Monday, March 30, 2009

The Plan So Far

Slowly but surely, my life post-Masters degree is coming together. On Friday, I both booked my flight to Israel and reserved a Portable On Demand Storage (PODS) moving apparatus. I don't care that it will cost me $2000. For the ability to put my stuff in a container in my driveway in Saint Paul and unpack it from the same container in Ann Arbor three months later, never having to deal with it in between, I would forsake my firstborn. So, here's the rough schedule as it stands now:
May 14 - Last final
May 15-17 - New York for family wedding
May 20 - POD arrival and load up (this means I have to be fully packed by then)
May 21 - POD disappears; drive to Illinois
May 22 - Flight to Israel
May 23-July 17 - Field season at Tel Kedesh
July 17 - Back to the States
July 18 - ~August 15 - Visit Rhys in LA (Getty Museum!) and the Twin Cities, because I really won't have much else to do (I say now...)
Late August - Move to Ann Arbor
September 8 - Classes begin

The only thing of substance that really has yet to be determined is the actual place I will be living. If anyone has hot tips on the Ann Arbor rental market, feel free to share.

Now all that's left is finishing this pesky Minnesota nonsense. Oy.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Insert catchy title

I've been asked by my adviser to shorten and modify a paper I wrote for our ethics class last semester for an Opinion piece in the Daily Planet. (Careful In Situ readers may remember that I first wrote a similar piece in December... apparently it was so good, they want two.) I plan to submit it early tomorrow afternoon, but any feedback before then would be greatly appreciated and taken into careful consideration!

We all have a favorite piece of art in our homes. An heirloom desk from a deceased relative, a cheap trinket from a favorite vacation, a finger painting by a son or daughter, a painting or sculpture by a famous artist, or even a copy of one: each piece holds so many associations, memories, and meanings. These objects are priceless to us, each in its own separate, individual, unique way.

So how can a price be assigned to a “priceless” piece of art? Every day, in auction houses in New York and London, this very act occurs. We give so many different types of values to art and antiquities: the object’s biography and fame of its creator, its significance for art historians, archaeologists, and cultural historians, its aesthetic merit, and finally, its value as an economic commodity. It is this last value, that of an investment, which is glorified in the process of buying and selling. More expensive comes to mean better, more “valuable,” more unique and important.

Archaeologists like to complain about how ancient objects have become “commoditized,” meaning that their economic value has become the preeminent feature for defining their fundamental worth as objects, overwriting their aesthetic or scholarly values. Collectors and dealers counter that granting high monetary values to objects causes people to care more about them. The problem, however, is that not every object is worth the same dollar amount, and the dollar amount is often wholly unrelated to those other values.

The great harm of privileging certain objects over others on the basis of such an arbitrary and essentially meaningless premise as price, from the archaeological perspective, is that it legitimizes the uneven treatment and preservation of antiquities. Almost all archaeologists, museum curators, and collectors agree that preservation is the most important ethical responsibility governing archaeological material. But all too frequently, the determination of what should be preserved and what should not is made on the basis of economic worth. This value judgment has thereby been codified into law. The United States Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 dictates the criminal penalty for violations relative to the “commercial or archaeological value of the archaeological resources,”(16 U.S.C. 470ee(d)). The 1975 Cultural Property Export and Import Act of Canada grants particular protection to objects worth more than $500. However, the mechanism for establishing such value is not defined in the parameters of these laws. Prices of antiquities are notoriously slippery: an object worth a couple dollars in its country of origin may fetch several hundred at auction in New York or London, and fluctuations in taste over time can drive an object’s price up or down.

Ascribing a dollar amount to “archaeological value” makes even less sense and has no basis in archaeological practice. It assumes that the knowledge to be gained from such an object is finite, definable, and static over time. Think back to that favorite art piece in your own house. How much would you be willing to sell it for? How much would anyone offer to pay for it? Chance are, those two dollar figures are pretty different. That is a rough approximation of saying that the amount paid for an antiquity at auction is the same as its “archaeological value,” or worth as a piece of data to inform our knowledge about the past.

