By Anna Allen, ’16
Whether in the classroom for his Greek, Latin, or Classical Civilization major, studying botany for his environmental studies minor, exploring archeological sites in Turkey, interning with D.C. museums, or simply joining the classics department for Friday afternoon tea, Nils Niemeier, ’13, always made time to cultivate his many interests in classical studies. After graduating from Richmond, Niemeier now has the opportunity to continue his love for classical studies as a doctoral student at Cornell University.
Beginning his freshman year, Niemeier was deeply involved with the classics program at Richmond. One of the biggest highlights was a trip to Turkey led by professor Elizabeth Baughan, who was working on an excavation there at the time. Because the program was sponsored by both Richmond and Bilkent University in Ankara, Richmond students were able to live together with Turkish students and faculty for the summer.
Between helping with excavation, cleaning the trenches, and recording finds, “Nils was really involved in every aspect of the excavation project,” says Baughan. By the end of the season, he had his own work area and was the primary supervisor of the trench where he kept a notebook and made decisions about what to excavate and where. He presented his findings at Richmond the following spring as part of the School of Arts and Sciences Student Symposium.
While in Turkey, Niemeier also pursued independent study in archaeobotanical analysis, or identification of ancient plant material — an application of his interest in botany. He gladly spent his free time studying grains and charred seeds from other nearby archaeological sites under a microscope and using online sources to try to identify them.
“He ended up writing a pretty substantial report of identifications of all of the different grain samples that were found,” says Baughan. “It made an excellent contribution to the project.”
The experience in Turkey set the stage for Niemeier's next summer interning at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, where he worked with botanical samples. “I was able to translate Greek herbal texts and created databases of Mediterranean archaeobotanical data taken from scientific publications,” he says.
It also led to another unexpected, exciting independent study project during his senior year. Baughan asked him to work on the online component of the Egyptian mummy and antiquities exhibition that ran for the previous year at the Lora Robins Gallery. The Digital Afterlife of Ti-Ameny-Net used new software that had originally been developed for maps — a perfect tie to Niemeier's background in mapping software from a geography class a few years earlier. “I immediately thought, okay, Nils is the one to do this,” says Baughan.
As Niemeier approached graduation, he knew he was really just beginning. He’s now continuing to grow his love for classical studies as Sage Fellow in the classics doctoral program at Cornell University. “My desire is to work in academia,” he says. “Ideally as a researcher working with archaeological and textual materials to learn about people’s interactions with plants and animals in the ancient Mediterranean.”
Wherever his education takes him, he feels ready for the challenge of graduate work. “My professors at Richmond really made an effort to treat us like graduate students,” he says. “They set a high bar for us, and that encouraged us to work harder in our studies. I believe getting us in that mindset really prepared me for the sort of work I am doing now.”