CUSE Spotlights

Charles Pazdernik

Charles Pazdernik

“As historians, as classicists, our stock and trade is knowing things in a way that accumulates,” says Professor of Classics Charles Pazdernik. “That’s one of the greatest things about working with student researchers, is that they have all kinds of questions on topics I know nothing about. One of the best Honors research projects I've ever come across was a wonderful paper and presentation from a pre-veterinary student on elephants in Roman spectacles. She knew that they had been used in warfare, and had been used sometimes in very gruesome ways in the Roman arena. As she dug into it, there were all these interesting strands. She found Roman encyclopedic writing about the psychology of elephants— a lot of theorizing, which may or may not have had a rigorous scientific basis, but they recognized a lot of the uncanny qualities of elephants that we have a much better understanding of today.” 

Pazdernik teaches The Worlds of Greece and Rome, one of the foundational introductory sequences at the Frederik Meijer Honors College. In the course’s second semester, all students come up with a research question exploring some aspect of the Roman world; many of them end up presenting their projects at Student Scholars Day. 

“The thing that I love about Student Scholars Day is that it runs the gamut,” says Pazdernik. “Research occurs at the moment at which you're doing work that is original to you, where you're exploring something that you didn't know about, and you're validating that knowledge in authoritative and reliable ways. Students benefit from that. I benefit from that! I guarantee you that I was much less well instructed about elephants in the Roman world before I was involved in that project. This is what we do in my field— we try to accumulate not only various kinds of evidence, various kinds of information, but also different ways of thinking about the world and approaching it. It helps me build up in my own mind an evolving sense of who these people were and how they lived so long ago.”

Whether mentoring the freshmen in WOGAR on their class projects or upper-level Classics students pursuing independent scholarship, Pazdernik enjoys advising students whose questions take him outside the boundaries of his own research.

“The way I look at it, as a faculty member, is that the investment I make when a student comes to me with a project is not in advancing my own particular research agenda,” says Pazdernik. “It’s that in advising a student to do something they’re interested in, I'm challenging myself. In the ancient world, we just have fragments, pieces out of a big jigsaw puzzle that's already been lost. All you can do over the course of your career is accumulate as many of those fragments as you can. My students are always challenging me to learn things that I might not have otherwise encountered but I've always profited from, whether in my teaching or in my publications.”

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Page last modified June 15, 2022