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Class Explores ‘Who Owns The Past?

Posted on: March 31st, 2015 by erabadie

Hilary Becker’s students visit Metropolitan Museum of Art, Christie’s and other antiquities sites over spring break


classics class studying antiquities took an educational trip to New York over spring break.

Hilary Becker’s classics class studied antiquities on a trip to New York over spring break.

A University of Mississippi class focusing on “Who Owns the Past?: Ethics in Archaeology” recently traveled to New York to learn about the financial, legal and political considerations in the ongoing international battle to properly preserve ancient artifacts.

Hilary Becker, assistant professor of classics, teaches the 300-level class made up of Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College students. Over spring break, the class visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Art, and Christie’s Department of Ancient Art and Antiquities, among other educational attractions in New York.

“This is an opportunity to look at ethical dilemmas, using current events and case studies involving antiquities and ancient sites,” Becker said. “There are cases like the famous Elgin Marbles that once graced the Parthenon, but they’re in London now. The fact that they’re in London means millions of people can see them each year, but the Greeks think they should be in Athens because they would attract people there, and the marbles are also part of their heritage.”

The Honors College provided funding for the course and the trip. It funded another class this semester, a cinema studies course on New York City in film, which also traveled there during spring break.

The archaeology class’ visit to New York gave students an opportunity to see antiquities and also to explore questions of who can or should “own” these objects and care for them. The sessions in New York, as well as the ongoing class discussions, expose students to the wide range of legal and ethical issues over ownership of cultural heritage.

Preservation issues have recently made global headlines. The terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, is looting artifacts and selling them on the antiquities market and also destroying cultural sites in the process. The money they make from the looting of historically important pieces helps to fund their terrorist operations.

ISIS is only one group responsible for plundering historical sites. Scholars, curators, archaeologists and others are battling this problem by trying to ensure artifacts are scientifically excavated with care to preserve information about the dates and locations in which those pieces were found. This information is often lost when artifacts are illegally and haphazardly removed.

“You can buy a cuneiform tablet through eBay, but it could be that it was looted by ISIS and, very indirectly, you could be funding ISIS,” Becker said. “Everyone agrees we don’t want to fund ISIS. That’s the worst case, but at the very least, if you have an undocumented object without a pedigree, far too often, it was probably looted from some site and it’s now devoid of context. … If you have that object out of context, you lose most of the information about it.”

The class also met with Nancy Wilkie, a professor emerita at Carleton College who serves on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee for the U.S. State Department. The committee advises the president and the State Department about cultural heritage and protects sites and archaeological objects around the world that are at risk of being looted.

Wilkie also gave a public lecture March 25 in Bryant Hall. She discussed looting and efforts to return those objects to their native countries.

The two classes were the fruit of proposals the professors submitted to the Honors College. The first was in 2013 and focused on the 2014 World Cup.

The experiential classes are an excellent opportunity for students, said John Samonds, associate dean of the Honors College. The college’s officials hope to continue funding special topics courses each semester.

“We want them to engage with the world, not just spectate,” Samonds said. “We try to develop these experiential courses that allow students to grapple with issues, particularly with the classics course. There weren’t just issues of archaeologists taking things from Greece or taking things from Peru 150 years ago and displaying them in other museums. This is going on right now.”

Samantha Lund, a senior from Biloxi majoring in international studies and French, said the class has helped her understand the increasing focus on where artifacts came from, in addition to their actual financial value.

“There are countless unforeseen consequences to the discovery, distribution and legitimization of artifacts that influence a number of aspects of a nation’s identity and reputation,” Lund said. “Both public and private institutions will go to extreme lengths in order to prove legitimate provenance for a particular artifact and also to mediate conflicting claims of property rights.”

Jessie Smith, a sophomore liberal studies major from Jackson, called the trip “unforgettable,” particularly the opportunity to visit Christie’s auction house warehouse. There, the class met with experts from the antiquities department and carefully walked around golden tea sets and other artifacts.

