Letter from the Chair, Donald C. Haggis
It has been an eventful and challenging year for the Department of Classics. The university has been effectively closed since March of 2020. Our students and faculty dispersed, conducting their classes, meetings and research remotely, and while the difficulties of the pandemic have been disruptive and exhausting, we have not only managed to get through the year, but also continued to produce remarkable work. I am happy to report that we have had a very successful year.
As you know, Professor James Rives stepped down as chair last summer, ending an eight-year term leading our department—indeed the longest term of a chair in our department in nearly a generation—and is looking forward to getting back to research and teaching. I am delighted to report that he has been awarded a fellowship from the Loeb Classical Library Foundation for next year, allowing him to devote himself to his new book project, Animal Sacrifice in the Roman Empire (31 BCE-495 CE): Power, Communication, and Cultural Transformation. We are grateful to him for all his efforts on our behalf for so many years, congratulate him for his extraordinary service leading the department in such difficult times, and wish him a productive and restful leave next year.
I have been mostly alone here in Murphey Hall for the past 14 months, with the occasional company of masked students wandering the halls; maintenance staff checking on plumbing (we did have two breaches of water pipes causing some damage to the ceiling on the third-floor hallway); colleagues coming in to collect their mail and books; and a small but intrepid group of faculty and graduate students. Our wonderful office staff, Cinnamon Weaver and Kim Miles, worked from home, efficiently maintaining the vital daily operations of the Department and visiting Murphey 212 once per week to handle department business. So, we all somehow forged a path through this pandemic, and even discovered the logistical benefit of attending conferences and lectures remotely and having more flexible and open-ended office hours with our students. But I think that we would agree that we all need a break from Zoom and email.
Although the physical space of Murphey has seemed to be empty this year, our research and teaching continued unabated, and I congratulate the students, faculty and staff for their resilience and perseverance. We have much to celebrate and much to look forward to next year.
First, congratulations are due to Sharon James who was awarded the prestigious University of North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching for the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. Sharon was one of 17 outstanding faculty members selected from across the UNC System by the Board of Governors. This is the highest honor for teaching in the University and a resounding testament to Sharon’s unusual abilities in the classroom and the extraordinary impact she has had on our students. Sharon’s most recent undergraduate advisee and winner of this year’s Epps Prize in Greek Studies, Grace Miller, wrote an honors thesis titled, “Cursus Servorum: Gendered Patterns in Owners’ Valuations,” and will be starting Ph.D. work in classics next year at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
I am also pleased to announce that my colleague in classical archaeology Hérica Valladares received tenure and will be promoted to Associate Professor with tenure on July 1st. Hérica also published her impressive monograph, Painting, Poetry, and the Invention of Tenderness in the Early Roman Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2021)—already receiving rave reviews—and won a faculty fellowship from the Institute for the Arts and Humanities to begin her second book project, Fashioning Empire: Roman Women and their Objects.
Suzanne Lye was awarded the Women’s Classical Caucus Leadership Award from the Society for Classical Studies, in recognition of her extraordinary efforts establishing the SCS-WCC Covid-19 Relief Fund. The pandemic has affected all of us in the academy, but particularly teaching faculty and graduate students, many of whom suddenly lost their jobs or funding because of universities’ responses to budgetary uncertainty. We congratulate Suzanne for this important work on behalf of our colleagues across the country. I should add that Suzanne was also awarded two prestigious fellowships for next year, one from the Center for Hellenic Studies and the other from the Loeb Classical Library Foundation, to support a year’s leave to work on her new book project, To Starve and To Curse: Women’s Anger in Ancient Greek Literature and Magic.
We also welcomed our newest faculty member, Tim Shea, to the Department in January. Tim brings significant strengths in areas of Greek art and archaeology and Athenian topography, while providing us expertise in data science. This semester he taught Greek sculpture and a graduate course in Greek topography, while working on his monograph, Death and Diplomacy: Citizens and Immigrants in Archaic and Classical Athenian Cemeteries. He also drafted a prospectus for the development of a Spatial Antiquity Lab on campus, which we hope to shape into a center dedicated to research and teaching in digital mapping, spatial archaeology and more broadly spatial humanities.
Among our many virtual activities, in April, Professor Janet Downie organized an important international workshop, “Greek Literary Topographies in the Roman Imperial World,” which explored the relationship between lived space, society, and power and its representation in literature. The colloquium was a great success, and Janet’s on-going work on urban spaces in the Imperial Greek world offers interesting new perspectives in spatial humanities.
Jen Gates-Foster was on leave this year working on the European Research Council-funded project, “Desert Networks: Into the Eastern Desert of Egypt from the New Kingdom to the Roman Period” (Le Centre national de la recherche scientifique, Paris). While she had hoped to be working with her collaborators in France this year as a Senior Fellow at the Collegium (Institut d’études avancées de Lyon, Université de Lyon), the research continued unabated from Chapel Hill. The project is an important international collaboration for UNC, methodologically innovative and advancing new approaches to ancient landscapes and cultural interactions in the region.
Professor Emily Baragwanath was on fellowship for the year at the National Humanities Center, just down the road from us in Research Triangle Park, completing her monograph, Xenophon’s Women, while Patricia Rosenmeyer, teaching remotely from Madison, Wisconsin, made progress on a new project exploring the reception of Greco-Roman antiquity by Jewish scholars and writers in the first half of the 20th century. She was the recipient of the Dorothy Tarrant Fellowship from the Institute of Classical Studies at University of London, and while the pandemic precluded a trip to the UK, in May Patricia was able to organize a very successful international workshop, titled “Modern Jewish Receptions of Classical Antiquity.” And just before the holidays, Professor Bob Babcock, who took over this year as Director of Undergraduate Studies, published his co-edited Oxford Handbook of Latin Palaeography, a monumental contribution to the study of the typology of scripts, codicology, and the regional, chronological, and cultural contexts of mediaeval books.
