St. Olaf College | News

St. Olaf student wins archaeological award

Grace Hermes '21 on site at the Acropolis of Antiochia.
Grace Hermes ’21 on site at the Acropolis of Antiochia.

St. Olaf College student Grace Hermes ’21 has won the C. McKenzie Lewis Excavation and Field School Award from the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMWS). 

Each year, CAMWS awards three summer excavation or field school awards to support classical archaeology students. The $2,000 award can be used to fund any kind of field experience — be it excavation, illustration, or analysis — at an archaeological site in the Greco-Roman world. Although digs have been cancelled this summer, Hermes will still be able to reapply for digs next year and use the award for whatever experience she secures. 

An English and history major, Hermes has pursued a variety of academic and extracurricular interests while at St. Olaf. She participated in the Great Conversation program her first two years on campus, explored new cities on Global Semester during her junior year, and has continued to develop her musical talents. Her time digging in Turkey on the Antiochia ad Cragum dig with St. Olaf faculty and students the summer before her junior year was one of the key experiences that ignited her passion for archaeology. 

Grace Hermes '21 works on the excavation in progress at the Antiochia ad Cragum dig in Turkey.
Grace Hermes ’21 (right) works on the excavation in progress at the Antiochia ad Cragum dig in Turkey.

Here, Hermes shares about her background in archaeology and her goals for the future. 

How did you become interested in archaeology?
I first got interested in archaeology as a child because I grew up hearing my mom’s stories and seeing pictures from the dig she worked on in Tunisia as a college student. She worked on a Roman site that was actually quite similar to Antiochia, the site in Turkey where I worked last summer — just across the Mediterranean! I’ve always been fascinated by ancient cultures because I love how even mundane activities of daily life for these people have become such puzzles for scholars today, as well as the blending of analysis and imagination that is required to interpret what a ruin or a set of objects could mean.

What archaeological experiences have you had thus far?
Last summer I was a student researcher on the Antiochia ad Cragum dig in Turkey that is run by St. Olaf Professor of History Tim Howe. I was with a team of four other St. Olaf peers — Clara Gambill ’20, Leah Ramsey ’21, and John Turco ’20 — and we excavated a domestic structure, the first to be excavated on the site so far. Clara, John, and I compiled our research into a paper that we presented at the New York University Society for Ancient Studies conference in February. We discovered that the building was originally a home but had transitioned into use as a wine production facility during the later life of the building. 

The team with a reconstructed amphora (wine vessel) that they discovered in their unit.
The team — (from left) Clara Gambill ’20, Leah Ramsey ’21, Grace Hermes ’21, and John Turco ’20 — getting ready to wash pottery shards.

What are your research and career goals?
I plan to pursue a master’s degree in archaeology and eventually a Ph.D. with the goal of becoming a professor of archaeology or a museum curator. I am particularly interested in feminist archaeology and the material culture of ancient women because historically archaeology has been a field that focuses on men and elites in favor of women and common people. I want to focus my work on using the material evidence to learn about women rather than relying on modern assumptions about gender roles that archaeologists have historically applied to the past. Most of my experience to date has been in Mediterranean archaeology (Greeks and Romans), but I’m looking forward to broadening my knowledge in grad school before deciding on a cultural area to specialize in. 

What are you most excited to experience through the support of the CAMWS award?
I’m extremely grateful to be receiving an award like this because it is nearly impossible to get a paid position at an excavation as an undergrad. In addition, the tuition for many full-summer field school programs can be upwards of $4,000 not including airfare, making these experiences that are crucial for getting trained in archaeology pretty challenging to afford. I’m planning to reapply for digs and field schools at which to use my award next summer, assuming that it will be safe to travel by then!

How has St. Olaf influenced your interests and career path?
My work with Tim Howe has been instrumental in influencing and preparing me for a career in archaeology. I found myself in a lot of Tim’s classes because of my interest in ancient history, and he always includes archaeological evidence along with written texts, which I really appreciate as a student. Tim also offered me the research position in Turkey last summer, and that opportunity to actually do archaeology (instead of just reading about it) made it clear that this is a field I truly want to pursue. 

On campus, music is a big part of my life. I sing in Chapel Choir, Hill Harmonics A Cappella, and take voice lessons. I actually came to St. Olaf planning to be a music major! I also got involved in theater this past spring and would have performed as Theo in a production of Pippin had we been able to finish the year on campus. Outside of the arts, I’ve been involved in Oles Under the Sun (OUTS) since my freshman year, and outdoor leadership is another passion of mine — part of why I love archaeology is that I get to be outdoors as part of the work.