“I’m still in shock that we got to very carefully pass around a small, scarab-shaped piece of carnelian with a soldier carved in intaglio on the other side (circa 500 B.C.),” Smith said. “This experience of holding such amazing and ancient objects in our hands was something that many other trips could never provide. I’m eternally grateful for this opportunity.”

Hilary Becker

Posted on: March 19th, 2015 by erabadie

HIlary Becker

Assistant Professor of Classics
Etruscan, Roman, and Greek archaeology; ancient economy and social history; Latin prose; Etruscan and Latin epigraphy

Bryant Hall 26
662-915-2858 |


A.B., Bryn Mawr College
M.A. and Ph.D., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Hilary Becker’s research focuses upon the archaeology of the Mediterranean basin and in particular on the Italic peoples of peninsular Italy during the first millennium BC. Her research program addresses the economy and society of Etruria and she is interested in various aspects of the economy at varying levels – from the organization and control of the Etruscan army to the mechanics of Etruscan markets. Hilary is a veteran of fieldwork in Italy and is at present a principal investigator of the collaborative project in the Area Sacra di S. Omobono in Rome operated jointly by the University of Michigan (USA) and the Università della Calabria (Italy). Her recent work at S. Omobono has involved investigating the only pigment shop known from ancient Rome.

Hilary Becker’s curriculum vitae



A selection of recent and upcoming publications:

Forthcoming. R. Beeston and H. Becker. “Investigation of Ancient Roman Pigments by Portable X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy and Polarized Light Microscopy.” In Archaeological Chemistry. American Chemical Society Symposium Series. Edited by R. A. Armitage and J. Burton.

Forthcoming. “Economy in the Archaic and Classical Periods, 580-450 BC.” In Handbook of Etruscology. Edited by A. Naso. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Forthcoming. “Economy in the Late Classical and Hellenistic Periods, 450-250 BC.” In Handbook of Etruscology. Edited by A. Naso. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Forthcoming. “Economy in Etruria and Rome, 250-89 BC.” In Handbook of Etruscology. Edited by A. Naso. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Forthcoming. “Evidence for Etruscan archives: Tracking the epigraphic habit in tombs, the sacred sphere, and at home.” In Etruscan Literacy in its Social Context. Accordia and the Institute of Classical Studies, University of London.

2013. “Etruscan Political Systems and Law.” In The Etruscan World. Edited by J. Turfa, 351-72. London: Routledge.

2012. “The current state of artifacts excavated at S. Omobono and a reappraisal of previously excavated materials.” In Internet Archaeology.

2009. Co-editor with M. Gleba, Votives, Places and Rituals in Etruscan Religion. Leiden: Brill.*

A selection of recent conference papers and invited lectures

“The Changing Face of South Etruria,” in the panel, “New synergies? The impact of the Roman conquest of Italy on settlement and society” at the Eleventh Roman Archaeology Conference (RAC). University of Reading. Reading, England.March 28th-30th 2014.

“A pigment shop in Ancient Rome.” Lecture followed by a fresco painting practicum. Millsaps College. October 4, 2013.

“The Science of Roman wall painting: Pliny, pigments, and polychromy.” Oxford Science Café. Oxford, MS. April 23, 2013.

“Boundaries and integration: the social, political, and sacral mechanics of Etruscan markets,” at “Frontiers in the Iron Age Archaeology of Europe” hosted by Magdalene College and the McDonald Institute, Cambridge. September 20th-22nd, 2013.

“Colors and Commerce: Pigment Shops in the Ancient World,” co-presented with Laura Wilke (Oberlin ’10) at the 112th meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. San Antonio, TX. January 08, 2011.


