Broadcasting Her Expertise

Zoë Kontes, associate professor of classics, wins a Whiting Foundation fellowship to create podcasts on illicit trade in antiquities.

Zoë Kontes

What happens when you take the narrative-driven structure of a hit podcast like Serial and infuse it with stories of illicit antiquities from the perspective of an expert archaeologist?

Zoë Kontes, associate professor of classics, intends to find out when she embarks on a six-month Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship in the fall.

The public engagement fellowship is a pilot program launched by the Whiting Foundation — a New York City-based philanthropic organization that has been funding scholarly projects in the humanities since 1973. This project, which grants the winning faculty member and institution a combined sum of $50,000 over a six-month period, is designed to recognize and support faculty who incorporate public engagement into their work.

Kontes, who has studied the illicit antiquities trade for most of her career, plans to use this opportunity to educate the public on the issue of ownership of ancient artifacts and to spark conversation about how best to preserve world cultures. “I want to tell the stories of these objects,” she said. “The stories give these objects a meaning and a history and a significance that you might not get from just looking at them.”

In her “Illegal Antiquities” class, Kontes routinely encourages her students to look beyond what a museum label might tell them about a certain object. A perspective beyond the information that is provided by museums, Kontes said, is essential to understanding the object in its original context.

The idea for her public engagement project was sparked by her passion for radio. Kontes understands the medium, participating in radio for more than 10 years, including hosting her own music show on the Kenyon station, WKCO. She recognized an opportunity to use her broadcasting skills to bring attention to her scholarly work.

She will produce a 12-part podcast focusing on the issues of illicit antiquities and the effect it has on archaeology today. Over the course of the fall semester, Kontes will travel abroad to Italy, Greece and France to conduct research.

Provost Joseph Klesner felt that Kontes was the perfect candidate for the Public Engagement Fellowship because of her reputation in the public sphere and her commitment to influencing thought beyond campus. For Klesner, this award is proof of Kenyon’s pursuit of quality scholarship both inside and outside the classroom.

“This is a recognition that our faculty are engaged in serious work,” Klesner said. “While we may see that as faculty members our first role is as teachers, we are also experts and scholars, and the work that we do in our scholarly life is not only important to us but to the rest of the world.”

— Bailey Blaker ’18