Why Water Matters: Fall 2019
Course Description And Objectives

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Course Assignments

Schedule of Assigned Readings


Water is everywhere. 71% of our earth is covered in water (96% of which exists in the world’s oceans). Water exists in the air as vapor and as moisture in soil. The human body is comprised of over 50% water, and a person cannot survive without water for more than a few days. Keeping well-hydrated contributes to regular bodily functioning, clear skin, and clear headedness. Evidence that suggests the existence of liquid water near the surface of Mars leads scientists today speculate whether life existed on the red planet. And recent discoveries of planets that MIGHT have liquid water have the astronomy world all abuzz. Water is essential to life as we know it.

To the ancients, water was no less important. Seas, the circumambient Ocean, rivers, lakes – waterways – were integral to the fabric of Greek culture. The sea was the lifeline of Greek communities, essential to polis subsistence (through fishing), commerce, defense. The sea was the backdrop for mythology. Heracles, Jason, and Odysseus traveled by sea. Colonization was largely a maritime enterprise, as were great voyages of exploration (Hanno, Pytheas, Alexander). It is only natural, then, that the Greeks would inquire into the nature of the ocean, seas, and other waterways. Aided by data collected from sailors, merchants, and explorers, they investigated sea and river depths, currents, tides, silting, estuaries, riverine anomalies (most notably the Nile flood), and other aquatic phenomena.

In this course we will investigate the ancient Mediterranean understanding and use of water, looking forward to how the stresses have remained the same but how theories and human responses to those stresses have changed.


Course Objectives:

The excitement of scholarly inquiry:

Both the human condition and the scholarly process are fluid. Our readings, focusing on primary sources, will cover a large chronological sweep to show how theory changes as data are accrued and social structures adapt. Even modern interpretations of ancient theory change. Thus, a combination of primary and secondary sources demonstrates that scholarship is a complex interplay between primary sources, scholarly training, and the scholar’s own cultural biases or even political prejudices. Through this course you are warmly invited to participate in this dialogue.

Digital information:

We shall examine a variety of secondary sources (both traditional and digital) and discuss the merits of peer-reviewed scholarship over “popularizing” sources (e.g. internet blogs, personal web pages, and such). Since the course will rely so heavily on primary sources, we shall also focus on the issues that surround their interpretation and learn how to cite them properly. Furthermore, we shall also learn how to find, navigate, and assess digital sources (JSTOR, L’Annee Philologique, databases).