More and more, objects are becoming recognized for values beyond that of money. The looting of the Baghdad Museum and archaeological sites in Iraq after the US invasion in 2003 has raised public awareness of the scientific methods employed by archaeologists, who see artifacts as a scientific data set. For a graduate student like me, where objects are found, what they look like, what materials they are made from, and so on are all important questions to my research. Destruction of archaeological sites through looting is the equivalent of vandalism of a research laboratory, except that things stolen from the ground, unlike scientific experiments, are completely irreplaceable and unable to be reproduced. Moreover, my data can be legally bought, sold, and owned in the United States and many other countries, but scientists have the ideological and legal protection of patents and artists have copyright. Should my “archaeological” value necessarily be privileged over the economic, the personal, or the aesthetic values of an object? Perhaps not, but neither should it be diminished for sake of the others. And that is precisely what the current system does.

(me, the blogger, again) I'm not particularly thrilled with the end, but it's after 9:00 and I have yet to eat dinner, so I'm calling it quits for the time being.

You know, it's pretty handy when I can pass off other work as a blog post! It bypasses that whole I'm-too-busy-to-blog thing.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Go Blue!

Aside from several airport delays getting in and out of Chicago on Sunday (into Monday), my Michigan trip went very well. I had a moderate freak out when I got there Thursday night, however, as I realized that I had not made UPenn's first cut. (Other people had heard from them, and were scheduled to go to a similar visit weekend in Philadelphia.) Ultimately, that put much more pressure on the Michigan visit, as it was officially became the only program in play. Compounding this nerve-racking state of affairs was that it seemed everyone else visiting had several other visit weekends lined up at places like Penn, Brown, Berkeley... and I just had this one. Granted, I didn't apply to most of those places, because I didn't want to go there and I felt that I could get into a place I actually did want to go, so why bother, but it didn't help the nerves every time someone asked "So what other programs are you visiting?" for me to say "None."

But that was Thursday, and by Friday and Saturday I had calmed down somewhat. I was able to spend some time with people I know from Kedesh - a huge boon in such a stressful and odd scenario - and I had lovely conversations with several professors. I never felt like I was particularly being grilled or evaluated; it was all very informal receptions, dinners, tours, and so on. I was most impressed with the library resources (one librarian assigned just to archaeology and Classics, who buys books specifically related to what students and faculty are working on! A book-generating machine!) and the collegial atmosphere among graduate students and faculty. The people all seemed to genuinely like and respect each other. Unlike Minnesota, where professors are all "Professor", professors at Michigan were universally called by their first names. I take this as a very strong sign of the suitability of a department to my personal style and preferences - and I'm not a girl who stands on formality. This is all on top of what I already knew about the program: that it is one of the top three in reputation and training in the country, that it encourages museum research and offers a museum studies certificate, and that students are competitive for research fellowships and international programs.

Today, I officially found out that I would receive full funding - tuition and fees, health insurance, and a modest but adequate living stipend - for the 5-6 years it will take me to finish my PhD. Finally, finally, after years of hard work and dreaming, my future in this field is at least somewhat assured. I will earn a PhD in Classical Art and Archaeology, from the University of Michigan no less. This will be my career, this will be my life.

PhD, University of Michigan, 2015!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Michigan and other excitement

I've been a little frantic the last couple days, between Rhys' visit to the Twin Cities and my impeding departure to the University of Michigan for four days starting tomorrow, and blogging tends to fall to the bottom of the list when I have basically three work days over a two week period during Midterms.

I scheduled my MA Defense today. I'm pretty excited about it, actually. From my understanding, the three members of my committee and I will just discuss my two thesis papers, both of which I like and am proud of the work I did for them. I also like all my committee members, so really, it's just an opportunity to talk about things I'm interested in with intelligent, knowledgeable people for two hours. I say this now.

Michigan this weekend will determine my funding, and thus my ability to go there. It'll also be nice to see the department and meet more people in the program. This will all help me be able to begin to visualize my life post-Minnesota. Crazy. Still no word from Penn yet. I really wish they would just get moving; it will help to have all the information at hand when decision making time comes.

Also have dates for Israel this summer. Once again, I'll be there from about Memorial Day to the middle of July. Told you there was much excitement afoot!

And, finally, my friend Casey, fellow archaeologist, sent me this link for to discuss here. Alas, time does not permit the analysis this deserves, but I post for your general amusement:
Do these mysterious stones mark the site of the Garden of Eden?

I will admit to being genuinely perplexed at several statements made therein, particularly since the article appeared to quote *real* archaeologists in support of this wackjob theory. (Ian Hodder, hello!) But then I found a discussion of the same site in Smithsonian Magazine, and it all made sense:
Gobekli Tepe: The World's First Temple

So, there you have it, personal life and professional world updates all wrapped into one post! Tada!