Ancient medicinal practices, time keeping, tools of war displayed at Roman Era science fair

Middle and high school students visited the fair on a field trip. At right is a model of a Roman ship, a trireme. In the center is a to-scale model of a Roman catapult.

Students and fans of the Greco-Roman world enjoyed the efforts of a new Wright State University class May 24 as students displayed their end-of-the-semester projects at a fun and engaging Ancient Science Fair in Millett Hall.

Providing physical proof that the ancients in many ways were ahead of their time, students raved about Ancient Science, a first-of-its-kind, team-taught class in the College of Liberal Arts. About 50 area middle and high school students also visited the fair and learned directly from the undergraduates who took the class.

“It was such a different dynamic with this class. Transitioning between a historical perspective to a philosophical perspective during this time period was great,” said senior Daniel Watts. “It was really fun, and I enjoyed going to each class.”

Rebecca Edwards, Ph.D., associate professor of the classics, and Erik Banks, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy, worked together to bring students a more complete understanding of the time period.

“This class gave us an opportunity to explore many different aspects of ancient science, mathematics and technology in their historical contexts,” said Edwards. “We examined the possible Near Eastern influences on the early Presocratics. We saw how warfare technology developed over time. We saw how aqueducts helped the Roman Empire thrive. The students really rose to the occasion and used their projects to drive home these ideas.”

About 30 students took the class, and each presented a science-fair-like display and model that captured an aspect of science from the period. Medicinal practices including ancient surgery, astrological calendars, water-based time keeping methods, maritime construction and ancient weaponry—including a to-scale catapult that could launch arrows over 150 feet—were among the presentations.

“We’ve got catapults, somebody just broke a piece of concrete with an ancient battering ram. We’ve destroyed more things than most classes, but I think it was academically successful too,” said Banks.

Religion, Philosophy, and Classics Chair Ava Chamberlain, Ph.D., already plans to keep offering the class, which was a hit in its first year.

“Team-taught courses are a great opportunity to bring together faculty who have studied similar subjects but from different perspectives,” said Chamberlain. “They give students a greater sense of the interdisciplinary nature of the liberal arts in a way that often fosters opportunity for creativity in the learning process.”

Chamberlain added that many students already have at least a cursory familiarity with the subject matter because of their exposure to contemporary movies set during the Classical Period and fascinating classic Greek and Roman mythology stories.

Watts agreed and said that he signed up for the class in part because he knew he’d get a chance to build a to-scale catapult for his final project. His effort won him the most outstanding student project award.

“I originally got into the classics because I was inspired by the movies like Troy and 300 but once you get into it, it kind of sucks you in,” said Watts. “I just love it and building this catapult is one of the things I always wanted to do.”

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