June 28, 2008 at 8:34 am 1 comment

Our first two days had been grueling, and it had followed some very busy and intense final days preparing for the trip. Every seat on the Fez bus had been full, and none of the 27 seats had been very comfortable. Five hours of battle and battlefield descriptions had delighted only a few of us. The focus on details at the ancient sites had left many confused. The sun was hot, all of us tired, so we offered to let the students sleep late and spend a couple hours at the beach. They hadn’t had any days off in a long time!

We listed the things we could choose from in the area the next day, and asked them to decide what they wanted to see around Selcuk and Ephesus. They produced a schedule that began at 9 am and continued until 10 in the evening. I was impressed!

They were actually ready at 9 in the morning. The first stop: the house where the Pope confirmed that the Virgin Mary spent her last days. This is a small house on a beautiful hillside overlooking Ephesus. We followed a tour group from Italy into the small house. The students’ reactions were varied. Some were clearly touched by the devotion they witnessed, some by their own devotion. Most had never seen anything like the wall to which people were attaching their written prayers.

Then it was down the hill to Ephesus. As a historian, I am painfully aware of my own limitations. I’m always hesitant to repeat “general knowledge,” recognizing how inaccurate it often proves in my own field. So I had welcomed the notion of a tour guide, someone who knew the history of the places we were to visit.

But after three guided tours, I realized the the guides didn’t actually know the history of these places, either. They knew the details of the site. They couldn’t provide context, couldn’t describe the bigger picture, couldn’t explain the importance. I was missing the details, which I had thought were what I really needed to have to talk about these sites. But I realized that the details alone were not enough. And we had alreadt learned to ignore the tour guides. It was time to experiment.

I gave myself a crash course on Ephesus and the way the city grew and changed and moved and adapted to the varied challenges to its population. I did a 15-minute background, then turned the students loose in the most remarkable ancient city I’ve had the good fortune to visit. Clearly, this was not enough. They got the background, but that didn’t help them navigate the city. I walked out of the site again, bought a few copies of an inexpensive book explaining the ruins, and distributed them.

Celsus Library

This group is very bright, extremely motivated. With the help of the map and a few of the descriptions, they did a great job showing themselves around Ephesus. They had a broader context, a map to help them figure out where they were, and the details if they wanted them. Nonetheless, I had a sense that I hadn’t provided all they needed. (How much should I provide?) I still have to work on combining teacher and tour guide. Maybe there is something between providing basic background and providing overwhelming detail. I think next time I would send them with a set of questions to find answers to in the ruins.

William orates William orating

The day continued at their pace. The Ephesus museum followed the site visits, then lunch with a friend of Emily’s family in the beautiful garden of a carpet-weaving school. We talked with one of the owners. They bring girls from the nomadic villagers to teach them to weave (why do they need to be taught in the city?). The course takes 40 days, after which each girl is given a loom and sent home. I asked whether the girls could then sell only to this establishment. No. Why do they? The owner answered that he pays the girls directly, not their fathers or their brothers. That keeps them coming back to sell to him.

I took a “break” (gotta research the next site!) while William and the students went to Pamucak beach nearby. Ephesus used to be at the coast, but persistent silting was one of the reasons for its demise. Now the beach is 7 kilometers away, and provided a wonderful (cooling!) outlet for the students’ boundless energy.

After a very short time back in the pensiyon, we went up the hill to the “Greek” village at the top. We wandered the streets, tasted the various fruit wines, talked with some of the residents, and tried to figure out whether there were any Greeks left, and what Greek might mean in this context.

A Day Off, UNC-student style!

Entry filed under: Ancient Empires, Teaching.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Turkey » Ephesus  |  June 28, 2008 at 9:56 am

    […] EphesusOur first two days had been grueling, and it had followed some very busy and intense final days preparing for the trip. Every seat had been full, and none of the 27 seats had been very comfortable. Five hours of battle and battlefield … […]


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