Finding Something New in the Archaic
Classical Studies professor awarded fellowship to explore ancient Greek culture
Friday, December 11, 2020
Lawrence Kim staff photo

Trinity classical studies professor Lawrence Kim, Ph.D., has always had a fondness for “old” things, whether they be classic Hollywood movies, 19th century novels, or baroque music.

“I’m intrigued by the different senses of the term ‘old-fashioned’ today—is it a criticism? Or praise?” Kim wonders. “How do we make sense of the different stages in the history of literature, film, or art?”

Kim’s newly-awarded fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) extends his natural curiosity about the “old” into his professional career of examining the culture of ancient Greece. The prestigious ACLS was founded in 1919, and it promotes a wide range of opportunities for scholars in the humanities and related social sciences.

“The Greeks I study lived under the Roman Empire, but they revered the literature and culture of a period over five hundred years before their time, in the age of the Parthenon, the Athenian and Spartan empires, Greek tragedy, Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates—what we call Classical Greece,” Kim explains. “They were obsessed with studying and emulating a ‘classical’ era, that is, one located in the distant past.”

While those elements felt to be characteristically ‘classical’ might be the most popular and well-known aspects of ancient Greece, Kim says there are, problematically, elements from this period that struck Imperial Greeks as old-fashioned or archaic as well. Kim is interested in learning how these authors reconciled the two.

Kim says that different authors in Imperial Greece define “archaic” differently. Some use the term pejoratively, suggesting that the works are primitive, crude, and aesthetically unpleasing. Other authors, however, might find value in “archaic” style as being rustic and simple, but also honest and unpretentious. His goal is to begin sorting through those labels and what they mean.

“This project arises out of my general curiosity about how cultures make sense of the literary and artistic works of their own past,” Kim says. “More specifically, I’m interested in the problems involved with dividing the past into historical periods and the way in which aesthetic judgments about authors and texts become enmeshed with ethical judgments about the cultures that produce them.”

The ACLS fellowship will allow Kim to complete his research in Heidelberg, Germany, where 19th century scholars originally labeled the era now known as the “Archaic” period of ancient Greece. It’s yet another example of Trinity fostering perpetual discovery and lifelong learning beyond the confines of campus.

“I think that it benefits the University to have its professors engaged in the production of knowledge in their fields,” Kim says. “I really appreciate that Trinity provides its faculty with the opportunity to pursue their own research.”

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