There is no question that the year was disorienting and stressful for our graduate students. Some of our archaeologists conducting dissertation fieldwork in Greece this year — Brandon Baker surveying in the Roman Karystia; Melanie Godsey studying the archaeology of the Ptolemaic Aegean, and Sarah Hilker working on Mycenaean residential architecture—found themselves confined to apartments in Athens, stranded in the Greek countryside, or otherwise unable to travel to sites, collections and libraries. Nevertheless, they had access to books with the help of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, could manage fieldwork in rural areas, and were able to contribute remotely to international conferences. At home, our students were similarly productive. Ryan Baldwin, Elizabeth Needham, and Cole Warlick completed their M.A. degrees, while Andrew Ficklin, Kelly McArdle, Nathan Smolin, Emma Warhover, and Hannah Sorscher, their PhDs. Congratulations to them all! I am also pleased to report that Hannah Sorscher received an Honorable Mention in the Women’s Classical Caucus Best Pre-Ph.D. Paper competition for her paper on “Wife-Erasure in Terence’s Hecyra,” presented in 2020 at the annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies; and that Kelly McArdle received the Lambda Classical Caucus Graduate Student Paper Award for her paper “Rethinking Julia Balbilla: Queer Poetics on the Memnon Colossus,” also presented at the 2020 meeting of the Society for Classical Studies.
Our undergraduates on campus, at home, across the country, and abroad, heroically navigated their coursework and made it through this challenging year—can you imagine spending five hours a day or more attending classes on Zoom? Nine of our talented students completed their B.A. degrees in Classics and Classical Archaeology this year: Melissa DePierro, Emmi Margaret Farrell, Jordyn Gray, Justin Hadad, Bryan Mathew Kohn, Grace Elizabeth Miller, Robert Rhinehart, Caitlin Rose Sockin, and Whitney Brooke Sprinkle. While we had hoped to celebrate their achievements in person, Bob Babcock and Al Duncan prepared a wonderful graduation ceremony on Zoom.
Regrettably because of the pandemic, we could not conduct two of our undergraduate competitions in Greek and Latin, the Eben Alexander Prize in Greek and the Albert Suskin Prize in Latin, postponing the spring event to next fall. We were, however, able to make a number of honorific and competitive awards, including the Herington Prize in Greek and Latin, a lively performative event that has become an important department tradition, never failing to bring us together, this year even in the middle of a pandemic. Professors Duncan and Babcock managed to stage the complex competition in Zoom, and the event was a complete success, if lacking the intimacy and full experience of the live oral performances. I should also mention that one of our excellent undergraduates, Danise Wu, who is a junior this year (Combined Latin and Greek with an emphasis in Greek), was awarded the prestigious Manson A. Stewart Undergraduate Award from the Classical Association of the Middle West and South for 2021. This is a special honor for our department—indeed the fifth such national award our students have received in the past four years.
Finally, special congratulations are due to our Student Services Manager, Kim Miles, who has received the Excellence in Graduate Student Services Manager Award from the Graduate School and the Graduate and Professional Student Federation (GPSF). Nominated by our students, Kim is recognized for her outstanding service to the department, especially her attention, care, and support of our students throughout their graduate program. It is much deserved.
This troubling year has also been one of serious reflection. As a department in the oldest state university in the United States, and with a tradition of classical studies as old as the 231-year history of the university itself, we have found ourselves grappling with the complex issues implicating classical studies in the racially exclusionary sociopolitical structure of higher education in the South, while finding ways to foster reflective and meaningful conversations about diversity, institutional racism, and departmental history. Foremost among these efforts has been the inauguration of the “Working Group in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Black Lives Matter,” an on-going departmental discussion of history, racism, the reception of classics, classical scholarship, and higher education. Created and chaired by Sharon James, the working group engaged a variety of subjects such as the history of the Department of Classics and the education of African Americans in North Carolina after the Civil War; Archibald Murphey and Antebellum Classics; the history, genealogy, and meanings of the term “classics” and its disciplinary, departmental, and institutional uses; inclusive pedagogy; the Medea Project; and the history and political context of hip-hop culture and rap music, and the similarity in the forms of hip-hop and Roman elegy. The presentations were illuminating and expansive, stimulating conversations, sometimes difficult, that will continue into next year.
On a sad note, I mention the passing in February of our colleague, friend, teacher, and mentor, Philip A. Stadter. Philip was a member of our faculty for over 40 years, from 1962 until his retirement in 2003, ending his career as Eugene H. Falk Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Classics and of Comparative Literature. A world-renowned scholar of Plutarch, Philip’s expertise ranged from Classical Greece through Imperial Rome and beyond. From 2003 he was Professor Emeritus but continued to be a regular presence in the Department, mentoring our faculty and students, and lecturing in undergraduate courses such as “The Greeks” and the “Junior Seminar,” and graduate courses on the Greek historians. He is remembered fondly by all of us as a brilliant teacher and scholar and generous mentor and will be missed by countless students and colleagues. Professors Jim O’Hara, Emily Baragwanath, and George Houston prepared an in memoriam statement celebrating Philip’s career.
I close this letter by thanking our faculty, students, staff, and alums who have worked to keep our department together though this difficult period and to maintain this vibrant and stimulating community. As the forgoing indicates, our students and faculty have continued to produce stellar work and I only hope that we can all be back together in Murphey Hall next fall. We are as always grateful to our many friends and supporters from outside the department, whose generosity and continuing commitment to our work provide the vital resources we need to teach, to do pioneering research, and through our work and our students to contribute significantly to diverse communities at UNC and throughout the world.