Exploring the Art of the Ancient World

Emmi Farrell, MA in Art History and Museum Studies ’23, on how studying the art of the ancient world has opened up doors to her at Tufts and beyond.
Emmi Farrell

Emmi Farrell entered her first year as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill thinking she would pursue a Political Science major and a pre-law course of study. But after taking a couple of classical archeology and history courses she became enamored with studying the ancient world and, in particular, the period’s art. 

“I think we see the ancient world as so separate from ourselves and by studying its art, it really allows us, I think, the closest view to human interaction and human expression,” Farrell says. By the end of her first year, Farrell had switched to a double major in ancient history and classical archaeology.     

Particularly after spending her senior year on Zoom at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Farrell decided she wanted a career that was deeply interesting to her and she felt like she wasn’t yet done with researching and studying the art of the ancient world. With encouragement and guidance from her professors at UNC, Farrell began looking into graduate programs in art history and found Tufts. The program’s size, its specialty in Museum Studies, and location in the Boston area amidst an abundance of nearby museums and cultural institutions all made Farrell think it would be a great fit.  

During her first year at Tufts, Farrell connected with her primary advisor Assistant Professor Miriam Said in the course “Sacred Art of the Ancient Near East.” The program’s small size has allowed her to form close relationships with her faculty and advisors, which Farrell has found incredibly valuable.  

“She is just such a great teacher and advisor and the course was so interesting. She brings in many interdisciplinary perspectives and really encourages discussion in the classroom.” 

After wrapping up the majority of required coursework during her first year at Tufts, in her second year Farrell has delved into her own independent in-depth writing and research and had the opportunity to share this knowledge with undergraduates by serving as a Teaching Assistant in three courses where she has delivered lectures and led weekly recitation groups. Farrell explains that at a university with both master’s and PhD programs in Art History, these positions would likely have gone to doctoral students.  

“I love the opportunities that I’ve gotten to teach and to interact with undergraduate students and to potentially create a few Art History majors. That’s my ultimate goal to convey that art history is really fascinating and there’s so many issues that inform what we do today that are important to study in this field,” she says.

Farrell has also had formative experiences outside of the classroom at Tufts. As part of the Museum Studies component of her degree, Farrell completed a practicum at the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, MA. While the park’s primary subject matter differed from her focus on ancient art, Farrell has always had an interest in the Revolutionary War period and a desire to learn more about working for the National Park Service in a museum capacity. She was also able to tie in her background working on a project labeling a large collection of photographs held by the Adams Park of ancient ruins in Italy, Greece, and Egypt and translating notes in French, German and Latin from the original photographers.  

More recently, Farrell was involved in curating an exhibition currently on display in Tisch Library with colleagues from the History of Art and Architecture Department titled, “Ukraine: Vibrant Cultures and Connected Histories.” Farrell worked on a panel with Assistant Professor Alice Sullivan where she was able to apply research she had conducted for a paper completed in one of Sullivan’s classes to the Virgin of Vladimir icon, an important art piece in both Russia and Ukraine.

“It was such a rewarding experience. We had the opening a few weeks ago and we got to hear from Ukrainian students and faculty just how important it is to learn about the deep cultural legacies of Ukraine and also raise awareness for why it’s important to protect art and this art specifically, which is so in danger right now.”

Farrell is preparing to graduate from Tufts in May. She just received the Department of History of Art and Architecture’s Rhonda Saad Graduate Prize, awarded for outstanding academic excellence in the program. After graduation, she hopes to stay in the Boston area and pursue work in museums and perhaps, in a couple years, to return to school for her PhD. 

“My department and Tufts have really given me lots of opportunities not just to pad a resume, but to talk about and experience curating, writing, researching, and teaching. I feel like I’m more well rounded than when I came to Tufts and so much more competent and confident in talking about these materials and finding my own voice and perspective.”