Comparative Antiquity: A Humanities Council Global Initiative

Nkiru Nzegwu, Professor of Africana Studies, Binghamton University, presents at the Conference on Comparative Ancient Philosophy in March 2019

Martin Kern (East Asian Studies)

The Comparative Antiquity Research and Teaching Collaboration is a Humanities Council Global Initiative. This three-year, multifaceted collaboration fosters research and teaching in pursuit of a new paradigm toward the study of “global antiquity” that is extensive in geographical and chronological scope and inclusive in disciplinary participation and methodologies.

The initiative aims to transform the research and study of antiquity, broadly conceived at Princeton, in hopes of providing a model for similar change elsewhere. It includes an ever-growing number of participants from multiple departments and programs across campus as well as from the Princeton University Library and the Princeton University Art Museum. Activities in the first two years and up to the present include conferences, workshops, a bibliographic project, course development, long-term and short-term academic visitors, a postdoc appointment, and postgraduate research assistantships.

2018-2021 Projects

Short-Term Visitors

Falko Daim, April 2019, Director of the Römisch-Germanische Zentralmuseum, Mainz

Professor Daim was a Short-Term Visiting Fellow in Comparative Antiquity at Princeton, as well as in the Program in Medieval Studies. An archaeologist concentrating on steppe peoples and nomadic societies of Eurasia, his work looks at the western end of their activities that interact with sedentary groups in Europe in economic, social, religious, and political transformation.

Stefan Esders, Fall 2019, Professor of Late Antiquity and Early Medieval History, Freie Universität, Berlin

Professor Esders was a Short-Term Visiting Fellow in Comparative Antiquity, Class of 1932 Fellow in the Humanities Council, and the Program in Medieval Studies. His concentration on law, legal diversity, and pluralism from the late to the post-Roman Latin West contributed to comparative work taking place across regions and disciplines of the pre-1000 CE world.  

Petra Sijpesteijn, Professor of Arabic, Leiden University Centre for Islamic Studies (LUCIS)Paul Bertrand, Professor, Medieval Studies and Digital Humanities, Catholic University of Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium (dates to be confirmed)

Long-Term Visiting Fellow 

Verena Lepper, Fall 2020 Curator, Egyptian and Oriental Papyri and Manuscripts, Berlin State Museums

Professor Lepper was a Visiting Stewart Fellow in the Humanities Council and the Department of Religion. A leading exponent of developing digital means to approach the papyrological record, especially that of Egypt, she joined the community studying Princeton’s holdings, including a newly acquired Egyptian “Book of the Dead” held by the Princeton University Art Museum. Her visit is a project of the Humanities Council’s Global Initiative in Comparative Antiquity.

Long-Term Postdoctoral Fellow

Mark Pyzyk, August 2020-July 2021 Associate Professional Specialist, Database Coordinator, FLAME Project

Dr. Pyzyk’s appointment on the Framing the Late Antique and Early Medieval Economy project will support and further Phase II of the ongoing investigation of economy in the Mediterranean and Asia in the fourth through eighth centuries CE through coin circulation.

Post-Graduate Research Associates  

Tom Davies (Spring 2021)

Dr. Davies will co-teach the spring course CLA 342/HUM 348/AAS 356 Race and the Inhumanities. This course examines the role of race and racialization in the formation of the intellectual disciplines with a particular emphasis on the humanities. By drawing on material from Greece, Rome, Egypt, the Near East, Iran and India it will demonstrate the enriching possibilities of a comparative approach to the ancient world. In addition to teaching, Dr. Davies will be revising several articles for submission.

Skyler Anderson (Spring 2021)

Dr. Anderson will co-teach the spring course NES 392/HIS 338/HLS 391 Clash of Civilization. Using historical contexts from “Western” and “Near Eastern” civilizations, this course will explore civilizational encounters from the Afroasiatic roots of Classical Civilization to America’s culture wars. In addition to teaching, Dr. Anderson will provide logistical and creative support to multiple Comparative Antiquity faculty teaching on-line courses using software to develop their own digital lectures.


HUM 245/CLA 246/HLS 245 (Spring 2019) Creation Stories: Babylonian, Biblical, and Greek Cosmogonies Compared, taught by Johannes Haubold

This course compared the canonical cosmogonies of ancient Mesopotamia, Israel, and Greece. A study in detail of the creation epic Enuma eliš and the flood epic Atra-hasis from Babylon, the opening chapters of the Biblical book of Genesis, and Hesiod’s Theogony and Catalogue of women; as well as considering related texts from across the ancient Mediterranean. It asks  how the set texts describe the earliest history of the world and what this meant for their ancient audiences, how they relate to each other, and how they inform the long history of human investigation into the origins of the universe.

HIS 437/HUM 437 (Fall 2019): Law After Rome, taught by Helmut Reimitz and Jack B. Tannous

This class examined the relationship between law and society in the Roman and post-Roman worlds. It starts with the Roman Jurists of the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD and ends with the rediscovery of Roman law in the West in the 11th and 12th centuries. Throughout the intervening millennium, we focus on pivotal moments and key texts in the development of the legal cultures in Europe and the Middle East. We trace how legal thought and practice evolved across these areas and think about how law and law-like norms both shape and are shaped by society and social practices. 

