Chair’s Annual Letter

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James B. RivesJames Rives, chair of the department
Kenan Eminent Professor
Chair

This academic year has for me been neatly bifurcated. During the first half I was on leave with a Research and Study Assignment, for which I am very grateful to the College of Arts and Sciences. For the first few months I remained in the area, keeping busy with research and helping out with departmental business, but from the second week of October until the end of December I was abroad, on a three-week tour of England followed by a two-month stay in Paris. Thanks to e-mail I was of course never completely out of touch with the department, but I must confess that from my apartment in Paris it often seemed pretty remote. During the second half of the year, by contrast, I was back in the thick of things: I arrived back in North Carolina on Dec. 31, flew to Chicago on Jan. 1 for the annual meeting of the APA, and returned to campus for the first time in three months the day before classes began. Since then, the department has seemed anything but remote!

This academic year is notable as the first since 2009-10 in which there has not been any faculty retirements or resignations. Sadly, it was not a year without any losses. Michael W. Taylor, an alumnus and long-time friend and benefactor of the department, passed away at the end of September. Mike’s busy and successful career in law and politics never diminished his love for classical literature, history, and archaeology, and especially in his last years he was a very active member of the department. September also saw the passing of Henry Immerwahr, a key member of our faculty from 1957 to 1977 and, following a five year stint as Director of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, someone who remained actively involved in the department for many years thereafter. Both will be greatly missed.

We are fortunate, however, that we can also celebrate some additions. We have benefitted enormously this year from two new members of our faculty, Jennifer Gates-Foster and Luca Grillo. They have so quickly integrated themselves into the department, and have already begun to contribute to it in so many different ways, that it is difficult for the rest of us to remember that they are still just finishing their first year with us. But since Jen and Luca have both provided their own contributions to the newsletter, I will let them speak for themselves.

We are also delighted that we will have another addition to our faculty next year, when Janet Downie will be joining us as a specialist in Greek prose. Janet received her PhD from the University of Chicago in 2008, since which time she has been teaching at Princeton University. Her particular area of expertise is Greek literature of the Roman imperial period, the so-called ‘Second Sophistic’, and in that respect she will help us maintain a traditional area of strength that extends back to Philip Stadter and George Kennedy; her first book, At the Limits of Art: A Literary Study of Aelius Aristides’ Hieroi Logoi, appeared last year from Oxford University Press.

Our graduate students continue to make us proud. Serena Witzke, who has just successfully defended the dissertation she wrote under the supervision of Sharon James, was one of only 10 graduate and professional students in the University to be inducted this year into the Frank Porter Graham Honor Society. This society, founded in 1990 to honor the distinguished first president of the UNC system and former state senator, recognizes outstanding service to the University and community. Serena’s contributions in this area are many, including most notably a year as president of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation. Erika Weiberg, who is well along with her dissertation on the traumatic effects of war on the wives of returning veterans in Greek tragedy, has been awarded the Bert Hodge Hill Fellowship from the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. This highly competitive award will allow her to take part in the regular program of the School next year while also working to complete her dissertation.

Erika was also one of the masterminds behind an innovative new project that our graduate students organized this year, what we hope will be an annual Duke-UNC Graduate Workshop in Classics Pedagogy. The student organizers invited three faculty members from other universities to lead panel discussions and workshop sessions focusing on a variety of pedagogical issues over a day and a half at the end of March. I was able to attend one of the workshops, and can attest to its interest and utility. Since a focus on pedagogy has long been one of the strengths of our program, I was very pleased to see the graduate students take this initiative; no matter how good a job we are currently doing, we can always do better, and in this instance the graduate students are helping to lead the way. Our students, of course, are as committed to research as they are to teaching, and one sign of that is that no fewer than six presented papers at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South in early April.

Our undergraduates have equally impressive achievements to their credit. Nicky Curtis, a junior major, was one of only six undergraduates to be awarded a Manson Stewart Scholarship from the Classical Association of the Midwest and South; since the territory covered by CAMWS extends from Virginia to Nevada and from Texas to Saskatchewan, this is a significant honor. Drew Cabaniss, a junior major with a concentration in Classical Archaeology, was recently inducted into the Order of the Golden Fleece, the University’s oldest and most prestigious honor society. Drew acted last summer as a trench supervisor at Donald Haggis’ field project at Azoria, Crete (he reports on his experience elsewhere in the newsletter), and also presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in January. Senior Alex Karsten likewise presented a paper at the American Philological Association annual meeting, as part of the Eta Sigma Phi panel. Alex had the honor of being inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in November, where he was joined in April by juniors Drew and David Ortiz. Our own chapter of Eta Sigma Phi continues to be active, and capped their activities for the year with the 2nd Annual Undergraduate Conference held over the last weekend of April; it was by all accounts a great success, with twelve presentations by students from a range of institutions and a keynote address by our own Ted Gellar-Goad (PhD ‘12).

