Chair’s Annual Letter
To say that this is not an easy time to be Chair of the Classics Department at Carolina would be a bit of an understatement. Like every other unit in the University, the Department has been affected by the cuts in the state budget for the UNC system; UNC-Chapel Hill alone has had cuts of approximately $235 million since 2008. Although I believe that we have at last turned the corner on the academic-athletic scandal that dominated headlines for a number of years, its repercussions continue to affect our lives at the departmental level. And on top of it all, we are in the midst of fundamental long-term changes to the place of the humanities in American higher education.
On a more personal note, we recently received news that Charles Henderson, Jr. has passed away. “Charlie,” as he was known to many, first came to the department as a graduate student, but matured into a faculty member and life-long friend of the department. We deeply mourn his passing.
Yet despite these losses and challenges, the Department continues to thrive. In fact, I can confidently say that in a wide variety of ways we have had an extremely successful year. One of the year’s biggest successes is that we have been able to secure two new appointments to the faculty starting in the 2015-16 academic year. Hérica Valladares will be joining us as a specialist in Roman art. She received her PhD in 2006 from the interdepartmental program in Classical Studies at Columbia University. Her particular area of expertise is Roman painting, and she is currently drawing near the end of a major project in which she examines the theme of tenderness in Roman wall painting and Latin elegiac poetry in the Augustan and early imperial periods. Al Duncan received his PhD from Stanford University in 2012 with a dissertation entitled ‘Tragic Ugliness: The Interplay of Genre and Aesthetics in Greek Drama’. His area of expertise covers both tragedy and comedy, and he has in addition both a deep interest in and considerable experience with the performance of ancient drama; he will thus bring new life to our tradition of staging ancient plays that was established by Kenneth Reckford and more recently revived by Sharon James. We are delighted that both these excellent scholars and teachers will be joining our faculty.
Speaking of Sharon James, I am very pleased to report that her promotion to the rank of Professor has just been officially confirmed by the Board of Trustees. This is a well deserved and indeed long overdue recognition of her many important contributions to the department, the university, and the discipline. Another honor that deserves mention is Bob Babcock’s election as a Corresponding Member of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, one of the most important research and publication institutions for the study of the European Middle Ages. With this he joins a very select group, since there are only seven or eight Corresponding Members in the whole of the US. I am also pleased to report Jim O’Hara has been awarded a Loeb Classical Library Foundation Fellowship for the spring semester of 2016. This prestigious award, combined with a previously awarded Research and Study Assignment for the coming fall semester, will allow him to devote all of next year to his current major research project, a study of the authority of the speaker in Roman didactic and satiric poetry. Last but not least, Donald Haggis has been appointed the Elizabeth A. Whitehead Visiting Professor at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens for the 2015-16 academic year, during which time he will devote himself to his current research projects as well as interact with the students in residence at the School.
He will in fact encounter a number of familiar faces there, since not just one but three of our graduate students have won competitive fellowships for next year: Emma Buckingham was awarded the Heinrich Schliemann Fellowship in archaeology, Alexandra Daly the Thomas Day Seymour Fellowship in history and literature, and Catharine Judson the Emily Townsend Vermeule Fellowship in archaeology. There was a large and highly competitive applicant pool for these fellowships this year, with students from some of the best programs in the country, and a very challenging exam in all areas. This is the third year in a row that we have sent students to the American School on competitive fellowships, and their success speaks both to our students’ talent and hard work and to my colleagues’ skill as teachers and mentors. I might add that for this same reason it is no surprise that next year’s student members of the School will also include two of our former undergraduates, Ashleigh Fata and Hannah Rich (both BA 2011, now graduate students at UCLA and Penn, respectively). One last item related to the American School: Rebecca Worsham, who held the Emily Townsend Vermeule Fellowship there in 2013-14, has this year been awarded the Fieldwork Award from the Spatial Archaeometry Research Collaborations (SPARC) at the University of Arkansas’s Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies and Archaeo-Imaging Lab; this award will allow her, in collaboration with Donald Haggis and Michael Lindbloom of Uppsala University, to create a 3D model of the Middle to Late Bronze Age settlement at Malthi in the southwestern Peloponnese, which is also the subject of her dissertation. Lastly, Cicek Beeby has won two competitive internal grants in support for her dissertation work: a Pre-Dissertation Travel Award from the Center for Global Initiatives and a Graduate Fellowship from the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative.
