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May 12, 2005



Jim Wright

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded Professor of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology Jim Wright a fellowship for his sabbatical starting in January 2006. The grant will fund work on a study of the Mycenaean society of Late Bronze Age Greece. Wright plans to devote his sabbatical year to organizing and writing the monograph, which he has been researching since his last academic leave in 2000.

The Mycenaeans occupied the mainland of southern and central Greece during the Late Bronze Age, from about 1600 to 1100 B.C.E. Since the last survey of Mycenaean society was published in 1977, Wright says, a wealth of new information, much from intensive surface surveys, has enabled a more detailed study of the political and economic geography of the Mycenaeans than was previously possible. Wright has spent several years creating databases of all the evidence of settlement and mortuary remains currently in the archaeological record and has recently published several papers on the topic.

"The book will address two major issues," Wright says. "First, how do complex societies form when there are other, much more powerful and developed civilizations in contact with them? Second, how does such a society spread?

"The Mycenaeans developed a distinct society that drew heavily from the earlier developed Minoan culture on the island of Crete. As their settlements on the mainland expanded, the Mycenaeans took over the palace-based society on Crete and also expanded into the islands, notably on Rhodes, and along the southwestern coast of Turkey, especially at Miletos, where, apparently, they came into contact with the Hittites. Even the Egyptians were familiar with them. This is a very interesting example of secondary state formation and of the early formation of state-like polities, but the existing literature doesn't address the socioeconomic mechanisms by which these transformations occurred.

"I'll be looking at the social underpinnings of production and exchange systems — how in the Bronze Age they actually worked, how undeveloped societies react to contact with much more developed states and what allows a small, militaristic group to take over a much larger population. Among other aspects I'll explore is how we can illuminate this period by studying practices like slavery, raiding and piracy," Wright says.

Wright's aim is to produce an account of these processes that is thoroughly grounded in archaeological evidence, but also informed by reference to work by anthropologists and political theorists who have inquired into the origins and evolution of historical societies.

Wright credits students in a graduate seminar he taught this year with many important contributions to his thinking. "They focused my research questions and helped me understand what I'm looking for in many ways I had not anticipated, and I look forward to their comments on drafts of what I write," he says.


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