In a treasured tradition sponsored by the Society of Alumni, recently retired professors Elizabeth Fisher and John Camp II were invited to offer a last lecture to alumni and friends as part of the Homecoming Weekend celebration.
Fisher, who served the College from 1988 until she retired last spring, began the lecture as she would have in her early days of teaching: with images from a projector enlarged and displayed at the front of the room. Fisher and Camp, who are married, traded off during their lecture which walked the audience through dozens of digitized photos featuring the many archaeological opportunities they brought students over decades in a field that explores centuries of civilization.
Fisher joined the well-established Department of Classics at Randolph-Macon in 1988 to teach art history and archaeology. Her husband, John Camp II, joined her as an adjunct professor in 1996. Camp also served as Director of the Agora Excavation in Athens, Greece during this period, and together, they helped to establish a long-standing opportunity for Randolph-Macon students to participate in that important dig.
“Everybody wants to find treasure,” Camp explained. “Everybody grows up, except for a few of us. And we just keep digging in the sandbox.”
When Dr. Camp took the lead during the lecture, he shared discoveries from life at the Agora, a central square in ancient Greece where democracy was invented and practiced starting in approximately 507 BC. He emphasized ancient versions of modern familiarities – the early mall, the earliest ballots, and the ways in which discovery of these artifacts helps to inform our knowledge of how these ancient people lived.
In Dr. Fisher’s portion of the presentation, she shared from her broad work at RMC, which spanned from the Bronze Age to discoveries from post-Civil War America. Fisher shared highlights from some of her courses, emphasizing her focus on collaboration with colleagues like John Thoburn (chemistry) and Chas Gowan (environmental studies). The opportunity to dig was central to her approach, and her presentation explored the digging they did on her own property, a home called Signal Hill that dates to 1837, and at the Hanover Tavern and Patrick Henry’s Scotchtown.
She peppered her remarks with life lessons that students learned in her courses. “The first thing they realize is you can’t hold both sides of a tape measure,” she said, emphasizing the teamwork that’s crucial to archeology. Relatedly, she emphasized the importance of careful work and accountability: “You are responsible to the next group of people….Your notebook belongs to the dig. Your work will be remembered.”
Fisher also celebrated international travel, both for its transformational value for students and for the role it played in inspiring her own research, including as a Fulbright Scholar at Aksum University in Ethiopia. In conclusion, her comments emphasized the obligation of archaeologists to first care for the archaeological record, and then to share it with the world. She also noted archaeological connections to climate change and the current war between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East.
The Last Class concluded with the presentation of the Noë-Kilgore award, which celebrates Randolph-Macon faculty emeriti for outstanding teaching and service. The award was granted to Associate Professor Emeritus Ben Burrell, who served in the Department of Computer Science from 1986 to 2015, and Dr. Brenda Gilman, Associate Professor Emerita from the Department of Education, who served from 1988 to 2008. In conveying the awards, Provost Alisa Rosenthal noted Burrell’s reputation as a “model of consistency who worked tirelessly on behalf of our students to keep current in the rapidly evolving world of computer science.” Gilman was described as the “beating heart of the Education Department, then and always.” Burrell and Gilman both accepted their award with warm remarks about their time at Randolph-Macon, and especially the students they taught.