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Student and Professor Secure Grant to Study Ancient Graffiti

by Web on February 26, 2017

Dr. Holly Sypniewski, associate professor of classics at Millsaps College, and Brittany Hardy, a Millsaps senior with a double major in classics and art history, plan to spend spring break at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.

They will study research related to the Ancient Graffiti Project, which focuses on the preservation of ancient graffiti found in Herculaneum, a town that along with Pompeii was buried in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Hardy received a $1,000 Manson A. Stewart Faculty–Undergraduate Collaborative Research Grant from the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, which will support their trip.

“We won the award through a competitive grant process,” Sypniewski said. “We had to write an application in two parts. Brittany’s part included an overview of our project, a summary of how much progress we had made, what her role was in the research, and what our final product would be. I had to write an assessment of Brittany’s role in the research project and a recommendation about her ability to complete the work. The funds will all go to support Brittany’s travel and research expenses.”

Sypniewski said she saw an opportunity to develop a project with Hardy, who has worked with her as a research assistant since her sophomore year at Millsaps. Hardy has also worked with Dr. Rebecca Benefiel, associate professor of classics at Washington and Lee University and director of the Ancient Graffiti Project.

In the summer of 2015, Hardy assisted with planning the first Ancient Graffiti Project workshop, which took place at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C., and attracted scholars from across the United States and Europe. During that same time, Hardy was invited to be one of the junior team leaders for the field research project in Herculaneum, where she helped document the ancient graffiti found on site. Other Millsaps students who participated were Jace King, BA 2016, and Isabelle Dillard, BS 2016.

At the Getty Research Institute, Sypniewski and Hardy will study the documentation of graffiti drawings in the field notebooks of Matteo Della Corte, a leading scholar who documented the ancient graffiti uncovered during the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum (1914–1958).

“During our work on the graffiti of Herculaneum, we noticed that graffiti drawings—hand-drawn sketches that also appear on the walls of the ancient city and in homes—were very unevenly documented by the early researchers,” Sypniewski said. “Sometimes those researchers made sketches of the drawings that they saw and published those. More often than not, however, they just wrote a verbal description of the ancient graffiti drawings they saw.

“These verbal descriptions varied wildly, sometimes being very brief or sometimes being very specific. Since so many of the graffiti are now lost, we wondered how reliable these verbal descriptions of the ancient drawings were. Our project is investigating that question by comparing all known documentation of the drawings and any surviving images of the drawings.”

Sypniewski and Hardy plan to present a paper on their larger research project on graffiti drawings of human figures at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South in Kitchener, Ontario, in April.