James B. Rives

James Rives, chair of the department

Last spring, when I began telling friends and colleagues that I had agreed to take over as department chair, reactions were mixed. People outside of academia tended to congratulate me, regarding my new position as an honor or a promotion. Colleagues, in contrast, generally offered their condolences, since they realize that serving as chair means having a lot more obligations and responsibilities, not all of which are particularly pleasant.

Now that the end of my first year as chair is in sight, I’ve decided that both groups are right. On the one hand, the obligations and responsibilities are very real, and even weightier than I had anticipated. This has been a challenging year for me, and indeed for the entire department. The budget cuts of the last four years are having a serious albeit delayed impact, and we have been coping with an unusually busy year at a time of unusually low faculty numbers.

We have nevertheless had some significant successes, and have good reason to be optimistic about the future. It is indeed an honor to serve as chair of such an outstanding department. My colleagues have repeatedly risen to the occasion this year, and have ungrudgingly taken on heavier than usual service loads while maintaining our very high standards of teaching and research. We are fortunate in having a terrific office staff in Cinnamon Weaver, Kim Miles, and Karna Younger; although I appreciated them before, it’s only since becoming chair that I have a real sense of how much they do for the department. This is an appropriate place to thank Karna in particular for maintaining the department website and editing Tabulae; it’s been a pleasure to work with someone who has so many great ideas of ways to present our news and achievements. We are also fortunate in having truly excellent students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels; I will be noting some of their achievements later on. Last, but by no means least, we are very fortunate in having many generous alumni and benefactors; it is their generosity that has allowed us to continue to thrive even in times of economic uncertainty. Their gifts have helped maintain the department library, recruit and retain outstanding faculty, support graduate student research, and fund undergraduate projects and activities.

It’s a particular honor to be the chair of a department with such a distinguished history. When I took over as chair in the summer, I was struck by the fact that so many of my predecessors are still living nearby, and indeed still coming into Murphey Hall on a regular basis. The result, with the encouragement and assistance of my partner John, is a group photograph of department chairs from 1976 until the present. The 37 years of leadership represented by this photo is of course only a small part of the department’s long history, which extends back to the late 19th century and in some sense to the founding of the University in 1795. Thanks to the efforts of a group of faculty and emeriti led by my colleague Emily Baragwanath, that history is now very well presented on our department website. If you have not yet seen it, I would encourage you to take a look.

In terms of our current faculty, I have both losses and gains to report. First, Cecil Wooten, my immediate predecessor, not only stepped down as chair at the end of last June, but also retired. Since Cecil’s association with this department goes back 45 years, from the time he arrived here as a graduate student in 1967, it is very difficult to imagine life in Murphey Hall without him. Fortunately, we don’t need to, since he continues to be a very active member of our community; he taught a graduate course on Cicero this past fall, and is also scheduled to teach Latin prose composition this coming fall. We have also had several resignations. Lidewijde de Jong, a specialist in the archaeology of the Roman Near East, resigned at the end of June in order to accept a prestigious position at the University of Groningen in her native Netherlands. Brendan Boyle, a specialist in Greek philosophical and political thought, resigned at the end of December in order to pursue a career with a greater focus on undergraduate teaching. Lastly, Monika Truemper has just announced that she will be resigning at the end of this academic year in order to accept a position as professor of Classical Archaeology at the Free University of Berlin, one of the most prestigious positions in her field in Germany. We are sorry to lose such excellent colleagues, who have all made important contributions to our program, but wish them great success in their new positions.

Finally, it is my sad duty to announce that Gerhard Koeppel, who taught Roman art and archaeology here from the late 1960s until his retirement in 2002, passed away on Dec. 20 of last year in Germany, where he had moved after his retirement. Prof. Koeppel was a much admired member of the department, who will be greatly missed by his colleagues and students.

