Classics Summer Reading Circle

3 October 2023
By Clara Hardy, Professor of Classics; Jake Morton, Assistant Professor of Classics; Chico Zimmerman, Hazel Lillian Amland Grose Professor of Classics

For our summer faculty reading circle, we each took leadership of one session and assigned a relevant set of readings to an issue we wanted the group to discuss. 

In the session that Chico organized, we read 2 articles on the concept of “enemyship” as it is manifested in certain regions of Africa (especially Ghana) in comparison to the United States. The general finding is that Americans are far less likely to say that they have personal “enemies,” people who actively work against their interests and have negative intentions toward them. In Ghana, on the contrary, many more people believe that they have personal enemies, and this belief drives many cultural practices that may seem alien to us. Some of these practices, like the use of magic, align well with evidence from the ancient classical world concerning beliefs in the presence of people and other forces that actively wish one harm. One further reading, an article discussing an ancient magical charm to rid a garden of unwanted insects, helped to further contextualize this difference.

We discussed how these readings could specifically be used in the upcoming Research seminar that Chico will be teaching, but also how the ideas like “enemyship” could be used to create deeper context for our students in other courses regarding the way ancient cultural practices were informed by experiences and perspectives different from our own.

In the session that Jake organized, we read three articles that served as case studies for different ways to incorporate more archaeological evidence into history courses. Jake has found that his students are not as comfortable reading material sources as a text and would like his students to both improve at this and to get more experience combining material and written sources into their historical arguments. The three articles in question all use close readings of material evidence to build historical arguments, albeit in three different ways and about three different time periods in the Mediterranean world.

We discussed how none of these three readings would actually be appropriate for a Carleton class, but that key ideas from each could be extracted and incorporated into class discussion. We additionally discussed ways to create assignments that would help students slow down and take the time to closely study images and see details as they have been trained to see details in a written text, and how to craft prompts for short essays on material evidence.

In the session Clara organized, we read chapters from a recent book on the reception of the archaeology of Crete and its influence on different social and intellectual movements. Rather than focus on the actual archaeology of the island and its academic interpretations, a more standard kind of approach for our field, this book explored how popular interpretations of the evidence influenced people and how those interpretations spread across time and space. All three of us are enthusiastic to incorporate more reception studies into our courses and looked to this book as a potential case study. 

This reading spurred discussion of reception studies in Classics more broadly, as well as how this book could be incorporated into a course. We discussed the complicated relationship between the actual archaeology and its academic, peer-reviewed interpretation with the popular interpretations that gained such a cultural foothold. We also discussed how wide and varied the field of reception studies can be, and how rewarding study of past reception can be, rather than only looking at contemporary reception.