More Late Antiquity (or at least a start)

For the last week or so, I’ve been trying to get back into the academic groove and thinking about Late Antiquity. I have done some reading and, more importantly, some writing about the 7th century both in Greece and on Cyprus. Mostly, I’m working to get a first draft of a paper documenting and analyzing a 7th century site in the Western Argolid.

Here is the first draft of the first couple paragraphs. It’s rough, lacks citations, and I’m sure it’ll change, but at least it’s going somewhere.

The past two decades have witnessed a major change in how archaeologists understand the Late Roman and Early Medieval landscape of Greece. The rise of survey archaeology in the late-20th century fueled the growing awareness of the “busy countryside” of Late Antiquity. This complemented work in urban areas across Greece and the Eastern Mediterranean more broadly demonstrating that Late Roman cities and their countrysides experienced continued prosperity, social vitality, and political and economic significance into the 5th and 6th centuries. For Greece, scholars argued that the Slavic invasions of the late-6th century brought an end to this Late Antique prosperity and initiated a period of economic, political, and social dislocation often called the “Dark Ages.” Over the last 20 years, work at urban and rural sites has started to question this narrative. Work at the site of Corinth, in particular, has shown that the city continued to prosper into the 7th century. Moreover, imported ceramics and storage vessels indicate that Corinth enjoyed persistent connections across the Mediterranean even if these connections appear to be less dynamic and consistent then earlier centuries. At the same time, regional networks in the northeastern Peloponnesus emerged that supplied cooking and utility wares to communities well into the final third of the 7th century. The results from Corinth suggest that the city experienced economic change in the 7th century with fewer imports and a rise in regionally produced vessels, but this change was not the same as decline and indicated continuity with earlier centuries as much as new patters of economic and social relations.

Stratigraphic excavations formed the basis for this revised assessment of the 7th century in Greece. The assemblages produced through excavations at Corinth and at the Pyrgouthi Tower near Berbati in the Argolid, in particular, have helped to revise the dates of earlier excavation across Greece and challenged the assumption that destruction deposits associated with the Slavic invasions should have 6th century dates. Deposits from the Baths at Argos and the Stadium at Nemea, for example, now are better dated to the 7th century than to the later 6th century as their original excavators suggested. This revised chronology has also extended to our analysis of intensive survey assemblages. For example, pushing the date of certain well-know finewares into the late-6th and early-7th century Phocaean Ware 10C and the later forms of African Red Slip (105 and 106) illuminates areas of possible 7th century activity in the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey area (Pettegrew 2007, 777; Caraher 2014, 157-158). In other contexts, Chris Cloke’s study of the off-site material from the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project has revealed a 7th century landscape with remarkable continuity with material from the 5th and 6th centuries. This article takes Cloke’s assessment of 7th-century landscape of the Nemea Valley and work at Corinth and considers it in the context of recent work in the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP).

Doing Late Antiquity

One of the funny things about expertise is that if you don’t practice being an expert on something, you begin not to be. Over the past few years, my interests have changed and my level of expertise has declined in general. I tend to see this as a good thing. My interest in the world is democratizing, but at times, I have nostalgia for the times when I knew enough to confidently critique a colleague’s argument or offer a nuanced understanding of a complicated problem.

Over the last few months, I’ve been quietly reading on Late Antiquity. I’m not arrogant enough to suggest that I am becoming an expert again, but it’s been fun to visit the Late Antique world, to write about, and to think about it again.

I’m just about finished reading Georgios Deligiannakis, The Dodecanese and East Aegean islands in late Antiquity, AD 300-700 (2016) in part because I’m preparing for a conference this fall on island archaeology and Byzantium and partly because I’m working on an article on the Western Argolid in the 7th century. Deligiannakis book includes both a useful gazetteer and a synthetic analysis of Late Antiquity in the Dodecanese with special attention to Rhodes and Kos.

