Chair’s Annual Letter

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It has been another busy year for the Department of Classics at UNC, but I am glad to report that the bulk of the business has been good.  The Department continues to thrive and, I feel, goes from strength to strength.  Although this year is the fifth and last of my term as Chair, I decided in the fall that I would renew for another term.  I have certainly had to face my share of challenges, but I have on the whole found it a very rewarding experience, thanks to a terrific group of colleagues, staff, and students and to the steadfast support of the College administration, and I am proud of our accomplishments and pleased with the direction we’re going in.  That all said, I must admit that I signed on for a more limited second term of only three years.  There can be too much of a good thing!

Amidst the generally positive developments this year, I am sorry to report that the department also suffered two losses.  On March 27th, Ed Brown passed away at the Brooks-Howell Home in Asheville.  Ed first joined the faculty at Carolina as an instructor in 1961, shortly after receiving his PhD from Princeton.  He ascended steadily through the ranks and taught continuously until his retirement in 1999.  His obituary in the News&Observer may be found here.  Ed made many contributions to the department, serving on many thesis and dissertation committees, and even after his retirement kept in touch and visited whenever he could.  He was especially valued for his deep commitment to social justice and his personal generosity.  Just a few months before his death he made a significant gift to the department, establishing the Henry and Sally Immerwahr Graduate Student Excellence Fund in memory of his dear friends and colleagues.  We are deeply grateful to Ed for all that he did for the department over a period of many years and especially this last display of his dedication and generosity.

Just a few days later, on March 30th, Georgia Machemer passed away at her home in Fearrington Village.  Georgia earned her PhD in Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1977 moved to North Carolina with her husband, Douglas Minyard, who joined the Classics Department at UNC-Greensboro.  In 1990, after the death of her husband, she moved to Chapel Hill and began a long-term association with our department.  She taught regularly for us into the early 2010s, stopping only when budgetary constraints made it no longer feasible for us to hire her, but maintained her close connections until shortly before her passing.  Her obituary in the News&Record may be found here.  She will be much missed by all those who knew her.

Turning to happier developments, I am delighted to announce that Patricia Rosenmeyer will be joining our faculty this coming fall, succeeding Bill Race as the next Paddison Professor of Classics.  Patricia received her PhD from Princeton in 1987 and after teaching at Michigan and Yale joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she has been since 1997.  She is a specialist in Greek poetry, especially archaic lyric and Hellenistic epigram, but her interests are strikingly wide-ranging.  Especially notable among her many publications are the groundbreaking books The Poetics of Imitation: Anacreon and the Anacreontic Tradition (1992) and Ancient Epistolary Fictions: the Letter in Greek Literature (2001).  Her most recent book, The Language of Ruins: Greek and Latin Inscriptions on the Memnon Colossus, will be published by Oxford University Press later this year.  We are excited about all the ways that Patricia will be able to enrich our department, and eagerly look forward to welcoming her this fall.

Apart from making this outstanding hire, our most notable achievement this year came in the university-wide teaching awards, which were won by no fewer than three members of our department: Bill Race, Jennifer Gates-Foster, and Will Begley.  The fact that over 10% of the total number of teaching awards on campus went to a unit whose instructors constitute roughly 0.5% of the total number of teaching staff is strong testimony to the seriousness with which we take undergraduate teaching at all levels: senior faculty, junior faculty, and graduate students. You can read more about the awards here.  Our faculty continue to develop innovative courses and approaches to teaching, of which I will note only two examples.  Hérica Valladares and her colleague Vicki Rovine in Art History have designed a new interdisciplinary course, ‘Art and Fashion from Rome to Timbuktu’, which was one of six chosen by the College administration for the first year of its new Integrated Curriculum initiative and which they will teach for the first time next spring.  And just this past spring, Bob Babcock worked with his 3rd year undergraduate Cicero class to prepare for publication an edition of the annotations that the 15th-century Queen Beatrice of Hungary made in her copy of Cicero’s De senectute.  With initiatives like these I can see more teaching awards in our future!

