Faculty Interview — Dr. Davide Zori

Dr. Davide Zori is an assistant professor in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, teaching World Cultures I and II, Social World I, and medieval history courses in the history department. Dr. Zori also directs the San Giuliano Archaeological Research Project, which is part of the Baylor in Italy summer study abroad trip. We hope you enjoy learning more about one of our BIC faculty members.

Tell us some about your background and journey to becoming a professor in the BIC.

I was born on the island of Fyn in Denmark to a Danish mother and an Italian-born American father. My parents were committed to our family’s multiculturalism. Every summer my parents put down the backseat of our Fiat Uno and piled my brother and me into the back for the 24-hour drive to the Italy. From the start, I have lived between cultures. This was challenging sometimes, such as the period during my early teens when my parents traded the Fiat Uno for a slew of plane tickets as we moved back and forth from Denmark to Florida multiple times. The cultural shifts were difficult, but they made me adaptable and able to ‘fit in’ in different cultures. Being an American teen is different from being a Danish team, which in turn is very different from being an Italian teen. I do firmly believe, however, that cultural adaptability is one of our human strengths. In my experience, I could change languages, stress particular interests, change my clothes (a bit), and find the right shoes for each country while embracing the “non-definability” of Danish-Italian-American identity. Possibly the greatest gift from this experience was the ability to speak several languages. My experiences informed many of my basic assumptions about past cultures that I now study through archaeological excavation and ancient texts. Looking back now, I see that my childhood experiences set the stage for my professional interests in cultural variation and an academic career facilitated by successful inter-cultural communication.

After finishing my PhD at UCLA in interdisciplinary archaeology, I spent three years in Iceland doing post-doctoral research and excavation at a Viking chieftain’s farm. My archaeological work there was inherently interdisciplinary, combining Viking sagas, archaeological data, and the newest technological advances in geophysics and computing. Through my work I became further convinced that interdisciplinarity—particularly work at the intersections of sciences and humanities—is the major engine that drives innovative research. In Iceland, I also found my son speaking three languages (Danish with me, English with his mother, and Icelandic in school), and realized I had inadvertently replicated my own multi-cultural childhood for the next generation. Iceland was wonderful, but America called and I really wanted to pursue a career in academia that combined interdisciplinary research and with interdisciplinary teaching. The BIC was and remains perfect. Now in Waco we might find less opportunity for speaking Icelandic, but we have added to our family’s multiculturalism a certain Texan culture with great appreciation among my children of such local delicacies as Dr. Pepper and barbecued brisket.

What do you find most rewarding about teaching in BIC and working with BIC students?

I find the interaction with BIC students to be the most rewarding part of teaching. I most enjoy the classes where I can feel the enthusiasm for a primary text building as we peel back the layers of a text. I still get excited before each class to have the opportunity to sit together and discuss ancient texts and archaeology with students who share my enthusiasm. This makes my job easy to love. I am fortunate to teach courses covering the first three semester of the BIC curriculum. Through these first three semesters, I see the impact that BIC (and the wider college experience) can have on students as they grow in confidence and in their abilities to make concise arguments with specific evidence drawn from ancient texts, material culture, and social theory.

Tell us some about your current research. Where do you see your research going in the future?

My research seeks to unravel medieval political constellations and identify underlying strategies for creating the social relationships. I conduct archaeological field research to build new interpretations of early medieval power. My primary specialization is Viking Age Europe, with a particular focus on the political strategies of reciprocity and feasting. I conduct archaeological excavations in the North Atlantic, mostly in Iceland, although last summer I was searching for Vikings in Newfoundland. Simultaneously, I am using interdisciplinary archaeology methods and my interest in medieval social power to extend my research into other regions of medieval Europe, including most significantly medieval Italy, but also the material culture of the Crusades in the Levant. I am enjoying the expansion of my research area, which has allowed me to stand one summer in the remains of an Icelandic chieftain’s longhouse and the next summer to uncover the ruins of a medieval castle atop an Etrurian plateau in central Italy.

You are the Director of the San Giuliano Archaeological Research Project, which is also part of the Baylor in Italy summer study abroad trip. Tell us some about this project and how you have been able to get BIC students involved in the research.

The San Giuliano Archaeological Research Project (SGARP) is a new transdisciplinary project that targets the archaeological past of San Giuliano, a site located approximately 70 km northwest of Rome within Marturanum Park in Lazio. SGARP’s goal is to reconstruct the long-term changes in human occupation of the San Giuliano plateau and the surrounding hills. Hundreds of rock-cut Etruscan tombs ring the plateau, while the plateau was likely the site of the associated Etruscan town. We seek to investigate the Etruscan occupation and understand the transitions that followed, including incorporation into the Roman Empire, transformations in the medieval settlement pattern, and the final abandonment of the site sometime before AD 1300. We have focused our attention on the Etruscan and medieval periods as eras of particularly significant societal change. These two periods saw the most intensified use of the San Giuliano plateau. We are seeking to understand both the rise and fall of the Etruscan urban center and the medieval incastellamento (castle-building) process that reshaped the Italian landscape in the 10th and 11th centuries.

This project has given me the opportunity to broaden my contact with BIC students. Last year five BIC students joined us in Italy – Emily Harding, Brad Sherrill, Lauren Sides, Charlotte Weston, and Ryan White. This has allowed me to continue working with some really great students and to further a university-wide initiative to get undergraduates involved in original research. From this work at least one student is writing an honors thesis on the archaeological material we uncovered in Italy.

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