University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Classics

Alumni Corner: Rozenn Bailleul-LeSuer

MA, Greek and Latin

Rozenn Bailleul-LeSuer in Petra, Jordan
Rozenn Bailleul-LeSuer in Petra, Jordan

Formerly from France — born and raised in Bretagne (Brittany) — with diplomas in organic chemistry and engineering, Rozenn Bailleul-LeSuer now lives in Chicago and studies, as well as teaches, Egyptology. How did she “migrate” from rural France to metropolitan Chicago? Well, it involved a crucial stopover at the University of Vermont.

After finishing my degrees in France, I moved to Burlington to join my fiancé, now husband, BoB LeSuer, whom I had met as an exchange student a few years earlier in Pennsylvania. BoB had started a PhD program in chemistry with Dr. Bill Geiger at UVM. While I had studied chemistry as an undergraduate, I did not see myself pursuing a career in that field. On the other hand, ancient history had always fascinated me, in particular ancient Egypt.

Having discovered that it was possible in the US to switch fields of study in graduate school, I was willing to further explore this interest of mine and start a program in Egyptology. To prepare myself for this next stage of my life, BoB motivated me to contact the Classics Department at UVM. It seemed as if the study of ancient Greece and Rome would serve as a good transition and ultimately help me reach my goal.

I was immediately welcomed with open arms by the Classics faculty. Dr. Barbara Saylor Rodgers suggested that I start learning ancient Greek, since I had already studied Latin in High School. I then joined her class and started again translating Latin texts. While quite challenging at first — I had not looked at my Latin grammar book for at least seven or eight years — I enjoyed reacquainting myself with these ancient languages. I was especially fortunate to benefit from the support of Drs. Robert Rodgers and Phil Ambrose, who suggested that I enter the MA program in Greek and Latin.

With Dr. Ambrose as my advisor, I explored another passion of mine, BIRDS (!!), specifically their involvement in the Latin poem The Metamorphoses, composed by Ovid in the 1st century AD. Vermont indeed holds a special place in my heart, for it is where I discovered the amazing world of birds. I am now an avid birdwatcher and, whenever possible, I include birds in my academic and leisurely pursuits.

During the two years spent in the UVM Classics Department as a graduate student, I had the opportunity to work with and befriend several of the faculty, in particular Dr. Mark Usher, a wonderful mentor and fervent supporter of my work, as well as Dr. Brian Walsh, with whom I taught Self-Paced Latin and Greek, and who also motivated me to pursue my studies in the field of Egyptology. I truly cannot thank the staff of the Classics department enough, since it is their participation in my academic career which launched me on the path I am currently pursuing.

The next stop in our journey was the University of Texas at Austin, where BoB obtained a post-doc position in electrochemistry. I finished my MA thesis surrounded, and also distracted (let’s be honest!), by the rich avifauna of Texas.

After defending my thesis and being accepted in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC) department at the University of Chicago, we hit the road again and moved to Hyde Park on the South Side of Chicago. After many years spent diving deep into the field of ancient Near Eastern studies, focusing on ancient Egypt, I am now finishing my PhD dissertation, which of course includes birds, entitled “The Exploitation of Avian Resources in Ancient Egypt: A Socio-Economic Study.”

Whenever I have needed a break from dissertation work, I have taken part in a variety of programs and activities offered by the Oriental Institute (OI), both as a participant and an instructor. In 2012-2013, I had the privilege of being the curator of my own exhibit at the OI Museum, whose topic will be a surprise for no one: birds in ancient Egypt!

In addition to granting me the chance to share my passion with the public, this project allowed me to establish collaborative relationships with researchers at the Field Museum of Natural History (FMNH) in Chicago and the Radiology Department of the University of Chicago Medical Center. Together, we are working on the remains of birds that actually flew over the Nile Valley more than 2000 years ago and are now part of the OI and FMNH collections. Millions of bird mummies have been manufactured during the later periods of Egyptian history, many of which have made their way into museum collections all over the world. Mummified bird remains will continue to be the focus of my work after I graduate from the University of Chicago.

Last summer, I joined the research team of MAHES (Momies Animales et Humaines ÉgyptienneS) at the Musée des Confluences, in Lyon, France. The team has started re-investigating the several thousands of animal mummies held in this museum. I will in particular focus my attention on the 600+ mummies of birds of prey (falcons, hawks, eagles and vultures) in the collection: plenty to keep me busy during the next few years! Birds being so fascinating, I do not mind, especially considering that these birds are coming to us from ancient Egypt. I am looking forward to discovering which species were selected by the ancient Egyptians and where these birds may have come from, i.e. whether they were captured in the wild or bred in captivity.

If you are interested in these projects, you can follow my work at: chicago.academia.edu/RozennBailleulLeSuer.