SUU Blog | T-Bird Nation

Ancient Text Takes Student Abroad

MattSmith-10.jpgMatthew Smith is a Southern Utah University student from Rochester, New York. He is studying three subjects: history, sociology, and Greek. Last summer, he completed his EDGE project by conducting paleographic research on the works of Procopius of Caesarea in Europe.

Paleography is the study of ancient handwriting and historical manuscripts. “This research project is just the beginning of a longer line of inquiry that will provide the stepping stone to furthering my education and research,” said Smith. “Doors will be unlocked for me that never would have been open otherwise.”

Smith prepared for his trip with the help from Dr. Kirk Fitzpatrick, assistant professor of philosophy at SUU. Fitzpatrick speaks both Latin and Greek, which are two languages used in the manuscripts they studied. Fitzpatrick taught Smith Greek and guided him through the process of completing the necessary manuscripts and texts to gain entrance to European libraries.

“I was amazed at the support network at SUU,” said Fitzpatrick. “When we needed something done faculty dropped everything to help us.”

After filling out all necessary documents, and many interviews, the pathway was clear to study ancient texts and manuscripts in the Vatican Archives in Rome, the Medici Archives in Florence, and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

“Only one person was allowed to study a manuscript at a time,” said Smith. “I would go into a room to study a manuscript in Greek, then come out and discuss my findings with Dr. Fitzpatrick. He would also interpret notes written in Latin for me.”

Undergraduates are usually not able to do this type of research, according to Fitzpatrick. The Vatican Archives in particular are very selective about who they allow inside the library. The interview inside Vatican City took an hour and a half, but because Fitzpatrick would physically accompany his student inside the library, Smith was allowed to study the documents he needed.

2016-11-Matt-Smith-Study-Abroad.jpg“It was amazing to see the manuscripts,” said Fitzpatrick. “They were a foot thick, leather bound, and wrapped in clanking chains that would remind anyone of A Christmas Carol. I thought ‘wow, that looks so medieval’. Then I realized: wait, that IS medieval.”

Smith was able to make significant progress on his paleographic research, which he hopes to continue during graduate school.

“Having a culture at SUU that foster’s this kind of growth in its students is remarkable,” said Smith. “The EDGE program gave me the pathway to further my passion and engage in a certain level of academia that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.”

The EDGE program requires all undergraduates to plan and complete a special project to help them achieve a unique personal or professional goal. This builds their resumes and portfolios, giving students an extra edge over the competition.

Smith will graduate from SUU in the spring and plans to further his education in history. He will continue his research on Procopius and hopes to become a university history professor.

Learn more about SUU's College of Humanities and Social Science.