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Posted on: January 30th, 2015 by admin

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11/3 Tom McGinn, "The Expressive Function of Law: Problems and Possibilities"

Posted on: October 27th, 2014 by mpranger

Please join the Department Monday 11/3 at 5:30 in the Tupelo Room at the Barnard Observatory for a lecture by Dr. Thomas McGinn of Vanderbilt University on the idea in Roman law of the lex imperfecta, a law without a sanction attached, and its relation to the modern theory of law’s “expressive function,” i.e., that law can make a statement or influence social norms in ways unconnected to enforcement or its consequences.

10/22 Steven Ellis, "Pompeii from the Bottom Up"

Posted on: October 27th, 2014 by mpranger

Our first AIA lecture of the year was a grand success with Dr. Steven Ellis of the University of Cincinnati speaking to a packed house about his long-running archaeological project in a working-class neighborhood in Pompeii.

Dr. Aileen Ajootian named ASCSA Whitehead Professor

Posted on: August 21st, 2014 by mpranger

Aileen_AjootianDr. Aileen Ajootian of the Department of Classics has been selected to serve as Elizabeth A. Whitehead Visiting Professor at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens for 2014-2015. In this prestigious position, Dr. Ajootian will reside at the American School and continue her research project treating several large but fragmentary Roman architectural sculpture programs excavated in the Forum at ancient Corinth. Upon completion, the study will be submitted to the ASCSA for publication in their series of Corinth volumes. In addition, she will teach a seminar to the Regular Members of the School, who are graduate students in Classics from US and Canadian universities. As Dr. Ajootian describes it, the seminar, Studying Ancient Sculpture: From Apotheke and Marble Pile to Publication, “is designed to encourage young scholars to focus on ancient sculpture, to help them learn current methods of analysis, to guide them through the process — from visual analysis and physical description to research, interpretation, and publication.” The University of Mississippi has been Cooperating Institution of the American School for many years, and Dr. Ajootian herself has maintained a close research relationship with the School throughout her years at the University.

Congratulations to 2014 Classics graduates!

Posted on: June 18th, 2014 by mpranger
Drs. Cook, Lobur, Becker and Pasco-Pranger at convocation.  Drs. Ajootian, Fenno and Hame offer their congratulations in absentia!

Drs. Cook, Lobur, Becker and Pasco-Pranger at convocation. Drs. Ajootian, Fenno and Hame offer their congratulations in absentia!

We had another bumper crop of excellent Classics majors graduate this year and sent them off in style on 5/10/14.  Our heartiest congratulations to Kaitlyn Barnes, Amanda Cummings, Kathryn Fowler, Megan Fowler, Amanda Griffith, Tess Hill, Ben Jacques, Vinod Kannuthurai, Alex Kitson, Jennifer Liverett, Stephen Macoy, Aaron McMillin, Charlie Pritchard, Alex Rhea, and Brandon Wehking.

3/19 Lecture on Dido and Aeneas by Dr. Megan Drinkwater

Posted on: March 6th, 2014 by mpranger

dido and aeneasPlease join the Department of Classics for a public lecture by Dr. Megan Drinkwater of Agnes Scott College.  In this talk, “Future Imperfect: Dido and Aeneas in Ovid’s Heroides 7 and Virgil’s Aeneid,” Dr. Drinkwater explores how Ovid’s poem disrupts the national mythology of Virgil’s epic.  The talk will be Wednesday, March 19th at 5:30 P.M. in Bryant 209.

Please call 662-915-7097 or 662-915-7020 if you need more information or special assistance.

Post eventum: Parthenon Trip 04/06/13

Posted on: February 26th, 2014 by hwbecker
[slideshow post_id=”821″]




11/6 North Panola High visit

Posted on: November 12th, 2013 by mpranger

The Department had a great time hosting two dozen Latin and Classical mythology students from North Panola High and their teachers during their visit to UM.  The group spent some time at the University Museum to work with the Robinson Collection, ate lunch with students and faculty in Bryant Hall, and visited two classes to get a taste of being Classics students at the University of Mississippi.  We hope to see them back on campus soon!