The following courses have been suggested by Early Cultures faculty as especially relevant to interested students. Courses marked with an asterisk have also received PEC funding for additional programming. Many of our Affiliated Departments also include course listings for the current year, as well as past or future years, on their websites. To view all courses being offered at Brown University in the current academic year, visit the university's online listings, Courses@Brown.
Principles of Archaeology
Examines theoretical and methodological issues in anthropological archaeology. Attention is given to past concerns, current debates, and future directions of archaeology in the social sciences.
Lived Bodies, Dead Bodies: The Archaeology of Human Remains
Bioarchaeology is the study of human remains from archaeological contexts. We will survey the "state of the art" in bioarchaeology, while exploring its relevance and application to the archaeology of complex societies. We will survey a range of bioarchaeological methods and applications, including paleopathology, stable isotope analysis, population affinity/ancient DNA, perimortem trauma, and body modification. In turn, we will explore how bioarchaeology can be used to approach a wide range of archaeological problems relative to complext societies, including subsistence, economy, migration, urbanism, social inequality, conflict and warfare, and identity. S/NC.
Pre-Columbian Art and Architecture: A World That Matters
Survey of ancient art and building in ancient America, with a focus on Mexico, Central America, and the Andes. Underlying concepts include: meaning and method, cosmos and kingship, narrative and symbol, personality and authorship, empire and royal court.
This course is an introduction to Indigenous archaeologies, sometimes defined as archaeology "by, for and with Indigenous peoples." These approaches typically combine the study of the past with contemporary tribal needs. In addition, they seek to contribute to a more accurate understanding of archaeological record by broadening science through a consideration of Indigenous epistemologies. This course covers topics as the history of anthropological archaeology, Indigenous knowledge and science, decolonizing methodologies, representational practices, and NAGPRA.
Disability and Culture in the Past and Present
Like gender and race, disability is a cultural and social formation that identifies particular bodies and minds as different, regularly as undesirable, and rarely as extraordinary. This course introduces the theoretical, cultural, and political models of disability and explores the lived experiences of persons with disabilities across time and within different social contexts. Through a discussion of scholarly readings, literature, film, photography, art, and archaeology, this seminar considers disability in relation to: identity; impairment; stigma; monstrosity; marginalization; discrimination; beauty; power; media representations; activism; intersectionality; and gender and sexuality.
Approaching Ancient Economies
The inhabitants of the Greek, Roman, and Late Antique worlds made decisions about families, food, work, and religion based on complex webs of economic factors that included agriculture, mining, crafts, manufacturing, and trade. Economic activities were ubiquitous across the ancient world, yet it remains challenging to assess their nature and scale. This course engages with the large amount of archaeological data that can now be brought to bear on ancient economies, situating this material within its historical, political, geographical, and chronological contexts to examine the ways in which the people of the ancient world participated in their economic landscape.
Making Modern Monuments: Race, Coloniality, and the Athenian Acropolis
How does modernity construct monuments and monumental landscapes, out of the multi-temporal remnants of various pasts? How do coloniality and race shape this process? What is the role of disciplinary apparatuses, especially archaeology, classics, architecture, and history of art? How do modernist sensorial regimes, particularly technologies of vision, co-constitute such “significant” monuments? Exploring these key questions, this seminar takes a close and sustained look at one iconic specimen, a sacred locus of western, racialized modernity: the Acropolis of Athens.
Sediment – informally called ‘dirt’ or ‘soils’ – is a rich source of untapped information on ancient natural, animal, and human activity: the foundations of microarchaeology. This course will introduce students to key microarchaeological concepts including site-formation processes, human-environmental interactions, and chemical and microremain assemblages. Case studies will include the geoarchaeological fingerprints of destruction; lifeways in cave shelters, pastoral encampments, and urban households; origins of agriculture and use of fire; and – everyone’s favorite topic – what can be learned from human and animal excrement. Hands-on archaeological experiments, field collection, and laboratory methods will be introduced.
Akkadian Literary and Religious Texts
Readings in Akkadian literary and religious texts in the original language and script. Possible genres include myths, proverbs, and literary miscellanea as well as prayers, hymns, incantations, rituals, prophecies, and divinatory texts. This course is intended primarily for graduate students and may be repeated for credit. A reading knowledge of Akkadian cuneiform is required. A reading knowledge of both German and French is recommended but not required.
