Dispaccio dalla Turchia: parlando con C. Brian Rose

Color photograph of the head and torsos of three light skinned people (two men flanking a woman) smiling at the camera as they stand in an outdoor desert location in Iraq wearing flak vests and holding helmets
C. Brian Rose (left) with Laurie Rush, 2011 Fellow in historic preservation and conservation, in Baghdad in 2011 (photograph courtesy of C. Brian Rose)

A newly announced bequest intention by C. Brian Rose (1992 Fellow, 2012 Resident, and Trustee Emeritus) will support residencies across disciplines in the humanities. Rose, who is James B. Pritchard Professor of Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania and Peter C. Ferry Curator-in-Charge of the Mediterranean Section of the Penn Museum, is a longtime supporter of the Academy. When interviewed, we found Rose at a dig at Gordion (think “Gordian knot”) in west central Turkey, about an hour’s drive from Ankara. It was during the holiday of Eid al-Adha, and the workers (including Rose) were enjoying a welcome breather.

Rose said his bequest intention reflects both gratitude for the Academy’s influence on his own career and his belief in its enduring value as an “ideal platform” for interdisciplinary discussion. “One of the problems we have in academia is that we tend to think synchronically. We think about the material within our own disciplines, but we don’t apply it often enough to subsequent centuries and search for the links between ancient and modern.” The Academy, he said, teaches you how to do just that.

By way of example, Rose pointed to a program he developed two decades ago to offer cultural heritage protection training to members of the US Armed Forces bound for the Middle East. “I would never have thought of doing a cultural heritage training program for soldiers deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan if it hadn’t been for my time at the Academy.” With the abrupt end of US involvement in Afghanistan, the program was reinvented. Now, partnering with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Rose leads veterans on museum tours and talks to them about the life of the soldier through history, from the third millennium BCE to the Iraq War. Veterans read Homer, too, finding resonance in the characters’ experiences on the battlefield and their subsequent trauma. Former servicemen and women are moved especially by Ajax’s suicide in the Iliad and by the fate of Trojan women at the end of the war, he said.

Rose spent twenty-five years excavating Troy, so it is no surprise these parallels capture his attention. Another sad example of history repeating itself: if you visit Troy today, you will see Syrians on the nearby coast, waiting for boats that will bring them, by a dangerous crossing, to Lesbos (and therefore the European Union). “It’s really no different from what you imagine the life of the refugees in Troy at the end of the Bronze Age would have been.”

Rose’s planned gift will support the humanities in general rather than a particular discipline. This “reflects [his] feeling that all periods and all places have to work together in order to find the most potent solution to whatever problem you’re attempting to solve.” Rose also stressed the Academy’s role in bringing people together, which can lead to powerful outcomes. For instance, Rose met Advisor Roberto Nardi through AAR, whom he invited to Philadelphia, where Nardi gave a lecture about how to make ancient sculptures accessible to people who are blind. The lecture spurred Rose to help establish a new program at the Penn Museum for the blind and vision impaired.

Rose’s involvement in the Academy has continued this year, as part of a group advising on the Getty Global Affiliates program. As to his dig at Gordion, the team has faced a few setbacks. More stone walls were robbed in antiquity or the modern period than expected. One area, the site of the ancient citadel gate, lost much of its stone during the construction of the Berlin–Baghdad railway in the nineteenth century. “But we’re finding other walls connected to the gate. It will be okay.”

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