|Classics Scholars Instruct Visitors to Charlotte Museum's Pompeii Exhibition
October 16, 2008
Contact: Bill Giduz
Davidson students in a classics seminar on Pompeii are immediately applying their classroom study to community service as docents at a major museum exhibition about the famously tragic ancient Roman city.
|"Team Pompeii" includes first row, (l-r) Anne Horn and Chris Vincoli; second row Matt Stirn, Molly Waldron, and Jennifer Errington; third row Grace Mitchell, Prof. Jeanne Neumann and Elyse Hamilton; fourth row Rob O’Donnell, Andrew Morris, Reed Ryan and Kyle Saunders; top row Mike Beaucaire and Sam Baroody.|
Twice a week the thirteen students meet with Professor of Classics Jeanne Neumann in Chambers Building to study the society, art, religious life, and history of the city that was doomed by its location at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. Each student also spends two weekend afternoons during the semester putting classroom lessons to work in Charlotte answering questions from patrons visiting the Discovery Place “A Day in Pompeii” exhibit. Members of the class, and Neumann herself, will be on hand on Saturdays on the weekends of October 18, and November 1, 8 and 15 from noon until 4pm.
“The interactive part of the class has been awesome,” said Anne Horn ’09. “I wasn’t sure how things would go at the exhibit, but people started asking questions and I was able to talk about what we had been learning in class. That was a lot of fun and made the class work worthwhile.”
When Neumann learned last spring that Discovery Place would mount the exhibit as one of its four locations in America, she recognized it as a golden opportunity for her students. She had originally planned a different fall term seminar, but began writing a new syllabus and making plans with Discovery Place staff. In addition to offering Davidson students as docents and accompanying them on their shifts, Neumann volunteered to deliver a series of four public lectures about Pompeii and the exhibit, and meet with media as they generated reports on the exhibit.
The 13,000-square-foot exhibit was organized by the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei in Italy, and Charlotte is the final of its four stops in America. It provides visitors a look at everyday life in Pompeii, with exhibition of more than 250 artifacts such as fishing hooks, anchors, medical tools, bronze scales and weights, coins and drills.
One area explains the complex Roman notion of religion with display of a shrine, small household altars, small god and goddess statues, funerary containers, amulets, a headstone and large marble statues.
Guests also view a home and garden setting highlighted by a 15-foot-wide garden fresco. The artifacts include such things as oil lamps, a hair pin and a comb. Visitors learn that the Roman house was far more than a place to live, but was often the center of economic, political and social power.
The final exhibition area includes eight body casts, providing a sobering view of the colony’s sudden and violent demise when the explosion of Mt. Vesuvius covered it in ash and mud in August of 79 AD, killing about 20,000 residents.
As a rehearsal for their work at Discovery Place, Neumann and the class toured the exhibit together. Neumann also assigned her students to make presentations to their classmates about aspects of life in Pompeii that corresponded to aspects of the exhibit. Kyle Sanders talked about Pompeiian frescoes, Jennifer Errington discussed family religion, and Matt Stirn covered tomb artifacts and the Roman conception of the afterlife. “That sort of speaking on their feet helped prepare them for their roles at the exhibition,” she said. “They’re supposed to talk to their peers in class just as they would be talking to patrons.”
During their time at the exhibit, students were identified as docents by special t-shirts, and Neumann accompanied each group during its first work shift.
|The inscription on the t-shirts student docents wear is printed in English and Latin.|
Anne Horn said a little personal initiative helped her get the most out of her experience. “I realized you have to be a little aggressive,” she said. “Once I started approaching people to tell them I was there to answer their questions, they became a lot more interactive. By the end of the day I felt like part of the exhibition!”
Horn recalled that patron questions she fielded covered burial practices, pottery glazing, and how to tell if a body cast was male or female. People were also curious and somewhat disgusted by the fermented fish sauce that was a staple in the ancient world. “People asked me if they really ate that stuff!” she recalled.
Neumann was on hand to back up students when they needed her input. She asked students especially to remember the questions they couldn’t handle, so that they could be reviewed with other members of the class at their next meeting. “Because of that, it was a learning process for us as well,” said Horn.
The service-learning approach validated what Neumann had told students early in the semester. Horn, who hopes to teach at the high school level following graduation next spring, appreciated Neumann’s expressed premise for the class. Horn said, “Dr. Neumann said it’s all fun and good to study the classical world and learn about it. But that isn’t so helpful unless you can tailor your knowledge to others who don’t know the subject. She said it’s better to talk to someone about what you know rather than just sitting on it.”
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.
Posted By: Bill Giduz