On the Ground in Rome
The best job he’s ever hated?
Associate Professor of Classics Scott Smith took on a gargantuan job this past academic year: he was lead teacher and onsite administrator for the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome (ICCS-Rome), an intensive study abroad program for select North American college students with a love of classics. Smith taught 74 students Latin, Greek, and the challenging “City Course,” the centerpiece of the 45-year-old program.
The City Course takes students on one to two field trips per week throughout the city of Rome and to other ancient sites in Italy. Both on site and at the Center, Smith lectured on the topography, monuments, history, art, and architecture of Rome from the eighth century BC to the fifth century AD. He had to know Rome and 1,300 years of its history and culture like the back of his hand—a reminder, says Smith, of the breadth of knowledge required of a classicist, and, he muses, a challenge he did not anticipate when taking his first Latin class in eighth grade.
Mastering modern and ancient Rome might be a breeze in comparison to being in loco parentis for upwards of 40 students at any one time, a responsibility that led one former Professor-in-Charge to describe the position as the best job he ever hated. But Smith's tenure, though admittedly stressful, was a happy success: students were academically challenged and worked hard, they were safe and accounted for, and no national or international crises jeopardized students' safety or learning. What’s not to like?
The UNH connection
UNH belongs to a consortium of over 100 institutions that supports the ICCS-Rome program, administered through Duke University. Both Smith and fellow UNH classicist Stephen Trzaskoma are alumni of the program, which has a fine reputation amongst classical scholars and has produced a large number of alumni who go on to pursue careers in classical fields. When Smith came to UNH in 2000, he was eager to forge an institutional relationship with ICCS-Rome since only member institutions can recommend students for the program. UNH joined the consortium seven years ago, and, since then, five UNH students have attended. Smith served on the managing committee for five years before assuming the onsite leadership role.
Experiencing the classics
UNH’s Alexandra Gennaro was one of 36 students who attended ICCS-Rome this past spring. A junior classics and Latin double major, Gennaro found the program transformative not only because of the excellent education, but also because she met people who helped her gain rich experiences. After the program ended, ICCS-Rome faculty member Dora Vennarucci invited Gennaro to Portugal for a two-week archaeological dig. She then traveled to Turkey to dig with UNH history professor Greg McMahon on his excavation of Hittite artifacts. “ICCS really helped me figure out where I want to go with my degree,” says Gennaro. Her career goal now is—decidedly—classical archaeology. Gennaro had a rare opportunity to learn through direct experience with antiquities, across Europe, with multiple scholars, and as an undergraduate. It’s no wonder she considers her experience abroad the best thing she’s ever done academically.
Smith’s time on the ground in Rome was critical to his other mission there: research. He is currently juggling several book projects, with one due out this month, a Penguin translation of Seneca’s tragedies. A longer-term project is creating an atlas of ancient Rome, a book of 80 or so maps that illustrate particular aspects of the Roman world (such as Roman roads: where do they go, how do they get there), accompanied by contextualizing essays. “The whole year, especially the teaching, helped with my research because I had to think about how space operated in the city,” says Smith. “When you’re giving a site report on a church that started in the first century AD amidst other giant structures, you have to think about how the city shifts—how the city was shaped from various perspectives—while on the ground.” Smith calls this onsite investigation performing an autopsy: seeing something for yourself.
Autopsies benefitted another of Smith’s book projects, a Roman civilization sourcebook. He discovered new ways to think about the controversial Triumph, a victorious general’s parade through the streets. The purpose and route of the Triumph are contested, but Smith had the opportunity to both read about and walk the route simultaneously. “I think I got a clear idea of what happened from being on the ground, reading what the ancients had to say about it,” says Smith. “Seeing it for yourself, seeing where the roads probably went—because a lot of the modern roads follow the ancient pathways—was really helpful for me to conceptualize this event.” For a classicist, nothing can quite replace the experience of the dusty ruins, even when a modern city has been built upon them.
Better than Rome itself
Ahh, Rome. The food. The wine. The unique blend of ancient and modern. Better than all of this, contends Smith, was the experience of working with the most exceptional classics students that American institutions have to offer and the handful of wonderful professors who were selected to teach them. “We have excellent students at UNH. But you take all our top-notch students and multiply them by eight and you have the remarkably talented group we had in Rome,” says Smith, who describes his program colleagues in equally glowing terms, concluding “I consider myself blessed, in the way you might see in the first book of Herodotus. What does it truly mean to be blessed? Is it wealth? To some people, yes. But to me it was making these fantastic connections and having a great year because of them.”
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