REL 404/CLA 404/HUM 404 (Fall 2020): Ancient Egyptian Manuscripts: Writing, Materiality, Technology, taught by Verena Lepper 

This course discussed the different types of manuscripts, languages, and texts from Ancient Egypt. Papyrus is a prominent material from Ancient Egypt, and we studied several examples in the Princeton Collections. We also discussed the use of modern techniques in manuscript studies like databases, ink analysis, x-ray, and computer tomography and an overview of the different materials including those from Elephantine Island. In the end, the students will curate a small exhibition demonstrating the specialties of ancient Egyptian manuscripts. The course included excursions to the Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Morgan Library and Museum, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In January, a group of undergraduate and graduate students viewed first hand Ancient Egyptian artifacts at the Neues Museum in Berlin.

Link to story:

Faculty-led Group Travel Workshops and Meetings

Comparative Antiquity: Comparative Historiography, February 2019 (Martin Kern)

This one-day workshop in February 2019 was to develop a multi-year international research and conference project on comparative historiography. The workshop results included an agreement on the official name, “Ancient Pasts: Practices of Knowledge and Representation,” and the development of a multi-step plan for future conferences in Jerusalem, Princeton, Harvard, Oxford, and Renmin University of China, Beijing. The Jerusalem conference “Rethinking Early Chinese Historiography,” which also included a range of comparative papers on other ancient civilizations, was held in May 2019 at the Hebrew University. The next meeting titled “Authors of HIstory in the Ancient World” is scheduled to be held at the Princeton Athens Center, but is currently on hold due to Covid-19.

Comparative Global Antiquity, Yale-NUS Singapore, August 2019 (Brooke Holmes)

This three-day workshop, held at Yale-NUS Singapore, focused on paper sessions around the terms comparative; global; and antiquity; a plenary discussion, and a special roundtable on pedagogy in the emergent area of comparative and/or global antiquity. Workshop participants included Yale-NUS undergraduate alums, Princeton faculty and graduate students from a wide range of fields and departments, and a few outstanding scholars from other universities. 

Palimpsest Studies and the Library of Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt, January 2022 (Jack Tannous)

This workshop is designed as a crash course in the manuscript culture of the Christian Orient in the middle ages and the cutting-edge technologies that facilitate its study. The focus is on the Monastery of Saint Catherine in the Sinai, the most famous monastery in the Middle East, a place whose celebrated manuscript collection is second only to the Vatican in importance and extent.

Graduate Conferences

Conference on Comparative Ancient Philosophy, March 2019 (Joseph Moore)  

A graduate student-organized conference with the theme “Values in Antiquity” convened for two days with invited faculty from the U.S., Asia, and Europe to discuss, compare and contrast pre-modern philosophy from different cultures across the world and time, without enforcing assumptions about what counts as “philosophy.” Participants drew on their expertise in one tradition to ask about or shed light on thought and practices from another and discussed the state of culturally comparative research and teaching today and how it varies across different fields. 

Contact, Colonialism, and Comparison, Virtual Conference April 16 & 17, 2021 (Kathleen Cruz, Linda McNulty Perez, Malina Buturovic)

This two-day conference aims to think through the methodological implications of the intellectual history of contact for the modern-day academic study of Comparative Antiquity between the early Americas and the Greco-Roman world. The conference is on the cutting edge of work in the discipline of Classics and an important topic in our own cultural and historical moment.

Comparative Antiquity Co-sponsorships

Philological Reflections: Between Self and World, April 2019 (Josh Billings)

Bringing together an international group of scholars along with Princeton students and faculty. The group covered topics ranging from Classics, East Asian studies, philosophy, German studies, religious studies, and anthropology. This project never intended to reach conclusions, but a few recurrent themes emerged, allowing for thinking about at future meetings: the relationship between hermeneutics and philology; and their respective theories and histories; the difference (or lack thereof) between “sacred” and “secular” philologies both historically and in the present academic context; the question of comparatism, its methods, and limitations; the role and persona of the philologist in different traditions and periods.

Eranshahr in the Age of Transition from the Sasanian to the Islamic Period, May 2019 (Khodadad Rezakhani) 

The two-day workshop brought together 17 internationally recognized scholars, Princeton, SOAS, and University of London graduate students for stimulating talks about the period of transition between the and of the Sasanian Empire and the beginning of the Islamic period, roughly 630-680 CE. James Howard-Johnston delivered the keynote address and acted as a summary of all discussions and an opportunity for understanding an aspect of the period. 

Interdisciplinary Reading Groups

At its heart of this initiative are three faculty-graduate student reading groups that grapple with the reimagining of the pre-1000 world through connective scholarship across the disciplines and comparison as a method and means of collaboration. In the past two years, the reading groups have stayed strong up until March 2020, when they could no longer meet in person because of COVID-19. 

(2018-2020) Comparative Antiquity (Moderators: Martin Kern and Andrew Feldherr)

(2018-2020) Textuality, Materiality, and Reading Practices (Moderator: AnneMarie Luijendijk)

(2019-2020) Comparative Diplomatics (Moderators: Helmut Reimitz and Marina Rustow)

Interdisciplinary Digital Bibliography of Antiquity

(2019) Foundational work completed by John O’Leary (EAS) and Zhuming Yao (EAS).

Humanities Council Logo
Italian Studies Logo
American Studies Logo
Humanistic Studies Logo
Ancient World Logo
Canadian Studies Logo
ESC Logo
Journalism Logo
Linguistics Logo
Medieval Studies Logo
Renaissance Logo
Film Studies Logo