New Book: Testing the Canon of Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archaeology (OUP, 2020)

Testing the Canon of Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archaeology, edited by Amy Rebecca Gansell and Ann Shafer (Oxford University Press, $99).

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book cover showing ancient Near Eastern art and archaeology
Cover art by Jessica Levine, 2019.

With this volume, Gansell, Shafer, and their expert contributors confront canons, as established icons of culture, and ask how they come to be, of what use they are today, and whether they might transform or disintegrate in the future. In particular, this book investigates the ancient Near Eastern canon (Hammurabi’s Code, the gates of Babylon, the biblical sites of Ur and Nineveh…) from academic and native, Middle Eastern perspectives. Ultimately, it proposes to expand and transform the canon from a colonial artifact into a global tool for sharing, celebrating, and preserving the region’s diverse cultural heritage. We hope that this book offers not only seminal academic papers, but hope and a path to peace between people and cultures.



Foreword Irene J. Winter

Chapter 1: Perspectives on the Ancient Near Eastern Canon: More than Mesopotamia’s Greatest Hits Amy Rebecca Gansell and Ann Shafer

Chapter 2: The Southern Levant and the Ancient Near Eastern Canon Rachel Hallote
Chapter 3: Archaeological Research in Pre-Classical Syria and the Canon of Ancient Near Eastern Art and Archaeology Marina Pucci
Chapter 4: The Past, Present, and Future of the Canon of Ancient Anatolian Art Susan Helft
Chapter 5:The Canon of Ancient Iranian Art: From Grand Narratives to Local Perspectives Henry P. Colburn
Chapter 6: “Classical” vs. “Ancient” in the Near Eastern Canon: The Position of Graeco-Roman Art from the Levant, c. 330 BCE-636 CE Elise A. Friedland

Chapter 7: Defining the Canon of Funerary Archaeology in the Ancient Near East Nicola Laneri
Chapter 8: The Canon of Ancient Near Eastern Glyptic on a Roll: Leaps, Hurdles, and Goals Diana L. Stein
Chapter 9: The Canon of Ancient Near Eastern Palaces David Kertai

Chapter 10: How Ancient and Modern Memory Shapes the Past: A Canon of Assyrian Memory Davide Nadali
Chapter 11: Museums as Vehicles for Defining Artistic Canons: The Case of the Ancient Near East in the British Museum Paul Collins
Chapter 12: Beyond the Canon: The Future of the Past in Museum Exhibitions of Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern Art Rachel P. Kreiter
Chapter 13: The Ancient Near Eastern Canon in the University Classroom, and Beyond: My Colleagues Speak Ann Shafer

Heritage Perspectives
Chapter 14: The Lucrative Business of the Cyrus Cylinder: Commodification of an Iranian Icon Kamyar Abdi
Chapter 15: Between Hazor and Masada-Iconic archaeological sites as symbols of collective memories in modern Israeli identities Gideon Avni
Chapter 16: Past Resurrections Tamara Chalabi
Chapter 17: Earth, Rocks, and Blood: A Wandering Home Sargon George Donabed
Chapter 18: 6,000 Years Maymanah Farhat
Chapter 19: Cultural Heritage Attrition in Egypt Monica Hanna
Chapter 20: Crafting the Ancient Near Eastern Canon: A Personal Reflection Zena Kamash
Chapter 21: The Consequences of the Destruction of Syrian Heritage on the Syrian Identity and Future Generations Youssef Kanjou, translated from Arabic by Nadia Barakat
Chapter 22: Contemporary Art and Archaeology in the Arab World Salwa Mikdadi
Chapter 23: The Assyrians-Then and Now Ramsen Shamon
Chapter 24: Bringing the Past to a Living Room Near You: The Archaeological Heritage of Anatolia on Glass Oya Topçuoglu



A new course: Gender and Sexuality in Ancient Art around the World

cartoon figures of men and women with gender symbols
Image source:

This year the Women’s and Gender Studies minor at my school (St. John’s University) updated its title and scope. It is now a minor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. To support its new dimension, we need new courses. This is good news to me because I have wanted to teach a course on Ancient Gender and Sexuality since I was first exposed to the subject of ancient Greek sexuality by Professor Helene Foley when I was an undergraduate at Barnard over 20 (wow!) years ago.

Greek kylix, c. 520-510 BCE, Yale University Art Gallery, image source

So I have set about developing a new course: Gender and Sexuality in Ancient Art around the World. In envisioning a course that would be most inclusive and of the broadest relevance to students’ culturally diverse interests, I found my efforts aligned with the disciplinary turn to globalize Art History. However, most courses (most of which are very good!) on ancient Gender and Sexuality focus on the Classical/Near Eastern world, which is my own area of expertise, putting me at a certain disadvantage to expand beyond these bounds. But, my Graduate Assistant (Elizabeth Pamblanco, Museum Administration MA candidate) and I have turned up a lot of material on gender and sexuality in Prehispanic American and Prehistoric European cultures. We’ve also found scholarship on gender and sexuality in ancient India and China. The outcome nonetheless remains remains globally imbalanced, and I’m not sure if it’s a result of the strengths/weaknesses of my own knowledge or if there has simply been more work done on Classical and Near Eastern cultures. It is probably a combination of both factors. But I hope that this course will nonetheless help students to think globally and cross-culturally. And I hope that by teaching it I will learn more so that I can teach more about cultures and topics with which I am presently less acquainted. 

Moche ‘sex pot,’ Peru, c. 500–800 CE, image source

Our research in preparing a course proposal alerted me to two issues that I would like to raise. First, what is ‘ancient’ across cultures? Pre-Columbian cultures, for example, continue to the era of the European Renaissance, but I will include material on Aztec (c. 1300s-1521) gender and sexuality in the course. On the other end of the spectrum, I will also include Prehistoric (Paleolithic and Neolithic) material that falls outside of some definitions of “Ancient World.” Second, so many publication and course titles refer to the “Ancient World,” but this world turns out to be limited to Classical civilizations. Sometimes “Ancient World” more broadly refers to Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures. But very rarely does it refer to the whole world. So that it is clear that this new course aims to cover cultures beyond the Mediterranean and Near East, I’ve preliminarily titled it “Gender and Sexuality in Ancient Art around the World.”

Woman of Willendorf, c. 28,000-25,000 BCE, image source

Please have a look at my proposal with bibliography, posted here. Maybe you are looking for ideas for globalizing your own Ancient Gender and Sexuality course. And/or maybe you have advice for me. I’d love feedback, and especially any suggestions on the course title or additional bibliography on any culture (including those not already represented). Thank you!