A Decade of Innovation
The Graduate Group celebrates its tenth anniversary.
By Priya Ratneshwar
This April, more than 120 alumnae/i, graduate students, faculty, staff, and friends gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Graduate Group in Archaeology, Classics, and History of Art. In her welcome remarks, President Kim Cassidy lauded the Graduate Group for being “a model of what innovative graduate education in a liberal arts setting can look like and an exemplar of successful interdisciplinary collaboration”—impressive accomplishments considering the program’s genesis as an experimental antidote to the dwindling resources of the College’s flagship graduate programs in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology; Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies; and History of Art.
With guidance from her colleagues and encouragement from then-president Nancy Vickers, Professor Emeritus of History of Art Dale Kinney, who was at the time dean of GSAS, wrote a successful application for a Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to endow the group. Thanks to the generosity of alumnae/i and friends, the College met the challenge in 2007, and the grant and matching gifts created an endowment that funds key elements of the Graduate Group’s programming: the GSem, a yearly interdepartmental seminar for Ph.D. candidates; fellowships to recruit students with an aptitude to work in multiple disciplines; support for visiting scholars; and curatorial internships with museums and libraries in the Greater Philadelphia area.
With interdisciplinarity now a buzzword at nearly every institution of higher education, “there’s still no grouping in the U.S. that has the same range as the Graduate Group,” says Professor of Greek, Latin and Classical Studies Catherine Conybeare, who has served as director of the Graduate Group since 2006. “We’ve not only been able uphold the tradition of excellence in the individual departments, but also prepare students for a changing job market in which they have to demonstrate that they can look at their own disciplines more broadly and show an openness and willingness to engage other disciplines.”
“What you really learn is how to speak to very well-educated, very intelligent people who don’t have the first clue about the basic underpinnings of the work that you do,” says Ben Anderson, M.A. ’04, Ph.D. ’12, assistant professor of history of art and visual studies at Cornell University.
The Graduate Group launched shortly after Anderson came to Bryn Mawr, and the NEH funding gave him the opportunity to pursue curatorial internships related to his research. But Anderson acknowledges that the program also pushed faculty and students beyond their comfort zones—with varying degrees of success. The GSems in particular, he says, “were difficult classes to teach.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Kinney, who says, “We all learn to relinquish control a little bit when we go into an interdisciplinary setting.”
Nevertheless, Anderson’s dissertation was inspired by a request to “unpack this,” scrawled in the margins of his paper about the Colossus of Rhodes for the “Reception” GSem taught by Professor Emeritus of Latin Julia Gaisser and Professor of History of Art David Cast. Doctoral student Diane Amoroso-O’Connor discovered her scholarly passion in the “Reception” GSem as well. Her idea to look at the Roman Empire’s reception of Egyptian art developed into her dissertation on avenues of profit that grew alongside the grain trade in Roman Egypt. Her interdisciplinary methodology draws on literary sources, epigraphy and papyrology, art historical material, and archaeological data about the remains of trading posts and trade areas.
Both Amoroso-O’Connor and Anderson attended the anniversary celebration, where they served on alumnae/i panels that recreated the GSem’s environment to explore topics such as “Space and Time” and “The Individual and Society.” The event also featured a keynote address on the value of interdisciplinary study by Elizabeth Cropper, Ph.D. ’71, dean of the National Gallery of Art’s Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, and an exhibit, called A Curious Group, curated by Carrie Robbins, Ph.D. ’13, that featured objects from Bryn Mawr’s Collections.
Conybeare intended the event to be not only a salute to the accomplishments of the Graduate Group but also an opportunity for alumnae/i to rekindle what Anderson calls the “remarkable collegiality” of the program. For Kinney, the celebration also brought closure to her decade-old struggle to articulate the “intellectual rationale” for the Graduate Group in her NEH proposal.
“For my closing remarks for the celebration, I had originally written a regret for not having found that intellectual rationale,” Kinney says. “But I scrapped it because the panels were so spontaneous, so creative. Without a script to tell them, ‘this is what interdisciplinary means,’ the alums invented their own interdisciplinarity. It’s precisely this open-endedness that makes the Graduate Group so dynamic.”