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Viewing: CLST 136 O: The Ancient Economy

Last approved: Mon, 07 Oct 2019 14:40:18 GMT

Last edit: Thu, 12 Sep 2019 13:28:55 GMT

First Name Last Name Userid Title Home School Org Short Name
Kimberly Bowes kbowes Associate Professor School of Arts and Sciences Classical Studies
Spring 2020
Fall 2019
The Ancient Economy
This class presents an introduction to economies before economics, a study of economic activity in the Greco-Roman world. Ancient Greece and Rome have been called some of the first "global" economies - they engaged in long-distance trade, introduced the first coinage systems, and built and manufactured at large scales. At the same time, they remained agrarian societies, with majority peasant populations, high levels of inequality and social systems that often placed social capital ahead of profit. Using textual sources, archaeology and techniques from the natural and social sciences, this class will not only look at basic elements of economic activity in the ancient world - demographics, trade, monetization, industry - but also ask critical questions about how - or if -modern economic methods can be applied to the distant past. No previous knowledge of the ancient world or economics is necessary.
ANCH 136 - The Ancient Economy
Every Other Year

Sector Requirements

Your department or program fields a variety of courses to meet distinct educational needs. Please explain how this course fits into your department's plan for participating in the general education curriculum of the College. The sector panel will want to know what is distinctive about this course along with the other courses your department lists in the sector that makes them suitable for the sector requirement.
Presently, CLST 140 Scandalous Arts in Ancient and Modern Societies (Ralph Rosen) is our one Sector IV course: its function within that sector is to offer ways of thinking about literary and artistic production (both ancient and modern) in relation to society and politics. But that course is relatively humanities-focused, and also it is now being offered less frequently (around every 3 years). The new course CLST 136 The Ancient Economy (Kim Bowes), taught in alternate years, would offer ways of thinking through the relationship between economics and other areas of cultural production, including literature and intellectual history, and also the material culture associated with archaeology (Bowes' main area of expertise); it would also necessarily involve ancient-modern comparison. The new course is more obviously engaged with a social science (economics), and by drawing on economic analytic methods would showcase a new set of potential approaches to the ancient world that did not play a strong role in traditional classical studies. Students will come away from the course with both an enhanced awareness of the history of economics (both actuality and theory) and a new point of entry into classical antiquity. That is reflective of our department's broader goals in offering general education courses.
One-term course offered either term
Humanities & Social Science Sector
Standing Faculty
Standing Faculty
Part of the department's introductory rota, designed to introduce non-classics specialists or potential majors to various aspects of the ancient world.
At the completion of this course students should:
1. Have a basic understanding of the evidence for ancient economic activity – from inscriptions and archaeological datasets to literature and legal sources.
2. Have the essential toolkits for analysis and criticism of these sources, asking what constitutes our “data” and what behaviors/activities it documents.
3. Be able to carry out basic analysis (averages, trends over time, deviations from a mean) on a quantitative dataset
4. Understand and critique the major methodological debates within the field, particularly the application of modern economic models versus the use of traditional social history.
5. Be able to define what constitutes “economic” thinking and behavior in modern and ancient contexts and how/if this can use usefully separated from other spheres of activity.
6. Improve your oral communication skills through in-class group work, debates and a 5-minute oral presentation.

Methods of Assessment

2 papers; 1 short (2-3 pages); 1 long (10-15 pages), oral presentation
midterm, final
daily in-class exercises for a grade, either in group or individual format

Sector I - Society


Sector II - History and Tradition


Sector III - Arts & Letters


Sector IV - Humanities and Social Science

The course begins with several weeks of theoretical models used to study the ancient economy: the remainder of the course is structured as a series of data-based interrogations of those models: for examples, does the data for Mediterranean shipwrecks support the notion of an integrated Mediterranean economic system? The course additionally asks students to contemplate how this ancient data represents economic phenomena in complex ways. Eg. above, do Mediterranean shipwrecks represent trading activity, or changes in navigation or shipbuilding practices, or both, to different extents in different periods?
The research component of the project is an assisted attempt to interrogate numerical data for economic significance. Thus, the students will be actually asked to "do" economic history with actual datasets - vis above, e.g. ancient shipwreck data, inscriptions from specific contexts, mines, quarries, climate data, etc.. This will include first an assessment of the rigor and significance of the data, and then very basic quantitative analysis - basic statistical analysis, changes over time, etc. - to draw conclusions from that data.
The weekly "SAIL" exercises present mini practice exercises in practical data analysis: students are given a set of data in their reading for each class, and asked to practice on it in class, either singly or in groups. This provides the basic theoretically and technical background for their research projects.
The course is imagined as a meditation on how modern economic approaches, particularly New Institutionalist and development economics approaches - and social historical approaches can or should be applied to the ancient world. The initial theoretically framing of the course in the first two weeks sets out these different methods and they are reiterated as a recurrent theme nearly ever week. Thus, the course is framed as both an integration of and comparison between the humanities and social sciences.
The course makes considerable use of literary sources , and provides students essential tools for interrogating them, e.g. asking how the so-called agronomists construct both social-historical narratives while imparting technical advice, how slave economies are presented and contested in Greek and Roman drama. Thus, students learn how to read literary as literature while also gauging the extent to which it can be used as economic data.

Sector V - Living World


Sector VI - Physical World


Sector VII - Natural Sciences and Mathematics


Administrative Field

College Humanities and Social Science Panel
James Ker (jker) (Fri, 16 Aug 2019 13:59:51 GMT): I fully support this proposal.
Molly Mcglone (mmcglone) (Fri, 16 Aug 2019 14:33:11 GMT): Rollback: James- can you please add the "endorser justification" for the HSS panel on why you think it should be a sector for CLST? Thanks! Molly
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