Humanitas: girls and Latin, the exploration of Dura-Europos and the “invisible” disease


In the latest edition of Humanitas, a column devoted to the arts and humanities at Yale, we dive into the 18andLast century correspondence of Alethea Stiles, the young cousin of a future Yale president whose letters offer a window into the education of women in early America, celebrates the centenary of the discovery of the ancient city of Dura-Europos and hear from a Yale author whose New York Times bestseller describes living with an “invisible” chronic illness.

For more, please see the archive of all arts and humanities coverage on Yale News.

And why can’t I go to college?

In 1754, nine-year-old Alethea Stiles wrote a letter to her cousin Ezra Stiles, then tutor at Yale College and later seventh president of Yale, and asked him an important question.

My brother is happy with the book you sent him and says he will learn it,” she wrote. “He talks a lot about going to college. And why can’t I go to college[e]? ‘Cause my dad said a Jenny Cameron wore a jacket and panties and was a good soldier. And why can’t I do it and live in college? »

The letter, which is part of the Ezra Stiles Papers in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, is one of many featured in a recent journal article by PhD student Teddy Delwiche, a second-year Ph.D. student in history at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. In the article, published recently in the international journal Humanistica Lovaniensia, Delwiche wrote that the letters from Yale’s collection, printed for the first time, “provide an important point of entry into the female world of classical education in early America”. One of Alethea’s letters was written entirely in Latin.

Alethea’s letters are notable for many reasons,” Delwiche told Yale News. “Here is a precocious American woman advocating—for the first documented time, to my knowledge—to break down gender barriers in colonial American college. Providing summaries of Roman history and an original Latin letter, Alethea has visibly proved his intellectual prowess. Admittedly, from today’s point of view, a short Latin letter may seem trivial, mundane, or even uninteresting to the uninitiated on the subject. But its importance cannot be overestimated.

Composing a letter in Latin was something of a rite of passage in the early modern world, Delwiche says. It was also the ticket to enter an intellectual or scholarly community. “Alethea recognized his accomplishment and drew attention to his scholarship,” he said, “It is quite normal for scholars today to pay attention to him.”

Yet it’s also important that Alethea Stiles isn’t seen as unique, Delwiche added. His discovery in the Yale archives, he writes in his article, shows the importance of archival documents in illuminating history and how they can “give voice” to a girl like Alethea Stiles, “whose we don’t know almost nothing”, as well as many other people throughout history.

Far from being a modern phenomenon, Americans have always questioned the value – or lack thereof – of a classical education,” Delwiche said. “Working at the intersection of modern history, American colonial history, and classical studies, and delving deep into the archives, I hope to uncover the many facets through which a traditional humanities education could do so much more than what we might expect. As the case of Alethea illustrates, this could challenge tradition.

The past, present and future of an ancient site

A hundred years ago, excavations began on the ancient multicultural city of Dura-Europos, a site dating back to 300 BCE that has since been a source of fascination for scholars and non-scholars alike. At Yale, several campus offerings mark the centennial of this archaeological project.

While early excavations at the site, located in present-day Syria, were conducted by the French, Yale and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters jointly sponsored archaeological work at the site from 1928 to 1937. In 2011 and 2014, the site was looted and largely destroyed by the Islamic State during the Syrian Civil War.

The looting and looting of the site was one of the topics that was explored at an international conference, “Dura-Europos: past, present, future”, held last week.

In the keynote address, Leila A. Amineddoleh, an expert in the field of art and cultural heritage law, examined the history of looting and modern efforts to prevent looting. Other topics explored during the three-day event included “Monuments and memory at Dura-Europos”, “The problem of the ‘Semitic’ world at Dura and in ancient history”, “Dura and the problem of Parthian Art One Hundred Years Later,” and “The Looting of Dura-Europos: ISIS and the Illicit Trade in Antiquities,” among others.

The event aimed to stimulate those with an interest in antiquity, but also anyone curious about questions of multi-ethnic interactions, religion and identity, and “the tangled issues of cultural heritage”, said Milette Gaifman, chair of the Department of Art History and professor. in art history and classics at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

In addition to the conference, two related exhibitions are currently on display exploring the history and cultural significance of Dura-Europos. The Institute of Sacred Music celebrates the centenary of the Yale excavations with the online exhibition “Photographs of Dura-Europos: 1922–2022 and Onward”, a selection of archival photographs from the Yale-French excavations that illustrate the role played by the images in documenting and promoting the archaeological project. The photos are among 5,000 Dura-Europos-related photos that are part of the Yale University Art Gallery archive that have been digitized and made accessible online.

The Yale University Art Gallery, which has some of the more than 10,000 objects in its Dura-Europos collection on permanent display, also has an online exhibition, “Dura-Europos: Excavating Antiquity,” which illustrates the discovery of a Christian building, a synagogue, wall inscriptions and more that provide insight into the cultural and religious life of the ancient Middle Eastern city.

A long diagnostic search

In her new book “The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness” (Riverhead Books), Meghan O’Rourke, Yale Review editor and English lecturer, describes the despair she felt at being cured of weird and debilitating set of symptoms she began to experience in her twenties. “I thought I couldn’t stay in the box that was my body anymore – and yet I had to,” she wrote.

The book, which recently became a New York Times bestseller, chronicles O’Rourke’s journey to finding a diagnosis for the mysterious constellation of symptoms she has experienced for more than a decade. And he also documents his years of research into the rise of “invisible” diseases — those with a cloudy presentation of symptoms and often autoimmune in nature — in the United States, particularly among young women.

O’Rourke began writing her book in 2013, long before COVID gained scientific and popular attention. But as the coronavirus began to spread in the United States, she began to fear the chronic illness that could follow infection for some, she has said in numerous interviews she has given since the release of his book.

In her own case, O’Rourke was eventually diagnosed with Lyme disease, along with a few other autoimmune diseases.

The hardest part about being sick was that I didn’t feel like I had a defender on my side who even fully believed in the reality of what I was describing to them,” O’Rourke said during an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross. “When you’re at the cutting edge of medical knowledge, the lack of evidence is treated as proof that the problem is you and your mind…I felt, in a way, locked in a room like a hysterical du Nineteenth century. “

O’Rourke’s research found that she was far from alone in this experience, and that when doctors cannot easily find a cause for the bewildering array of symptoms, they often attribute the illness to the ‘anxiety. This, she told Gross, puts unfair pressure on patients to “testify about the reality of their illnesses.”

I think we are witnessing a calamity that is not a personal failure, but a societal failure, and one that we really have to reckon with openly.

Ji Su Jung
Ji Su Jung ’19MM ’20 AD

Percussion Soloist Wins Avery Fisher Career Fellowship

Yale School of Music alumnus Ji Su Jung ’19 MM ’20 AD, who performs as a solo percussionist and chamber musician, was recently awarded the Avery Fisher Career Grant, a prestigious award that provides professional and a recognition to talented instrumentalists and chamber ensembles, Yale School of Music reports.

It is the first time a percussionist has received the $25,000 award, which is administered by the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Jung, a percussion lecturer at Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute, and other fellows performed at an announcement ceremony March 22. Look at the performance.

More arts and humanities:

Eight writers honored with Yale’s Windham-Campbell Prizes

Comedy quest for thinness wins Yale Drama Series award

Q&A: Elijah Anderson on the Burden of Being Black in White Spaces

Collection with ‘warnings’ wins Yale Younger Poets Award


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