Bob’s collaboration with his students is a premier example of the intersection between teaching and research to which we all aspire but which is not always so easy to achieve.  Another premier example is Donald Haggis’ ongoing field project at Azoria in Crete (see further here), which provides a valuable context for undergraduate experiential education, graduate student professional training, and collaborative research projects.  It was partly for her instructional and mentoring work as a trench supervisor that graduate student Cicek Beeby won a Tanner Teaching award last year.  This coming summer, newly-minted BA Alex Griffin, after two years as a trench assistant, will be promoted to trench supervisor, taking on the role of mentor for such less experienced students as rising sophomore Andrianna Dallis.

The Azoria field project is just one of the Department’s many international connections.  Jennifer Gates-Foster continues as ceramicist with the French Mission to the Eastern Desert of Egypt, under the aegis of the Institut français d’archéologie orientale in Cairo, and also as co-director and ceramicist for the Horvat Omrit Settlement Excavation Project in Israel, jointly sponsored by UNC-Chapel Hill and Carthage College.  Outside the context of field projects, Janet Downie presented a paper in Göttingen in January as part of SAPERE, an international project focused on texts of later antiquity that deal with ethical and religious issue, and last June I presented a paper at a conference in Palermo sponsored by the Society for Ancient Mediterranean Religions and the Fondazione Whittaker.  As President of the Vergilian Society, Jim O’Hara will preside over the Society’s annual conference at the Villa Vergiliana in Cumae in June, which will feature many UNC faculty and alumni, and Al Duncan, for his part, is developing connections with South Africa: after giving a guest lecture at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, he has now been asked to become a Research Fellow of the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein.  Back home in Chapel Hill, the graduate students organized a visit in late February by Ray Laurence of the University of Kent.  Collectively, of course, our most important relationship is with the Department of Classics at King’s College London, which continues to develop in new and productive ways.  The third annual joint graduate colloquium took place here in Murphey Hall in early September and was a great success; you can read more about both of these events here.  Planning for next year’s KCL conference in London is already well underway, with the interdisciplinary theme of ‘Objects in Narrative’ and a keynote lecture delivered jointly by Emily Baragwanath and Jennifer Gates-Foster.  In February, KCL doctoral student Francesca Modini visited our department for three weeks, working closely with Janet Downie, visiting a number of different courses, and presenting an interesting and well-received Tea Talk.

Our own graduate students also have their international connections.  Three of our doctoral students, Cicek Beeby, Sarah Hilker, and Catharine Judson, received awards for research and study in Greece (details here).  Sarah also won the Janice and Herbert Benario Award from CAMWS, which she will use to participate in a course in Linear B and Mycenaean Greek at the British School of Archaeology at Athens this summer.  Nathan Smolin will also be in Athens this summer, taking part in the ASCSA Gennadius Library Medieval Greek Summer Session.  If Sarah and Nathan win the award for greatest chronological span, with over two thousand years of Greek between them, Katie Tardio wins for greatest geographical span, since this summer she will be studying the faunal remains at two different archaeological sites, one at Renieblas in Spain and one at Çadır Höyük in Turkey.  Just to make it clear that our students are not neglecting the territory in between, I will finally note that John Beeby won a Dissertation Completion Fellowship from the Graduate School for his project on archaeological and literary Etruscans, and Matt Schueller was awarded a Fulbright for his study of Roman-era entertainment venues in the southern Balkans.

Thanks to the initiative of Jennifer Gates-Foster, the Department has developed a new graduate student recruitment program, in which we invite all accepted applicants to campus for a two-day series of meetings, meals, and events.  It begins with a kick-off potluck dinner on the evening of the first day, this year hosted at their home by Jen and her husband Brandon, and allows us both to be more efficient and to show off one of our greatest assets, the high level of collegiality and friendliness that has always distinguished our department.  After a trial run last year, we had a full-blown version of it this year, with seven of our admitted students accepting the invitation to visit.  And it seems to have been a success, since in the end six of the admitted students accepted the offer of admission, including one with a Royster and two with Merit Assistantships.

