The American Academy in Rome has named Chancellor Professor of Classical Studies Vassiliki Panoussi among this year’s recipients of the prestigious and highly selective Rome Prize.

The fellowships support advanced independent work and research in the arts and humanities by providing the “gift of time and space to think and work,” according to a press release.

Panoussi, chair of the Department of Classical Studies at William & Mary, received the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/National Endowment for the Humanities Rome Prize in Ancient Studies. She is the first known faculty member at the university to ever receive a Rome Prize.

Selected by independent juries of distinguished artists and scholars, recipients of the prize will receive a stipend, workspace and room and board at the AAR’s campus in Rome starting in September 2024.

This year, AAR received 1,106 applications for the prize from 46 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. A total of 31 scholars from the United States received the honor, an acceptance rate of 2.9%. They will receive the award April 25 in New York City.

“We celebrate the remarkable achievement of our colleague, Professor Panoussi,” said Dean of Arts & Sciences Suzanne Raitt. “This prestigious award not only recognizes her exceptional contributions to the humanities but affirms our commitment to fostering intellectual curiosity and advancing knowledge. With the opportunity to delve more deeply into the rich history and culture of Rome, Professor Panoussi will continue to enrich her pioneering research and inspire future generations of scholars.”

During her fellowship, Panoussi will pursue a research project on the representation of the goddess Isis in Roman literature. The work will ultimately result in a book on the topic, which will fill a void in the research.

“This goddess has been studied from many different angles … but nobody has really looked into the representation that she receives in the literature other than using it as a source. So, there’s a lot there to unpack, to investigate,” Panoussi said. “Isis can help answer fascinating questions surrounding the connections between religion, gender and ethnic identification in the multicultural world of the Roman empire. All these issues are greatly relevant to today’s world. Looking at how another society dealt with them can be really eye-opening. Given my expertise in Roman literature and religion, I feel like I’m the right person to do this.”

Panoussi said that the Rome Prize will provide her with invaluable resources to help complete her research. As a student of Latin literature, Panoussi called being able to complete the project in Rome “an added bonus,” as she will be able to enrich her project there in ways that would not be possible elsewhere.

“I look forward to being in those same spaces and temples and streets that my authors lived and breathed in,” she said. “I will also be visiting museums where I will be in constant contact with the artifacts, objects and artworks that surrounded them and informed their lived experience.”

While going to Rome isn’t a necessity to complete Panoussi’s research, “my project will be much better and richer because of that opportunity,” she said.

In addition to being in the ideal place to complete her project, Panoussi looks forward to learning from “a truly interdisciplinary group of not only researchers but also creative artists, in an environment that nurtures and fosters this type of exchange and learning from one another.”

“You know you’re in the company of some of the most gifted people, so it’s really a great privilege and honor to be part of that group and to interact with this group.”

While the experience will undoubtedly support Panoussi’s advancement as a researcher and scholar, she expects it will, in turn, enhance her teaching when she returns to William & Mary.

“I will have different perspectives when I teach the same material because I will have lived a whole year in Rome,” she said. “But at the same time, I would get new ideas for new courses.”

She could also potentially add her name to the roster of faculty who lead the university’s study-abroad program in Rome/Pompeii.

“When you have faculty who change and develop, then their teaching changes and develops. The scholar-teacher model that we have here recognizes that intimate link between the scholar’s intellectual development translating into an enhanced learning experience for the students.”

When Panoussi learned she had been selected for the prize, she couldn’t stop smiling, she said.

“It’s not often that we get that tangible validation,” she said. “We get instant gratification  from teaching our students who are very generous with their affection and gratitude. But we rarely get that kind of reward or validation for our research, so I felt really honored and privileged to have gotten that recognition.”

, Senior Associate Director of University News