Faculty Interviews

Get to Know Dr. Kris Seaman

Dr. Kris Seaman wKristen-Seaman-smas educated at Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley, concentrating on Classics, Archaeology, and the History of Art.  She was a Regular Member at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece, and she carried out additional archaeological training at the American Academy in Rome, Italy. She has done archaeological fieldwork in Greece, Israel, Italy, and the United States, and she has studied the practice of stone-carving.  Her research deals with Greek art and architecture and its interaction with the Roman, Near Eastern, and Islamic worlds.  It is interdisciplinary and object-oriented, and she is especially interested in exploring issues that involve the relationship of art and text; sculpture; and gender, ethnicity, social status, and cross-cultural exchange.  Currently, she is completing a book about rhetoric and innovation in the art of the Hellenistic courts; co-editingArtists and Artistic Production in Ancient Greece for Cambridge University Press; and examining excavated sculpture from the Athenian Agora.

What’s your academic background?

I studied Classics, archaeology, and the history of art when I was a student. In graduate school, my major field was ancient Mediterranean art and my outside field was ancient history; I wrote my PhD dissertation about the Hellenistic period of Greek art. As a student, I tried to spend more-or-less equal amounts of time on both Greece and Rome, and I developed a strong secondary interest in Near Eastern and Islamic art and archaeology as well. I also worked on excavations and participated in programs at the American Academy in Rome and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. After graduate school, I’ve taken stone-carving classes because sculpture is the medium about which I write the most.

What made you choose art history?

I wanted to become an historian of the classical world who uses both material and textual culture as historical evidence. In college, my majors were in Classics and archaeology programs, and I thought that studying in a history of art graduate program would help me to complete the training that was best suited to my teaching and research goals. I continued to take Classics courses in graduate school, too, because I consider myself to be a classicist as well as an art historian. I believe that the most effective study of classical art and architecture draws upon the fields of both art history and Classics.

Does it bother you to have to teach content outside of your specialization?

No, I actually welcome such opportunities! Teaching content outside my main area of specialization often prompts ideas about new avenues for research because it gives me chance to learn about exciting issues that other scholars are currently working on.   I think that it makes me a better teacher and a better scholar.

What drew you to the University of Oregon?

I thought that I’d enjoy teaching the students here — and I do! What’s more, the University of Oregon has been a longstanding leader in the field of Greek art because it’s the academic home of Professor Jeffrey Hurwit. Working with him here is a special treat.

Do you have advice for those looking to go into teaching?

I encourage students to look at job advertisements even when they’re at the beginning of graduate school so that they can see what the “market” asks of job applicants who have their research specializations – for example, the fields (beyond their PhD dissertation’s area) that various types of two- and four-year colleges and universities ask such specialists to teach. At the beginning of graduate school, students still have ample time to seek new educational and teaching experiences that will make them marketable for a range of positions. For example, someone who writes a dissertation about Greek art could find herself in a job that asks her to teach just Greek art, ancient Mediterranean art more generally, ancient Mediterranean and Medieval art, or even the whole scope of art history if she’s the only art historian in, say, a studio art department. There are many types of jobs out there. And most positions require that professors teach broad classes such as lower-division surveys or graduate theory and methods classes. So, usually, one is never teaching just one’s own research specialization.

Any advice for those looking to go into a PhD program?

I advise students 1.) to develop a solid writing sample, revising it as necessary before submission; 2.) to take a preparation course before sitting for the GRE, if necessary, because both admissions and fellowships are sometimes dependent upon applicants’ competitive GRE scores; 3.) to demonstrate proficiency (or immediate plans for proficiency) in at least two languages that are required in the programs, so that the admissions committees have no doubts about their ability to satisfy the proficiency requirements quickly upon entrance; and 4.) to present their first-rate work to three or four professors in order to have recommenders who can write favorable and detailed letters of recommendation for their applications. I also encourage students to speak with professors who focus on their (intended) areas of specialization when devising the list of programs to which they’ll apply.

Do you have any experiences in your grad or undergrad that you really cherished?

I had many academic experiences in college and graduate school that are now fond memories: for example, taking particular classes; learning from my mentors outside of class, too; and traveling in Europe and the Middle East when excavating, studying, and doing research.

Did you always think that you would pursue Greek art?

Yes, my academic interests have been quite consistent since I was an undergraduate. My application essays for graduate school even addressed my special interests in Greek sculpture and Hellenistic art, both of which appeared prominently in my PhD dissertation. I suspect that this is unusual, though.

Have you had any language difficulties?

No, I haven’t. But I think that students should avoid thinking about their language acquisition in terms of “difficulty” or “ease”: it is indeed possible to acquire all the languages necessary for research as long as you set goals and work consistently, however long it takes. Keep your eyes on the prize because the prize is a fabulous one: the ability to read original texts that are related to your area of interest, many (if not most) of which aren’t translated!

Would you ever want to teach in Greece/Rome?

Yes, I’m interested in teaching in study abroad programs. I always enjoy bringing students to museums and sites, whether in the US or elsewhere, so that they can experience artworks and the built environment in person. I find lecturing to students at the National Museum in Athens to be especially fun. There’s so much to show them in one place!

What’s the one thing you wish you would have known about a PhD program before you started?

I think that it would have been helpful to know – and to internalize – that graduate school is a marathon, not a sprint, as clichéd as that sounds.

What’s your favorite piece of art?

The Great Altar at Pergamon, which dates to the 2nd century BCE, is, perhaps, my favorite monument because it has everything: a known general context; an over-the-top exterior Baroque sculptural frieze; an interior narrative sculptural frieze; architectural elements; and some archaeological puzzles for good measure. I enjoy visiting its ancient site in Bergama, Turkey and its modern display in Berlin, Germany.


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