An advanced seminar on ancient Greek astronomy, taking both a technical and a cultural perspective on the history of this ancient science.
Astronomy Before the Telescope
This course provides an introduction to the history of astronomy from ancient times down to the invention of the telescope, focusing on the development of astronomy in Babylon, Greece, China, the medieval Islamic world, and Europe. The course will cover topics such as the invention of the zodiac, cosmological models, early astronomical instruments, and the development of astronomical theories. We will also explore the reasons people practiced astronomy in the past. No prior knowledge of astronomy is necessary for this course.
Horace's Carmen Saeculare and its contexts
This seminar focuses on Horace's Carmen Saeculare, a Latin hymn commissioned by the Roman princeps Augustus for choral performance at the Ludi Saeculares in 17 B.C.E. We will read the poem both in the context of Horace's lyric poetry, considering it philologically and in regard to earlier and contemporary Greek and Latin poetry, and as an orally-presented, public hymn produced for a specific performance. We will also examine the significant (and exceptionally rich) epigraphic and other scholarly evidence related to the poem's religious and historical context, and we will look at its reception in later poetry.
Thinking through Comparison: Han and Roman Empires
This seminar introduces students to comparative methods in the study of antiquity, with a focus on Han China and the Roman Empire. We will consider how and why we do comparative history, through the examples of the Han Chinese and Roman Empires. Sessions will consider existing examples of comparative work on these two ancient cultures from the eighteenth century to today, asking what questions the scholars involved were asking and what methodologies they brought to bear to answer them. Using a balance of ancient and modern readings, we will ask what the purpose of comparison is and what methodologies comparisons demand, as well as conducting our own comparative research informed by the most recent scholarship on both civilizations. No knowledge required of ancient European languages or ancient or modern Chinese languages.
Epic Poetry from Homer to Lucan
Traces the rich history and manifold varieties of the genre of epic poetry in the literatures of ancient Greece and Rome beginning with Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (VII c. B.C.) and ending with Lucan's Civil War (I. c. A.D.). Masterpieces such as Virgil's Aeneid and Ovid's Metamorphoses are included. Original sources read in translation.
The Ancient Novel
This course examines the birth and development of the ancient Greek and Roman novel and sets the form into the context of other popular literature of the early Roman imperial period (1 st -3 rd c. CE), including comic biography, Christian novella, and Wonder tales. Discussion will focus on the evolution of narrative technique and the representation of love, sexuality, slavery, and society. Brief consideration of the form’s influence on medieval romance and picaresque narrative.
History of Greece: From Alexander the Great to the Roman Conquest
In 334 BCE, the 22-year-old Alexander crossed over to Asia and North Africa, changing the history of the West forever. The invasion by a small, if intensely introspective, Greek peoples led to the spread of a monotheistic idea, belief in individualism, alienation from central power, and, conversely, the creation of natural law and human rights, and a deep desire for universalism. By its silences, the preserved narrative (constructed by European males) minimizes the lives of women, children, slaves, and those not of European origin. But largely because of Alexander’s conquests and the expansion of cosmopolitan thinking, the evidence embedded in Hellenistic history is far more diverse than for most other periods of classical history. This course focuses on inclusive social and intellectual history. Of particular emphasis will be the tension between the individual and the search for universal connection.
COLT2822M = CLAS2822M
Monumentality and Texts in ancient Egypt
From monumental inscriptions carved inside pyramids to mummy bandages, and from texts meant to be ingested to those intended to be burnt, this course explores the multifaceted world of ancient Egyptian writing, with a particular focus on the hieroglyphic script. We will address key themes related to script and writing, including materiality, agency, and spatiality, and cover artifacts and monuments from all periods of ancient Egypt. Students will be introduced to innovative tools and methods that engage with texts, such as VR immersion or AI-based language programming, while familiarizing themselves with scholarly research and debate. No prerequisites. Primarily intended for graduate students.
