GradAttack Podcast #9 Kate Mower

Podcast #9 – 07/11/2016

Thracians, Macedonians, and the Joys and Challenges of Winning a Fulbright Fellowship

Kate MowerKate Mower

Kate Mower is about to graduate with an MA in ancient history from the U, and will shortly be on her way to Bulgaria and Romania, where she has won a prestigious Fulbright research fellowship to study the Greeks and their northern neighbors in the generations before Alexander the Great changed the face of the ancient world. She came by to talk to us about her journey from screenwriter to ancient historian, and about the complicated but rewarding process of winning a Fulbright scholarship to pursue her passion.

Download the file here: Thracians, Macedonians, and the Joys and Challenges of Winning a Fulbright Fellowship with Kate Mower

PATRICK HADLEY: Hello and welcome to another University of Utah GradAttack podcast. Today we are talking with a master’s student and Fulbright scholar, Kate Mower. She’s here to discuss her research and her Fulbright fellowship, which we’re very excited about, and very proud of her for. So, Kate, in preparation for this interview, you sent me your personal statement for the Fulbright program and your plan for research. So I read your Fulbright statement and I thought it was really interesting, especially the path that you took to ancient history and archaeology – sort of a bit of a roundabout path. So I was hoping you could tell our listeners how you came to be doing a master’s in ancient history here at the U.

KATE MOWER: Actually, it was kind of an accident that I happened upon ancient history. I came back to school – I got a master’s degree, or rather, a bachelor’s degree right out of high school, and I wanted to be a screenwriter. I went and I studied film for a long time and for about five years after my first bachelor’s degree I really wanted to pursue film. And that wasn’t working out, and it just happened that I was reading history on the side. So I’d be working on screenwriting during the day and reading history at night, so I thought, “why don’t I just do history? That’s clearly where my interest lies.” So I decided to go back for a second bachelor’s degree in history, and I thought for sure I was going to study American history. I thought I would do Chicago, because I was interested in Chicago. But I studied abroad in Thessaloniki, Greece –

PH: Oh, yeah. Beautiful city.

KM: Beautiful. Yeah. And very interesting, intricate, has so much history that a lot of people don’t know about. It’s an interesting city. I studied there in 2007 and the first field trip they took us to was to Vergina, where Philip II is supposedly buried.

PH: This is Philip II the king of Macedon who unified the Greeks in the fourth century?

KM: Yes, the king of Macedon who happens to be Alexander the Great’s father. So if you walk into Tomb I you see a fresco above the tomb of Alexander actually fighting Darius. It’s an amazing fresco, they’re amazing tombs, and I walked in and thought, This is something that I will forever be interested in. So after failing at screenwriting for five years, I was drawn back to that. So when I went back to school to study history, I took a class called The Age of Alexander, offered at the U. by Professor Lindsay Adams, and fell in love. And I knew immediately that first semester that I wasn’t going to study US history, I was gong to study ancient history. And that happened to be Spring semester, so I had to  skip first-semester Ancient Greek, so my Ancient Greek is not as good as Pat’s here, but it’s adequate enough, I suppose, to get me through the program.

PH: Whereas the only ancient history course I ever took in my life was, in fact, The Age of Alexander with Professor Lindsay Adams. To my undying shame: I should’ve taken many more.

KM: But you enjoyed it?

PH: I loved it, yeah. Impossible not to love that course.

KM: Fascinating class!

PH: Okay. So you finished your bachelor’s in history and you applied for the master’s in history?

KM: Yes. So I immediately went from my second bachelor’s to my master’s in history. And I knew – I applied for ancient history for the master’s, because I knew at that point, I’m stuck there, probably forever.

PH: So that was a little more than a year ago, two years ago?

KM: That was four years ago.

PH: Okay, so right now, four years later, as of our recording this interview on June 17,  your thesis is currently sitting in a very large and ever-growing pile of theses and dissertations in my office, waiting to be read. So we’re very excited to read it, but because it’s gonna be a while before we actually read it, can you give us a sneak peak, and let us know what it’s about?

