For Ancient Rome and Greece Family Weekend we will have the opportunity to actually touch some objects and talk to some of the ROM’s experts on Ancient Greece and Rome. One of these is Kate Cooper, the new Rebanks fellow in the Greek & Roman section. Kate studied Classics for her BA at Oxford, then took a Master’s degree in Classical History of Art at the Courtauld Institute, finally completing her PhD in Classical Archaeology at Kings College, London. She has volunteered at the British Museum and before coming to the ROM was a Research Associate at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, since 2008.
What do you do?
I’m a ‘Classical archaeologist’, which means I work on the archaeology of the Classical Mediterranean world, in my case archaic Greece. I’m not a field archaeologist, although I have excavation experience. Instead of actually digging up the past, I study what other people have dug up.
My research is on the huge amounts of pottery produced by the city of Corinth in the archaic period (roughly 750-500 BC), and discovered at ancient sites all over the Mediterranean. I use this evidence to build a picture of how trade and contacts worked in the ancient Mediterranean. But at the same time I’ve worked in museums for the last 7 years, and so I’m constantly thinking about how to make all the types of ancient objects meaningful and interesting to visitors.
How did you get into this subject?
I started out studying ‘Classics’, using the ancient literary texts to understand the ancient world. It struck me that this literature was unreliable as evidence – these were still just stories and the ancient author could have got it wrong, or be biased. It seemed to me that actual ancient objects were the only ‘facts’ we had, so I moved into the field of Classical archaeology.
Now of course I understand that it’s a bit more complicated than that. The way an ancient object looks today is the result of the decisions made by many people that all affect its appearance, from the excavator, and conservator or restorer, to the museum curator who decides what to put how to display it and what information to use.
What do you find most exciting about your subject?
The fact that we now have so much material from thousands of excavations conducted over about 200 years, and we still haven’t finished studying it. New approaches to this material are constantly expanding our understanding of the ancient world. But the really exciting (and slightly scary) thing is that a new archaeological discovery can turn all our theories upside down.
What is the biggest challenge in your work?
Making sense of the past and bringing my specialised area of research alive for people without the background knowledge. This is something I’m used to doing for academic colleagues, students, museum visitors and tour groups, but now I have to do it in a book!