BY CAITLIN CLERKIN, PhD student, Interdepartmental Program in Classical Art and Archaeology (IPCAA), University of Michigan
The end of the “winter” term at U of M marks not only the end of classes and preparations for summer work, whether in the field or stateside. For IPCAA students in their first three years, the end of the winter term also marks IPCAA exam time.
IPCAA students take a lot of exams before advancing to PhD candidacy: beyond exams in courses, we have to pass four language exams (Latin and Greek, and German and French or Italian), a qualifying exam in ancient history, and archaeology qualifying exams in three major areas (Egypt and the Near East, Prehistoric Aegean and Greek, and Etruscan and Roman), and preliminary exams (preliminary, that is, to a dissertation). The language exams occur throughout the school year, but the other three exams occur just after the end of each academic year. First-years take the ancient history qual; second-years take “Quals” (the archaeology exams); and third-years take their prelims, on topics they’ve chosen in consultation with faculty members. Thus, if you visited the Kelsey during the first week of May, you may have seen some dazed, ermm, I mean, well-rested, calm, and chock-full-of-knowledge-looking graduate students wandering around the building.
The goal underlying Quals is ensuring that IPCAA students gain a foundational understanding of the major subject areas of our field, which will allow them to develop their research focus informed by knowledge about major sites, monuments, and theories while also equipping them with the resource base to teach about these different areas. As such, studying for and taking Quals is an exercise in solidarity and solidification. Solidification, because we are asked to consolidate our understanding of facts, developments, theories, and trends so that we can redeploy all these things to answer new questions. Solidarity, because taking Quals is an experience (or labor) undergone by individual cohorts together, but that also unites IPCAA cohorts across time, on what I imagine is a sociological or ritual rites-of-passage kind of level. Not only have we learned similar material, but we’ve all sat and written essay after essay, slide ID after slide ID for hours (twelve actually), after months of studying and anticipation. As a second-year in IPCAA, I, with my three cohort-mates, just took Quals. Afterward, when corresponding with an IPCAA alumna with whom I work in the field about our upcoming fieldwork, I sensed a sigh of relief in her congratulations to me for having the exam in my rearview mirror.
Before entering IPCAA, I received an MA in Latin from the University of Georgia, which involved passing a “Reading List Exam” in March of our first year in the program. In the frenzied studying for that exam, my cohort quizzed each other on writers, works of literature, and historical events. Since then, I have not forgotten that the Roman playwright and Stoic Seneca was forced to commit suicide by Nero in 69 CE, along with his nephew, the poet Lucan, because a classmate came up with the mnemonic soundbite that Seneca and Lucan “died in each other’s arms” (not strictly true but will be forever ingrained in my memory). Similarly, I think (or hope) I will never forget my go-to examples of the mixing of the Doric and Ionic orders on temples (Temple of Athena, Paestum), or where the Stone Law Code Stele of Hammurabi was found (Susa) and why that matters. Thanks, cohort-mates, for getting me through this IPCAA milestone!