The book is filled with useful observations and I’ll mention just two. First, he notes that the proliferation of churches on Rhodes where there are around 80 Early Christian basilica likely reflects changing practices in euergetism in the Christian community. Citing the work of Rudolf Haensch and Peter Baumann as well as the modest epigraphic record from churches in the Dodecanese,  he argues that Christian theology motivated more modest donors to churches and this expanded the resources available to both Christian communities and the emerging ecclesiastical elite. This is compelling to me. In fact, I made a similar argument – very quietly and without any confidence – in my dissertation

Deligiannakis pays particular attention to the 7th century. This is not only useful because I’m working on a paper on the 7th century (and have been a bit obsessed with it), but also because Deligiannakis goes to some length to demonstrate the issues with using coins to date deposits in the 6th and 7th centuries. On Cyprus, the tendency to date buildings and deposits by coins – rather than ceramics – has served to align archaeological evidence too neatly with literary sources, particularly on the impact of the Arab raids. This overlooks complicated issues like the supply of coins and their survival rates. On a larger scale, this practice tends to drag the dates for ceramics and sites (and destruction layers) earlier than the ceramics alone might suggest and to cluster diverse and diffuse events into periods well-represented numismatically. Thus, the reigns of Heraclius and Constans II tend to be overrepresented in archaeological narratives. Some of the buildings, deposits, and destruction (and construction) levels dated to the reigns of these two emperor should probably be dated later.

Now, off to actually write about Late Antiquity. I might not be an expert any more, but I’ve certainly forgotten enough to find it fascinating. 

Methana

I’m notorious for struggling to take time off during the summer. This not only damages my ability to work efficiently, but also makes me tired, impatient, and generally grumpy. This summer, I was well on my way to being a big ole grumpy pants and stumbling and bumbling to the end of our study season on the Western Argolid Regional Project. 

But then Fotini Kondyli invited me and Dimitri Nakassis to her family’s home on Methana for a day. It was relaxing and beautiful.

F4B8F870 2D7B 48F6 A421 FB8E27CCF943

IMG 4078

IMG 4083

IMG 4085

IMG 4101

IMG 4104

IMG 4118

Settlement in Byzantine Greece

As this semester is winding down, I’m drifting toward a kind of “read everything” mode that is as fun as it is rather unproductive and unfocused. First on the list was Athanasios Vionis, “Understanding Settlement in Byzantine Greece: New Data and Approaches for Boeotia, Sixth to Thirteenth Century,” DOP 71 (2017), 127-173. It’s massive and insightful and humbling to anyone who has thought about the historical Greek landscape in a diachronic way. 

Vionis tracks the change in settlement structure across in the Medieval period in Boeotia drawing largely on survey data, ceramic study, and GIS analysis produced over the course of the various surveys in Boeotia. In some ways, this work is an extension of his interest in using “central place theory” to understand the transformation of the Mediterranean landscape over the Longue Durée, and, in other ways, it demonstrates continuity with John Bintliff’s longstanding interest in structural change over time in the Greek landscape.

For the Late Roman period in Boeotia, Vionis described the transformation of the major urban centers and the emergence of a new, monumental landscape centered on newly-constructed churches in the 6th century. It’s interesting that in Boeotia, as elsewhere, these churches stood in prominent positions in the settlements and often disrupted or violated the existing urban grid. In Corinth, however, churches tended to stand around the periphery of the settlement despite the historical and institutional significance of the bishop of that city (although, to be fair, there might be a large church closer to the ancient city center which is obscured today by the modern village). Likewise, in Argos, which features numerous Early Christian basilicas, none appear to encroach on the core of the Roman city with its agora, theater, and bath, but several stand in the in close proximity and one stands atop the Aspis hill with its ancient sanctuary. These alternate examples are not meant to suggest that Vionis is wrong or overstates his observations, but wonder out loud at the variety of monumentalizing strategies undertaken by the institutional church and Christian communities in Greece.  

Vionis also adds new vocabulary to the analysis of the Late Roman landscape in Boeotia and describes the rise of rural “microtowns” at the end of antiquity (in the late 7th century) and the consolidation of “megavillages” in the Middle Byzantine period. These microtowns continued some basic civic functions of Late Roman cities, including the presence of bishops, commercial activity, and fortifications, and often stood on or near the sites of ancient cities. They were distinct from smaller, unfortified settlements in the countryside that stood as “secondary settlements” and depended in some way on regional microtowns. Thus, a new settlement hierarchy emerged in the early Middle Ages. By the middle Byzantine period, the megavillage served as the central place for communities distributed into smaller settlements and farms in the countryside. Once again, Vionis presents the organization of the Boeotian countryside in hierarchical terms with the central places representing religious, political, and economic nodes for the surrounding region. 

