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Professor looks to the past to inform the future

Matt Simonton
September 26, 2013

After several years of a hectic grad school schedule at Stanford and the often cramped living quarters that go with it, Matt Simonton is quite happy to embrace the vast expanse of space here in the Southwest. Though he may miss the sandy beaches of California, he’s ready to get to work doing what he loves.

“I’ve always loved learning and trying to think through ideas in new ways, so if someone was willing to employ me to do that, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Simonton. And that is just the case, as he was recently appointed assistant professor of ancient history in the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies in the New College at Arizona State University.

A recipient of the Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowship, Simonton has dual interests in both the classics and political science, which led him to specialize in classical Greek democracy. He believes that “the Greeks formulated – in what remain very approachable and familiar terms – ideas about politics, especially freedom and equality, that can potentially help us to deepen and improve political life in contemporary liberal democracies.”

Despite ancient Greeks’ shortcomings in areas like gender equality and slavery, Simonton says he admires how their government sought ways to empower average citizens, not just the elite.

In order for history students to gain a more well-rounded, fleshed-out understanding of particular time periods, Simonton feels it is important for them to know as much about the material objects, environments and everyday life events of the people who lived during that era.

He hopes to communicate that lesson to his students through narrative-style lectures, which he has found to be most effective in relaying new concepts and ideas. He chose ASU as the place to do that because, as he says, “ASU, and particularly the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the West campus, seemed like the best place for combining serious research with a personalized teaching setting and committed students.”