Murphey Hall continues to enjoy a lively social and intellectual life in addition our formal programs. We had a rich speakers series this year, beginning with our very own Bill Race, who in September lectured on ‘Phaeacian Therapy in Homer’s Odyssey’. My predecessor Cecil Wooten established the practice of asking one of our own faculty to deliver the first public lecture of the year, and that has quickly developed into a very popular tradition. Since our interactions with each other generally focus on students and on department and university business, the opportunity of learning in detail about each others’ research is something that we all value. Other departmental lectures have ranged from the ongoing excavation at a Middle Bronze Age palace in Israel to recent work on Latin manuscripts of medical texts at Monte Cassino in the late 11th century. The former was delivered by Eric Cline of George Washington University, who as a student member of the excavations in the Athenian agora in the early 1980s got to know a number of other students on the same project, including Donald Haggis, Jodi Magness (Kenan Distinguished Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and an adjunct member of the faculty in Classics), and Carla Antonaccio (professor of Archaeology and current chair of Classical Studies at Duke University). The talk on Latin manuscripts was presented jointly by Erik Kwakkel of the University of Leiden and Francis Newton, who received his PhD from our department in 1953 with a dissertation supervised by B. L. Ullman and who in turn supervised Bob Babcock’s dissertation in the early 1980s. In Classics the proverbial six degrees of separation more often turn out to be two at most!

Archaeology graduate students Robyn LeBlanc and Daniel Schindler shift through a tray of pottery samples.

Archaeology graduate students Robyn LeBlanc and Daniel Schindler sift through a tray of pottery samples.

The department has also benefited from an improvement to our physical space. For the last few years our use of the Archaeology Seminar Room had been hampered by the fact that the room in question was simply too small: the cases and cabinets needed for our collection of antiquities as well as the massive seminar tables left over from the old Murphey meant that space for actual human beings was severely limited. With support from the Office of the Provost and funds from the Office of the Dean, we were able to move into a much larger room on the third floor of Murphey and buy new rolling tables and chairs that allow us easily to reconfigure the arrangement of furniture as needed. We are now able to use the room for many more classes than previously, especially for the undergraduate and graduate archaeology classes that benefit from having immediate access to the antiquities.

The department, as I hope is clear from this brief overview, continues to thrive, yet at the same time we continue to face a number of challenges, many of which are the direct result of the budget cuts of the last five years. Although the college administration has been supportive within the constraints imposed by these cuts, our faculty remains understaffed and our instructional budget has been severely depleted. It is thanks to the energy and dedication of our faculty and students on the one hand, and to the generosity and support of our benefactors and friends on the other, that we continue to thrive as much as we do. Yet every challenge, as they say, also represents an opportunity.  It seems to me that we now have an excellent opportunity to reassess our strengths and weaknesses and to develop strategies for capitalizing on the former and overcoming the latter. I have recently appointed several ad hoc committees to begin the process of reconsidering various aspects of our programs, as a preliminary to a full-scale department retreat planned for September. With the rich fund of talent and goodwill at our disposal, I am convinced that we are only going to build from strength to strength.

In closing, I must express my thanks to all the people who make my job easier, and indeed even possible. I am particularly grateful to my colleague Bill Race, who agreed to serve as Interim Chair while I was on leave and thereby made it possible for me actually to go on leave. Knowing that the department was in such capable hands really enabled me to focus on my research. And speaking of capable hands, I am also grateful to the wonderful department staff, Cinnamon Weaver, Kim Miles, and Karna Younger. As anyone with administrative experience knows, they’re the ones who really keep the department running smoothly. This is an appropriate place to note that it is to Karna that we owe this edition of Tabulae: she was responsible for almost every stage of the process, from the commissioning of articles to the final formatting. I am likewise grateful to all the other people who contribute so much to the department, from my colleagues in the faculty to the graduate students to our post-baccalaureate and undergraduate students; the activities and honors that are noted here and elsewhere in the newsletter give only a very partial idea of all that they do. Lastly, I am deeply appreciative of our many friends and benefactors. It is their generosity that enables us to recruit and retain outstanding faculty, to fund graduate student research and training, to support undergraduate projects and activities, and to maintain and improve department facilities. It is no exaggeration to say that without their support we would not be able to do half of what we currently do.