There are three things that give me a bit of pause in this article (and I’ve only scratched the surface of it with my idiosyncratic mini-review), and they probably reflect more of my own interests at present than any weakness in the article.

First, I wonder how our ability to control chronology and, by extension, time shapes the kind of landscapes that Vionis envisions. For example, there’s a tendency to see rural sites like farms or hamlets, which are often recognized and defined on the basis of rather small and limited assemblages of material, as being contemporary with one another. At the same time, because their ceramic assemblages are so limited, it is possible that, say, from a group of five rural sites datable to one or two centuries, only one existed at any given time or maybe all five did for just a very limited span or two of the five did for one 50-year span. On the one hand, we might say that this is an intractable problem because of the imprecision of archaeological dating practices and the variability of site discovery in the landscape. As a result, we make the assumption that all of the sites visible for a period existed simultaneously and that this might compensate for the vagaries of site recovery across the landscape. On the other hand, I do wonder whether this kind of methodological compromise makes the larger project of making settlement hierarchies less viable in general.

This leads me to my second observation. Myrtou Veikou’s work in Epirus which covered a similar period proposed the existence of an emerging kind of Byzantine “third space” during the period that Vionis’s studied. The concept of third space came from the post-colonial theories of Homi Bhabha and was applied to geography by the late Edward Soja. These spaces existed explicitly outside of the kinds of hierarchies that Vionis presents and represented all together less stable entities which resist classification. These places are more dynamic over time and do not map neatly onto either concepts like the rural or the urban or institutional structures like bishops, civic officials, or markets. The uncertainty and ambiguity of these places in the landscape resists our more structural efforts to define the function, scale, or relationship between settlements which can be demoralizing for scholars who work to understand Byzantine space at scale. At the same time, the notion of third-space also allows us to adapt our landscapes to the chronological ambiguity of archaeological data practically when it is collected through different methods and practices as well as at different scales and resolutions. The ambiguity of the Byzantine third space reflects the kind of data at our disposal and normalizes the fuzzy and sometimes contradictory results of our analysis.

These more dynamic spaces within the landscape also imply movement at various scales. Vionis’s work does a nice job at understanding the slow shift of settlements as they contract, reform, and reconceptualize across Boeotia. I’d be intrigued to understand how these shifts represent the flow of people, wealth, goods, and resources through the area. Vionis’s attention to walking distances from central places as a way to understand the scope of agricultural productive area in the vicinity of settlement is useful. It prompted me to think about the cultural, political, environmental, and economic variables that might shape these models for understanding movement in the countryside. For example, the decision to cultivate fields beyond a two or three hour walking distance from home or a settlement might represent the results of exogamous marriage, forms of risk management, environmental strategies, or even acts of religious piety or efforts to develop social capital. Moreover, a range of strategies in the countryside might also reflect the movement of individuals to local pilgrimage sites, visits to relatives who live in settlements that do not map onto the local hierarchical nodes, or even economic forays into new markets, new resources, or to take advantage of variability in the political landscape. Obviously it is impossible to anticipate all potential forms of fluidity in the Early and Middle Byzantine landscape, but it would be interesting to think about how the notion of settlement hierarchies intersects with Horden and Purcell’s more dynamic notion of microregions and connectivity as defining the Mediterranean world.

These comments should not be regarded as criticism of Vionis’s work, of course. It reflects both careful attention to the nature of evidence from Boeotia as well as a deep understanding of Byzantine social, political, economic, and ecclesiastical organization and history. His work, however, has prompted me to think about our efforts to understand the space and settlement of both the Western Argolid and on Cyprus during these same periods. It’s a good way to start looking ahead to my summer study seasons and some walks in the Greek and Cypriot landscape.

Writing the Western Argolid

Over the last few days, I’ve been working on a preliminary report for the Western Argolid Regional Project. I mentioned on Monday how writing a preliminary report is always a bit of a fraught exercise, but when actually writing, it is easy enough to put that out of your head and focus on the words on the page.

As part of writing the report, I re-read some of the rather scant ancient sources on our survey area. Pausanias 2.25.4-6 discusses our survey area specifically and twice he notes that there isn’t much to see. In general, Pausanias sees the Inachos valley as an extension of Argive territory and a route between Argos and the neighboring city of Mantinea in Arcadia. This same lack of interest shaped how 19th century travelers treated the region with none that I have encountered venturing beyond the Venetian (?) period fort at the site of Skala where the Inachos valley widens out onto the Argive plain. 

