year off from study in 2013 and excavated with the Montelabate Project in Italy with a team of British archaeologists. I could not stay away from academia and archaeology, and in 2014 I moved to Australia to undertake a MA in Classics at the University of Sydney. My research looked at spatial cognition in Republican Rome, combining textual evidence with cognitive linguistic theory. I was glad to finally return to Gabii this summer as a member of staff, working in Area D – the Iron Age portion of the site that I was so excited about as an undergraduate.

 I am interested in issues of landscape and spatial patterning and generally in the history of pre-Roman Italy. I am also fascinated with the comparative potential in looking at other societies on the cusp of the ‘historical’ period. My training in both prehistoric anthropological archaeology and Classics left me interested in how an interdisciplinary approach can bring text, theory and material culture together for a more nuanced understanding of the past. I am keen to learn more from the diverse faculty at IPCAA, and all the affiliated programs, to better combine the often estranged fields of history and archaeology and to meld traditional excavation techniques with modern landscapes and computer-based analysis. My fellow students have such a wide range of interests that we all bring different things to our classes, and I have learnt a lot about the ancient world (and what I don’t know about the ancient world) in just the last few weeks.  I am also passionate about increasing gender diversity in academia and wider social justice issues in society. When I’m not reading for class or preparing papers, I like to read science-fiction and whodunits, watch musical theatre, and play board games.”


Congratulations to Jenny Kreiger!

Congratulations to IPCAA PhD candidate Jenny Kreiger for her recent awards! She has kindly provided the short blurb below:

“I am the winner of the Emeline Hill Richardson/Samuel H. Kress Foundation/Helen M. Woodruff Fellowship of the Archaeological Institute of America Pre-doctoral Rome Prize, which is a two-year residential fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. During my fellowship years, I will be working on my dissertation, “The business of commemoration: a comparative study of Italian catacombs.”

Congrats Jenny!!!


Welcome to our New Graduate Student: Zoe Jenkins

The IPCAA family would like to give a warm welcome to one of our new members, Zoe Jenkins. She has kindly provided the brief bio seen below in order to introduce herself. Welcome!

“This will be my first year in the Interdepartmental Program for Classical studies and I am very much looking forward to starting my graduate career here at the University of Michigan. For my undergraduate, I  graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in Classics. Yet, it was only after four years as a philology student that I realized I actually wanted to change courses towards archaeology. After two years as a Latin teacher in Northern Virginia, I went to the University of Chapel Hill for a post-baccalaureate certificate in Classical Archaeology.  During this time I worked on the Early Iron Age site of Azoria in Eastern Crete as the pottery assistant. Most recently during this past summer, I also worked at the Gabii Project through the Kelsey Museum.

During my time here at Michigan, I hope to become more involved with the Kelsey Museum as well as take part in the Museum Studies certificate program.  As of right now, I plan to lead my academic course towards a career in museums, potentially with a focus on ceramic specialization. As far as a regional focus, I am currently torn between Aegean Prehistory and the Roman Republic – but I have little doubt that the years of graduate coursework ahead of me will help to determine which suits me better.

Personally, I am a native of Manassas, Virginia, which is small suburb of Washington D.C. known for its historic Civil War battlefield. I come from a large family (the youngest of six) and we are big fans of Washington Redskins football and the Capitals hockey teams. For the times that I am not reading articles or staring at pot sherds, I enjoy playing soccer, knitting, and training for races.”


How I got here: an interview with Dr. Hendrik Dey (IPCAA PhD, 2006)

by Jenny Kreiger

Dr. Hendrik Dey graduated from IPCAA in 2006. His dissertation, “The Aurelian Wall and the Refashioning of Imperial Rome, A.D. 271-855,” took him to Rome for several years of research and writing, and now he balances teaching and departmental service with an active field project in Caesarea Maritima (Israel). He has a new book out: The Afterlife of the Roman City: Architecture and Ceremony in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge University Press, 2014), which you can check out at the linkI interviewed him over e-mail about his time in IPCAA, what he does now, and his accomplishments in between.

