Ok. I admit it. I got lazy on another blog post. This was supposed to have been written a month or so ago. But, I figure that my thoughts are still fresh enough that I can somewhat reliably share everything which I wanted to talk about from my first semester at Oberlin. That said…this post is going to cover the classes I took, the general activities that I’ve done this semester related to archaeology, some of the other thoughts that I’ve been having, and my possible summer plans.
This semester I took four classes: The History of Greece, History of Egypt from the 7th Century to the Present, Themes in Western Art, and Intro to Ancient Greek. Overall, I really enjoyed all of my classes. None of these were particularly surprising in terms of their difficulty. Greek history and Egyptian history were fairly easy for me while Ancient Greek and Art History were more difficult.
Greek was difficult on account of its having loads of grammatical structures and ideas which aren’t present in the English language. Furthermore, while Greek and English do share some cognates, there were far fewer of these than I had expected. Nevertheless, in spite of how difficult the class was, I worked hard this semester and am very pleased with my results. I’m looking forward to taking more Ancient Greek next semester and most likely beyond that. My hope is that Greek will not only open up the Classical world to me but, will also help me to learn more languages in the future.
I didn’t expect my Art history course to be a class which I would have to work particularly hard in. This was mostly on account of the fact that I truly enjoy learning about Art History and on account of the fact that nearly a quarter of our class time would be spent focusing on Classical Art (a topic which came into the class with a great deal of prior knowledge) What I had not considered however, was that art history requires a methodical kind of writing which is very specific to the discipline. On account of never having been exposed to this sort of writing , I struggled on the first couple of written assignments and received grades which I would consider sub-par to my expectations of myself. However, I was able to consistently meet with the professor throughout the rest of the semester and as a result, I was able to not only turn around my performance in the class, but, also to finish with a grade I was truly proud of . I left the class with an enhanced knowledge of the history of western art up to the present, a new style of writing, and a solid relationship with a professor. What they say is true…GO TO OFFICE HOURS!
I guess I should comment on my other courses as well. Greek history came easily to me due to my prior exposure to the subject. The only difficulty I had with the class came about as a result of the text interpretation heavy writing assignments which forced me to analyze ancient writers and to think critically about ancient texts in a way which I’ve never done before. My slight knowledge of the history of the Islamic Middle East helped out in my Egyptian history course. But, it was fascinating to learn more about the country of Egypt rather than the Middle East as a whole. This allowed me to understand a specific area far better as opposed to the general macro-historical trends which I was already familiar with from my historical knowledge of the region. This course allowed me to in a sense understand the full chronology of Egyptian history up to the present day and also allowed me to get a perspective of modern Egypt from a professor who lived had there for most of her life rather than one colored by Israeli history or by the media.
While I did not take any courses specifically related to Archaeology this semester, I am planning to do so from next semester onward. As a result, much of my interaction with archaeology this month came through the Oberlin Archaeology society in which I currently hold a leadership position. From this position I have been able to help organize events. This semester I was able to help facilitate a bardic reading of the Epic of Gilgamesh which was preceded by a lecture and a cuneiform cookie event in which we made tablet-like cookies and drew signs onto them using wedged chopsticks. Next semester we are facilitating a flint-knapping event and a writing workshop. My hope is that over time I can bring more of a Near Eastern influence to this club which has as of recent been dominated by classicists.
Speaking of the Near East…I realized about halfway through the semester that my archaeological interest no longer resides in the Classical World. While I do retain an interest in the Aegean Bronze Age, my focus and interests have shifted to Mesopotamia and the Levant. Of course, at some point I’ll have to decide which of the two I prefer. But, at the moment I’m perfectly happy reading and exploring both. In addition to my interests moving geographically, so too have they shifted chronologically. While I used to be most interested in the Classical and Archaic worlds and the Iron Age, at the moment, I am most captured by the Bronze Age and at this moment, the Early Bronze Age in particular. This led me to a bit of a personal crisis earlier on this semester when I thought that it would be impossible for me to go on to study what I loved at a graduate level due to my college not having a Near Eastern studies department. However, after talking to some of my mentors about the possibility of making the switch they assured me that while it would be difficult to make the transition on account of my inability to do coursework in the subject at my school, it would be possible if I kept learning independently and continued to participate in fieldwork. So, at the moment, that’s all I can do.
This summer I’ll be returning to Abel-Beth-Maacah. My first two seasons at the site have had such a positive effect on me and I’ve learned so much. While I do plan to do a formal field-school for credit at some point during my undergraduate career, at the moment, I don’t feel as though it’s something I need to rush into. I can’t wait to go back and augment the skills and relationships that I’ve already developed at Abel.
In addition to digging this summer, I’m making an effort to visit Jordan and Egypt. If these trips work out, I’ll be going with some archaeology friends which will ensure that maximum time will be spent at Ancient sites and museums. I’m also trying to participate in a Hebrew language course. Although I speak some Hebrew, I want to improve my abilities which will help me greatly if my focus of study continues to be the Southern Levant. These at the moment are only tentative. But, I’m very excited about the possibilities which exist for this summer.
I figure that I’ll write about what I’ve been up to in January in my next post. Until then, thanks for reading!