Eric Cline is the first professor to receive Trachtenberg Prizes for both scholarship and teaching.
By Magdalena Stuehrmann, Class of 2015
Eric Cline chairs the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the George Washington University, but his job goes far beyond that.
He is an associate professor of classics, anthropology and history. He is involved with the Judaic Studies Program and is the director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute. And Dr. Cline also finds time for off-campus research, co-directing two archaeological excavations in Israel.
“The reason I like it here so much, the reason I took this job, is because I do anthropology, archaeology, classics, ancient history, art history – I wanted to find a job where they would let me teach all of that,” he said. “In most places, if you’re hired in anthropology, for instance, you can only teach anthropology and can’t even think about history or art history. I wanted to be in a place where I could teach all different things, and they let me do that here.”
Dr. Cline’s passion for teaching recently helped earn him the 2012 Oscar and Shoshana Trachtenberg Prize for teaching.
Winners of this award, one of the university’s most prestigious, are chosen based on nominations from the undergraduate students that they teach. Dr. Cline, a former recipient of the Trachtenberg Prize for scholarship, received glowing letters of recommendation from his students. Even students who were not part of the nomination process were enthusiastic about his teaching style and attitude in the classroom.
“He definitely deserves it,” said Julianna Hul, a freshman who intends to major in archaeology and has taken two of Dr. Cline’s courses. “Dr. Cline is engaging, quick to joke or lend a helping hand, kind, and the most wonderful professor I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.”
Dr. Cline’s deep commitment to GW stems in part from his lifelong association with the school. Though his professional involvement with the university began in 2000, Dr. Cline was born in the George Washington University Hospital.
“When I came to interview in the spring of 2000, I had to give a lecture, ‘the job talk.’ I got up and said, ‘Thank you. It’s nice to be back.’ The students and faculty in the audience all looked at me like I was crazy because they had never seen me in their lives. I said, ‘It’s true. Forty years ago, I was born across the street.’ They all started laughing, and I thought, ‘Well, this seems to be off to a good start.’ So, if you ask me how long I’ve been affiliated with GW, I can actually say all my life,” he said.
During the summers, Dr. Cline works at two archaeological excavations in Israel – Tel Kabri and Megiddo – and regularly takes students with him to experience archaeology firsthand. Altogether, Dr. Cline has brought about 150 students with him over the course of his research at the two excavations and will be taking about 20 with him this coming summer to the excavation at Megiddo.
“The excavations are where I think the teaching, the research and the scholarship all come together,” he said. “The students who come with me learn while they are there, and I bring my research into the classroom to use as examples to try to keep lectures from being dull and dry. For example, I show students in class the way we used remote sensing at Kabri to show them the techniques they learn about in practice.”
Last year, Dr. Cline was the recipient of the Trachtenberg Prize for scholarship, making him the first GW professor to be the recipient of both the award for scholarship and the award for teaching.
“I got the scholarship award last year, and that blew me away, mostly because that’s recommended by my colleagues. This year, getting the teaching award was amazing too. I thought, ‘Wow, I guess teaching and research really do go hand in hand,’” he said.
Though Dr. Cline is an award-winning scholar and researcher, much of his passion about GW is sparked by his students and the courses he teaches.
“If I had to pick a favorite class, it would be Introduction to Archaeology,” he said. “It’s so much fun to introduce archaeology to a whole new crowd. Some of them already know something about archaeology and love it. Some have never heard of it before, and others are there just to fulfill a requirement and end up going, ‘Hey, this is actually kind of cool.’ And I enjoy that so much. I like getting into things deeper with some of my other classes, but in terms of impact, reaching 150 undergraduates every fall is really rewarding.”
Dr. Cline also makes an effort to bring archaeology to a wider audience. He directs the Capitol Archaeological Institute, which was founded to bring together GW professors with ties to archaeology. The institute is becoming a growing force for bringing archaeology to the public and the world at large.
“Our catch phrase is archaeology through diplomacy, diplomacy through archaeology. We’re only in our second year, but we’re going places. We’re trying to bring archaeology to the public,” said Dr. Cline. Among the institute’s efforts is an ambassador lecture series, which draws archaeologists and ambassadors from across the globe,
”With our D.C. location, we’re in the perfect spot to try to work on policy relating to archaeology,” he said. “We’re getting ourselves on the map, and the world’s going to hear about us in the future.”
Dr. Cline also serves as the undergraduate adviser for students majoring in archaeology. When he first became the advisor in 2001, there were only eight GW students total majoring in archaeology. Now there are between eight and 18 archaeology majors in each class. Most GW archaeology majors are double majors in subjects such as classical studies, history and anthropology. Nearly half of the students who graduate from GW with an archaeology degree go on to receive advanced degrees from universities such as Yale, Cornell, University College London, Cambridge and NYU.
“By 2015, when the current freshmen graduate, we will have graduated more than 140 archaeology majors in 14 years. It's been a real team effort, and we've come a long way since 2001,” said Dr. Cline. “As a professor and adviser, it’s personally very satisfying to see the major grow so steadily and to be able to assist students who want to become archaeologists follow their dreams into graduate school and beyond.”
Despite all the extra roles he takes on, Dr. Cline remains devoted to teaching.
“It’s a lot of fun to be here, and I really enjoy my job,” he said. “I wake up in the morning and say, ‘They pay me for this?’”