On November 10, 2012, Emory University students under the direction of Bonna Wescoat, Professor of Greek Art and Architecture, address the longstanding question of why an ornate frieze was located in a seemingly obscure position high on the outside wall of the Parthenon. The students erected a replica of panels of the frieze at the Nashville, Tennessee Parthenon. Then they asked bystanders what they could see. For her success, Wescoat has been honored as the 2017 recipient of the Archaeological Institute of America’s Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award. She recently received the award at the organization’s annual conference in Toronto.

The national award recognizes individuals who, among other things, have developed innovative teaching methods or interdisciplinary curricula and are actively teaching. In accepting the award, Wescoat praised the ingenuity of her students and thanked Emory for:

“[...]saying yes rather than no, for supporting archaeology, art history and classics without question, and for providing an environment in which they can thrive. We [art historians and archeologists] are the ultimate doers. Antiquities seem remote, but not always. Certainly not when you put yourself in its environment.”

Wescoat has long put herself into the environments in question. Since 1977, she has traveled to the Greek island of Samothrace for excavations meant to uncover the history and legacy of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. She was named to the directorship of excavations in 2012, overseeing work at one of the most significant sanctuaries in Greece. That work informs her seminars based specifically on the research, as well as her first-year seminar “Myth and Legend in Ancient Greek Art,” and 200- and 300-level classes on art and architecture in ancient Greece and Rome. In all of Wescoat's courses, including those in the architectural studies minor that she played a critical role in devising, she makes the ancient come alive with hands-on engagement.

The 2012 project with the Emory students was a prime example of this. She and her students tackled the question of a seemingly overlooked part of the Parthenon in Athens by installing test panels in a replica in Nashville. At issue was why the iconic frieze, depicting a ceremonial procession, was placed high on the outside wall of the Parthenon’s central chamber and partially obscured by the surrounding colonnade. Some scholars suggested the detail of the work would have been lost in the shadows, even guessing the frieze was added as an afterthought to the original building.

The video above documents the extensive work students put into the optical experiment testing the visibility based on the precise Nashville replica. The conclusion: The view is optimal to tell a narrative to guests as they walk up to the structure. According to Wescoat:

“For whatever reason, today we feel there is some disjunction between meeting practical needs and aesthetics. My goal is to show how those two connect, to put back together how art is an integral part of the environment. One of my overarching goals is for my students to feel comfortable in the presence of art and architecture, and be able to engage and enjoy what they’re seeing and how it connects to the environment. I have fun doing this with my students.”

Can I just say that I want a teacher like this?