Ancient Geography
in the Twenty-First Century Classroom

Organizer and discussant: Richard Talbert, UNC, Chapel Hill

The geographical dimension of classical antiquity is vast and bewildering: the source materials are diverse, and guidance to them limited, even non-existent.  Yet the geographical dimension is also fundamental, as well as potentially exciting to students in the present climate with its enhanced global consciousness.  This panel is timely, therefore, and serves not least to address goals set by the National Geography Standards (esp. 1 and 17) and National World History Standards (esp. era 3 sect. 3C).  Four younger scholars share their aims and experience in bringing different aspects of ancient geography to the classroom; the panel organizer then acts as discussant to identify key findings and questions that arise from the presentations.  These pathbreaking papers draw inspiration in part from the recent availability at long last of important ancient geographical texts in English translation (Mela 1998, for example, Ptolemy 2000, Arrian, Periplus 2003), as well as from improved reference tools such as an accessible survey of Greek science (1999), an invaluable sourcebook on Hellenistic Greek science (2002), and a definitive modern cartographic vision in the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World (2000).  Accordingly, paper #3 recommends a focus on 'astro-geography' as an enlivening approach (involving mathematics, astronomy and philosophy of science), and demonstrates practical aids for rendering its unfamiliar concepts comprehensible to math-phobic humanities students.  Paper #4 reveals how rewarding a class can find it to examine even texts as familiar (and supposedly dissimilar) as Virgil's Aeneid and the New Testament Acts from the perspective of travel.  For all its importance and variety in the Roman world especially, travel can be a challenging theme for instructors to attempt: paper #4 suggests some attractive means of engagement.

Papers #1 and #2 illustrate the extraordinary potential and insight which instructors and students can now gain from digitized map materials.  As paper #2 shows, the technology of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) allows deconstruction of the landscape into its individual components and the creation of hyper-links to other types of source material, equipping students with an enhanced array of data to tackle searching questions about Greek history and culture.  At the same time, as paper #1 reflects, better classroom aids of a more basic kind are still urgently needed (wallmaps in particular, together with serviceable atlases for individual student use), and steps are now being taken to furnish them.  Even so, to identify the primary needs and to match them with a realistic budget and an effective tapping of resources calls for some tough choices, on which further input is sought.                                  

Paper #1:  New Classroom Maps for Ancient Geography

Tom Elliott, UNC, Chapel Hill

There can be no doubt that the methodological landscape of the allied fields we call "ancient studies" continues to change.  A prominent recent improvement is the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, an extraordinary initiative by the American Philological Association's Classical Atlas Project.  With publication of the atlas in 2000, scholars and advanced students now have a consistent and rigorous representation of the classical landscape, both physical and cultural, combined with a comprehensive index into the extensive and bewildering scholarly literature on the spaces, places and peoples of this vast oikoumene.

While this collaborative achievement has succeeded in creating a very bright and attractive space for research and graduate education, cloudiness still prevails elsewhere. Teachers and students at the secondary and undergraduate levels continue to be poorly served when it comes to maps and the other basic apparatus of ancient geography.  Classroom wallmaps currently on the market suffer from a variety of limitations, including: out-of-date content, inaccurate or low-quality cartography, and content emphasis that fails to mesh with current curricular standards in Latin, Geography and World History.  Textbook atlases affordable enough to be purchased for high school libraries or assigned as required texts in college courses fall short in similar ways.

This paper illustrates ongoing work at UNC's Ancient World Mapping Center aimed at remedying our present plight. It first demonstrates the versatility of maps from the Maps for Students program, available for download free from the Center website [www.unc.edu/awmc].  Next, the Center's Classroom Wallmaps Initiative is explained, touching on issues of design, content and distribution. The first map in this series, "Roman Italy," is already in preparation; a full-size proof will be presented at the session. The paper concludes with an overview of plans being formulated for the publication of an affordable Student Atlas and coordinated teaching materials.  The array of essential planning concerns for such a work is outlined, including page size, spatial and thematic choices, map scales, symbology and publication format(s).  Session attendees will be invited to contribute their insights and recommendations, a conversation that may continue on an email listserv to be established by the Center for the purpose.

Paper #2: Mapping Greek History:
Historical Questions with Geographical Answers

Doug Clapp, Samford University, Birmingham, AL

For too many of our students, the persons and places of Greek history are liable to remain mere concatenations of letters that they find difficult to pronounce.  However, enthusiastic story-telling and ample visual illustration can enliven historical accounts.  Now Geographical Information Systems offers a new tool to help students better apprehend the reality of what Greece was from Mycenae to Macedon.  GIS lets students digitally follow the footsteps of those who lived centuries ago.  The names that symbolize the actors and locations in the history of ancient Greece no longer appear in a vacuum or through the pages of a textbook, but in a real place where it even rained sometimes.  By introducing students to the landscape in which the ancients lived, teachers can establish a stronger connection with the history and the literature that emerged from those forests, hills and rivers.

This paper demonstrates how the layered mapping available in GIS can lead students through the Greek landscape into historical analysis.  A simple outline of Greece and the Aegean is the first layer of a digital map which can serve as geographical anchor to the printed page that is our primary teaching tool.  Elevation data, and the terrain-modeling derived from it, provide the second layer and a three-dimensional realism.  Water resources, soil types and vegetation coverage—although based on modern surveys—offer other useful layers.