In other international connections, we held in early September the first of what we hope will be a series of annual joint graduate student colloquia with the Department of Classics at King’s College London. Jointly organized by my colleague Luca Grillo and Hugh Bowden, the Head of Department at King’s, the colloquium featured four graduate students from Carolina (Cicek Beeby, Emma Buckingham, Sarah Hilker, and Catharine Judson) and four from King’s, each of whom presented a paper on the topic of their research followed by a response by a faculty member from the other institution. This was a highly successful event that both benefited the individual students and laid the groundwork for further collaboration. Plans are already underway for a follow-up colloquium this coming September, to take place in London; since the first colloquium focused on archaeology, the second will focus on literature.
While a number of our faculty and graduate students presented papers or presided over sessions at the annual conference for the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, others of our graduate students made an impressive contribution to the ‘Texts and Contexts’ conference held at Ohio State University in November, the leading conference in North America dedicated to the study of medieval manuscripts and texts. In a session that was organized by Bob Babcock and that grew out of his Latin paleography graduate course in the fall of 2013, John Beeby, Will Begley, and Keith Penich presented papers that collectively constituted a major contribution to the study of the library of the medieval abbey of Gembloux in what is now Belgium, the current focus of Prof. Babcock’s research. The panel was by all accounts one of the highlights of the conference, with our students receiving praise for the quality, originality, and importance of their work.
Our undergraduates likewise continue to make us proud. This year for the first time in our history two of our students, Allison Ditmore and Jake Rohde, simultaneously won Manson A. Stewart Undergraduate Awards from the Classical Association of the Midwest and South. These highly competitive awards are given to the most outstanding young classicists in the region covered by the Association, which extends over much of the US as well as parts of Canada. Senior Drew Cabaniss has been awarded a number of internal grants over the past few years for his research on the process of urbanization in the Greek archaic period, working under the direction of Donald Haggis at Azoria in Crete. Drew has just completed his Honors thesis on that subject, and will be starting graduate school in the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology at the University of Michigan. Last year Drew was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, where he was joined this year by fellow Classics majors Nicky Curtis (a previous winner of the Manson Stewart Award), Amanda Kubic, and Jake Rohde. Lastly, our local chapter of Eta Sigma Phi, the national undergraduate honors society for Classics, continues to thrive. Their third annual undergraduate research conference took place in mid April, and was a great success.
Although I wrote at the beginning of this letter that ‘somehow’ the Department continues to thrive, I in fact know how. Partly, it must be admitted, it is due to sheer luck, and I am always more than happy to accept whatever gifts Fortuna chooses to bestow upon us. But our success is due even more to the talent, hard work, and good will of everyone associated with the department, which allows us to take full advantage of what luck offers. Here I must first thank the faculty, whose dedication and creativity have this year been perhaps even more in evidence than usual. We began the year with the first departmental retreat in some fifteen years, and that has initiated an ongoing process of review, rethinking, and renewal that will ultimately enable us to meet our current challenges and indeed leverage them in order to transform and improve our programs. None of this would be possible without the essential support provided by our outstanding staff: Cinnamon Weaver, Kim Miles, and Karna Younger. I must here thank Karna in particular, since she is the one responsible for producing this edition of Tabulae. I am also grateful to the support of the College and University administration, who repeatedly this year have made good in deed their expressions of support for our department. 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 also through their initiative and many active contributions to our collective life. Lastly, I am very grateful to our many friends and supporters from outside the department. It is their generosity that gives us the resources we need to realize our tremendous potential. As the various reports both here and elsewhere in this newsletter make clear, we continue to be able to do that, and we are deeply appreciative to all those who make our successes possible.