Introducing Jennifer Gates-Foster
Jennifer Gates-Foster, along with Luca Grillo, is one of the newest members of our department. Discover more about her below.
I grew up in a military family and so moved often as a child. Even so, home — where the better part of my childhood was spent — is in Mississippi where some of my family still lives. I went to the University of Virginia as an undergraduate and did my graduate work in Classical Art and Archaeology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
I wanted to be an archaeologist — not that I really understood what that meant — from a pretty young age. I was fortunate enough to be taken under the wing of a very generous staff archaeologist in the research labs at Colonial Williamsburg/College of William & Mary when I was only fifteen and that gave me a taste of real archaeology — the dirt, the detailed repetition and the real excitement of the newly-discovered site. I volunteered and later worked for the Research Unit at William & Mary for several summers, and this continued into my time as an undergraduate at UVA, where I studied with Jim Deetz, pursuing my plan to be an historical archaeologist. This neat goal was completely disrupted by a well-timed undergraduate course in ancient art that collapsed my notion of what archaeology could be and where it could happen. From that point on, I was more or less certain that Classical Archaeology, especially the material culture of the Hellenistic and Roman Near East, was the subject that I wanted to pursue.
Interestingly, many of the questions I wanted to think about using Classical material culture were derived from what I learned working with historical archaeologists—the relationship between archaeology and history, the archaeology of inequality, the effect of colonial regimes on native groups and the expression and negotiation of identity through visual culture and material practice. These were all questions that I first learned to think about through the remains of the colonial era in the new world. After a lot of Greek (yay!) and Latin (boo!) I made the full transition to Classical Archaeology at the graduate level as a student in IPCAA, where my advisors—Susan Alcock, Sharon Herbert, Henry Wright, John Cherry, Traianos Gagos and others—guided me through a dissertation on the trade networks established by the Ptolemies in Upper Egypt during the Hellenistic era. That project brought together my interest in ancient landscapes, archaeological ceramics and the response to place by ancient travelers. These are issues that I continue to work on as we publish the archaeological surveys from this region and I work on my first book project, based largely on that work but with considerable new case studies and materials added into the mix. I have also published on approaches to ethnicity in the material record, especially in Achaemenid Persian material culture, and on the relationship between archaeology and text, especially as worked out in the evidence from Roman Egypt, another time period that I continue to engage with in my scholarship.
My arrival at UNC from UT Austin has been a smooth and welcome transition. I am continually impressed by the very high quality of the undergraduate students at UNC and my courses thus far—three of the four so far have been undergraduate seminars or lectures—have been a real joy. The students here are high achievers–eager to learn and proud to work hard. They see themselves as dimensional, thoughtful individuals and introducing them to antiquity, especially the nuances of ancient art and archaeology, is a source of real pride. I am privileged and happy to be here. The graduate students in the department are a talented bunch and I look forward to really getting to know them better through my seminar on the Archaeology of the Roman Provinces next fall. This summer I will be returning to the site of Omrit in the northern Galilee in Israel where I am the co-director of an excavation focused on a 3rd to 5th century settlement in the vicinity of a major Roman temple situated on the ancient road from the Mediterranean coast to Damascus. I will also be returning to Egypt to analyze the pottery from excavations that took place this winter at the Ptolemaic gold mine of Samut.