KM: Oh, man, you are so much more kind when asking these questions than my defense committee. That’s not true, they’re very nice.

PH: We’ll have to bleep that.

KM: Yeah. My thesis is actually about Greek identity. So, I talk a lot about Philip II and Macedon, in particularly the identity of the Macedonians. And this has come into question for decades and decades. Lots of people say Macedonians are Greek, lots of people say Macedonians are not Greek. And that’s an interesting question. Are they Greek or are they not Greek? But, more to the point, I’m more interested in, Do the Macedonians think that they are Greek? And that’s a different question entirely. When you say that Archelaus, for example, the king of Macedon three generations before Philip, wants to incorporate Attic Greek as the language of the Macedonian court, that is a big step, that’s an interesting step for the Macedonians because people are going to argue, when they see this, that the Macedonians aren’t Greek, they have their own language. We don’t have very much of that language –

PH: We have the word “eyebrow.”

KM: Eyebrow! Yep, that is the word. We have three words, one of which is “eyebrow”, and you can’t determine a lot from that. But the court makes the choice that, We’re gonna switch to Attic Greek. So there’s this culmination of Macedonians wanting to be Greek and wanting to portray themselves as Greek. In fact they talk with Herodotus, and Herodotus writes down, “They’re Greek. I’ve been to the Macedonian court, and I can tell you they’re Greek.” And a lot is made of that statement, for example. But Philip II has an interesting life. He, at the age of three, or as an infant, he’s sent to Illyria as a hostage, because Macedonia is getting attacked on all fronts – from the Illyrians, from the Thracians, and from the Greeks, the Athenians. They’re attacked on all sides for, I would say, a century. And so to appease the Illyrians, Philip is sent to Illyria as a hostage. He gets brought back by his brother, who is king at the time, and then is sent to Thebes. Do you know this story?

PH: Yeah, yeah, but our listeners may not.

KM: Oh! It’s such a good story! So Philip  gets sent to Thebes as a teenager, and Thebes does not get enough credit either. Thebes has an interesting history, and two generals, in particular, Pelopidas and Epaminondas, are the leaders of the Thebans while Philip is there. And Philip learns diplomacy as done by the Greeks, he learns military tactics as done by the Greeks, he learns very much how to be a Greek while a teenager. He’s bright. He’s a very smart person., and then he gets sent back to Macedonia, and while he’s in Macedonia the Macedonians decide they’re going to put him on the throne after his brother dies. There are three different people or so who have claim to the throne, but the Macedonians pick Philip. So Philip is able to implement all of these different Theban military tactics. He’s able to implement diplomatic tactics as exercised by Pelopidas, and he makes very much a Greek state. Interestingly enough, after Pelopidas and Epaminondas die in their respective battles, there happens to be this war at Delphi. And Delphi is the center of Greece. There’s an oracle there, people take pilgrimages there, it is the center of Greece. If you want to talk about a Panhellenic center, that is Delphi –  it’s something that unifies all the Greeks. And there’s a war that takes place there called the Third Sacred War, and Philip enters into that war. He doesn’t necessarily want to – that’s something that scholars debate, but I argue that he doesn’t really want to enter into the Third Sacred War, but he does nonetheless because the Thessalians, who he is allied with, ask him to. The Thessalians and the Thebans, I argue, see the Macedonians and in particular Philip as Greek, and they invite him into the Third Sacred War, and he ends up winning the Thrid Sacred War, he ends up winning the majority of votes of the Amphyctionic Council there, which is the political body that unites all of Greece, I argue.

PH: So that is your thesis, in a nutshell?

KM: I don’t know if it’s so much a nutshell, but yeah. That’s it.

PH: Well, it’s a large and interesting nutshell . There’s nothing wrong with a good nutshell. Okay, so is this the sort of research you plan on continuing when you do your Fulbright program, or do you plan on kind of changing tack?

KM: Both, I would say. The Fulbright grant I received is for two countries, five months in Bulgaria and four months in Romania.

