Professor Lucienne Thys-Şenocak, Department of Archaeology and the History of Art
I began working at Koç University in October of 1993, first as an instructor for the World Civilizations class and then, in 1994, as an assistant professor in the History Department. My first year at Koç was an exciting but busy time as I was in the final phase of writing my PhD thesis and my two daughters were very young–2.5 years and 6 months old– when I started teaching at the campus in Istinye. As a new faculty member in a new university there were many programs and courses to prepare, and I spent several late nights and weekends working at the campus. I remember persuading my daughters to come with me to the campus when I had to pick up a book from the library or print something out that I needed for Monday classes by telling them that we could go and “play with the lions” in the garden behind the school buildings in Istinye. These lion sculptures are now guarding our campus in Sarıyer, but for many years while they were in Istinye they were a great source of entertainment for my children, and I think many of the students on Koç’s first campus also enjoyed having those lions around watching over them!
The campus at Istinye was quite small and there were only two corridors of faculty offices, so we had a kind of interdisciplinary environment by default. Because our offices were all very close, it was a common occurrence to have discussions in the hallway with colleagues from Physics about subjects such as medieval optics , or learn about new research that faculty in other fields outside my own were doing. None of our offices, apart from the dean’s, had ceilings so I am quite certain that I bothered colleagues in my corridor at the end of each semester as the Civilizations students would take over the hallway for hours anxiously waiting for our teaching team to finish our calculations and post the final exam grades. I really enjoyed the informal aspects of the Istinye campus, and the small scale of it created a very warm environment for both faculty and students. I do love our “new” campus, now almost 20 years old—and I remember moving in to teach when it was still a construction site–but I will always have a certain nostalgia for the Istinye campus.
During my first ten years at Koç I was involved in developing and teaching in the Civilizations course. The course was a year -long full credit class on global history and culture and all Koç students were required to take it. It was a fascinating class as we covered everything from Prehistoric Anatolian archaeology to contemporary Chinese politics. We also had a budget for inviting guest lecturers to the class and this was a wonderful opportunity for both the faculty at Koç and our students to meet and listen to the lectures of some very important historians such as Bernard Lewis, Natalie Davis, André Gunder Frank, Halil İnalcık, Salvatore Settis, Norman Itzkowitz, and many others. It was also a very good way for a new university to make itself known to academic institutions outside of Turkey as each of these visiting lecturers learned a bit about Koç University, and many came back over the years to follow the progress our university was making. Civilizations was a difficult course and students had to read and write a great deal. They sometimes complained that our textbook was too thick and the pages too thin, but I still have students from those early years who tell me how hard they worked in that class, but also how much they learned from it. I think I felt pretty much the same way our first students did about Civilizations; it was lots of work but I also learned so much from that class.
In 2005 we began an MA program in Cultural Heritage Management and Museum Studies, which was initially in the History Department, and soon thereafter, in 2007, we started the Department of Archaeology and History of Art Department where I teach now. While I was initially sad to leave my colleagues in the History department, the new ARHA department provided opportunities for different types of classes in art history, archaeology, museum and heritage studies, and facilitated archaeological field work. The first archaeological excavation at Koç University actually began in 2005, before our ARHA department opened, but continued in the new ARHA department. That first archaeological excavation had evolved from an architectural survey I had started at the Ottoman fortress of Seddülbahir in 1997, and then in 2005 the Koç Foundation decided to fund the excavation and conservation planning project at the fortress. Our team at Seddülbahir, which we named the Kaletakımı, was very pleased when our rector at the time, Prof. Dr. Atilla Aşkar, came to visit the site during that first summer to see what we were doing.
I have spent almost half of my life teaching at Koç University and ever since October 1993 it has been an incredible journey. I still look forward each fall semester to the morning when classes begin, when we meet our new students, and say hello again to those who are returning—and, of course, to playing with the lions!