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Forging Ahead with the Study of the Past

Archaeology prof James Wiseman is department’s first endowed chair

James Wiseman, a co-founder of BU’s archaeology department, was installed in the department’s first endowed chair in December. Photo courtesy of the Department of Archaeology

When James Wiseman helped to found the University’s first department of archaeology in 1981, he did something that would change the field forever. While many colleges offered courses in archaeology as supplements to other majors, no other institution had a department that emphasized the broad study of the discipline in all regions.

“There are places that have anthropology, sociology, or art history and archaeology,” says Wiseman, who is now director of the Center for Archaeological Studies, and a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. “But this is the only one that is straight archaeology, and we try to cover all areas and historical periods.”

Twenty-five years later, the department — which remains the only one of its kind in the country — has reached a new milestone with the establishment of its first endowed chair last December. Wiseman was installed in the Founder’s Chair, which was endowed by the Joukowsky Family Foundation, at a reception last month, and it will be named for him upon his retirement.

“Having a chair is a real point of distinction for the department,” says Wiseman.“It’s a fine honor, and I am deeply complimented.”

Wiseman, who specializes in the archaeology of the Roman provinces, began his career at BU in the Classical Studies department in 1973, and served as its chairman until he co-founded the archaeology department with the late Creighton Gabel. Archaeology courses were initially offered as an interdepartmental program, but Wiseman wanted to develop a program that had a comprehensive approach, exposing students to a variety of disciplines and methods, and giving them the opportunity to work directly in field research.

Now, the department offers academic programs in prehistoric and historic world archaeology, and provides training in materials recovery, analysis, and interpretation. The Journal of Field Archaeology is published at BU, and the University operates two field schools that give students hands-on excavation experience: one at an Iron-Age site in Menorca, Spain, and one at a Maya site in Belize. Wiseman is currently the director of excavations at the Menorca site.

The Founder’s Chair is an important step forward for the department, says chairman Norman Hammond, because it represents “continuing growth and vitality.” Wiseman hopes it will also serve as a recruiting tool, bringing a richer pool of potential faculty members to BU.

“It was our intention from the beginning to include a large number of people who work in the field and in the lab, so that our students are involved directly in research, and at any given time, there are archaeologists from our department, who are doing research on five continents,” he says. “This chair ensures our being able to add a distinguished faculty member, and we hope there will be others.”

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.