This Old Sarcophagus
Life, death, money, and chemistry in the Carlos Museum


Vol. 8 No. 1
September 2005

Return to Contents

Women's Work?
Gender Equity in the Hard Sciences at Emory

Harvard's promise

Gender in the hard science faculty ranks at Emory

Hard sciences faculty by gender at other institutions

"What's happening along the way? Why aren't women choosing academia proportionately, and why aren't women staying in academia?"

"I think the 'nature versus nurture' question is not meaningful, because it treats them as independent factors, whereas in fact everything is nature and nurture."

The Crisis in the Humanities
So what else is new?

Sweeping Away the Dust of Everyday Life
Jazz and the Emory Experience

The Diary and the Map
Sartre and Foucault on making sense of history

This Old Sarcophagus
Life, death, money and chemistry in the Carlos Museum


Each time Professor of Religion Gary Laderman teaches Religion 323, Death and Dying, he takes his students across the Quad to the Ancient Egyptian and Nubian Art gallery of the Carlos Museum. There among the sarcophagi and mummies, Laderman and his students discuss the afterlife: What do we do with the dead? What does that imply about a culture, its religious values and beliefs?

“I also raise the political questions of repatriation,” Laderman says. “When these bodies were mummified and buried three thousand years ago, the intent was that they would stay in one place, and their postmortem destiny depended on it. What does it mean that they were taken and are displayed in the Carlos Museum?”

Laderman is among the growing numbers of faculty from unexpected places are finding that the Carlos Museum’s resources—both its collections and its staff expertise—are invigorating their teaching. In 2003-04, fifty-nine faculty, from chemistry to dance, used the museum galleries, collections, and programs in their instruction.

Another of those fifty-nine was Preetha Ram, who teaches in the chemistry department and serves as assistant dean for science in Emory College. For a capstone senior seminar titled Perspectives in Chemistry, she invites Renee Stein, the Carlos Museum conservator, to co-teach a three-week unit on chemistry and art. “We want our majors to leave with a more integrated perspective of the science, to see it in context,” says Ram. “Renee really understands both the science and the art. She once brought us a tray full of different pigments so we could look at them while we talked about the chemistry, what they are made of, what the components are, how they reacted. And we looked at Greek pottery, how the Greeks controlled whether it was red or black by controlling the airflow and temperature. She gave us equations for the chemical reactions. And then of course we followed that up by going to the museum to see the pottery.”

In a freshman seminar called All About Yoga, Associate Professor of Dance Anna Leo’s students visit the Asian Art galleries to get a visual sense of the craft and philosophy of yoga. “I was looking for ways to bring the underlying history, mythology, and practice of yoga to life for the students, so I called the museum,” Leo says. “I really didn’t know what I was going to find, but it turned out that the statues of Buddha they have physically represent some of the concepts I was trying to tell them about in the practice. There’s an instruction at the beginning and end of class to draw the eyes closed from the top to the bottom, allowing the lower lid to recede, and they could really see what that looks like. Or the idea of the softened belly and the elongated spine—that’s really evident in the artwork.”

“The museum has beautiful Egyptian artifacts of great artistic value, but it also has mundane objects of daily life in ancient Mesopotamia,” says Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies Roxani Margariti. During her Introduction to the Middle East course, she leads students to the tiniest sub-galleries tucked away in the furthest corners. “There is a sickle—used for harvesting grain.” Margariti also points to Mesopotamian stone tablets marked in cuneiform—four-thousand-year-old accounting ledgers. “The invention of writing and its connection to economy is very important,” she says. “We talk about that in class and maybe I’ll show them slides of these tablets, but there is nothing like coming here and seeing them. Here in this little space, these few, expertly selected objects convey the complexity of ancient economy. Material culture becomes another text students can use.”

Margariti adds that she often thinks of William Arthur Shelton, the Emory professor of Hebrew and New Testament who in the 1920s journeyed through Egypt, modern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel to build Emory’s archeological collections. “In a sense, our visit to the museum parallels that founding principle of old,” she says. “Shelton was collecting these objects for ‘young men to better understand the Bible,’ In our case, we read things like the Code of Hammurabi and the epic of Gilgamesh, and we go to the museum for our young people to better understand the history of this region.”

“We have one of the best university museums in the country,” says Sandra Blakely, an associate professor of classics. “Most graduating seniors haven’t stepped inside it,” Blakely is also encouraging a kind of textual analysis when sends her Greek archaeology students on museum expeditions. “I tell them to go find a pot, give me a complete verbal description of it, and then draw it.” Then after a discussion of ceramics in class, “I have them go back and do it again, to see how much they’ve learned and how they can apply what they’ve learned, to think about something critically. I want students to walk away with an idea of the intellectual process of creating value and meaning in the archeological record.”

“Our Emory students are very driven, they need to get the A. A lot of what constitutes their successful advancement to the next level—whether that’s medical school, law school, or some kind of graduate program—are things they can put on their CV. And you can’t put museum trips on your CV. You can put organizations and clubs and activities, but the more contemplative aspects of the university experience you don’t get credit for. So I’m trying build into this class the fact that they will get credit for it. The Carlos gives you a chance to hand your students a paddle and say, Go find a canoe.”—A.O.A.