About the Center for Ancient Studies

The University of Pennsylvania has long been acclaimed for its extraordinary resources in the study and teaching of the ancient world. The School of Arts and Sciences at Penn is home to a remarkable array of distinguished scholars who specialize in various aspects of the ancient Old and New worlds –their languages, history, archaeology, anthropology, art history, philosophy, economy, politics, and sciences. The equally impressive Penn Museum houses a renowned collection of artifacts from the Americas, Asia, Polynesia, China, Africa, Egypt, the Ancient Near East, and the Greek, Roman, and Etruscan Worlds. The Center for Ancient Studies strives to bring together students and faculty, as well as members of the greater Philadelphia community, who share a passion for the ancient world, through the promotion and support events pertaining to pre-modern societies.

The term “ancient” has different connotations in every discipline and implies different chronological parameters across cultures. For the historian of Europe “ancient” may describe all culture of that continent up to the collapse of the Roman empire and the spread of Christianity; for the scholar of Aztec civilization, the term may refer to an entire history up to the period of European contact. Still other disciplines may place “antiquity” in chronological periods which in Western history might be considered “modern.” In spite of such chronological variations, however, the fundamental connotations of the word “ancient” are relatively stable, and the common principles underlying our conceptions of “antiquity” are the focus of the Center for Ancient Studies. Remoteness of time often accounts for the cultural discontinuity and unfamiliarity we associate with an ancient era, which is why “ancient” is commonly assumed to mean “very old”. But more significantly, the long passage of time tends to bring about radical changes in cultural paradigms, in such basic areas of human activity and experience as technology, economics, and epistemology, to name only a few.

This cultural estrangement from a remote past time has given rise to a particular set of problems and interpretive strategies that all students of antiquity confront in one way or another. Many of these concern the nature and utility of evidence: how, for example, do we interpret material remains of a society when we have limited or no knowledge of a cultural and historical context? Other interpretive problems arise specifically because of the cultural gap between antiquity and the present: how, for example, can we begin to reconstruct the very world-view of a culture whose practice and beliefs as a whole no longer actively resonate in our own world? In recent years, various fields of scholarship, such as archaeology and art history, have devised increasingly sophisticated methodologies for addressing these key intellectual problems. The rationale for creating the Center for Ancient Studies at Penn is based on the idea that scholars of antiquity from all disciplines will benefit immeasurably from systematic contact with each other, and that their research proceeds from a common set of methodological and cultural issues peculiar to the study of antiquity.

Contact Information

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You can contact the Center for Ancient Studies in any of the following ways:

By email:
By mail or phone:

Prof. Megan Kassabaum

Robert C Bryant
Graduate Assistant

Center for Ancient Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Cohen Hall, Room 201
249 South 36th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6304

Tel.: (215) 898-7425
Fax: (215) 898-6568