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Meet a Fellow: Betsey Robinson

Posted by on Tuesday, April 6, 2021 in Robert Penn Waren Center.

BetseMeet Betsey Robinson, a 2020-2021 RPW Center Faculty Fellow. This year’s group is exploring the theme of “Imagining Cities.”

What does the phrase “Imagining Cities” mean to you?

I am an archaeologist and historian of architecture and landscapes in the ancient Mediterranean world, so it could be said that “my life is in ruins.” But really, my main occupation is imagining cities and sanctuaries, ancient space and place, based on diverse modes of evidence. My first book was a study of water, its management, and its cultural cachet in Ancient Corinth, Greece, where I still actively pursue urban studies. I’m currently working on a book entitled Divine Prospects: Mounts Helicon and Parnassus in Ancient Experience and Imagination. This project begins with sacred mountains and sanctuaries in central Greece, but I’m currently focused on reflections of those places in the art, architecture, and landscape architecture of contemporary cultural capitals, Alexandria, Rome,  Antioch, and Constantinople.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your research? If so, how, and how have you chosen to move forward?  

My scholarship depends on summer travel for archaeological fieldwork and library / archival research in Greece, so this summer I’ve had to be creative. One of my projects is a virtual re-excavation of part of Ancient Corinth that was dug the 1960s, and I’ve been able to maintain some momentum on that with my research assistant Josh Woods. I was going to be on leave this year, but have delayed til winter, hoping that things will start to open back up. In the meantime, I’m excited to be teaching a brand new class on “Drowning Cities” (Fall 2020), with Jonathan Gilligan and Steve Goodbred. It’s a first of its kind, jointly offered in History of Art and Architecture and Earth and Environmental Sciences, and it’s all online, so we’ve been working hard to create a really engaging course.

And, for fun, what was your first job and what did you learn from it?  

Not counting odd jobs for parents and neighbors, my first job was as a laboratory assistant in an oceanography lab in Woods Hole, MA. I washed glassware, xeroxed articles, did some chromatography, and learned a lot about research and collaboration.

Betsey Robinson is Associate Professor of History of Art and Architecture. She is a scholar of Greek and Roman architecture and art, ancient landscapes, sanctuaries, and cities. Since 1997 she has conducted research at the site of Ancient Corinth, one of the great cities of ancient Greece, focusing on water supply, architecture, and evolving urban form. Her book, Histories of Peirene: A Corinthian Fountain in Three Millennia (Princeton: ASCSA 2011) examined the natural spring, which first drew people to the site, through its heyday in the cosmopolitan capital of a Roman province and beyond. Her current project, “Divine Prospects: Mounts Helicon and Parnassus in Ancient Experience and Imagination,” is a book-length manuscript on the first-hand experience of storied places, and their imagination from afar.