Brandeis Library & Technology Services

Andrew J. Koh: Libraries Bring Scholars Together for a Richer View of Our History

September 13th, 2017 · No Comments

The goal of archaeology is to better understand the human past—and that requires knowledge from a wide variety of disciplines, says Brandeis University’s Andrew J. Koh.

Koh, assistant professor of classical studies and co-director of the Digital Humanities Lab located on the Goldfarb Library Mezzanine, said archaeology is an inherently interdisciplinary field, bringing together researchers from across the university to share perspectives on art, history, language, biology, chemistry and more.

While many people may have a general understanding of archaeology, the field is more than unearthing artifacts, Koh said. There’s something intrinsically humanistic about archaeology.

“That’s our job in archaeology: to think about the core of what makes us human and study how and why people behaved as they did in the past,” he said. “Humans are very unpredictable and resourceful. We’re survivors.”

Archaeology can be tied to any major or interest that students want to study, Koh said. For example, records from ancient Egypt detail how its society dealt with everything from fashion to medicine to ethics.

“It was such a rich culture. They wrote down everything and it’s in the desert, so it survived,” he said.

Koh said libraries have always had a special place in history, with the Library of Alexandria in Egypt as a prime example of a center for scholars from all disciplines to gather and share knowledge.

In a similar manner today, libraries such as the Goldfarb-Farber Library serve as the Brandeis community’s hub for research and innovation—not only scanning and preserving digital representations of artifacts and texts, but also recreating them with 3-D printing as well as using virtual reality and topography scans to make new discoveries.

“For us, the library is much than books; it’s knowledge and people talking to each other,” he said. “It’s a chance for people from all different disciplines to come together and exchange ideas, and that’s how you deeply learn.”

Koh welcomes students from across the university to his classes because each individual brings their unique interests and perspectives to the discussion.

He said there’s a strong temptation to become narrowly focused on the present and what coursework might get students a job. The future is difficult to predict and overlooking disciplines that may seem like a luxury can provide a richer, adaptable understanding of the ever-changing world both now and into the future. For example, a pre-law student can gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of ongoing political events by enrolling in classical studies or history to learn how the first democracies of the world handled similar situations.

In actuality, studying the human past fundamentally equips students for careers that don’t even exist yet, Koh said. As researchers better understand how people have interacted throughout history, they can better teach students how to develop life skills that they will carry with them well into the future.

“If we’re not conscious of the main tenets of what happened in the past, we’re just reinventing the wheel,” he said. “When we’re not in the field collecting data, the curation and accessibility of this information in our libraries will always provide us with a solid place to start.”

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