2015 Sibley Fellowship

By Lisa McDonald

Anna Sitz, a PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania specializing in the art and archaeology of the Mediterranean world, is Phi Beta Kappa’s newest Sibley Fellow. Her research focuses on the late antique period of Greece and Asia Minor, a subject rarely studied in America despite the fact the Byzantine Empire in Asia Minor was the heir of both Hellenic culture and ancient Rome. For Sitz, seeing the transition from the pagan world to the early Christian period fascinates her, and she explores this era through her chosen field—epigraphy.

Inscriptions have been left largely untouched throughout time, and the research that has been done focuses on the moment the inscriptions were created and the historical circumstances. Sitz, however, expands upon existing research to uncover the impact these inscriptions had on later generations in the area, be that through residents revering the historical sites or intentionally forgetting their significance, a fact which played a large role during the transition to Christianity. “[The temples] were easily recognizable symbols of the old religion at a time when many cities began to advertise their association with early Christian figures instead,” notes Sitz. “It may have been easier for city residents to forget or ignore the cultic significance of these buildings while focusing instead on their civic importance and association with famous historical figures.”

Sitz has spent years studying ancient and medieval Greek which she says has made it much easier for her to learn modern Greek. Being able to read the ancient language is useful when studying inscriptions, but modern Greek is what helps her get around in Greece. For the 2015-2016 academic year, she plans to visit as many temples in Greece and Turkey as she can. Previous adventures have led her through the more famous temples, but this time she plans to focus on the less well-known sites, since the most popular areas are not representative of the many ways temples were reused or abandoned in late antiquity. At these temples Sitz plans to build on the work of previous scholars by focusing not only on the text of the inscription but its visual appearance and physical location as well.

When taking a break from deciphering inscriptions, Sitz enjoys exploring the areas surrounding all her research sites. She feels very lucky that her studies allow her to travel as much as she does, and she loves to wander the streets of Athens and visit historic locations around the Acropolis whenever she’s there.

Winning the Sibley Fellowship is a huge honor for Sitz, and she is thrilled Phi Beta Kappa has helped her on her way to telling the story of the period that links ancient Greece with the modern Greek world. When asked her thoughts on the importance of liberal arts in today’s educational environment, Sitz replied she feels they are as important as ever: “The ability to think critically and creatively is important in every discipline. Better understanding other cultures, either present day ones or historical societies, helps us think more deeply about our own culture.”

The Sibley Fellowship is awarded annually by the Phi Beta Kappa Society to women age 25 to 35 conducting original research in the alternating fields of Greek or French. The fellowship stipend of $20,000 allows the winner to devote full-time work to their research during the fellowship year. The Sibley Fellowship is not exclusive to Phi Beta Kappa members or U.S. citizens. More information regarding the award can be found here

Lisa McDonald is a sophomore at Coe College majoring in Physics and Communication Studies. Coe College is home to the Epsilon of Iowa Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.