Inside CAS

College of Arts and Sciences


Using the Past to Make Sense of the Present

Monday, August 08, 2016


Article and Photo by Olivia Dawson ’16

History takes part in helping countries learn from the mistakes and successes of the past, social change and civic life. The study of art history, specifically ancient pottery, helps people learn more about daily life, habits, economic exchanges and architecture, to name a few. For associate professor of art and art history, Nicholas Hudson, the study of ceramic remains provides a voice to the average person when literature may not have.

Hudson earned his Ph.D. in Classical and Near Eastern Studies in 2006 focusing on ancient and medieval art and archaeology. He has been teaching at UNCW for eight years. When asked why he focuses his research on pottery, he replies with a simple explanation.

“Art speaks to everybody’s experiences,” he says. “Pottery was a ubiquitous item in the ancient world used for storage, transportation of goods, cooking, serving and much more. The possibilities are endless and are constantly giving a wide range of information on a more common means of living.”

Five years ago Hudson and Isabel Heblich Zermani ’12 had the opportunity to participate in summer archaeological excavations at Tell Timai in the Egyptian Delta, which Hudson led. The political instability of the country led Hudson to decide not to return to Egypt, but Zermani did later in order to finish writing and illustrating a children’s book. Hudson says he learned a great deal about both the past and the present world. Between the political situations he witnessed and the novelty of his findings, the fieldwork experience proved the most informative trip for him yet.  It was particularly special because Heblich Zermani received a grant from the National Geographic Society to publish her children’s book, The Story of Ancient Timai. The purpose of the venture was to bridge the gap between local inhibitors and foreign researchers.

“This has been the most rewarding project to be a part of,” says Hudson. “You get to see real changes, discoveries and interactions that affect real lives.”

Studying history while enduring the present, such as the upcoming presidential election, can help us understand outcomes and make better educated decisions in the future. “What better way to judge whether or not something makes sense within the larger context of society today than by looking back and seeing the results of former actions,” explains Hudson. “Any better understanding of the world in which we live in is going to result in a citizen body that is better equipped to make good decisions about governance, who we elect as our country’s officials, how we allocate funds, and the kinds of laws we choose to enact.”

Hudson is no stranger to research. Since his specialty interest is Roman pottery, he has spent a great deal of his time examining the area’s ancient ceramics. Hudson visited Northern Greece again this past June to work with the Molyvoti, Thrace, Archaeological Project (MTAP) to analyze materials excavated from past trips. In the summer of 2015 he examined early Roman pottery findings that were used in the 2nd and 3rd century A.D. This time he wanted access to materials from the 5th and 6th century A.D.

In the middle of July he went to the Danish Institute of Archaeology in Athens to co-host an international workshop. The worksop wanted to educate Egyptian ceramic analysts on The Levantine Ceramics Project (LCP) as well as fill in any gaps in their understanding. He is editor for the Egyptian region of the LCP, which aims to create a massive open source database for people working on pottery. Hudson is also a professional archaeologist who travels around the country on the National Lecture Tour for the Archaeological Institute of America to speak to the public about his research.

When back in Wilmington he enjoys working with students to help make sense of this history. “It’s not me, so much, that makes students want to be a part of the research and learn,” says Hudson. “The material and findings are really cool.” Hudson points out that in the College of Arts and Sciences, the “arts” do not get as much attention, but that “the humanities are the tool in which students can be engaged in the world around them and understand their place in the community at a local, state, national, and global level.”