Institute for the Study of the Ancient World

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The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW) is a center for advanced scholarly research and graduate education at New York University. ISAW's mission is to cultivate comparative, connective investigations of the ancient world from the western Mediterranean to China.[1] Areas of specialty among ISAW's faculty include the Greco-Roman world, the Ancient Near East, Egypt, Central Asia and the Silk Road, East Asian art and archaeology, Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, ancient science, and digital humanities.[2]

ISAW was founded in 2006 with funding from the Leon Levy Foundation,[3] established to continue the philanthropic legacy of Leon Levy, co-founder of the Oppenheimer mutual funds. Long interested in ancient history, Levy in his final years, along with his wife Shelby White, began discussions about the creation of a path-breaking institute where advanced scholars would explore trade and cultural links among ancient civilizations. After Levy’s death in 2003, one of the earliest initiatives of the Leon Levy Foundation, was the fulfillment of that plan. ISAW is a discrete entity within New York University, independent of any other school or department of the university, with its own endowment and its own board of trustees, and is housed in separate facilities in a historic six-story limestone on East 84th Street in Manhattan.[4]

Governance, faculty, and staff[edit]

The Director of ISAW is Alexander Jones (classicist). He succeeded the founding director Roger Bagnall in September, 2016.[5][6]

As of September 1, 2018, the following individuals served as ISAW faculty:[7]

  • Lorenzo d'Alfonso
  • Claire Bubb
  • Roderick B. Campbell
  • Sebastian Heath
  • Robert G. Hoyland
  • Alexander Jones
  • Antonis Kotsonas
  • Beate Pongratz-Leisten
  • Daniel T. Potts
  • Sören Stark
  • Lillian Lan-ying Tseng

As of September 1, 2018, Senior Staff Members included:[8]

  • Diane Bennett (Associate Director for Administration)
  • Tom Elliott (Associate Director for Digital Programs and Senior Research Scholar)
  • Clare Fitzgerald (Associate Director for Exhibitions and Gallery Curator)
  • Marc LeBlanc (Assistant Director for Academic Affairs)
  • David M. Ratzan (Head, ISAW Library)

ISAW's website describes its governance structure as follows:

Appointments and academic programs of the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World are under the jurisdiction of its faculty, which achieved independent status in fall, 2010, and which is led by the Director. The Director reports to the Provost and President of New York University. In addition, the Institute has its own Director's Council. Its chair is the Institute's Founder, Shelby White. The Council plays a crucial role in ensuring that ISAW fulfills its mission and has the means necessary to do so. It provides essential advice to the Director on strategic directions and public programming, and its members are vital ambassadors for ISAW in enlarging the public reached by its work.

Academic programs[edit]

ISAW's graduate program offers a PhD in the Study of the Ancient World.[9]

ISAW offers hosts visiting research scholars conducting postdoctoral research. There are three types of appointment for visiting scholars:[10]

  • Visiting assistant professors, appointed for two years, during which they are expected to teach two undergraduate courses and one graduate seminar.
  • Visiting research scholars, appointed for one year of research, funded in part or in whole by ISAW. These scholars may be at any point in their career from postdoctoral to retired.
  • Externally funded scholars, who have the same responsibilities and privileges as the categories above, but do not receive financial support from ISAW.

Scholars in all three categories are expected to be in residence at ISAW for the duration of their appointment and to participate in the intellectual life of the community, including presenting a public lecture.


In order to support its mission of communicating information about antiquity to the public, ISAW organizes public exhibitions. Past exhibitions include:[11]

Most exhibitions have been accompanied by illustrated catalogs, many of which are co-published by ISAW and Princeton University Press.


ISAW houses a research library of approximately 40,000 non-circulating print volumes.[16] The ISAW Library is a branch library of the NYU Division of Libraries, with facilities located on four floors of ISAW's facilities on East 84th Street. The library is open to members of the ISAW and NYU communities, as well as to scholars from other institutions who can demonstrate a need to access materials in the collection for their research.