PH: Fantastic.

KM: I hope so. It’s gonna be great. So the months in Bulgaria will be spent in Sofia and Plovdiv, and Plovdiv was an ancient city named Philipp- Philipopolis, named after Philip.

PH: I can see why they changed the name.

KM: Thank you, yeah, it’s difficult, doesn’t really roll off the tongue. So at Plovdiv I’m interested in this question of Thracian and Macedonian relationships, because Philip’s distracted, before he goes to the Third Sacred War, in Thrace, and he wants to know what to do with these Thracians, who aren’t quite unified, but he thinks they can be, and he wants to make them Macedonian, as well – which is an interesting concept that Alexander takes on afterwards. So I’m interested in this identity for Thracians – how do they see themselves, and in particular, how do they deal with the Greek cults. And the Greek cult that I picked was Apollo, for the Delphic reasons. I have a good relationship with Apollo after studying Delphi for a while, so I picked Apollo.

PH: Good panhellenic god…

KM: Exactly. So I want to see how this relationship between Thracians and Greeks comes about through religion. And we’ll see how that develops.

PH: So you’re going to be looking at archaeological remains mostly, kind of material culture-type stuff?

KM: Exactly. Yes. Every day during the summer you can find something new that’s been recovered in Bulgaria. Some sort of cult, some sort of archaeological find, and last summer they found a lot on Apollo. So there’s plenty of material culture to be looked at and examined to determine what are the differences, what are the similarities, how does it affect one culture or another?

PH: Fantastic. So are you hoping to find kind of a similar process of Hellenization happening to the Thracians as at one point may have happened to the Macedonians?

KM: I hope, but you never know what you’re actually going to uncover. I would hope that there is a Hellenization process that comes before Alexander, actually well before Alexander. There’s things that are happening centuries before Alexander. I don’t know so much if it’s Hellenization – it’s Hellenization from one direction, but at the same time there’s a Thracian influence in Greece. So how does that back and forth take place? Who actually has control? Because Thracians have more material resources in Thrace – they have timber, they have gold, they have silver, they have everything that the Greeks could ever want but don’t actually have. And so a lot of people say, Oh the Thracians have Athenian sculptors or whatever in Thrace. But that might not actually be the case. It might actually be the case that the Thracians develop a lot of things on their own, and I’m interested to see that relationship and how that works.

PH: Okay. That’s fantastic. So, what kind of support does the Fulbright program give you once you’re there?  They set you up with host scholars who kind of supervise you and lead your research, but are they going to give you language support, that sort of thing?

KM: Yeah, they will. I actually received an interesting sort of grant. It’s a study/research grant. So I actually work with an individual institute in Bulgaria and an individual institute in Romania, and with specific professors in each area, and they help me develop the sorts of questions that I might want to be asking, more sophisticated questions about the region, historical or archaeological questions that need answering. And then I do the research. So the research part is under the direction of an advisor and it’s with the help of that person. So it’s a really unique and interesting, awesome grant to be given, because you get the best of both worlds: You get to do your own research while at the same time working with someone who knows the region really well. And they offer a stipend for language study, so a lot of different things are gonna be in Bulgarian, which is a Cyrillic-alphabet language, and I’m a little bit intimidated by that, I’m not gonna lie. But I think that after a while you learn to work with it. Romanian might be easier since it’s really close to Latin, so hopefully I’ll find that a little bit easier.

PH: So my other question is, Can I come with you?

KM: I’d love to have you! Somebody who knows langauges right off the bat, I’d love to have you come. Come visit, Pat, please.

PH: haha. Okay, so, the Fulbright application process, I think for a lot of people who looked at it – and at one point long ago this included myself before I said, “not worth it. I’m too busy with other things”, which a lot of people decide upon. You followed through with it and you got it done and obviously they gave you the grant, and that’s awesome. It looks long and complicated, so can you tell us, how did you get through it, did you have institutional support to help you out? Obviously if you had any at the U. we’d love to hear about that, but any other hints you have for people who are gonna take on this fairly complicated and somewhat intimidating process?