With this data at their command, students have a basis for investigating instructive historical questions with geographical answers.  For example:

Where in the landscape will Greek communities emerge?

With whom should the Greeks trade?

Where should the Greeks send colonies?

Where should the Greeks defend against repeated Persian invasions?

Why did Greek emerge as the business language of the Eastern Mediterranean?

As students approach history through its geographical components made accessible with GIS, the reality of the landscape can enhance the reality of Thermopylae and Thucydides.

In Cultural Perspectives – a course taken by all first-year students at Samford as part of the University Core – a GIS module currently under construction will be a key component for each member of the class to place the Greek fight for freedom against Persian domination in its geographical context.  Students will assemble digital site reports on Sardis, Athens, Sparta, Marathon, Thermopylae and Salamis.  Plans, maps, photographs and relevant literary passages are to be hyper-linked to a specific latitude and longitude on the elevation-derived terrain model supplied by the instructor.  The class is thus equipped to interact with the map, zooming in and out and exploring the hyper-linked material.  Events defined by a sense of place in this way are sure to capture students' imagination and sharpen their insight.

Paper #3:  Mapping the Earth by the Stars

Georgia Irby-Massie, College of William and Mary, VA

Ptolemy (ca. CE 100-175) begins his Geography (1.1) by explaining the goals of geography: to determine the shape and extent of the whole earth, including the relationship of earthly places to parallels of the celestial sphere.  Ptolemy grounded his work in mathematics ("the highest and most exquisite contemplation") and argued a preference for astronomical data.  In accord with his exposition, this paper explores two aims of mathematical geography supported by astronomical observation: the size and shape of the earth; and the relationship between the earth and the celestial sphere.

Many early authors, including Homer, Hesiod and Thales, had speculated about the size and shape of the earth.  The Pythagoreans were the first to suggest a spherical earth.  Aristotle's "proofs" of the earth's sphericity (On Heaven 297a8-298a20) enabled more accurate analysis of its surface and more precise cartography.  This work was advanced by many others, including Eratosthenes, who estimated the circumference of the earth with reasonable accuracy.

Astronomical data were significant in measuring phenomena, including solstices, equinoxes, and the length of months and the year.  Hipparchus and Geminus, among others, addressed such issues which were important for regulating the calendar.  Aristarchus' heliocentric theory was rejected, as was Heraclides' hypothesis that the earth rotated on its axis.

In the classroom, of course, the challenge lies in enlivening the science and in captivating the math-phobic student.  In addition to maps and diagrams, simple props give students the hands-on opportunity to engage Greek mathematical geography.  For example, I use globes and a flashlight to illustrate such topics as geocentricism, Aristotle's "proofs" of the earth's sphericity, how Eratosthenes estimated the earth's circumference, and how the Greeks understood phenomena such as eclipses and equinoxes.  In short, exploration of astro-geography unites fundamental components of a course on ancient science, including mathematics, astronomy, and the philosophy of science.  Moreover mathematical geography reflects the symbiosis of theoretical and practical approaches to the same questions, creating a rich touchstone for class discussion.

Paper #4:  Narrative Dimensions of Roman Travel

Grant Parker, Duke University, Durham, NC

In The Corrupting Sea (2000), co-authors Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell emphasize what they term 'connectivity' – the low-level tramp trading or cabotage by mostly nameless people, who would often combine different kinds of goods and travelers on the same voyage.  On the whole, such humble journeys are more readily reconstructed from ancient documents, material culture or comparative evidence than literary texts.  If this is the case, what then are the travel narratives that we can study with our students, and what perspectives do they bring to our insight into Roman travel?  Epic tradition accounts for some of the obvious texts, notably Virgil's Aeneid, which follows the lead of Homer's Odyssey and Apollonius of Rhodes' Argonautica, among others.  Even so, in the case of many epics, travel as such is often subordinated to other elements.  In consequence, the narrative aspects of ancient travel have suffered surprising neglect, perhaps falling between the cracks of literary and historical/archaeological approaches.

This paper reflects on an undergraduate seminar I have taught at Duke, 'Ancient texts of travel', unlocking the problems and prospects that arise in highlighting the Roman world's travel narratives.  Such texts involve not only the voluntary movement of people, but also less voluntary movement in the case of soldiers, exiles and slaves, as well as the concomitant exchange of ideas and commodities throughout the Roman Mediterranean.

As illustration, I recommend the travel aspects of Virgil's Aeneid, comparing it with another work widely known in a different context: the book of Acts (or Luke-Acts) in the New Testament.  For all their stark contrasts in form and style, the common feature of travel raises significant questions, in which regard the texts are rewardingly considered in tandem: In what ways is the journey preordained?  Is it a single event, or does it allow or demand replication?  Are the elements of danger real or imagined?  If these journeys are intended to be foundational, what is at stake with the origins they articulate?  What is the relation of first- and third-person narration within them?  There is plenty in these lines of enquiry to arouse students' interest.  Through the intriguing lens of travel, the two texts become less disparate than they initially appear.  The world of Horden and Purcell's caboteur emerges as substantially the same as that of Paul or Aeneas.

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