Particular areas of strength in the ISAW Library's print collection include Greek and Roman material culture and history, Papyrology, Egyptology, Mesopotamian Archaeology and Assyriology, Central Asia and Iran, and Early China.

The library is engaged in providing access and support for new and emerging forms of digital scholarship, scholarly communication, and pedagogy in ancient studies.[17] The library's digital initiatives include the Ancient World Digital Library (AWDL) and a joint project with ISAW Digital Programs to help catalog the online and open access resources.[18]


ISAW has produced or sponsored both print and electronic publications related to the ancient world.[19] These include:

  • Jonathan Ben-Dov and Seth Sanders, eds. Ancient Jewish Sciences and the History of Knowledge in Second Temple Literature. NYU Press, 2014. ISBN 9781479823048
  • George Hatke. Aksum and Nubia: Warfare, Commerce, and Political Fictions in Ancient Northeast Africa. NYU Press, 2013. ISBN 9780814760666
  • David Wengrow. The Origins of Monsters: Image and Cognition in the First Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Princeton University Press, 2013. Based on the author's Rostovtzeff Lectures delivered at ISAW in 2011. ISBN 9781400848867
  • Roger S. Bagnall and Giovanni R. Ruffini. Amheida I: Ostraka from Trimithis 1. NYU Press, 2012. Also published in an open-access online version. ISBN 9780814745267
  • ISAW At Five, a book produced for ISAW's Five Year Celebration in May 2012.
  • ISAW Papers, an open-content scholarly journal that publishes article-length works on any topic within the scope of ISAW's scholarly research.
  • The Journal of Inner Asian Art and Archaeology
  • ISAW Newsletter


  1. ^ "About ISAW". Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. Retrieved 2018-03-13.
  2. ^ "ISAW Faculty". Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. Retrieved 2018-03-13.
  3. ^ "N.Y.U. and Columbia to Receive $200 Million Gifts for Research -". The New York Times. 2006-03-21. Retrieved 2016-02-20.
  4. ^ Patrick Cole (March 21, 2006). "New York University Gets $200 Mln for Ancient Studies (Update3)". Bloomberg News. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved March 13, 2018. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  5. ^ "NYU Hires Renowned Classicist From Columbia U. to Lead New Institute". The Chronicle of Higher Education. 2007-04-05. Retrieved 2016-02-20.
  6. ^ "Alexander Jones Appointed Director of ISAW". Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. 2017-08-15. Retrieved 2018-03-13.
  7. ^ "ISAW Faculty". Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  8. ^ "Staff". Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  9. ^ "Doctoral Program in the Ancient World — Institute for the Study of the Ancient World". Retrieved 2016-02-20.
  10. ^ "Visiting Research Scholar Program — Institute for the Study of the Ancient World". Retrieved 2016-02-20.
  11. ^ "Exhibitions at ISAW". Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. 2014-06-16. Retrieved 2018-03-13.
  12. ^ "Golden Graves of Ancient Vani". WNYC. Retrieved February 20, 2016.
  13. ^ Reviewed by John Noble Wilford: "A Lost European Culture, Pulled From Obscurity", The New York Times, Published: November 30, 2009.
  14. ^ "Masters of Math, From Old Babylon". The New York Times. November 27, 2010. Retrieved February 20, 2016.
  15. ^ "Before Pythagoras: The Culture of Old Babylonian Mathematics". Retrieved February 20, 2016.
  16. ^ "Using the ISAW Library — Institute for the Study of the Ancient World". Retrieved 2016-02-20.
  17. ^ "Finding Resources — Institute for the Study of the Ancient World". Retrieved 2016-02-20.
  18. ^ "AWOL – The Ancient World Online". Retrieved 2016-02-20.
  19. ^ "Publications at ISAW — Institute for the Study of the Ancient World". Retrieved 2016-02-20.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°46′48″N 73°57′37″W / 40.7799°N 73.9603°W / 40.7799; -73.9603