JK: Please describe your current position. What is your institution like? What are your responsibilities?
Continue reading

Update from Dr. Alexander Nagel (IPCAA PhD, 2010)

Dr. Alexander Nagel recently submitted these updates on the directions his career and research have taken since he graduated from IPCAA in 2010. From studying polychromy in Persepolis to curating exhibitions in Washington, DC, read about Alex’s adventures in his own words below.

After finishing my PhD in 2010 with a dissertation on polychromy and modern material culture preservation on the site of Persepolis in Iran, I worked as Assistant Curator of Ancient Near Eastern art in the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer-Sackler Gallery. Until December 2013 I curated exhibitions on ancient Iranian ceramics and ancient Egyptian glass, co-curated a number of international loan exhibitions including “Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art of Kazakhstan,” and published articles on materials and archives in the collections, most notably on Ernst Herzfeld, who excavated at many sites in Iraq and Iran including Samarra, Persepolis and Pasargadae. Since December 2013, my office is in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, where I continue to work as a Research Associate on projects related to the Smithsonian Institution’s ancient Mediterranean, Egyptian, and Middle Eastern collections.

Since 2010, I have supervised a good number of volunteers and student-interns. Some of them have moved on themselves to work in cultural heritage positions. I guest lectured on heritage preservation, pigments, polychromies, museums and research on sites for local Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia universities and K-12 schools, and served as assistant secretary of the local Washington DC AIA society.  In 2010, I led a successful Smithsonian tour to Iran and lectured for students at the University of Isfahan. In 2013, I published a longer article on aspects of “Colour and Gilding in Achaemenid Architecture and Sculpture” for the Oxford Handbook of Ancient Iran, edited by Dan Potts (New York University). In 2014, I contributed an article “Colour in Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian Sculpture” for a catalogue for an exhibition on polychromy at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. A short article for the exhibition “Tools. Extending our Reach” providing information on ancient cuneiform tablets, squeezes, and cylinder seals in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History was published in 2015. For the Annual Meetings of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), I developed and chaired three panels on “Collecting and Displaying Ancient Near Eastern Art in the Museum.” For the ASOR meeting in San Diego in 2014, I co-organized a session called “Pigments, Paints and Polychromies in the Ancient Near Eastern context,” together with a colleague from the Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago. It was wonderful to see that our Kelsey Museum presented innovative research on work on polychromy at Abydos.

In addition to my work on the Smithsonian collections and polychromy, I have organized a number of workshops, conferences and sessions related to archaeology and museums in Washington, DC, and I have blogged on aspects of cultural heritage preservation and archaeology. Together with my colleagues from the Washington, DC, Historic Preservation office, I organized an event “Washington, DC, in 10,000 years: Ideas and Archaeologies in the Past, Present and Future” in 2013. Twice a year, since 2010, I also lecture for a Homeland Security Office Immigrations and Customs Enforcement training program, supporting the work of agents in their initiatives to combat the stealing of antiquities worldwide and collaborate against criminal threats to heritage. In 2015, I worked with Italy’s Guardia di Finanza Art Recovery Team for an exhibition and program on “Dialogues on Heritage,” displaying ancient Mediterranean Art in the Italian Embassy in Washington, DC. I have lectured on my work on polychromy at Persepolis at the new Acropolis Museum in Athens, and I gave a number of guest lectures in museums in the US and Europe. I am currently involved in another long-term project in Persepolis focusing on mason’s marks in collaboration with Professor Carl Nylander from the Swedish Academy of Science. A preliminary report about the project was delivered at a conference at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in May 2015. My research continues to focus on cross-cultural dynamics between Greece, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Achaemenid Persian Empire. My first book, Pigments and Power: Approaching the Polychromies of Achaemenid Persepolis, will be published in the series Persika in 2016.This is the first monograph that systematically introduces important, as yet unexplored, aspects of the role and status of painters and gilders in the ancient Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean, and I make arguments for the importance of combining innovative analytical research methods, archival history, and research on conservation and archaeology.

Have updates of your own to share? Submit them to ipcaanewsletter@umich.edu.


Welcome to the IPCAA Newsletter site! Here you can find information about the accomplishments of current graduate students and alums. Check back frequently or subscribe to e-mail updates to receive the latest news on IPCAA publications, projects, promotions, and awards.

Want to share your own news with us? Submit updates on your life and work to ipcaanewsletter@umich.edu.