Kristina Neumann is a PhD candidate in the Classics Department of University of Cincinnati; her current focus is on imperial Roman history with an emphasis on the social interaction between empire and frontier. She offered to the SOF Weblog the following reflections on her experiences in June and July as a member of the Academy’s Howard Comfort FAAR’29 Summer Program in Roman Pottery.
“The person who chooses to study ancient ceramics enters a world that is narrow, frustrating and truly like none other. These individuals—otherwise known as ‘sherd nerds’—enjoy putting together puzzles where half the pieces are guaranteed missing. They have the patience to contemplate a single curve of a lonely fragment and to wonder for hours if a rim is ‘hooked’ or ‘beaded’. Their hearts warm to an equal degree whether their fingers trace the delicate molded pattern on a serving dish or the sandpapery surface of a charred cooking pot.”
“The rarity of such individuals reinforces the importance and beauty of the Summer Program in Roman Pottery at the American Academy at Rome. Under the guidance of former AAR Mellon Professor Archer Martin and his assistant Raffaele Palma, nine like-minded individuals had the unique opportunity this past June and July to delve together into their love for this subject: Joseph ‘Tex’ Dozier (University of Chicago), Brandi Bethke (University of Exeter), Caitlin Allday (Columbia), Iris Bekljanov (University of Ljubljana), Hillary Conley (Florida State), Kate Larson (University of Michigan), Hillary Pietricola (UCLA), Paul Salay (USC) and myself, Kristina Neumann (University of Cincinnati).”
“Even with a penchant for material culture, my training as a historian granted a different background to the other participants and I wondered what impact this would have in terms of appreciating the remains. I quickly learned, however, that we were all bound together in the recognition of how vital the study of pottery is to our field. Archer—amidst details of specific forms and fabrics—continually brought us back to this fact and urged us to seek out how pottery could be used to tell a greater story.”
“At the same time, we were enlightened to the personal history behind each piece: the potter who first worked the clay, the merchant who selected the vessel and its contents, the consumer who laid the piece on her table and even the gardener who reused a discarded amphora as a flowerpot. The intensity of our study, coupled with all the American Academy and Rome have to offer, made the month fly by.”
“Now, back in Cincinnati, armed with an extensive bibliography and a burgeoning knowledge, I am beginning to realize how much I learned these past weeks. At unexpected moments, images of Gaulish sigillata and dolia float through my mind, while the specialized vocabulary of ‘Dressel 2-4’ and ‘calciferous inclusions’ find their way into my conversations. I am not completely certain as to where this knowledge will lead me, but I do know that I am heartily grateful to this program and Archer Martin, and I look forward to continuing my studies in Roman pottery.”