Art and Art History Department and Classics Department
CLAS/ARTH 2019 Course Description:
I first taught the art and archaeology of Pompeii to a small group of senior Classics majors for the department’s capstone undergraduate seminar in 2006. Since the study of Pompeii involves exploring a wide range of primary sources (literary, epigraphic, numismatic, artistic and architectural), I believed this topic perfect for a capstone experience for our majors. I also decided to include a lengthy exposition on the modern history of archaeology in the Naples region and soon realized that the vast majority of the seminar students had no background in the history of modern Italy or the evolution of excavation methods as they pertain to the unique disposition of strata and artifacts preserved by the eruption. I also included readings and discussions on volcanoes and volcanology in order to introduce them (and myself) to the morphological phases of Plinian eruptions as they relate to the preservation of ancient material evidence. The reading load was heavy and dense, so I required students to keep reading journals that I collected and graded regularly throughout the semester. The seminar went very well, especially since we all learned much together in the comfort of a small seminar environment.
Since many CU students visit Pompeii with their families at some point in their life, in 2008 I decided to try to offer the topic as a sophomore level lecture-style class. My primary goal was to introduce undergraduates from across the university to the complexities and misconceptions that surround our understanding of this unique archaeological “classroom” and tourist hub. Unfortunately, due to an administrative enrollment misunderstanding that term, the course wound up enrolled at 200 instead of the original 100 seats; the classroom had to be changed and I was assigned a grader – disruption and chaos characterized that course from the start. Moreover, the class was scheduled for two 75 minutes sessions at 8:00 in the morning. In addition to these logistical problems, I quickly discovered that my seminar content was not easily transferable to a lecture style class; students could not master the readings independently and the relatively limited individualized instruction contact impeded overall student learning and engagement with the course material. Pompeii was no longer a fascinating topic but a hard class with filled with overwhelmed students.
Fast forward to 2010. This semester I am trying the course as a sophomore level class once again but with major structure and content revisions. I have redesigned the lectures, assignments and readings to better suit an introductory course, now filled to capacity at 283 students, most of whom are freshman and sophomores. The course has been redesigned to include weekly recitation section discussions that are led by five graduate teaching instructors, most of whom are trained in classical art & archaeology. Emphasis in sections is on discussing and assessing reading assignments and introducing topics related to the material covered in lecture. My role too has expanded. In addition to delivering the twice-weekly lectures, I am teaching the Honors section for a small group of students. For this group, I have reintroduced the reading journal requirement and a substantial research paper. If this goes well, I plan to apply these teaching and assessment assignments to all sections. The pedagogical goals for 2010 have shifted – rather than bombard students with excessive amounts of disconnected information, instead we focus on improving reading, essay writing and note-taking skills as students grapple with difficult concepts and unfamiliar Latin terms and archaeological vocabulary. I completely changed the required to textbooks and much of the supplementary reading materials. I have eliminated nonessential, specialized jargon on volcanic geology and historiography and increased discussion of more inherently interesting and ultimately informative subjects such as forensics, food, slavery and sex. Most of all, I have tried to put more emphasis on the “big ideas” – societal constructs and values, poverty and elitism, diverse populations, politics and religion, archaeological ethics, environmental disasters and urban planning. I hope these changes will improve student engagement with and mastery of this fascinating but complex topic.