Recently, I’ve been reading Christ Stopped at Eboli, Carlo Levi’s account of his experiences in the small, poverty-stricken village of Gagliano during Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy. One quote of his in particular, when he reflects on the process of writing the book, resonated with me as I think about my own journey to and in the field of cultural heritage:
“The process developed in successive books, changing the author’s spirit and body and words while in a period explosive with new awareness other men also changed. The process is not, and has never been, identification with a datum, a flight into objectivity, but is rather discernment of love.”
I am not trying to draw a parallel between Carlo Levi’s experience with destitution and poverty and my career-path to cultural heritage. However, I am trying to highlight some counterpoints between his process and mine, which have helped me make sense of my own journey so far: intellectual development, self-awareness and awareness of the world around me, and the effect of this new awareness on the direction of my career. To use the words of Levi, I found my journey to be a step away from attempts at “objectivity” and illusions of “data” and towards the discernment of love and truth and acts of justice and empowerment.
My interest in cultural heritage began with a curiosity for all things ancient. This led me from Dartmouth College to Turkey to a master’s program at Harvard Divinity School as preparation for a PhD program, focusing on early Christian and Roman history. While advancing my Greek and Latin and learning Coptic (the ancient Egyptian language written in the Greek alphabet), I also immersed myself in the texts and history of the time period. But while I and fellow classmates stared at enlarged photographs of rare Coptic manuscripts, arguing whether that letter was an alpha or an omicron, or read about the female figurines found all over Bronze- and Iron-Age Israel and debated whether they were representations of idols or the goddess Asherah, a voice in the back of my mind was always (annoyingly) saying, “So what? What am I actually doing with this?”