SPR 19: Ancient History Courses

HIST 16900  Ancient Mediterranean World-3: Late Antique  Available as a three-quarter sequence (Autumn-Winter-Spring) or as a two-quarter sequence (Autumn-Winter or Winter-Spring). This sequence meets the general education requirement in civilization studies. The final course of the sequence examines late antiquity, a period of paradox. The later Roman emperors established the most intensive, pervasive state structures of the ancient Mediterranean, yet yielded their northern and western territories to Goths, Huns, and Vandals—and ultimately their Middle Eastern core to the Arab Muslims. Imperial Christianity united the populations of the Roman Mediterranean in the service of the same god, but simultaneously divided them into competing sectarian factions. A novel culture of Christian asceticism coexisted with the consolidation of an aristocratic ruling class notable for its insatiable appetite for gold. The course will address these apparent contradictions while charting the profound transformations of the cultures, societies, economies, and political orders of the Mediterranean from the conversion of Constantine to the rise of Islam.

HIST 20805  Cities and Urban Space in the Ancient World  (M. Andrews)  Cities have been features in human landscapes for nearly six thousand years. This course will explore how cities became such a dominant feature of settlement patterns in the ancient Mediterranean and Near East, ca. 4,000 BCE–350 CE. Was there an "Urban Revolution," and how did it start? What various physical forms did cities assume, and why did cities physically differ (or not) from each other? What functions did cities have in different cultures of the past, and what cultural value did "urban" life have? How do past perspectives on cities compare with contemporary ones? Working thematically and using theoretical and comparative approaches, this course will address various aspects of ancient urban space and its occupation, with each topic backed up by in-depth analysis of concrete case studies.

HIST 20902  Empires and Peoples: Ethnicity in Late Antiquity  (R. Payne)  Late antiquity witnessed an unprecedented proliferation of peoples in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Vandals, Arabs, Goths, Huns, Franks, and Iranians, among numerous others, took shape as political communities within the Roman and Iranian empires or along their peripheries. Recent scholarship has undone the traditional image of these groups as previously undocumented communities of "barbarians" entering history. Ethnic communities emerge from the literature as political constructions dependent on the very malleability of identities, on specific acts of textual and artistic production, on particular religious traditions, and, not least, on the imperial or postimperial regimes sustaining their claims to sovereignty. The colloquium will debate the origin, nature, and roles of ethno-political identities and communities comparatively across West Asia, from the Western Mediterranean to the Eurasian steppes, on the basis of recent contributions. As a historiographical colloquium, the course will address the contemporary cultural and political concerns—especially nationalism—that have often shaped historical accounts of ethnogenesis in the period as well as bio-historical approaches—such as genetic history—that sometimes sit uneasily with the recent advances of historians.

HIST 25117  Natural History of Humans/Human History of Nature  (J. Niermeier-Dohoney, Teaching Fellow in the Social Sciences)  This course asks students to think very broadly about human history as a type of natural history and the recent history of nature as a part of the human narrative. Students will be introduced to the concept of "deep time," its discovery by geologists and biologists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the impact that these had on the subject of human history. Topics will include sixteenth- and seventeenth-century historiography and Biblical exegesis; the geological theories of Hutton, Cuvier, and Lyell; and the biological theories of Lamarck and Darwin. We will then examine ways in which certain modern sciences have affected the way historians have approached the study of humanity. Topics will include how the structure and function of the brain affected kinship development, language acquisition, and social bonding; interpretations of "human nature" from theological, philosophical, anthropological, and psychological perspectives; the problem of massive time scales and intergenerational governing, justice, and ethics; and the role of geography in shaping civilizational development. Finally, we will consider ways in which the rising human impact over natural earth systems may necessitate a radical change in the way the subject of human and civilizational history will be studied going forward. Topics include anthropogenic changes to the biosphere through hunting and agriculture in the ancient world and the globalization of communicable diseases and invasive plant and animal species after 1492; the impact of climate change on modern civilization; the potential that humans are responsible for a new geological epoch; and what "history" looks like without humans.