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The Comparative Ancient Civilizations program is an interdepartmental, interdisciplinary field of study that focuses on a variety of pre-modern cultures of the world. These ancient civilizations were complex cultural systems that flourished economically, politically, and culturally over significantly long periods of time and produced an enduring legacy. Among them are the Arabic, Chinese, Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Islamic, Ancient Near Eastern, Mesoamerican, Southeast Asian, and Indic. One very original, progressive, and promising aspect of the major is its use of current, comparative, critical methods applied to past cultures. The thematic concerns of such a major field, including constructions, definitions, and appropriations of culture generally, have obvious relevance and applicability to the modern world.

The aspects of these civilizations studied in the major include, in their widest, holistic contexts, literature, history, philosophy, visual arts, drama, dance, sports, religion, politics, economics, and society. Areas of study include: the perceptions and interactions of ancient civilizations with one another and with later civilizations that use the older cultures to reinforce or distinguish their own ideals, comparison of those aspects by which an ancient civilization is defined, and the processed by which ancient civilizations are constructed.

Participating faculty for the Comparative Ancient Civilizations come from a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, archeology, art, art history, classics, history, literature, philosophy, political science, and religious studies. The faculty forms an intellectual community whose fields of specialization have been traditionally distinct but whose problems and methods are similar or complementary.

The Comparative Ancient Civilizations major leads to a Bachelor of Arts degree, and provides a truly liberal education in major cultures of the past and their continuing importance in our present world. The major also is an excellent choice as a double major with any of the traditional disciplines to add distinction and intellectual breadth to a student's background.

The Comparative Ancient Civilization major combines the breadth of the interdisciplinary studies with the focus of more traditional majors like History or Classical Civilization. By undertaking a comparison of several major cultures of the past, which have a continued importance in the construction of our present world, the program affords a truly liberal education. Students have a unique opportunity to employ the methods of humanities and social sciences in their major study. Majors acquire the skills of historical and social analysis, multicultural awareness, mental flexibility and insight into cultural constructions.


Definitions and Approaches

"Ancient civilizations" designate complex cultural systems, which have flourished, economically, politically, and culturally, over a significantly long period and produced an enduring legacy. "Ancient" must be understood in a sense relative to the tradition of each civilization; so the floruit of "ancient" Mesoamerica is much later than that of "ancient" Mesopotamia. The comparative aspect of this program requires that the term "ancient" must be flexible, and must be contextualized with each comparison. Among the civilizations studied are the Arabic, Chinese, Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Indic, Islamic, Ancient Near Eastern, Mesoamerican, and South and East Asian. The approaches to this study will be primarily topical, thematic, and broadly based. Theoretical, critical templates, without strict geographical or chronological limits, will serve as the comparative foundation. The aspects studied in their widest "holistic" contexts include language, literature, history (visual oral, and written), philosophy, visual arts, dance, performances (dramatic, sporting, ritualistic, etc.), religion, politics, economics, and society. Areas of study include but are not limited to the following:

  1. contemporary and later civilizations which use the ancient civilization to reinforce or distinguish their own ideals
  2. the comparison of those aspects by which an ancient civilization is defined
  3. the study of the processes by which ancient civilizations are constructed
  4. an inquiry into what constitutes "ancient" in the view of later societies

Career Opportunities

The career opportunities for students in this area are the same as those of any high quality liberal arts degree which imparts the skills of communication and analysis: graduate studies in History, Art History, Philosophy, Classics, Religious Studies, Political Studies, Comparative Literature, Anthropology, Gender and Women's Studies, and other humanities and social sciences; professional schools in law or business; jobs in areas of international consultancy, travel, communications, museums, etc. Career options may of course depend on the individual focus and emphasis within the major course in related disciplines. One consistent major advisor will be appointed from the CPAC faculty to consult closely with each student and to establish an individual curriculum which best fits the student's interest and career goals.