Q&A with Professor Margaret Mook

CATEGORIES: March 2014
Margaret Mook

1) How did you decide to become a University professor?

During the first half of my undergraduate education I pursued a degree in mathematics and the summer between my sophomore and junior years I spent two months in Greece on a study-abroad program with several very inspiring professors. This was a transformative experience and, when I returned to campus, I changed my major to ancient Greek and also began the coursework for a minor in Latin. I was certain that I wanted to pursue a career involving some aspect of ancient Greece, and that this would necessarily involve graduate study, with the ultimate goal of conducting research and teaching at the college level. I decided to undertake a Ph.D. in Classics, still not certain what my specialization would be. One of the many enticing and gratifying aspects of Classical Studies is that we can pursue almost any interest through the lens of ancient Greece or Rome and the many cultures and regions encompassed through time by the Greco-Roman world. Ultimately, my love of archaeological fieldwork led me to write a dissertation presenting the remains and interpretation of a cluster of ancient houses on Crete, that I had participated in excavating.


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2) What do you consider to be your most notable professional achievement?

I have a deep conviction that scholarly research must inform teaching and impact students in the classroom. I am proudest of my ability to introduce students to Classical Studies and help them understand how ancient Greek and Roman cultures are relevant to the 21st century and continue to influence our life-experiences. I take great delight in facilitating students’ abilities to make these connections, ones that are often surprising and frequently impacted by new discoveries and diverse intellectual approaches to interpreting and understanding the Greeks and Romans.

3) What has been your most memorable international experience?

This is an impossible question for me to answer because I am fortunate enough to have had several remarkable international experiences; I honestly cannot identify just one as the most memorable–all have made significant contributions to my worldview and development as a humanist. Those that have had the greatest impact include living in Australia as a high-school student in the mid-1970s. As indicated above, my first trip to Greece in 1981 was life altering. This in turn caused me to spend my last term as an undergraduate, in the spring of 1983, on an archaeological excavation in a rural area of northwestern Jordan, close to the Jordan River and opposite the West Bank. Not only did this experience provide some first-hand insights into the challenges of Israeli-Palestinian politics, but also a much greater appreciation of the importance of geography and topography to historical events, past and present. Excavating in Jordan confirmed that I would be most fulfilled professionally by pursuing the study of ancient Greece through material culture, as a field archaeologist.

4) What is the last foreign country you visited? Is there a place in that country that you recommend anyone to visit?

Last summer I spent three months in Greece; three weeks directing an ISU travel-study program (The Archaeology of Greece) and nine weeks as a senior staff member of the Azoria Project excavation on the island of Crete, in which ISU students also participated. For anyone visiting Greece, I recommend travelling to the small island of Thera, in the central Aegean. It is easily accessible by air from major cities and even more readily by boat. The form of this island and group of islets is the result of volcanic activity that has carved dramatic cliffs on the interior and exposed awe-inspiring, colorful strata of material deposited by many volcanic eruptions. The central islets are barren, black and red, created by the most recent eruptions. A catastrophic eruption in the Late Bronze Age buried a Minoan-style town at Akrotiri, where today one can see houses and public buildings built in the middle of the second millennium BCE and preserved to the second story. Not only is the landscape of Thera spectacular, but so too is this rare archaeological site at Akrotiri. They should not be missed!

5) What has been the most interesting or unusual course you taught at ISU?

The most interesting course I have taught at ISU is certainly the Global Seminar in Greece, CL ST 395: The Archaeology of Greece. Nothing is reliably more exciting and fulfilling, for both students and instructor, than exploring the many facets of ancient Greece in person.