Later scholars – namely Kendrick Pritchett – attempted to reconcile Pausanias’s description of the site of Lyrkeia being 60 stades from Argos and Orneai being 60 stades from Lyrkeia. This involved him poking around the sites of Melissi where the French excavated some Mycenaean chamber tombs in the early 20th century and Chelmis, where there is a substantial scatter of Classical period material around a church dedicated to the Panayia. Since Pausanias’s notes that Lyrkeia was in ruins by his day and suggested that it was destroyed before the Trojan War, and hence, was left out of the the catalogue of ships in the Iliad, Pritchett is content to identify it with something in the vicinity of the Melissi tombs rather than in the neighborhood of Chelmis. More than that, he suggested that Chelmis does not seem to be on a major route through the area so seemed to be an unlike stop for Pausanias who seemed mostly concerned with sites along the Inachos river bottom. Greek scholars, Ioannis Pikoulas and Ioannis Peppas, have explored the region a bit more thoroughly but also tend to follow the routes along the valley bottom that Pausanias’s traced in his sojourns from Argos.

The entire effect of the tradition from antiquity to modern times is that this region is peripheral to Argos and a mostly a travel corridor from the Argive plain to points west and north. Our project essentially tested this hypothesis both by exploring intensively the valley bottom and surrounding region to determine whether Pausanias’s somewhat laconic description was justified, and by considering the region in its own right to understand whether networks of settlement and movement functioned independently of the “central places” of the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern world.

As a hint, we have found some evidence that this was, indeed, the case and the Pausanian landscape suffered from his general (and well-documented) lack of interest in post-Classical sites, but also the tendency of central places and their political and economic networks to overwrite and obscure patterns of settlement and movement in the landscape that reflect decentralized and more local traditions. As Tom Gallant noted 25 years ago, these decentralized networks of relations supported a kind of social insurance for communities by allowing them to diversify the risk that came with overly strong ties to central places. While these networks are pretty hard to see in archaeology, there are signs that they exist throughout our survey area and not only help us understand the presence of sites that don’t conform to the Pausanian itinerary but also reflect a dynamic countryside that was more than simply the productive coda to the consumer city.

Writing WARP

Over the last few months, I’ve been hiding from a line in a minutes from an early June meeting of the Western Argolid Regional Project: Preliminary Report… “ideally ready for submission by Christmas.” I had volunteered to take the lead in writing it and to marshal the contributions from various other folks on the project including two case studies. Needless to say, this hasn’t happened.

What makes it worse is that I’ve been thinking a good bit about how archaeologists write and archaeological publishing more broadly. Just this weekend, for example, I re-read Rosemary Joyce’s “Writing historical archaeology” in the Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology (2006). I also read Rachel Opitz’s recent contribution to the Journal of Field Archaeology titled ““Publishing Archaeological Excavations at the Digital Turn” (which I blogged about here), Amara Thortons,  Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People (UCL 2018)  (blogged here) and thinking a bit about Ian Hodder’s well-known article from AntiquityWriting Archaeology: Site Reports in Context.” While these works all offer different angles on the archaeological writing and publishing, they did reinforce to me that archaeological writing and publishing are undergoing some pretty significant changes, but that these changes are also situated grounded in the goals of archaeological work. (In fact, I’m going to try to marshal some of my ideas on that in a paper that I’m giving at a conference at the University of Buffalo next year.) 

At the same time, I spent a few hours wrapping up the layout of volume two of the Epoiesen annual which should appear from The Digital Press before the end of the year. The Epoiesen annual is an interesting challenge because it is publishing a web publication in paper (and PDF form). Instead of thinking of the paper format as a degraded representation of a web version, I’ve tried to think of it as a transmedia opportunity to take something that was originally imagined in one media (i.e. the web) and reproduce in another. While we don’t take many risks in how we present Epoiesen on paper, the potential is certainly there and the very act of translating from one media to the next forces us to think about how entangled ideas and material are and how the paper (or even PDF version) of Epoiesen will offer readers a different experience than the online version.

