Monday, June 10, 2013

Studying Culture and Creating Culture, or Why Apotropaic Cupcakes Matter

Classics 735 Graduate Seminar in Winter 2013 examined the relationship between a city and its countryside (asty and chora); we examined the foundation of apoikiai in the eighth century BC and border conflicts across the Classical period, the installation and use of extramural and intramural sanctuaries, and discussed new foundations and developments with the city in the Archaic and Classical periods. Our investigations took us to the Argive Heraion; the Athenian Acropolis; Delphi and the poetics of Colonization; the Achaean apoikiai of southern Italy; intramural sanctuaries and the use of public space in Syracuse, Megara Hyblaia, Selinus and Akragas; the greek-indigenous border in Sicily; Aitna and the court of Hieron with Pindar and Aeschylus; and the frontier contested by Athens and Thebes. 

The beautiful thing about a seminar is that not only did we examine a culture, but also created one. 

To Kill a Mockingbird's Atticus Finch summarized cross examination by stating that you never ask a question that you don't already know the answer to. A seminar is different. we are all participants -- instructor and students (both roles exist in name and attendance-taking only) alike work together because there is something we don't fully understand and with it academic territory to convert from unknown to known. In this pursuit, there is strength in numbers; by dividing up the material into areas, each seminar member can make a contribution that builds to a greater understanding. To see seminar members feed off one another and collectively create an understanding is to see success take flight. It begins with providing a question, bibliography, and a foundation level of knowledge regarding how these questions are treated in scholarship today, but then develops in its own direction shaped by the investment and involvement of the members. When that collides with an ethos that binds everyone, the results move from satisfactory to sublime. To get a group of students to care about an angle or view or theory that they had not been familiar with before (territoriality, the significance of Pindar at Syracuse, the location of Xouthia) is good, when that expands into caring enough to create apotropaic-anti evil eye cupcakes, it is even better.