Introduction to Classical Hieroglyphic Egyptian Writing and Language (Middle Egyptian I)
Learn how to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs! The classical language of ancient Egypt, Middle Egyptian was spoken ca. 2000–1600 BCE and remained an important written language for the rest of ancient Egyptian history. Students will learn the hieroglyphic writing system, vocabulary, and grammar of one of the oldest known languages and read excerpts from stories, royal monuments, tomb inscriptions, and amulets. By the end of this course, students will be able to decipher textual portions of many monuments and objects in museums. This course may also be taken on its own, and it also serves as the first of a two-semester sequence. No prerequisites.
Selections from Middle Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts
Readings from the various genres of classical Egyptian literature, including stories and other literary texts, historical inscriptions, and religious compositions. Students will be expected to translate and discuss assigned texts. Prerequisite: EGYT 1310, 1320.
Section S01, CRN 19133
Pyramids, Power, Propaganda: Ancient Egyptian History to 1300 BCE
The first half of pharaonic history in ancient Egypt saw the invention of writing, the development of kingship, creation of a bureaucracy capable of erecting pyramids that still stand, and colonial expansion of Egypt both south into Nubia and east into the Levant. In this class we will critically examine ancient sources to understand not just what happened in this dynamic span of time but also how we as scholars can know about it. Who wrote what texts for what purposes, and how does the nature of these sources affect our ability to understand Egypt? Can we use literature as historical evidence? Utilizing primary sources in translation - sometimes multiple translations of the same text so we can critique translators - this course equips students to approach the history of an ancient but perennially fascinating place and culture. No prerequisites.
Thanks to a series of remarkable discoveries over the last century, we can now read several comedies by Menander. In this course, we shall investigate the nature of New Comedy, its typical plot structures and characters, the conditions of its performance, and its relation to the Hellenistic world in which it was composed.
Ships and Shipping in Athenian Lawsuits of the Fourth Century BC
Athenian merchant ships carried on important trade around the Aegean Sea in the fourth century B.C., especially carrying grain cargo from Sicily and the Bosporos and back to Athens; a special set of orations deals with mercantile cases and the maritime loans that made such shipping possible (dikai emporikai, Dem. 32-35, 56). Athenian battleships (triremes) played an important role both in war and peace, maintaining the security of Athens and protecting sea routes for supplying grain. Some orations treat legal disputes over securing and returning gear for the ships (Dem. 47 and 50) and one disputes a crown awarded for the trierarch who best carried out his naval duties (Dem. 51). We shall read a selection of these speeches (esp. the latter three) and a scattering of inscribed passages from the Naval Records.
It is hard to imagine a more joyful way to acquire excellent control of Homeric Greek than by reading, in its entirety (if possible), Homer's wonderful and captivating work, the Odyssey. Though it can be a little time-consuming initially, students quickly become familiar with the syntax and the vocabulary, and find great pleasure in immersing themselves in this thrilling masterpiece.
Asian Reprographics A Long History of Impression
This seminar examines the early history of reprography in East Asia. Defining reprography broadly to encompass all pre-photographic technologies of graphic impression, it explores the transfers that occurred within and between piece-mold bronze casting, ceramic molding, sealing, rubbing, and woodblock printing as they developed in succession and tandem over the past four millennia. In particular, the seminar considers the extent to which technics of transfer facilitated the movement of images across medium and time.
Politics and Spectacle in the Arts of Ancient Rome
This seminar investigates the intersection of politics and spectacles in the artistic production of ancient Rome. We will explore a variety of public monuments to reveal how they codify essential aspects of Roman culture. Topics include the architecture of entertainment spaces such as theaters, amphitheaters, and circuses, as well as the social functions of spectacles such as gladiatorial games and triumphal processions. We will look at expressions of imperial propaganda in monuments such as tombs and honorific arches. The class also considers how these ideas entered the private realm in the form of domestic wall paintings, mosaics, and sculpture gardens. A
Amazonia from the Prehuman to the Present
This course merging lecture and discussions will examine the fascinating and contested history of one of the world’s most complex fluvial ecosystems: Amazonia, in equatorial South America, from its pre-human history to the present day. The course will include readings and discussions on the region’s ecological origins; the social history of its diverse Indigenous and immigrant populations, including African-descended peoples; exploration myths and European colonial projects; and more recent efforts to exploit and protect Amazonia’s extraordinary natural and human resources. The course will use tools and resources from archaeology, anthropology, biology, and social and cultural history, and will also examine popular representations of the Amazon through novels, newspapers, podcasts, and film.
