Gizas on the summit of Acrocorinth, overlooking the Gulf of Corinth.
The American School is pleased to welcome Eleni Gizas as the new Steinmetz Family Foundation Museum Fellow, Corinth Excavations.
A graduate of Bryn Mawr College and Columbia University, Gizas is a trained archaeologist with excavation experience at Mygdalia Hill in Patra (2011), Gournia (2012), Morgantina (2014), and Onchestos (2016, 2017). Pursuing her broader interests in museum ethics, cultural heritage, and archaeology outreach, Gizas interned at the Museum of Cycladic Art (2011, 2013) and the Brooklyn Museum (2015) in the Department of Egyptian, Classical, and Near Eastern Art. For the last year and a half, Gizas, a native New Yorker, worked as a Registrar at Kasmin Gallery in New York City where she was responsible for collections management and artwork shipments, both domestic and international.
Now settled into life at Ancient Corinth, Gizas shares with us her enthusiasm for Greece, archaeology, and museum education.
Welcome to the American School Eleni! Is this your first experience with the ASCSA?
Thank you! I fortunately became familiar with the American School very early on due to the close relationship between undergraduate and graduate archaeology/Classics students at Bryn Mawr College. During my internship at the Museum of Cycladic Art, I lived right next door, at the BSA. Library closures aside, I am looking forward to exploring the resources available through the ASCSA and to attending some of the lectures throughout the year.
How did you become interested in the field of Classics and archaeology?
Growing up, I would spend summers in Greece with my family. My father always made sure to organize a road trip to an archaeological site since he figured that as my brother and I grew older we would be more interested in going island hopping than in trekking to temples and museums (little did he know!). The trips to Olympia, Pylos, Delphi, Epidauros, Corinth, and elsewhere instilled in me at a very young age a tangible connection to the archaeological landscape of Greece and, thanks to ten years in a Greek-American school, to my heritage. By my senior year of high school, I was fairly certain that I wanted to study archaeology in a formal capacity and eventually to work in a museum. When I discovered Bryn Mawr College, there was no looking back!
Gizas excavating at Onchestos in 2016.
You mentioned you interned at Museum of Cycladic Art. What was it like working there?
At the Museum of Cycladic Art I worked alongside museum educators to oversee the summer program for primary school children. I helped guide young children through the Cycladic and Ancient Greek galleries, allowing them to see the artifacts up close and to learn about their significance and use. At the MCA, I also led daily tours of the Cycladic gallery to diverse audiences of families, teens, and adults, native and non-native English speakers. The past few years, I have returned to my former Greek-American school to teach the sixth grade Social Studies classes about the field of archaeology. My goal is that they understand exactly how objects and entire sites are discovered and dated, get a sense of the kind of work archaeologists do on and off the field, and learn to appreciate that the information they read in their textbooks comes from many years of research.
What drew you to the Steinmetz Family Foundation Museum Fellowship?
My broad experience in collections management, my familiarity with archaeology outreach programs, and academic background have all shaped my desire to make museum collections accessible and meaningful to visitors and to promote an interpretation of the archaeological record beyond a mere aesthetic appreciation of artifacts. As an archaeologist, I am invested in learning the life history of an object and exploring what it can tell us about the ancient world. As a museum professional, I wish to share this experience with non-academics and create ways for others to interact with artifacts more closely. The Steinmetz Family Foundation Museum Education Fellowship is unique in its combination of these two facets.
What goals do you have for the position? What would you like to accomplish?
My predecessor, Katie Petrole, has done exceptional work launching Corinth Excavations into the online platform, Skype in the Classroom, a branch of the Microsoft Educator Community. Through this, teachers around the world can access lesson plans pertaining to Ancient Corinth (e.g., A Virtual Trip to Ancient Corinth) and can schedule virtual lessons that are taught by the Steinmetz Fellow. I intend to continue utilizing the digital programs and to expand the range of topics as I familiarize myself with the collection.
Further to the online programs, I hope to create on-site programs and lesson plans for Greek students in Corinthia (and elsewhere) in order to strengthen the involvement of school groups within the museum and establish a closer connection to the ongoing excavations. Similar to the online lesson plans, the Greek lesson plans will delve into specific topics that teachers can use in their classrooms and set the stage for museum visits, during which artifacts pertaining to the lesson will be passed around. In coordination with the local Ephoria and the Διεύθυνση Πρωτοβάθμιας Εκπαίδευσης Κορινθίας, we hope to establish a weekly schedule wherein school groups can sign up for museum programs that cover a specific topic (e.g., the Asklipieion, “Beauty,” etc.).
Is there an upcoming program that you're excited about?
I recently met with Dr. Nektaria Gliou, the school psychologist at Pierce-The American College of Greece. Over the past three years, collaborations between Pierce, the ASCSA Corinth Excavations, Diazoma, Olympia Odos, and the Greek Ministry of Culture have helped create interdisciplinary education programs for students in Athens and in Corinth (e.g., Operation Odeion: Music in Ancient Corinth Across). This April, Dr. Gliou and a group of high school students from the Psychology Club at Pierce together with students from a local Corinthian high school will assemble at the museum for a one day program on “beauty.” We will use specific objects in the collection as a starting point for discussions about what it means for something or someone to be beautiful or grotesque, both in the ancient world and today. In the past, the museum program has been enhanced by a short musical and/or theatrical performance by the students. I'm excited to see how the students will interpret the wide selection of material we plan to assemble for them and how they will choose to convey their opinions through performances.
Tell us about your favorite object in the Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth collection.
I am slowly making my way through the collection, storeroom by storeroom, shelf by shelf. Although I still have a long way to go, my first project had me exploring our collection of terracotta figurines. This little monkey caught my eye among a sea of horse figurines and female heads (MF 12610)! I love that you can see the fingerprints of its maker so vividly.
Object MF 12610, Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth Collection.
How will being a Greek-American influence your work as the Steinmetz Fellow?
In most Greek-American schools, students are taught about ancient Greece much in the same way as students in Greece. Even the history books are the same! What many of us lack, however, is a physical connection to the spaces and the objects about which we read. A school visit to Ancient Olympia or to the National Archaeological Museum would have been an invaluable supplement to a lesson on the Olympic Games or on Greek sculpture. I am fortunate that I will have the opportunity to contribute to both approaches- bringing Ancient Corinth to students who cannot be present physically and bringing students to Ancient Corinth where they can fully experience the site and the museum. The ability to create Greek language programs for local Greek students will add a unique dimension to this position and further disseminate the work of Corinth Excavations to people who call Corinth their home.
What are you looking forward to most about living in Ancient Corinth?
Everyone keeps joking about the New Yorker who moved to Ancient Corinth, but it’s really not that bad! My dad is from a truly small village in the mountains of Orini Nafpaktia, so Ancient Corinth is actually rather large in comparison. Also, the proximity to Corinth and to Athens does not make it feel remote. In any case, we are beginning to receive a steady influx of scholars and students and the subsequent excavation season will bring even more activity to Hill House. I am looking forward to interacting with new colleagues, learning about different projects, and gaining inspiration for new lesson plans.