Student Spotlight: Joseph Woldman, PhD Candidate in Art History and Archaeology

February 12, 2020
Joseph Woldman

Where did you grow up?
Bergen County, New Jersey.

What drew you to your field? 
I was primarily drawn to the consideration of how images in ancient Etruria capture aspects of the human condition, and how visual modes of expression are a means to access and understand an ancient civilization whose text we have largely lost.

How would you explain your current research to someone outside your field? 
My dissertation considers several media made from clay that were produced in Etruria during the Archaic period. It looks at objects that incorporate faces as a primary motif to gauge how the addition of a face allows the object to participate in a range of activities as a spectator. In this sense, I am investigating to what degree objects might have engaged with their surroundings instead of serving as inert paraphernalia or decor.

What Columbia resources or opportunities have been most valuable to you?
Access to the materials: collections in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library and Art Properties, and the Arts Initiative.

Is there a common misconception about a topic in your field that you wish you could correct?
The belief that Etruscan art, language, and civilization is inscrutable or enigmatic, which usually goes hand-in-hand with the belief that the quality is poor and simple compared with that of other ancient civilizations. This bias harks back to the eighteenth century, but nevertheless underlies a lot of scholarship in Classical Art and Archaeology.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Surviving this far in the program! One of my most gratifying recent experiences was sharing a portion of my research with experts in my field at the 2019 annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in San Diego. It was wonderful to talk about my interests with individuals who were also invested in my topic and who had engaged with the objects I was discussing.

Who is your hero of fiction?
Hermione Granger. Even though I pride myself on being sorted into Ravenclaw (through quizzes, Pottermore, etc.), I admire her voracious appetite for, and ownership of, knowledge.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My parents, for sure. I cannot fathom having the energy and drive to raise two children, and invest so much into exposing them to as much culture as possible. Most important, they always stressed kindness, empathy, and sincerity – traits that matter regardless of the path you take.

What music have you been listening to lately?
A lot of classical music on low volume as I read or write. Ludovico Einaudi is one of my favorites.