Sophomore Seminars

Mad Dogs and Englishmen: Archaeology and the Ancient Near East


The decades between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries saw substantial change in the region Europeans referred to as the Near East, characterized by the decline of the Ottoman empire, the disarray of World War I, and the establishment of modern national borders.

Meanwhile, archaeologists—including scholars and scoundrels; unconventional women; dilettantes; bureaucrats and spies—physically unearthed, interpreted, and presented the history of the Near East to the western world. This cast of curious characters, including Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan, Henry Rawlinson, A.H. Layard, Leonard and Katherine Woolley, T.E. Lawrence, and Gertrude Bell, descended upon the landscape determined to discover the secrets of Sumer, Babylonia, and Assyria. Seeking evidence for the great kings and cities named in the Hebrew Bible and the monumental palaces and temples referred to by Classical historians, these early archaeologists focused their efforts on the urban centers and sought great discoveries that would justify the expense, effort, and importance of their work to a western, largely Christian, audience.

In class discussions and activities, you will learn to analyze, interpret, and critically evaluate both archaeological data and the ways in which that data is used to construct an historical narrative. Throughout the quarter, you will complete a series of small assignments leading you through description and vocabulary, reflection, comparison, synthesis, and finally to interpretation. Course readings will include archaeological field reports and catalogues; travelogues, personal letters and autobiographies; films and photographs; and scholarly articles on the art and archaeology of the Near East.


Meet the Instructor(s)

Alice Petty

"I became fascinated with archaeology during the summer before my final year as an undergrad when—thanks to an encouraging friend—I went on my first dig. Prior to that, my academic interests spanned the fields of anthropology, art history and practice, and urban studies. Archaeology transected these fields and helped me understand them in a new and exciting way, and I was hungry to learn more.

"I went to graduate school and earned a doctorate in Near Eastern Studies with a concentration in Archaeology and minors in Akkadian (the language and writing of ancient Iraq/Syria) and Egyptology.

"While I did extensive fieldwork in Syria and Egypt as a grad student, my first career was in museum curation and teaching. I now work here at Stanford in the office of Undergraduate Advising and Research, where I am passionate about helping students identify and pursue their interests. These things are not so different: both involve gathering information, asking questions, making observations, testing theories, and helping to uncover and create a narrative of what it all means, and why it matters."