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Holding Court: Julie Hruby

A portrait of Julie Hruby, a professor of classics.
A portrait of Julie Hruby, a professor of classics.

In this week's edition, we speak with Julie Hruby, Assistant Professor of Classical Studies.  Hruby is an archaeologist, specializing in cooking and cooking implements, and her latest research involves incorporating advanced forensic techniques and computational methods in the study of fingerprints on clay vessels and other artifacts.

What is your book about?

This volume explores what their cooking pots say about prehistoric Greeks, including how their cuisine interacted with others' and how food constructed socioeconomic class.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

I had been writing about prehistoric cuisine for more than a decade when a colleague suggested that we put together a panel on the topic of Late Bronze Age Aegean cooking pots for an annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. We both knew that this field had huge gaps in it. One of the session attendees was a reporter for LiveScience who wrote an article about my paper; a student and I had made replicas of Mycenaean cooking pots and tested a few hypotheses about how they had been used. The topic was picked up by a wide range of international media, including NPR's "The Splendid Table." That, in combination with the fact that the papers in the session formed a varied but coherent set of truly novel approaches, suggested that publication would be useful.

What does research look like for you? What element of research could you not live without?

Most of my research takes place in Greece, because I work exclusively on excavated archaeological material. I have worked on excavations, field surveys, in the work rooms in museums, and in labs. Measuring things seems to be a constant, although which tools I use are dictated by the questions I ask; they range from very simple (rulers, calipers, diameter charts) to fairly elaborate (a high-resolution 3D scanner). The other tool I use constantly is a camera.

What do you think the library of the future will look like?

I hope that the library of the future will include both analog and digital resources, with materials in whatever format makes the most sense for the type of publication. For example, excavation publications are rarely read from start to finish; they are more often searched for material relevant to topic-oriented studies, and the searchable nature of digital publications makes digital formats preferable. However, topically oriented studies within archaeology and many other fields are more often read, and there is excellent evidence that things read in hard copy are remembered better than things read digitally. As a result, while article length studies can be digitized and printed when needed, anything that is book-length should probably be maintained in hard copy.

What advice would you give to an aspiring scholar or writer?

The only way to think and write well is to know how to identify an interesting question to think and write about. The challenge is that what "interesting" means varies from year to year, from person to person, and from culture to culture. Ideally, you want to do one of two things: find a question that many other people have asked but have not managed to answer, then find a newer approach to answering it, or find a question that other people have not yet asked but that has some bearing on larger questions that they have asked. Also, read, constantly, and leave yourself a little time every day to mull new ideas or new approaches to old ones (in the shower and before falling asleep work well for me).

And finally, what do you read for fun?

Science fiction has been my favorite genre since I was a reading-obsessed child who tripped over her father's extensive collection of books by Isaac Asimov. More recently, I have enjoyed Lois McMaster Bujold's work, especially the Vorkosigan saga, and Ann Leckie's novels.

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