he Agora, the civic center and heart of ancient Athens, Greece, contains some of the most important buildings and artifacts of any ancient site. The worlds’ first democratic government met in the Bouleuterion, or Senate House, in the Agora hundreds of years ago. And it was here where Socrates and Plato debated the foundations of modern philosophy.
Today, the Agora presents visitors with a very different landscape. Where marble columns once stood, only foundation walls remain. And across the street, about 20 feet below street level, an area of excavation rings each summer with the sound of many American diggers — a group composed of graduate students, undergraduates, and this season, Randolph-Macon College 2007 graduate Meg Shamburger of Richmond and R-MC senior Margaret Fisher of Raleigh – both who will be spending the next several weeks uncovering history.
The American School of Classical Studies has managed the Agora excavations since 1931. Almost every summer, several Randolph-Macon students participate in the digs. In return for room, board and the opportunity to touch history, the students work a full day digging and stripping away layers of successive time periods. Dr. John Camp, the director of the excavations and also a professor of Classics at Randolph-Macon College, has been a major part of this wonderful program for the last several years.
“It’s sort of like digging the Mall in Washington, D.C.,” Camp said. “The Agora is a large open space surrounded by all the buildings necessary to run the Athenian democracy. So far, the excavations have brought to light the senate building, the vice president’s office, the archives and the mint and law courts. The American society owes much to the influence of the ancient Greeks: architecture, painting, sculpture, theatre, philosophy and law.”
Several weeks into the dig, Shamburger and Fisher describe their experience as a fascinating opportunity to gain knowledge and appreciation of the beauty, culture and way of life throughout Greece.
“Greece is absolutely amazing,” said Fisher, who, along with Shamburger, is blogging on the R-MC Web site – www.rmc.edu/currentstudents/blogs -- throughout the trip. “Meg and I are so fortunate to have the opportunity to come and actually be able to dig up history in the Agora. We are both learning so much and meeting amazing people! It has been fun being on our own and having to learn everything about a foreign city. The first day we decided to wander the city without a map so we could just get our bearings straight and see what the city we are living in for the next seven weeks has to offer.”
The Agora Excavation in Athens is just one of the many unique study-travel opportunities open to all Randolph-Macon students. The college’s global reach provides students the opportunity to study abroad through its extensive international education program, which offers students the chance to spend a semester in dozens of countries including China, Costa Rica, England, France, Ghana, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Northern Ireland, South Africa and Spain. In addition, during R-MC’s unique January term, students can immerse themselves in one unique experience for four weeks – often by conducting research, participating in a full-time internship, or spending several weeks abroad.
Opportunities for R-MC students to study and work at the Agora excavations are supported by the Panathenaic Society, an organization based in Richmond, Virginia, dedicated to promoting the spread of knowledge about Greek democracy and culture through its affiliation with Randolph-Macon College. Anyone interested in helping to support this significant archeological project should call 804- 752-7218 for more information.