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Mesopotamia: Civilization, Archaeology, and Material Culture

Embark on a captivating exploration of Mesopotamian civilization through archaeology and material culture. Join us as we delve into the origins, structures, and legacy of this ancient society, unraveling its significance amidst historical interpretations and contemporary geopolitical contexts. 

  • All levels
  • 21 and older
  • $335
  • Earn 10% Rewards
  • Price Lock
  • Online Classroom
  • 12 hours over 4 sessions

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  • $335
  • 12 hours over 4 sessions
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Class Description

Description

What you'll learn in this lecture class:

What qualifies as a “civilization”? And why is Mesopotamia commonly called its “cradle”? Art, agriculture, and animal husbandry all pre-existed the settlements that dotted the “fertile crescent” between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. But it was there, amongst the cities of Uruk, Kish, Ur, and elsewhere, that the basic structures of civilization first took root: from irrigation to written language (Sumerian), formal law (the Code of Ur-Nammu), literature (the Epic of Gilgamesh), arithmetic, money (the shekel), class, state, monarchy, slavery, and—with the successive conquests of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians—military empire. Yet, if the material facts of Mesopotamia are well-known, how do we begin to interpret their significance, interconnection, and the forms of life that emerged with and through Mesopotamian material culture? We might even ask: does “Mesopotamia” correspond to an actual geography? Or, is it a fictional landscape, the colonial invention of 19th-century European archaeologists who saw in its artifacts both civilizational promise (ultimately realized in the West) and an essential savagery (latent in the subject peoples of colonized Eurasia and Africa)? What do we know about the historical region we call Mesopotamia—its origination, urbanization, processes of cultural and state formation, social structures, economies, daily life—and how do we know it ? How has its material culture been variously interpreted across time? And, how, in interpreting Mesopotamia, do we in some sense interpret ourselves, reiterating (while projecting) contemporary norms and relations in the attempt to make legible an ancient past at once strange and recognizable?

In this course, we will explore the history, and the historiography, of Mesopotamia, drawing on excavated remains, material culture, and textual evidence to answer major questions about the origins, structures, meaning, and legacy of Mesopotamian civilization. What made the region a suitable site for the Neolithic revolution? Why did settlements evolve into city-states, and what kinds of technologies and structures arose or were devised to organize urban life? How can we understand Mesopotamian class and social relations—and were they consistent across city-states? And, as we answer, we’ll attend to ways such questions were posed and answered in the past. In particular, we’ll seek to deconstruct the colonial discourse that surrounded early European scholarship on Mesopotamia. How did Orientalism shape the way Mesopotamian antiquities were received—and to what extent does Orientalism linger still? And finally, connecting past and present, we’ll examine the impact of invasion, civil war, migration, and climate change on Mesopotamian archaeology, recovery, preservation, display, and interpretation. How have governments, archaeologists, and artists (including Rayah Abd Al-Redah, Betoul Mahdey, Fatimah Jawdat, and Michael Rakowitz) responded to the manifold threats imperiling Mesopotamian sites and artifacts? How do contemporary geopolitics compel us to understand, interpret, and value Mesopotamia anew? 

Remote Learning

This course is available for "remote" learning and will be available to anyone with access to an internet device with a microphone (this includes most models of computers, tablets). Classes will take place with a "Live" instructor at the date/times listed below.

Upon registration, the instructor will send along additional information about how to log-on and participate in the class.

Refund Policy

  • Upon request, we will refund less 5% cancellation fee of a course up until 6 business days before its start date.
  • Students who withdraw after that point but before the first class are entitled to 75% refund or full course credit.
  • After the first class: 50% refund or 75% course credit.
  • No refunds or credits will be given after the second class.

In any event where a customer wants to cancel their enrollment and is eligible for a full refund, a 5% processing fee will be deducted from the refund amount.

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Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research was established in 2011 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Its mission is to extend liberal arts education and research far beyond the borders of the traditional university, supporting community education needs and opening up new possibilities for scholarship in the...

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