Alice Sharpless is an ABD PhD student working on a dissertation entitled “The Value of Luxury: Precious Metal Tableware in the Roman Empire.” Her research focuses on the economic and social value of precious metal tableware, especially silver, from the late republic through the 3rd century CE. Silver has the peculiar role of being a material which was at the core of economic transaction in the ancient world (because it was used to produce coinage), while also being used for objects with substantial social significance and personal devotion (like tableware, statues, and religious objects); moreover, it survives in greater quantities than gold. In particular, Alice is interested in looking at the messages conveyed by ownership of precious metal services as well as the role of fashion and craftsmanship in constructing value. She also plans to explore the changes to material value over time, looking at both the effects of the metal supply and the relationship between coinage and metal plate particularly during the financial crisis of late 2nd-3rd centuries. Alice hopes that her research will provide a framework for how the concept of value can be used to understand objects’ changing and interdependent roles in society: how they are exchanged, used, and understood. She also aims to contribute to the body of literature on the social importance of dining in the ancient world by addressing how material culture contributed to these social interactions.
In her time at Columbia, Alice has taught elementary and intermediate Latin and served as a TA for courses on Augustan poetry, Roman history, and Roman art. She has participated in four excavation seasons at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, first as a student participant and later as a field assistant, learning valuable skills both in excavation techniques as well as in wrangling undergraduate archaeologists. In Spring 2018, she began teaching herself about the field of numismatics through the process of cataloguing the imperial coins in Columbia Library’s Olcott Collection (and would be happy for volunteers to help!). She has also performed as a chorus member in the Barnard-Columbia Ancient Drama Group’s productions of Sophocles’ Trachiniae and Aristophanes’ Frogs.
Originally from Philadelphia, Alice received her BA in Latin Language and Literature from Oberlin College in 2009, and an MA in Classical Studies from Vanderbilt University in 2012. While at Vanderbilt she participated in her first excavation season at Kenchreai in Greece. She has studied abroad at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome (Fall 2007) and the American School of Classical Studies in Athens (Summer 2011). Alice has also held internships at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and taught Latin at the Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. In her limited free time, Alice quilts and tends to her many plants. Email Alice Sharpless.