My research and teaching are united by questions of cross-cultural exchange and the historical experience of local communities across the ancient Mediterranean. By training students to incorporate a diverse range of evidence, my courses reveal the complexity and dynamism of the ancient cultural interactions, and help students to uncover different experiences—and different identities—in the ancient world. Students are engaged in approaches to the past from art and archaeology, from architecture and urban planning, to funerary art and burial practices. This visual and object-centered approach to teaching the cultural history of the ancient Mediterranean is calculated to reconstruct the dynamics of cultural encounters, and to recover local histories through voices, experiences, and ‘hidden transcripts’ that are often missing or silenced in textual traditions.  Lectures and discussions sensitize students both to the power of the visual in the ancient world and to the socio-cultural apparatuses that governed attitudes towards and receptions of images. We focus especially on the material conditions governing the production and reception of ancient visual culture and on the social functions of art and artifacts. This teaching is grounded in my research using visual artifacts as a window into how local communities were shaped by global contexts and identified within the broader cultural world of the ancient Mediterranean. 


Classical History

Art and Archaeology
Roman Sculpture (Intermediate)
Art and Archaeology of the Roman Provinces (Advanced)
Diaspora: The Art of Dispersal and Displacement (Advanced)

Jewish History
Introduction to the Jewish Tradition (Intro)
Hebrew Bible and Biblical Civilization (Intermediate)
Being Jewish in the Classical World (Intermediate)

By the Rivers of Babylon: Diaspora and Exile in the Jewish Experience (Advanced)


Recent public controversies in the field have confirmed my belief that, as historians of the ancient world, we need to do more to promote diverse perspectives on the past and inclusive methods of teaching and public outreach. I am always exploring new and innovative ways to share knowledge about past art and artifacts with a broader audience, and especially to engage the public in alternative perspectives on the past. In this regard, I am currently co-directing a major project, WIRE: Women in the Roman East. WIRE provides an open-access digital database of material and visual evidence that speaks to the women’s lives and experiences of the provinces of the Roman East, from coins to burial assemblages. The database went public in September, 2017, and we are continually adding new material, as well as developing tools for exploring and interacting with the evidence. We envision the database providing a lasting resource for study of the social, political and economic histories of women in the Roman Near East through the use of the latest digital humanities tools. We are also developing modules for general education use, and are currently deploying the database in undergraduate classrooms. 

My research fellowships at the Metropolitan Museum and at the Frankel Institute have led me to consider the broader implications of my scholarship, and to develop pedagogies aimed at diverse audiences. At the Met, I enjoyed interacting with donors, museum patrons and visitors, and took advantage of a number of opportunities to share my research with public audiences. My research on sarcophagus sculpture and Jewish patrons was featured in a public talk delivered at the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the reinstallation of the Greek and Roman galleries. I also curate a social media presence sharing my research, relevant news and artifacts from the ancient world in less formal ways (@seanpburrus on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr). In this regard I’m particularly proud of taking part in public-facing discussions of polychromy and diversity in the ancient world, and of my hashtag #classicsincolor.