On a much happier note, we will be joined in the fall by two new colleagues. Jennifer Gates-Foster, a specialist in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt and the Near East, will be joining Donald Haggis and Ken Sams in the archaeological side of the faculty. Jen received her PhD from the University of Michigan in 2005 and has been an assistant professor at The University of Texas in Austin since 2008. She has several major projects underway, including a monograph on the border region of Egypt in Ptolemaic and early Roman times, and starting this summer will be co-director of a field excavation at Omrit in Israel. Our other new colleague is Luca Grillo, whose specialty is in the Latin prose authors of the Late Republic. Luca received his PhD from Princeton in 2008 and has since that time been an assistant professor at Amherst College. His first book, The Art of Caesar’s Bellum Civile, appeared last year with Cambridge University Press. If you’re one of the people who think that Caesar is a simple and rather boring writer, you should read Luca’s book! We are delighted to have such excellent new colleagues joining our ranks.

In other faculty news, Emily Baragwanath is currently completing the first of what will be three semesters’ leave in Germany, where she is holding an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship at the University of Heidelberg. Emily’s promotion to associate professor with tenure has just been approved by UNC’s Board of Trustees, and we look forward to working with her for many years to come. Donald Haggis is gearing up for a second five-year campaign in the on-going excavations at Azoria in Crete, which will begin this summer and for which he received a number of major grants, including a $250,000 Collaborative Research Grant from the NEH. Jim O’Hara won the Student for Undergraduate Teaching and Staff Awards Committee’s prize for outstanding undergraduate instruction, which included recognition at the Chancellor’s Award Ceremony and a $5,000 award for his work with students inside and outside the classroom. Sharon James was recently awarded the William C. Friday/Class of 1986 Award for Excellence in Teaching, a well-deserved honor that recognizes her outstanding accomplishments as a teacher over the years. In addition, her book A Companion to Women in the Ancient World (Wiley-Blackwell 2012), which she co-edited with our colleague Sheila Dillon of Duke University, was selected by the library journal Choice as one of its Outstanding Academic Titles of 2012 in Ancient History, and also won an Honorable Mention in the Association of American Publishers 2012 PROSE Awards. Last but not least, the performances from her NEH Summer Institute on Roman Comedy in Performance, which she co-directed with Tim Moore (PhD ‘86) are available on YouTube: if you need a little comedy in your life you should check them out!

In graduate student news, two current students, Hans Hansen and Rebecca Worsham, have both been awarded fellowships to attend the American School of Classical Studies at Athens as regular members next year. This will be Rebecca’s second year in Greece, where she spent this past year doing research for her dissertation thanks to the AIA’s Olivia James Travelling Fellowship, one of the association’s most prestigious awards for graduate students. Please read her newsletter article in which she shares her many travels and experiences in Greece over the past year.

Our undergraduates also have some significant achievements to their credit. Alex Caprara recently became the sixth of our current majors to have been inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, joining Matthew Cooper, Caitlin Hines, Rachel Mazzara, and Henry Ross. Henry is also one of two UNC undergraduates, and one of fifteen to eighteen nationally, to be named as a Luce Scholar, as part of a program that funds outstanding students to live and work in Asia prior to embarking on their career. Caitlin was one of last year’s six winners of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South’s Manson A. Stewart Scholarship. Caitlin will begin her graduate studies at the University of Toronto next year. You can read about her future plans here in the newsletter.

Also, our undergraduates have always had a strong sense of community, and this has recently been given more formal expression by the revival and restructuring of the UNC chapter of Eta Sigma Phi, the national honor society for Classics majors. The members of Eta Sigma Phi organized the first of what they hope to be an annual conference for undergraduate research over the weekend of April 13-14, with papers by students from the universities of Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and California as well as Carolina itself.

It is a pleasure to be able to report so many impressive accomplishments by members of the department, and a pleasure to note that they are by no means unusual. One of my first responsibilities as chair was to coordinate the writing of the department’s self-study in preparation for our ten-year external program review, which just took place in March. Although this was a big project that I would happily have done without my first year as chair, it nevertheless allowed me to gain an overview of the entire department and of all that we have accomplished in the last ten years. It is indeed an honor to serve as chair of such a department.