by Meredith Dault
April 26, 2011
Every year, Dr. Fabio Colivicchi, a professor in the Department of Classics, returns to his native Italy with a group of graduate and upper year undergraduate students from Queen’s. They spend a week at the University of Basilicata taking classes and getting oriented before moving on to three weeks at an archeological excavation site. That’s where, working in collaboration with Italian students, they then get to try their hands on a real dig.
For Dr. Colivicchi the project -- only one of a number of international collaborations on-the-go in the department at any one time -- is an obvious way for students to learn, especially when they’re focusing on the ancient world in their research -- whether it’s archeology, history, or Greek and Latin language and literature.
“There were no Romans and Greeks in Canada,” he says with a smile. “So you can’t necessarily study it on the page. Even if you’re studying Homer, you can’t just do it on the page. You have to go to Greece. You have to understand the language, the culture and the landscape. You have to go where the object of your research is.”
Dr. Colivicchi also stresses the importance of building strong ties with scholars at other institutions -- especially for those graduate students hoping to pursue PhD work abroad (the program currently only offers a Master’s degree). “It’s a way to find out how they do things somewhere else. It’s a way to gain exposure to other university systems.” After all, he explains, “if you do research, it’s not about national boundaries. That colleague (in another part of the world) who does more-or-less what you do. He is your best counterpart anywhere in the world.”
It’s a message that Master’s student Mike Fergusson understands. As an undergrad student in the department, he took part in the trip to the University of Basilicata. “Going and being able to actually do archeology, and physically use a pick axe and hit bones or pottery or something,” says Fergusson about the experience, “it’s more fun than staring at a power point presentation.”
Because the department only takes on a handful of graduate students every year (there are 9 at the moment), each student gets lots of individualized mentorship from faculty. Fergusson, who has a background in photography, says he was drawn to archeology after taking a trip to Italy in his early teens. His current work is in Reflectance Transformation Imaging (or RTI) with Dr George Bevan, a photography technique used to capture an ancient object from between 30 and 60 different angles. A computer program then knits the images together in order to best capture an object’s surface subtleties so it can be better scrutinized for data.
It is an area of expertise that Dr. Colivicchi says has helped the department secure upcoming collaborative research work with the Italian Council of National Research in Sicily, Italy. “They are especially interested in managing and preserving architectural and artistic heritage,” he explains. “So we will be developing a workshop where all techniques for imaging, including RTI, would be explored.”
He cites RTI imaging is an example of how training in Classics open up all kinds of unexpected career paths. “There are lots of technical applications for archeology that you can make a career of,” he explains. “For example, many of my colleagues do imaging as a stream of research.”
As far as international collaborations go, Dr Colivicchi says that the department of Classics lead the pack, from international excavation projects, to research with scholars around the world. “Generally speaking, we probably have the highest concentration of different kinds of opportunities and projects... probably in the country,” he says. “Other programs may focus on literature, or archeology, but here at Queen’s, there really is a high level of research across all fields at the same time.”