Advertisement! You can get the first volume of Epoiesen at the low, low price of $6. SIX DOLLARS. That’s cheaper than a beer in New York City or about half the things on the Starbucks menu. 

A similar challenge will face my little press as we work on our next major project – a volume in collaboration with ASOR that presents a digital catalogue of votive figurines from Athienou on Cyprus. We will present these artifacts both through a traditional catalogue and high-resolution 3D scans presented both as a 3D PDF and through an online catalogue published by Open Context. It’ll be a big project full of challenges at the intersection of the paper codex and dynamic media.

While this might not seem immediately relevant to writing a preliminary report for WARP, it will push me a bit think about what kind of information is most appropriate for a print report and what kind of information is better to publish as data later on. 

IMG 3456

On top of that, I took a couple nice long walks with the dogs this weekend and those always give me a chance to think about big and small picture stuff. I started to think about the challenge of writing a preliminary report as a problem of definition. When is a project sufficiently complete for a preliminary report to offer provisional, but relatively secure, observations on method and results? On WARP, I get pretty anxious when I think of all the work we have left to do to make sense of our data; at the same time, I know that the artifact and main data collection phase of the project is over. What we have now is going to be the basis of both what we say in the final report and future analysis. Preliminary reports are hard to think about because of their liminal status. Archaeologists like to be authoritative in what they say about their work and analysis, and a preliminary report acknowledges that this is not the final word on the area and its material. 

Finally, there is a fear of the blank page. Fortunately, WARP has published a good bit already – here and there – so there is a kind of basis of already-written material upon which the preliminary report can draw. At the same time, there is the additional pressure of taking our analysis and presentation to the next level. This means more bibliography, more analysis, and more conclusions. This also means making sure that the voices of everyone on the project (and to be clear, folks will help me with this report!) will have space in the report even when we don’t all agree on how and what our analysis mean.  

Teaching Tuesday: Greek History

It’s the time of the semester where I tend to jot down some class notes for the classes that I’ve taught. Ideally, these notes are to serve as a guide for the next time that I teach a class, but in most cases are more effective as an opportunity to reflect on the semester rather than as a template for improvement.

This semester I taught my first “new prep” in about a dozen years. The course was a significant rethinking of my Greek history class that I taught in 2004. I expanded its coverage into the Medieval, Ottoman, and starting this week, the modern national period. Covering a such a wide span of history history for a rather narrow geographical area has proved challenging because I expect my students to have broad familiarity with the narrative of European history. A graduate-school mentor once noted that we tend to imagine classes with long time spans to be surveys and easier to teach and best suited to students at the introductory levels. Oddly enough, the ability to synthesize and to understand vast swaths of history is usually bound up with certain threshold concepts in history: managing and deconstructing issues of continuity and change, the ability to integrate simple and complex causality, and the relationship between disparate historiographic traditions. In other words, survey classes are often more appropriate pedagogically for upper division students, whereas more chronologically focused narratives often suit introductory level students better. (Of course, I do understand that chronology and focus are only part of what makes a class appropriate for a particular level of instruction. Writing and reading levels, performance expectations, and the ability to dig deeply in research and analysis also play key roles. 

In any event, my Greek history course brought with it some interesting challenges and opportunities. Here are some of them:

1. Narratives. I am not aware of any English language textbook that covers Greek history from Antiquity to the present. John Bintliff’s Complete Archaeology of Greece was the best that I could do and that book served as a de facto textbook. It’s emphasis on material culture, however, made it challenging to use to frame more historical (and political narratives). Johanna Hanink’s The Classical Debt: Greek Antiquity in the Era of Austerity (2017) offered another perspective for the class that allowed me to connect Greek antiquity with the modern period, but it overlooked the Frankish and Ottoman period and focused mainly (and appropriately) on the relationship between modern Greece and the West. The Edinburgh History of the Greeks is pretty remarkable, but far too expansive to use as a textbook.  

As a result, I had to craft a narrative of the Byzantine, Frankish, Ottoman, and Modern periods. On the one hand, this is my job as a teacher, but on the other hand, this was pretty hard! I had to both manage the complexity of unfamiliar periods and institutions with the students (e.g. feudalism, devşirme, the Septinsular Republic, et c.) while maintaining a useful tension between continuity and change. This means that students had to take notes!

