Ancient Cities in Cyberspace

by Robert M. Royalty, Jr., Wabash College

Instructor Name:

Bob Royalty

Course Title:

The Second Century: Archaeological Remants and Virtual Realities


Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana,

What is the overall aim of the course?:
The study of the ancient world and early Christianity has undergone a revolution in one generation.  Scholars who grew up on the Loeb Classics and the Ante-Nicene Fathers now have the Perseus Project and can access the entire biblical and patristic corpus on-line. Digital images are the glosses of a new generation of scholastic commentators. This course was conceived as one way of highlighting these new technologies and social-historical methodologies. The traditional humanities seminar focuses on the “major research paper,” which in the college setting is based on the scholarly article.  What if we changed the model?  After using digital images via PowerPoint in lectures and building course websites for my students, I started to think more about students creating rather than just using these resources. I focused on developing original student research while testing the uses of digital technologies in a travel course.
Course design and scope of the project:
This course was taught in the Spring Semester 2003 at Wabash Collge, an all-male liberal arts college of about 800. There were 16 students; one additional faculty and two staff members traveled with us to Turkey. Cross-listed in Religion and Classics, it included a digital media lab held weekly during a scheduled fourth hour and a ten-day trip to Turkey from March 7th -16th (yes the week before the US attacked Iraq and travel to Turkey was kind of tense!). I had developed the media lab in two previous courses, but we had never traveled beyond the library. The digital photographs and video on these sites were taken onsite. I organized the students into four groups for the trip and the sites: Roman culture, society, imperial power, and religion. I chose this particular organization because it allowed the four groups to study the same object (e.g. a temple) from different perspectives. My concerns were both pedagogical and practical. I wanted students to think about different methodologies in the study of ancient religion and society and I wanted the students to be engaged the entire trip in Turkey rather than having an “off” day when their city or site was not on our schedule. As a result there is overlap in topics between the four subsites, but that is intentional. All travel and lodging costs were covered by Wabash College.  In the second half of the semester, back on campus, the four groups worked on designing and building their websites.
Incorporation of Technology:
The technology covered in the lab was standard applications: Photoshop, Dreamweaver, iMovie, and Flash. We trained in all these technologies in the media lab in the first half of the semester. For the trip, each group of four students had two digital cameras, one digital video camera, and one PC laptop for archiving and editing on the bus or in the hotel. All equipment was provided by the college.
Lessons Learned:

Three features of this experience stand out. First  was the interaction with the students and their interactions with each other. The hands-on instruction in the media labs had already opened up a new dimension in faculty/student interaction. The discourse was more relaxed and engaged on different levels as students and professors found new ways to communicate. This type of informal interaction was greatly magnified on the road.

Second  was the nature of the project itself. As any scholar knows, a week is a limited time for field research. This varies by discipline of course but an immersion learning experience needs to be built around a specific project that is feasible in a week and also integral to the class. In terms of learning and research, library work would  have been  highly beneficial but hardly attractive to students during their Spring Break. The digital media focus of this trip gave the students a very specific task for the visit. Students became more comfortable in their role and more attuned to the features of the sites as they honed their research skills. Many students remarked on the engagement and focus they felt on this trip.

Third was the experience of the culture of modern Turkey itself. Our field work focused on Roman ruins and the archaeology of the cities where early Christianity grew in the Pax Romana of the second century. To do this we negotiated one of the richest and most ancient cultures of the Mediterranean world. The country presents an incredible juxtaposition of ancient Greek and Roman sites with a rich Ottoman context that bridged late antiquity, the middle ages, and the early modern world. We experienced this in a modern secular nation of Muslims on the eve of U.S. aggression against an Arab neighbor of Turkey. The experience of travel to Turkey in March 2003 will, for many of us, be the most lasting and significant learning of the course.

References, links:
This is the final product of the four student groups published in May 2003.

Trekking Through Turkey
This is a link to a series of articles written on the road in Turkey in March 2003 by Justin Lyons, Public Affairs at Wabash, with photographs by Todd Vogel.

“Ancient Cities in Cyberspace: Exploring the Uses of Digital Media in Teaching Early Christianity,” Teaching Theology and Religion 5:1 (2002) 42-48
This article evaluates a prior version of the class in which students contstructed websites on campus without any travel component.

Measured Results:
The websites themselves attest to the value of the experience.  The Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College interviewed the students before and after the trip as part of their ongoing inquiry into off-campus experiences in the liberal arts context.