We are now hoping that we can do equally well recruiting undergraduates.  That is of course an entirely different project: since we are not involved directly in undergraduate admissions, we are focusing instead on promoting the department and what we have to offer among both prospective and current undergraduates.  Our contest for a Latin t-shirt slogan is now in its third year and is well on its way to becoming an established annual tradition; see further here.  We likewise continue to host the North Carolina Junior Classical League’s Annual State Convention in the spring, which is attended by some 600 very enthusiastic middle and high school students.  This year Al Duncan and Jim O’Hara both gave well-attended presentations.  As part of our outreach efforts, we are also focusing on issues of diversity and inclusiveness.  If the study of the ancient Greek, Roman, and Mediterranean world has universal value, as we believe it does, then it must be a pursuit in which everyone can meaningfully take part.  Sharon James stepped down in the spring as our College Diversity Liaison and Minority Mentor, after several years of excellent service, and Al Duncan has now enthusiastically taken on that role.  His first great success was to bring to fruition Sharon’s idea of a targeted diversity outreach event, about which you can read more here.

We are also in the process of a major overhaul of our website.  Last summer we reorganized the pages on our course offerings in order to highlight the range of issues that our current courses address.  As we are able, we also hope to expand the range of the courses that we offer; Hérica Valladares’ co-taught course on art and fashion in ancient Rome and modern Africa is a wonderful example of the possibilities that exist.  We also updated the undergraduate section, adding several new sections.  On the ‘Why Study Classics?’ page, we provide an overview of the benefits to be had from taking Classics courses as an undergraduate as well as the wide range of career options available to students with Classics backgrounds, including business, law, education, and health sciences.  I am particularly pleased with the new page that features some of our wonderful undergraduate alumni and highlights the variety of paths that they’ve taken; the piece in this year’s Tabulae by one of our most recent alumni, Austin Andrews, is just one example.  Looking over the range of our former students’ achievements makes me believe that we must be doing something right.  We are hoping to continue to expand this section, so if you’d like to contribute please let me know!

Turning from former to current undergraduates, I am delighted to announce that senior Perla Castillejos was awarded a Minority Scholarship in Classics and Classical Archaeology from the SCS. Perla will use the funds, along with a UNC Nims Scholarship, to participate in the Intensive Summer Greek course at King’s College London, before returning to UNC next year as a student in our post-baccalaureate program.  Alex Griffin also plans to join the post-bacc program in the fall, after his summer at Azoria.  McKenzie Hitchcock, the president of our local chapter of Eta Sigma Phi, organized this year’s undergraduate conference, which took place on March 4th; you can read more about it here.  Two other graduating seniors will be entering graduate programs: Abigail Dupree at Florida State University and Jake Rohde in the joint PhD program in Classics and Philosophy at Yale.  We are proud of all of them.

In closing, I must thank all the people who have contributed to our ongoing success.  First and foremost are my faculty colleagues in the department, who constantly go above and beyond duty in their dedication to our students and our collective enterprise.  I am grateful as well for the support of our Senior Associate Dean, Terry Rhodes, and the Dean of the College, Kevin Guskiewicz, who continues to be a stalwart advocate of the liberal arts.  Our students, of course, are our fundamental raison d’être, and they are essential to our success not only through their excellence as students but, as should be clear from my letter, for their many contributions to the life of the department.  As always, the true sine qua non is our office staff, Cinnamon Weaver, Kim Miles, and L.E. Alexander, who keep us all in line and make sure that things get done correctly and on time.  I must thank L.E. in particular, since she is the person primarily responsible for this issue of Tabulae.  Lastly, I am as always very grateful to our many friends and supporters from outside the department.  It is thanks to their generosity that we have the resources we need to make good our potential.  As the various reports both here and elsewhere in this newsletter make clear, we continue to do just that, and we are deeply appreciative to all those who make possible our ongoing success.