2. Continuity and Change. One of the great opportunities in teaching a class like this is that we can dig deeply into the significance of the classic “continuity or change” argument in history. Often the larger significance of the tension between continuity and change in how we understand and construct the past and the present gets lost in the details about a particular period. For my period, Late Antiquity, we fixate on ceramic chronologies, architectural change, and the appearance of new kinds of settlements and assemblages. The issue of continuity and change determines the relationship between (various) present(s) and (various) past(s), and while we can approach the question using empirical methods, the goal of this kind of question is usually associated with claiming the past for a particular identity. Obviously, discussions of continuity and change play an important role in the construction of modern ethnic and national identities and are often a kind of rearguard action used to reclaim useful pasts from the explicit discontinuities introduced by the Enlightenment’s effort to produce a narrative of progress. The nice thing about starting the class with Hanink’s book is that we begin our study of Greek antiquity with the recognition that we’re reading about the past through a series of modern narratives that, in some way, shape the kinds of questions, problems, and arguments that we can make. 

3. Social History. Unfortunately, my fascination with modernity and the Greek nation pushed me toward a rather top-down view of Greek past. I’m particularly envious of my colleagues who manage to integrate gender, race, and slavery into their courses on antiquity and to use the past to problematize pressing issues in the present. While I recognize that not all history classes can address all the pressing issues facing the world in the 21st century, I do feel a bit tone deaf when I have the class pivot around issues of modern political history to the exclusion of groups, processes, and events that fall (or where pushed) to the margins of national building and the construction of the Western world. The best I can hope for is that by acknowledging the parts of the story that I do leave out and by making clear that our view of the past exists in a particular political and social context that allows me to narrate history as I do.

4. Limping Lectures. Because I don’t have a textbook that offers the kind of narrative that I’d prefer, I’ve had to lecture in class. My students are clearly a bit uncomfortable with the “sage on the stage” scene and the classroom is rather ill suited to my approach. To be clear, I do work in regular discussions and try to be interactive with my lectures, but its pretty clear to me that the age of the lecture may be coming to an end. In any future versions of this class, I need to weave in more primary sources, more activities, and more opportunities for engagement than I do at present. 

What’s remarkable to me is that this shift from the expectation of lectures in an upper level history class to the expectation of more active learning has happened so suddenly. While I don’t teach very many upper level courses, between 2004, 2013, and 2018, the classroom environment has changed significantly. Ten years ago, I’d have to beg students to engage and to participate in classroom discussion or activities, whereas today, students know the drill and chime in with the understanding that participation is part of their educational experience. On the flip side, lecturing students now seems to all the more uncomfortable as students clearly struggle to take notes, process information on the fly, and recognize that listening to a lecture is a form of active learning.

5. Pacing and Coverage. Finally, I have basically three classes left to cover the 19th and early 20th century. The post-war history of Greece was covered in part by Hanink, but I’ll have to weave some of that into my class over the next few days (while also preparing them for a final exam). This is not entirely satisfactory, of course, and partly because I missed a few days for conferences throughout the semester. At the same time, I need to determine when and where to cut or compress material. It was easy, for example, to skip lightly through the Ottoman period which I began with a lecture on Mystras, discussed with readings from Evliya Çelebi and William Martin Leake, and wrapped up – more or less – with the Orlov Rebellion (1770).  I tried to introduce some of the themes present in Molly Greene’s history of Ottoman Greece, but my lack of ease with the Ottoman period certainly showed. By marginalizing the Ottomans in the history of Greece, I’m more or less continuing the kind of colonial practice that imagines away these centuries in the formation of Greek identity. My hope is that I still do enough to demonstrate that by recognizing the discontinuity in my own narrative, that I can problematize this decision for students. At the same time, I’ll draw rather freely from Tom Gallant’s volume in the Edinburgh history which uses a narrative grounded in a Thucydidean approach to causality to balance between the proximate and local (Ottoman) causes of the Greek War of Independence and the larger position of Greece in the European world. Compared the Hanink, Gallant spends little attention on the various 19th century Philhellenes and their economic and political bases in Western Europe, and instead focuses on Greece as a post-Ottoman state. In hindsight, I wish I had my students read Gallant’s book at the end of the class and compare it to Hanink’s, not to point one out as better and another as worse, but to wrap us the class with a good example of how the questions we ask of the present shape our view of the past.  