Critique of Political Theology: Ancient Texts and Contemporary Questions
The seminar examines political theology through critical readings of ancient canonical texts considered as foundational in the traditions of Western philosophy, Judaism, and Christianity. Texts from Anaximander, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristotle, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Renaissance musings of Etienne de La Boetie will be read alongside 20th-century thinkers—Carl Schmitt, Pierre Clastres, Cornelius Castoriadis, Hans Blumenberg, Michel Foucault, Regina Schwartz, Jan Assmann, Giorgio Agamben, Judith Butler, and Bonnie Honig. Can readings of ancient canons be both non-anachronistic and critical? Must critique be secular? Or Gnostic? Can the political be separated from the theological? What can formations of ancient theo-political imagination teach us about the limits of ours? The seminar is taught in parallel with Professor Stathis Gourgouris and his class at Columbia university. Collaborative work will take place among students at Brown and across the two campuses.
Latin Love Elegy
Reading of representative selections from each of the Roman elegists: Tibullus, Propertius, and Ovid. Discussion also of the origins and development of love elegy at Rome and exploration of the themes and topoi that define the genre. Follows the poets' negotiations with various discourses and ideologies in Augustan Rome: literary, social, sexual, and political.
Through reading letters from different periods of Roman History, students will become more familiar not only with the ways letters negotiated Roman social, political, and intellectual networks but also how Roman authors drew on epistolary conventions to compose literature in other forms. Authors to be read may include but are not limited to Cicero, Ovid, Pliny the Younger, and Fronto.
Alcuin lived a life of wide variety and accomplishment, not least as an important member of Charlemagne's inner circle and, like many at court, he wrote widely and in multiple genres. From his enormous output this course will focus on the large collections of poetry and letters. We will attend in both gatherings to theme, tone, style, and allusivity and, where appropriate, we will ponder alternate readings in a collection that has not been edited since the late nineteenth century.
Reading Humanist Latin Texts
The course will explore in depth some important Renaissance or 'early modern' works of Latin literature, many of which have not been translated into English. As well as opening up a new field of Latin writing, the course will extend general knowledge of classical literature by involving some less commonly studied ancient sources. It will also introduce some early imprints, enabling you to consider texts directly in the original form in which they first appeared.
Survey of Republican Literature
Our purposes in this survey of Latin literature are to acquire a comprehensive historical perspective on Latin poetry and prose until the end of the Republic and a sense of its phases and the dynamics of its tradition; and to read different styles of Latin poetry and prose with confidence and ease.
The Classical World in Film
Why do film directors, Hollywood moguls, and TV executives hark back to antiquity? This course introduces spectacular, epic representations of classical literature, myth, and history alongside more understated, tongue-in-cheek—occasionally hyperbolic—adaptations of that world in the present. Explores how narrative, cinematic technique, audience reception, and political context produce desired effects and elicit incisive commentary on modernity, race, ethnicity, gender. Analysis centered around a cluster of classical texts, heroic and mythic figures, and truly “historical” events. No prior knowledge of classical literature required. Films range from silent movies, Hollywood epics, European auteurism, anti-colonial Third Cinema, gladiatorial kitsch, and sci-fi franchise.
Ecotheology in Ancient Christianity
How did early Christians understand the relationship of humanity to the natural world, the animal kingdom, and the created order? What were the obligations and responsibilities of Christians regarding care for the world? How did they manifest a relationship to God? A study of the ancient Christian conception of humanity's place in the cosmos, as lived out in the daily life of the Christians in the Roman Empire. The course will focus on the first seven Christian centuries, with attention to how legalization and ascendancy reshaped Christian ideas on these matters. Seminar.
Heritage in the Metropolis: Remembering and Preserving the Urban Past
Urban heritage – from archaeological sites and historic architecture to longstanding cultural practices – is increasingly threatened by the exponential growth of cities around the globe. Most critically, the complex histories and lived experiences of the diverse communities who have inhabited and shaped cities are often in danger of being erased and forgotten today. This course examines how we might remember and preserve this urban past – and the tangible sites and artifacts that attest to it – ¬in light of the social and political dynamics of cities in the present.