Alcock to oversee expansion of interdisciplinary archaeology institute

Thursday, February 9, 2006

The University’s new Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World rang in the new year with a new director: Professor of Classics Susan Alcock, who says she wants to build the interdisciplinary institute into “as big of an octopus as I can.”

Most recently a professor at the University of Michigan, Alcock responded to the University’s advertisement an-nouncing the position and was interviewed on campus last February. In addition to a formal interview, Alcock gave a public lecture, spoke with students and met with many people, including a search committee, before being hired last year.

“We conducted a very competitive search,” said Katharina Galor, visiting assistant professor of old world archaeology and art. “She’s really a star in the profession,” Galor said, adding that, “She’s ambitious, ef-fective, energetic, young, and also a very accomplished scholar.”

Alcock, who spent September doing fieldwork in Armenia, said one of her goals is to inform Brown students that there is much more to archeology than digging. Alcock’s work is sometimes called “landscape archaeology.”

“I don’t dig. I do regional survey. It’s a form of investigation of tracing the earth’s surface and finding human remains,” she said.

The institute was able to hire Alcock thanks to a gift from Professor Emerita of Old World Archaeology and Art Martha Joukowsky ’58 P’87 and Chancellor Emeritus Artemis Joukowsky ’55 P’87 intended to help transform the former Center for Old World Archaeology and Art into the new institute. Currently located at 70 Waterman St., the institute is expected to move into Rhode Island Hall in the next two or three years, Alcock said.

“In Rhode Island Hall there are many vital units to the University and the transfer has to be made without disrupting those units,” she said. The inside of the building is going to be completely renovated and, because of its convenient location, is “intended to be gregarious.”

The institute will bring together faculty that are currently scattered throughout various departments, including anthropology, art history, Egyptology and classics, ac-cording to Galor.

“The institute is great because it’s going to be one of these large umbrellas on campus where a lot of us that deal with the distant past, particularly the archaeology of the distant past, can get together and discuss what we have in common,” said Stephen Houston, professor of anthropology. “The institute is, we hope, our future club house,” he added.

Alcock said she wants to broaden the off-campus network connected with the institute as well, and intends to use the University to make connections up and down the East Coast.

Plans for the institute include seminar series and conferences. Currently, applications are being accepted for two visiting professors next year and there is the possibility of additional hires. The institute will also enrich the graduate student curriculum while still boosting undergraduate archaeology, Alcock said. The number of graduate applications has increased this year – according to Galor, the department has received 52 applications for its doctoral program this year.

Students are looking forward to the new institute.

“We’re all really excited about the changes. We have a new, nicer space, access to lectures and an addition to (the) full-time faculty,” said Cecelia Feldman GS. Feldman said students have the opportunity to contribute to the transformation of the institute as well, whether it is by helping clear space or giving input about speakers who will visit the department.

“Susan Alcock is amazing. Everyone that I’ve talked to that’s met her is just overwhelmed with how kind and outgoing she is,” said Juliana McKittrick ’07, a student in AN 250: “The Archaeology of Empires,” which is taught by Alcock. “Just from talking to her, we all have confidence that she can make the institute incredibly strong and has that leadership potential.”

Many opportunities are being offered to undergraduates in the department as well. According to McKittrick, many professors are opening up their digs to students, including Galor, who is planning to bring about 10 or 15 students to her ongoing excavation site at Apollonia Arsuf in Israel this summer. The institute is also co-sponsoring a major conference on the archaeology of Jerusalem that Galor has been organizing for this year. “This is the first conference where Palestinian and Israeli archaeologists will come to-gether to talk about the city’s archaeology and the culture of the city,” Galor said.

The institute is also looking into organizing a student dig at the First Baptist Church on North Main Street, possibly to be led by Houston, which could be part of a course about the archaeology of College Hill, according to Alcock.

Galor said Alcock has already begun to make positive changes and that the “conditions and settings” of the institute are ideal to create a department that could compete with the top archaeology programs in the United States.

Being very new to campus, Alcock said she is open to all comments, questions or “bizarre e-mails.”

“This term, a lot of it is just meeting as many people as possible and getting the word out that the institute is coming,” she said.