A few months ago, my alma mater, Lawrence University (Appleton, WI), informed me that they had dug up my honors project (magna cum laude, thank you very much) and wanted to digitize it onto their library website to share with other Lawrence students and the rest of the world. I was floored. If I have a copy of that work, it’s buried deep in the boxes of my past in my basement. When I think about that project, all I can remember is terribly long days of research, endless nights of editing and the last three all-nighters I pulled before I finally submitted it for review. I remember sitting in the Classics Department library across from three of the toughest and wisest of my professors, holding my own against their educated scrutiny of my work, achieving something monumental for the first time in my career as a Classicist and a Numismatist. I came out of the project with more than just the Latin honors attached to my diploma. I had found my calling, landed my first job out of college (I ended up working for Harlan J. Berk, Ltd., who helped me research the collection, that following summer.) and proved that I could really do this Classics thing in real life. It was a great moment in my life, and reading over this work takes me back in time to that moment and relive it all over again.
I share it with you here, hopefully for your enjoyment. It’s a wordy, academic analysis … as it should be coming from a Lawrence graduate.
As I re-read this opus, I’m flooded with memories. I remember studying Roman Republican coinage while I was in Rome in the fall of 1995. I converted the research paper I wrote there into the chapters on the Roman Mint. I remember sitting in the basement of the Phi Kappa Tau house, dipping those damn coins into little cups of soap, water and the magical solution CLR (I think it’s hilarious how I approached the cleaning of coins in the paper with the same scrutiny a scientist would approach the genetic analysis of an alien organism.). I remember nearly a hundred note cards of snippets of research and information that I wanted to include. I remember reading article after article on Roman coins. I remember flipping each coin over and over again in my fingers to glean as much detail as I could to fill each page. I remember my failed attempt at carpentry to build a display case for the coins that I’m sure did not survive to the end of the 20th Century (I can remember Professor Taylor looking at it with an expression that said, “I’m glad I don’t have to grade him on building this piece of shit.”). I remember sitting in front of Macintosh computers for hours at a time until the screens went fuzzy in my vision. I literally stayed up almost 48 hours straight that last week to get the work done.
I’m not sure I recognize the young man who wrote this work, but I am very proud of him. He did a very good job, and I say that after 15 years of writing countless e-mails and project proposals, technical documentation and the occasional work of fiction. I hope that Lawrence students and other students throughout the world benefit from my work and find a love for coinage that mirrors my own.
I didn’t work in ancient numismatics for long. I left the profession in the summer of 1998, and I miss it still today. Reading this work takes me back to when ancient coins were my passion. A time when I got as excited to hold a denarius of Julius Caesar as I am today to read about the latest advancement in wireless networking. I remember that young man, the whole world ahead of him, who had a passion and followed it. He followed it to Chicago and spent two powerful years there doing what he loved. I read this work and I see the face of Otillia Buerger, that sweet lady whose “baubles” inspired me in ways that would take numerous blog posts to properly relate. I remember how proud she was of me to complete this project and to go to work for Harlan. I still feel bad for letting her down and leaving the profession all those years ago. I hope she is smiling down on me now and the life I’ve built. If nothing else, I hope she smiles that the work that she helped inspire is now available to inspire others.
I feel young again. I feel like that kid sitting in front of the computer scratching out footnotes and searching for just the right word to complete my work. I’m proud of that kid, and I’m proud of the man that work helped create. So rarely do we get a chance to revisit our youth in such a powerful way. For me reading this paper was a taking time machine into my past, and it was a fun, fun ride.