Rebecca Benefiel, assistant professor of classics at Washington and Lee University, received the Olivia James Traveling Fellowship from the Archaeological Institute of America for 2008-2009. It's designed to support field research in the Mediterranean, and there is only one fellowship of this kind given out per year. The award is $25,000.
Benefiel will spend this fall and next spring on-site in Pompeii and in Rome working on her book, "Pompeii and Her Neighbors: Civic Identity, Social Interaction, and Ancient Graffiti."
More than 11,000 inscriptions (ancient "graffiti") on the walls of ancient Pompeii have been discovered and recorded since excavation of the site began in the 18th century. These writings provide interesting information about the social interaction taking place among residents of different communities. Benefiel said that they show there is a "good amount of civic pride and civic rivalries, especially between Pompeii and her closest neighbor, Nuceria."
"I am thrilled about this opportunity," she said. "It's the best fellowship I could have gotten for my project because it is designed to support research in the field. For my research, being on-site in Pompeii is invaluable. Published photos exist for fewer than 1% of these graffiti.
"I have gone to Pompeii for brief research trips and every time I go, I encounter something unexpected that affects my approach to, my thinking about, and my understanding of these ancient writings. There is no substitute."
Benefiel received her B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University.