BIPOC Feature: Michaela Smith

One of the things that I wanted to do with Notes From the Apotheke was to amplify the voices and contributions of BIPOC scholars in ancient Mediterranean studies, at all levels and from all backgrounds. BIPOC in the field are invited to reflect on what brought them to studying the ancient world, as well as offer their opinions on the future of the discipline and share any work they are especially proud of or excited about.

This month’s installment of the series features Michaela Smith, a third year undergraduate student in the department of Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Studies at UBC. Check out Michaela’s post below!

Woman smiling in front of a case displaying a fragment of a wall painting showing a woman from antiquity
Image included with permission of author

My Journey to Studying the Ancient World

When I was a young girl, my older sister discovered the wondrous worlds of Egyptian and Greek mythology. She was enamored and excited and like any sibling wanted to share those stories with her other sisters.

I remember sitting on her bedroom floor while she sat on the edge of her bed and began to tell us about the various misdeeds of Zeus. She was particularly fond of the story of Perseus, mostly because she shared a name with that hero’s mother, Danae.

She shared these stories with us in the way that she was familiar with from the elders in our own community who told us about our own people’s myths. This introduction to the ancient world, an introduction done in such a way that felt like my own culture, ignited a passion inside me.

However, life was not so straight forward for me entering adulthood.

It took me quite a while to get to a place where I felt like I could successfully tackle post-high school education and with some not so gentle nudging on my best friend’s part, I finally put my anxieties aside and reentered the academic sphere.

I decided that the best path forward was to study something that made me excited regardless of if I could make something out of it career wise in the future and so I dove into classics.

I started at a local college in my city, Langara, where I took various classes that fit around my work schedule in the fall of 2021. During this time, I reached out to the woman who would eventually become my boss about helping her with her various projects. This is how I eventually came to work for Liv Albert of Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby!

Since I started working for Liv I have transferred to the University of British Columbia as a third-year undergraduate student in the department of Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Studies.

My hopes are to complete an honours degree then move on to post graduate studies while continuing to develop the work I do for Liv helping to disseminate this wonderful field to the public and make it more accessible for those who may not have access to the types of sources us in the academic field have.

The ancient world is a place that everyone should feel welcome to explore and experience.

For my own interests, besides the few outliers of fascination (hello ancient lamps and the insanity that is Alkibiades), I tend to focus more towards a social-historical view of the ancient world.

Stepping outside the realm of the ancient elites and into the world of the everyday person is endlessly exciting for me. I find that it’s easy to forget that antiquity was filled with regular old people such as myself. People who are merely trying to live their lives, to survive, to laugh and love, and are subjected to the whims of those who possess all the power in their own time. It is often these people who are left out of history and who do not have the ability to leave their voices behind for us to find.

Luckily the archaeological record has allowed us to step into their lives and see what life was like for the majority of those in antiquity.

What I’d Change About the Field

This highlights what I feel is one of the larger problems in the field today.

Historically, classics has often been a field overly saturated by one type of person whose interests tended to slant towards the higher echelons of the ancient world. The focus was on the emperors, the aristocrats, and the powerful men who were able to shape their society into what was most beneficial for them and their interests.

For a long while, this was mirrored in those that were able to make the most impact on the field of classics in modernity. Academia often did not make it easy for a variety of people to make their voices heard and taken seriously.

However, as is true for any field of study, there needs to be space for people from various backgrounds and social groups. Everyone brings with them a unique perspective based on their own life experience that they can then apply to our collective understanding of antiquity.

The truth of what life in antiquity looked like is probably more in the middle of each of our own individual understandings of the ancient world. Thus, we can only serve to benefit from making space for any and everyone to learn and make their voices heard within the field.

Current Projects

For now, I am focusing on doing as well as I possibly can in school. I am spending as much time as I can studying the things I love, reading Greek and Latin, and enjoying my time at UBC.

At work Liv and I are constantly busy with future research projects and upcoming work goals. Currently I am working on a 5-episode series on the Bronze Age and preparing for an upcoming listener’s tour in Greece.

In May, I will be taking part in an archaeological dig in Calabria with Dr. Jen Knapp for the second year in a row, mostly focusing on the pottery remains found.

I am also a part of UBC’s Indigenous Undergraduate Research Mentorship Program focusing on Roman provinces under Dr. Matthew McCarty.

There is much left to do and much more to explore in Classics and it is up to us who are in the field currently to make that space for both our current colleagues and all our future ones. Everyone, from every walk of life, has space here and deserves to feel that their contributions are just as valuable as everyone else’s.

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