The Centre for Classical and Near Eastern Studies of Australia: a unique collaboration

2 June 2010

The Centre for Classical and Near Eastern Studies of Australia (CCANESA) proves the University of Sydney has come a long way since Walter Scott, Professor of Classics from 1884 to 1900, spearheaded the introduction of modern history, literature and philosophy to the University's Arts curriculum.

Housed in the Madsen Building, CCANESA was launched by the Chancellor, Her Excellency Professor Bashir, on 2 December 2009, with an address by David Malouf. The Centre ushers in a new era of collaboration between the Faculty's Departments of Archaeology and of Classics and Ancient History, the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens and the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation, as well as the journal, Mediterranean Archaeology. With no comparable Centre existing in Australia or the region, the opportunity to improve conditions for postgraduate study and teaching, to enhance the University of Sydney's international reputation for world-class research and to form effective collaborative research projects is truly unique.

The inaugural Director, Professor Peter Wilson, the William Ritchie Professor of Classics, is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and was a Lecturer in Classics and a Fellow of New College at Oxford before returning to his undergraduate University in 2004. His fields of expertise include the history of Classical theatre, and CCANESA has a dedicated Ritchie Theatre Research Office and Archive, named after a major benefactor of the subject at the University, William Ritchie, Professor of Greek from 1965 to 1991. This houses the most extensive research resources of ancient theatre history in the world and CCANESA has a powerful concentration of scholars working on the history of the theatre.

Professor Wilson says 'the formation of the Centre is animated by a spirit of collaboration and exchange … [CCANESA] is shaped by a belief that study of the ancient world can only achieve its very best when the enormously wide range of expertise that is needed to understand these complex and hugely influential cultures is pooled and shared.' CCANESA '…will bring students of literature, language, history, philosophy and archaeology into a physical environment that … has been beautifully designed to promote interaction and dialogue.'

Additionally, the world-class Centre encourages community outreach. Two of the partner bodies in the venture, The Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens (AAIA) and the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation (NEAF), were founded with a particular emphasis on engagement with the public and have had long term experience in this area.

The AAIA is one of the 17 "foreign schools" based in Athens and Australia's only overseas cultural representation of this type. It operates not only through headquarters that are based in CCANESA, but also via its hostel, office and library in Athens. Through its scholarship, events, publication and excavation programmes it is well placed to provide services to those scholars who wish to travel to Greece, as well as serving as a conduit for international collaboration between this University and Greek scholars and institutions.

The Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation, located within the Centre, engages in this dynamic collaboration by promoting a wide range of research on the ancient Near East, the other major player in the early Mediterranean world. The Foundation raises funds by hosting lectures and seminars, and by leading expert-guided tours to many locations in the region for its members and the general public. The funds are used to provide grants for students of the discipline. The long-running University excavations at the site of Pella in Jordan are administered from the Foundation's office. The Pella Project provides the opportunity to participate in an archaeological expedition that brings together experts from a wide range of fields whose interests span the Neolithic to the Hellenistic, Roman and later Arab periods all represented at the site.

Between the public programmes of NEAF and the AAIA and the active conference, events and seminar schedules of the Departmental partners, CCANESA has certainly raised the public profile of all partners. The Centre's flexible event spaces can accommodate everyone from senior scholars to school students, and various study days, public lectures, tours and Summer schools (including one in Rome) have been offered.

As Professor Wilson observes, 'Classics and the study of Mediterranean antiquity more generally is a truly global subject' and this is reflected in the new generation of leading academics coming to join the Faculty with a wealth of international experience.

Professor Wilson says that by putting archaeologists of ancient Greece alongside those of the Near East, the Centre 'embodies some of the most recent academic insights that see cultural interaction, exchange and the trade of ideas and goods between these regions, where once there was only segregation and one-way cultural influence.'

Along with promoting vibrant and high quality, cross-disciplinary research, CCANESA hosts academic and cultural events and provides accommodation for projects, post-doctoral research and visiting scholars. The library, boardroom and meeting room of CCANESA are available to visitors by appointment.

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Article by Liz Schaffer.