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The Program in Early Cultures (until recently called the Program in Ancient Studies) was founded in the late 1970s, when faculty in various academic units sought new ways to foster collaboration and promote the study of ancient civilizations among Brown’s students. The Program’s main purpose is to bring together all those at Brown (faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, and staff) who are interested in the cultures, religions, and histories of ancient civilizations. The Program roughly defines “ancient” as “pre-medieval” or simply “early”, and geographically, the “ancient world” represented at Brown comprises early China and India, West Asia (Mesopotamia, Iran, Anatolia, and Israel), Egypt, the Mediterranean (especially Greece and Italy), the early Islamic and Byzantine worlds as well as the Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations.

The Program offers an undergraduate major, Comparative Studies in Mediterranean, South and West Asian, and Egyptian Civilizations, which encourages students to engage in comparative work on two or more ancient civilizations. The course of study is flexible: students first determine the two societies they wish to investigate and the subject option that interests them: history, religions, or languages and literatures. Concentration programs are formulated individually by each concentrator in consultation with the concentration advisor to focus on the study of two ancient cultures.

The faculty involved in Early Cultures number close to forty, and the academic units involved include the departments of Anthropology, Classics, Comparative Literature, Egyptology and Assyriology, History, History of Art and Architecture, History of Mathematics, Philosophy, and Religious Studies, the Program in Judaic Studies, and the Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World. The faculty resources in this area are thus remarkably rich. Connections with late antique and early medieval civilizations (in the Latin West, Greek or Byzantine East, and the Early Islamic World), explored by the Program in Medieval Studies, offer further opportunities for collaboration.

Until recently, the Program had long been operating a monthly workshop “Cultures and Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean” (CRAM), that invites discussion of a pre-circulated paper on a work in progress by a Brown colleague or an occasional visitor. CRAM has been crucial for increasing familiarity with other faculty’s research interests and for fostering collaborative work across academic units. Moreover, the Program encourages all interested faculty to design courses (individually or team-taught) with a comparative component. Examples have focused on war and society; slavery, death and ritual; women and religion; and scientific and mythical thought, all of which covered a variety of ancient civilizations. CRAM is now managed by faculty and staff of the Religious Studies Department.

Internal and external funding has recently enabled the Program to offer a lecture series that pursues an important topic through several ancient civilizations and thus encourages cross-cultural comparison. Recent topics include “War and Peace,” “Origins and Functions of Writing,” and “Writing History” in the Ancient World. In the spring of 2005, the Program co-sponsored the first international conference in Ancient Studies, comparing aspects of private religion in Mediterranean and West Asian Antiquity. The proceedings of some of these events will be published by Blackwell in Oxford in a new series on “The Ancient World: Comparative Histories,” edited by the Program’s current director.

Continuing growth in faculty and academic programs greatly enhances the significance at Brown of the Program in Early Cultures. More than ever, it will offer an indispensable framework for interaction and collaboration across disciplines. The exceptional number of highly qualified and active faculty with remarkable accomplishments in research and teaching, ensure that the Program will continue to be an effective resource with high visibility. It supports a broad range of activities across many disciplines (including workshops, conferences, and year-long seminars for faculty and graduate students), fosters the comparative study of early civilizations, and helps to attract to Brown the very best students and faculty. As such, the Program is unique in the national and international academic landscape.