KM: Yeah, it is intimidating, absolutely. In fact, they conducted my university interview in this room, and so that’s giving me the jitters immediately. So, I had an interesting experience coming acros the Fulbright. I didn’t seek it out particularly, “I wanna do a Fulbrigh.” I received an email from the university that was from the Bulgarian Commission, which was interesting – it just happened to land in my email. And I knew that Bulgaria was a place that I ultimately wanted to end up to study Thracians and Macedonian relationships. So I looked it over a lot and thought, This is intimidating. But first, anybody who’s interested in a Fulbright, I would say  to look for a niche, something that people aren’t looking so much at. People are looking at Greece, people want to go to Greece and people want to go to Rome to study Romans. But what else? If you want to study Romans, then Bulgaria is quite interesting, Romania is very interesting. So look for places – the Fulbright website offers a statistics bar up in its right-hand corner. Click on that and see how many people are applying to a particular country and how many grants that particular country offers. The UK gets 1,000 applicants for 100 grants, or something like that. So keep those numbers in mind. For me, Bulgaria didn’t have a high number of grants, but it also didn’t have a high number of applicants. So, what is it about Bulgaria that might be interesting to somebody studying Greece? There’s Thracians, it’s intimately connected to Greece. So look through those little Nic- Ne- Niches –

PH: I’ve never known how to pronounce that word.

KM: Thank you. I appreciate that.

PH: I’m glad to meet another person. I usually just try to mumble off, you know, like, “I’ve found my *mumbles*.” Then nobody knows what I’m saying. It’s great.

KM:  In the transcript it just says, in brackets, “mumbles.” So, anyway, look for something that not everybody else is looking for. So I happened upon this Bulgarian Fulbright and I thought, I want to apply to this. This is something I want to do. I probably will never get it because I’m only a master’s student and research grants are typically given to the PhD students, but I wanted to try it, anyway. I knew I was applying to PhD programs as well, so I might as well throw in another application. Actually this is a harder application, but it’s worth the process. So I immediately came to the Yuput because Jolyn

PH: Jolynn, yeah, Jolyn Schleiffarth.

KM: Jolyn is in charge of the Fulbrights, and so I talked with her and she said, You’re a good candidate, let’s get your application in order. She immediately sent me an email connecting me with Professor Howard Lehman in the Political Science Department, and he looked over all of my stuff, which is a personal statement, a statement of purpose, and some other things.

PH: Like a CV and all those other things?

KM: Yeah, like a resume and everything that you might need. And so he and I together revised that statement of purpose probably eight times. From the time that it started to the time that ended, my research proposal got drastically changed into something that the commission might be more interested in, so that the Bulgarians might feel like they got something out of this, as well. It’s part of the Fulbright procedure that they want the country not to be exploited if it’s hosting, but to reap the benefits of you being there, as well. So I tried to develop something that would be beneficial to the host country as well as to my research. And that is working on archaeological sites, so I will produce GIS maps that can be used for the museums to promote tourism and that sort of thing. So it’s a symbiotic relationship there, hopefully. That’s really what you wanna focus on – how is this gonna benefit your research, and how are you going to benefit the host country?

PH: Okay, very cool. So it’s a nine-month Fulbright grant, and we were talking earlier, and you have plans now, while you are in Bulgaria you are going to be learning Bulgarian, making maps of archaeological sites, and also applying for PhD programs.

KM: And applying for PhD programs. It’s gonna be quite the process. I’m trying to start the process this summer, before I get there, but yeah. I’ll ultimately send off my applications while I’m in Bulgaria.

PH: And you’ve told me what your top choices would be, but we won’t say them aloud, but we wish you the very best of luck. You’re obviously going to have an incredibly strong application.

KM: Well, thank you.

PH: So Kate Mower, thanks for being with us today. Have lots and lots of fun in Eastern Europe.

KM: I’ll let you know all about it.