BIPOC Features: Machal Gradoz

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 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 BIPOC feature series is written by my good friend and colleague Machal Gradoz!

Machal doing archaeological fieldwork

Brief Introduction

I’m Machal (sounds like McCall) Gradoz and I’m a PhD candidate at IPCAA at the University of Michigan. 

I’m working on a dissertation about material culture and local resistance and response to Roman imperialism in northwest Greece and southwest Albania in the late Hellenistic-early Roman periods, focusing mostly on pottery (my first love) and epigraphy.

And! Since I am a real person with a life outside of my studies, I like running, playing and watching soccer, watching a variety of types of sportsball, and dragging my neurotic 9 year old dog, Remus, on walks.   

Path to the Ancient World

It’s difficult to succinctly characterize how I came to study the ancient world and how it is that I still continue to study the ancient world. I never, ever thought “I want to study the ancient world” as a kid. I didn’t even know it was an option! But, at any rate, it’s been a winding path.

How I came to study “classical archaeology” is kind of a fluke. 

I took Introduction to Archaeology (in the then-Classics Department, now the Department of the Classical Mediterranean and Middle East) at Macalester College my freshman year at the suggestion of a soccer teammate and just…never stopped taking courses. 

From the beginning, I’ll be honest, I was only really there for the archaeology classes—I didn’t even know people still learned ancient Greek and Latin before I started in the department and ancient Greek was my least favorite part of the major (I didn’t bother with Latin because no one told me I had to—wrong!). 

Once I managed to get a spot on the dig Macalester co-sponsored at Horvat Omrit in northern Israel, I declared my major.

Still, even though I loved archaeology (that just happened to be “classical”) I didn’t think I’d continue in Classics after college because I wanted to be a teacher. 

And what does one “do” with a Classics major, anyway? It was definitely not a concept with which my family was familiar. 

So, I taught math (of all things) to high school freshmen for a year at public school in Denver. It feels cliché to say, but the experiences I had that year teaching and what I learned are things I keep returning to, almost 10 years later (but more on that later).

I decided to try for an MA at CU Boulder the following year because I really, really missed fieldwork and the program was local for me. 

I was quite lucky, honestly, in my time at CU. 

I was initially admitted without funding, but managed to snag some after my first semester. I had an amazing cohort (I’m still good friends with many of them). I got to work on a field project that has shaped my interests and my research skills. 

I also got to know some incredible professors who have become amazing mentors. I really can’t emphasize that enough. 

I feel really, really, lucky to have had such a positive MA experience. It made me want to do a PhD. So, after another year in a public high school (this time in a library) and working odd jobs, I was lucky again and was accepted to IPCAA at the University of Michigan. And here I am!

I was lucky (I guess?) in my undergrad and MA programs—though I was one of the few (if only) BIPOC in my classes, I never felt like the subject wasn’t meant for me…though I did feel out of place, even if I couldn’t explain why at those times. 

As I’ve advanced in my studies, I’d say this feeling has only gotten worse, at least professionally, though I’ve been quite lucky in having some incredible colleagues and friends. 

Change(s) in Classics

Oof. Where do I even begin? 

I have so many thoughts here, it’s difficult to get them straight in my head, let alone articulate them in writing, but here it goes. 

I think I carry an extra chip on my shoulder as an archaeologist who happens to have lived in Classics departments (with the exception of IPCAA of course, though we’re housed in part by the Classics department) simply because I don’t think Classics necessarily values archaeology and the types of expertise and training one needs to be a competent archaeologist. 

Language training is emphasized rather than archaeological training and it seems like we’re expected to do everything, while our non-archaeologist peers aren’t required to take archaeology classes. It’s much more complicated than I can fully articulate here, I know. I wish departments would be receptive to their students’ goals and adjust requirements accordingly rather than foist these requirements on their students without a thought to where each student wants to go.  

In terms of “The Discourse” of the past year or so it has appeared to me that while many individuals are interested in making concrete and lasting changes in this field (from reconsidering the “canon”, reevaluating different requirements, amplifying voices that have been historically silenced, etc.) on the collective level that just doesn’t seem to be the case. 

I completely agree with what Maia Lee-Chin said in the first installment of this series—I think collectively we’re not thinking deeply about what this field could be and as a result the aspirations for Classics are…boring. Limited. A waste. 

It doesn’t seem fair to us, to our students, and the material we love to study. 

And I’ll add that I love what Vanessa Stovall said in the last installment in this series about the need for collective action. As much as we as individuals have ideas and goals for where to take this material, we can’t do it in isolation. 

I’ll just say that from my perspective, the people advocating for “burning it all down” care deeply about Classics and want to make it better. They’re speaking from their own experiences in this field and they’re not advocating for getting rid of Classics. 

I’ve been thinking a lot this past year about how this field (and academia) has historically defined and valued “legitimate” knowledge at the expense of “untraditional” (for lack of a better word) knowledge and what a loss that is. 

If we’re willing to really open this up, we’re opening the field to a range of perspectives and interpretations. Maybe if I had to pick just one thing to change about Classics it would be this.

Machal doing archaeological fieldwork

Current Work

I suppose at the moment I’m kind of occupying two main workspaces—my dissertation/research and attempting DEI work in my department and in my own practice (especially around teaching).

I’ve been pretty deep into ceramic studies this year, which has been fun, except when I’m dealing with transport amphorae, and I’ve got a chapter coming out (hopefully?!) later this year or early next year on the Hellenistic and early Roman pottery from the site of Orneai in the Western Argolid that I co-authored with a friend. The same friend and I co-edit the bi-annual bibliography for the International Association for Research on Pottery of the Hellenistic Period (IARPotHP) too. Riveting stuff!

But here I will return to my year as a high school teacher as well as the increased feelings of isolation I’ve felt as I’ve progressed in my studies. 

As far as teaching, in just that year it became apparent to me how traditional systems of teaching and education not only exclude so many students but actively perpetuate harm. I still think about this and it has guided some of the choices I’ve made at Michigan beyond my program obligations. 

Through my participation in some of the programming at the Ginsberg Institute and the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching I’ve learned about community-based learning and community-engaged scholarship, which has kind of blown my mind and made me think quite a lot about what I do and how my skills are useful outside of the academy. 

Maia Lee-Chin’s conclusions in her very excellent Fenwick presentation resonate within this framework of ethical community-engaged learning and scholarship. 

It’s necessary that community-engaged scholarship fills community identified needs first and foremost. Classics is certainly one vehicle with which to fill those needs, but it’s not the only one. 

My perception is that right now, lots of people are interested in doing community-based scholarship, but they’re focused on the topic (like Classics) rather than the goals of their community partners. That’s not to say that Classics can’t do this work, it’s just that it’s what isn’t important here.

Since I had the energy, I served as the very first DEI graduate student research assistant in the Classics department this past term. It was…an experience. 

I came to the position with many ideas and goals, particularly around how isolated I’ve been feeling (and informed by some conversations with fellow BIPOC colleagues). Many of these goals were unrealized, not through the fault of my department or anything like that—rather I think it’s because there is simply so much work to be done. 

I suppose I did what I could during a particularly rough term and I’m optimistic about what we did do, which included a series of flash talks on the inclusive work some people in our department are doing, an anti-racist pedagogy workshop and semester-long learning community (that will continue in perpetuity, I hope!), and a community engagement “starter document” for our department to work from in the coming semesters.

Aside from dissertating I’m not really sure what I’ll be up to in the next year or what I’m thinking of doing when I’m “done” but considering how aimless I was when I first started on this whole Classical archaeology thing that’s not much of a surprise!

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