Teaching Thursday: Teaching Greek History

For various reasons, I dusted off my Greek history class this semester for the first time since 2004. I generally don’t teach upper level courses which at UND have a 300 or 400 designation. Since 2004, I think I taught Byzantine history once and that’s probably it for upper level offerings. But departmental needs change, so I offered Greek history.

So far, I’ve managed to stick to the original plan for the class which is a survey of Greek history from the Bronze Age to the modern period. The focus is on ways of seeing the past and starts with Joanna Hanink’s The Classical Debt: Greek Antiquity in the Age of Austerity (2017) before the typical litany of primary sources, Herodotus, Thucydides, Pausanias, and this week Marinos’ Life of Proclus, as well as material culture using John Bintliff’s The Complete Archaeology of Greece (2012) as our guide. For each source, we consider how they understood and communicated the Greek past and the midterm and final ask students to bring this together.

So far, so good.

Now that I’m half way through the class, I’m confronted by several things.

First, the course is largely political history and maybe this is appropriate in a time seemingly dominated by politics, but it feel sort of olde skool to me. My original goal of starting with Hanink and thinking about how people in antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Early Modern era thought about the Greek past was to foreground and problematize the way that we think about the past. This is a very conventional historical approach which supports most critiques of the West, for example, as well as larger conversations about what matters in history. 

Recently, however, I’ve been following the work of various scholars who deal with complex issues of race and gender in antiquity and come to realize that structuring my course around a framework of political history profoundly shapes how students read the ancient sources (e.g. Rebecca Futo Kennedy and the various scholars who contribute to Eidolon as well as conversations with my old buddy Dimitri Nakassis). While the structure of a course and its goals will (and should!) always shape how we engage a text, it structure me that the chronological organization of my course into politically defined chunks (e.g. the Archaic period, the Classical period, Antiquity, the Byzantine period) move the students to read these same political priorities into the sources and makes it much more difficult to use these sources to read these sources as evidence for race, general, social institutions or even continuity (as opposed to historians persistent interest in change).  

Second, lecturing feels antiquated. My course is structured around the conventional lecture/discussion format. One out of every three classes focuses on a discussion of a primary source in a way that either ties this source into the themes of the course or uses the source to anticipate issues that will appear in the next few lecture. Today, we discuss Marinos Life of Proclus, for example, and that will intersect with my lectures on Christianization. (There will probably a powerpoint of Early Christian churches in the near future, just sayin’). 

This approach feels pretty tired to me. After a five years teaching in a Scale-Up style classroom and, in particular, after last semester, running a discussion-based class on the UND Budget Cuts and about understanding and documenting Wesley College, it’s really hard to go back to lecturing. It feels pretty stale. Moreover, it feels almost authoritarian. Of course, I have my excuse (that I tell to myself before every lecture class) that there isn’t really a single volume survey of Greek history from antiquity to the modern era so I HAVE to provide narrative structure (which is, of course, too often a code word for political history, see my first point).

The frustrating thing is that I know I can do better in this class, but more than that, I know that I can do this differently because I have in other classes. Version 2 of this course will be different. And as I look ahead to teaching Roman history (gasp!!), I realize that to be comfortable in the 21st century classroom, I need to engage it like a 21st century teacher.

Finally, while I love antiquity and have now spent the majority of my life thinking full-time about ancient things, my passions and interests have changed over the past decade. In fact, I often feel more nostalgic when preparing or teaching my Greek history course than genuinely passionate about the material (with some exceptions). Part of me realizes that the expectation that one feels passion for one’s work is the ultimate sign of privilege, but another part of me thinks that my students might be better served if I taught things in which I’m currently invested like publishing, digital concerns, or archaeology of the contemporary world.

 

Lakka Skoutara and Abandonment: PrePrint with Pictures

Over almost 15 years, David Pettegrew and I have been revisiting the rural settlement of Lakka Skoutara in the southeastern Corinthia and documenting the changes. At first, our interest was to document site formation processes at the site and observe how abandoned buildings and houses fell down over time.

