Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Doing Ancient History at Penn

Ancient History is a discipline that draws on literary, documentary, visual, archaeological, and environmental evidence, and employs a range of methodologies in combining these evidentiary categories in order to answer specific questions about the structures, processes, and thought-worlds of ancient societies. Faculty members of the Graduate Group in Ancient History come together from a range of Departments: Anthropology, Classical Studies, History of Art, Religious Studies, History, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Each department holds regular seminars, colloquia, or speaker series, and members of the group are encouraged to attend as many as they consider relevant to their interests and fields of study. Additionally, the Center for Ancient Studies functions as an information hub for those interested in the study of the ancient world at Penn and neighboring institutions and annually sponsors conference events staged by graduate students as well as by faculty. The Graduate Group in Ancient History also hosts an annual Hyde Visiting Lecturer: a distinguished scholar of the ancient world who visits campus for a week to deliver a series of lectures and seminars, and meet one-on-one with graduate students in the Group.

Administratively, the program is housed in the Department of Classical Studies. The department possesses its own colloquium series, which members of the group customarily attend. In addition to the departments listed above—with whose colloquia series students should also make themselves familiar—similar interdisciplinary graduate groups, with which the Graduate Group in Ancient History has traditionally maintained close ties at both faculty and student levels, include the Graduate Group in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World (AAMW)—which also runs weekly lunchtime colloquia—the Graduate Group in Religious Studies and the Graduate Group in Classical Studies. Curricular and advising resources for graduate students also take in Bryn Mawr and Princeton, with which Penn has formal course exchange relationships; study with faculty at other regional institutions can also be arranged.

Students in the Graduate Group in Ancient History are encouraged to pursue their studies in an explicitly and self-consciously interdisciplinary way. Most particularly, it is our strong conviction that the societies of Greece and Rome (the usual subject-matter of Ancient History) can and should fruitfully be compared with the societies of the Near East and elsewhere. These twin aims of interdisciplinarity and comparative engagement with the ancient world are facilitated by regular co-teaching of seminars among faculty, as well as encouragement and financial support for participation in activities such as study abroad, archaeological excavations, numismatics and papyrology summer schools. Nevertheless, the acquisition of a broad base of skills relevant to a student’s field(s) of interest must be underpinned and sustained by a deep and intimate knowledge of the languages and the textual and intellectual cultures of the ancient society or societies in question.