Figure 8 house7 image20 2009 d263338a90

After only one or two visits, however, we discovered that these houses were not simply left alone to collapse in the Greek countryside, but continued to be centers of a wide range of rural activities. For example, several of the houses lost their ceramic tile roofs during over the past 15 years, and others have seen regular maintenance and, in at least one case, expansion. As a result, our research shifted from a rather abstract (and naive) view of this settlement as a case study for site formation to a more dynamic and complex project designed to document the material engagement with the Greek countryside over a period of 15 years.

While it goes without saying that the history of rural Greece continues to attract attention from anthropologists, historians, geographers, as well as local antiquarians, there has been relatively less formal and systematic archaeological study of 20th century rural sites. Our work at Lakka Skoutara is not entirely unique, but it makes a useful contribution to the small number 20th century rural sites that have received systematic and sustained archaeological study in Greece.

You can download a draft of our paper here. Or read about our most recent visit to the site here.

Syllabusing Greek History

This fall I’m teaching Greek history for the first time since 2004. I’m a bit apprehensive about it. Instead of just focusing on the ancient world, I think I’m going to try to think about the complex relationship between antiquity and the post-ancient Greece up through modern times. Since rather few of my students will be particularly interested in antiquity and even fewer will be Classics majors, I think the approaching the class like this will make it more relevant for students. 

The main texts for the class will be Johanna Hanink’s The Classical Debt (2017), which I’ve blogged about here, and John Bintliff’s The Complete Archaeology of Greece (2013), in celebration of our department’s merger with anthropology. Each module will have a little lecture, a primary source, and some kind of material culture. There are still a few gaps in the syllbus – for example, I don’t have a primary source selected for Medieval Greece (maybe something from the Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents) – but I have time to clean that up over the next few weeks (and I’m mostly interested in finding online primary sources). The class will have a midterm and a final as well as a review of an optional book and a primary source paper and a group project probably related to Hanink’s book.

Introduction to Greece
August 21
August 23

Bronze Age Greece
August 28
August 30: Knossos, Linear B, and Mycenaea
Optional Book: Cathy Gere, Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism. Chicago 2009.

The Classical Debt
September 4
September 5
Required Book: Johanna Hanink, The Classical Debt: Greek Antiquity in the Era of Austerity. Harvard 2017.

Archaic and Classical Greece
September 11
September 13: Herodotus Books 1, 6, 7, and 8
Option Book: Barry Strauss, The Battle of Salamis: The Naval Encounter that Saved Greece – And Western Civilization. Simon & Schuster 2005.

Classical Greece
September 18: Athens
September 20: Thucydides Books 1, 2, and 6.
Optional Book: John M. Camp, The Archaeology of Athens. Yale 2004.

 

Hellenistic and Roman Greece
September 25: Athens and Corinth
September 27: Pausanias, Book 1 and 2.
Optional Book: Susan Alcock, Graecia Capta: The Landscapes of Roman Greece. Cambridge 1996.
Or David K. Pettegrew, The Isthmus of Corinth: Crossroads of the Mediterranean World. Ann Arbor 2016.

Late Roman and Byzantine Greece
October 2: Marinus, Life of Proclus 
October 4: Corinth in Late Antiquity
Optional Book: Amelia Brown, Corinth in Late Antiquity: A Greek, Roman, and Christian City. London 2018.
Or Richard Rothaus, Corinth, The First City of Greece: An Urban History of Late Antique Cult and Religion. Leiden 2000.

Byzantine Greece
October 9
October 11: Orchomenos and Osios Loukas
Optional Book: Anthony Kaldelis, The Christian Parthenon: Classicism and Pilgrimage in Byzantine Athens. Cambridge 2009.

Medieval Greece
October 16
October 18
Optional Book. Sharon Gerstel, Rural Lives and Landscapes in Late Byzantium: Art, Archaeology, and Ethnography. Cambridge 2015.

October 23
October 25 Writing Day

Ottoman Greece
October 30
November 1 – Evliya Celebi
Optional Book: Fariba Zarinebaf, John Bennet, Jack L. Davis, A Historical and Economic Geography of Ottoman Greece: The Southwestern Morea in the 18th Century. 2005.

Early Modern Greece
November 6
November 8 – Early Travelers
Optional Book: Eleni Bastea, The Creation of Modern Athens: Planning the Myth. Cambridge 1999.

November 13
November 15 – Writing Day

November 20 – Paper due
November 22 – Thanksgiving

Modern Greece
November 27
November 29

Catch Up Days
December 4
December 6