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Jasmine Bao ’24 Delivers Award-Winning Paper at Classics Conference

Jasmine Bao delivers paper at podium

Bao was one of only three undergraduates chosen to present at the 2023 Classical Association of the Atlantic States conference.

Jasmine Bao ’24 traces her love for the classics back to J. Archer and Helen C. Turner Professor of Classics Rosaria Munson’s class on Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War during her freshman year.

“At some point during the course, I just thought to myself, ‘I am going to read this in Greek. No translation will ever be satisfactory,’” says Bao, who went on to take and thoroughly enjoy two courses on Homer’s work.

Three years later, Bao is a senior Honors student in Greek and biology with plans to attend Sidney Kimmel Medical College next fall. And her love of classics has only grown.

On November 20, Bao received a $300 prize for “Best Paper Delivered” among the undergraduate presenters at the 2023 Classical Association of the Atlantic States (CAAS) annual meeting. The event aims to “strengthen research and foster public support for the languages, civilizations, and cultures of ancient Greece and Rome in the mid-Atlantic region.” 

Bao won a best paper award for her presentation, "Animal Cognition in the Collectio Augustana" and was mentored by Associate Professor of Classics Jeremy Lefkowitz.

During an advanced seminar on Aesop and the ancient fable tradition with Lefkowitz in 2022, Bao wrote a final paper that she went on to submit at CAAS. 

“What struck me the most about Aesopic fables were always the animal characters that are featured in a significant portion of the corpus,” she says. “Whenever we encounter talking animals in literature we almost take them for granted.”

Bao was fascinated with the motivations behind the tendency of fables to anthropomorphize animals as one way to probe this “highly fragmentary and underappreciated genre.” 

Bao found out about the CAAS submission process two days before the deadline and submitted an abstract — she recalls being “surprised to find out that it had been accepted.” In the weeks before the conference, Bao had several meetings with Lefkowitz to revise the paper for final presentation.

“It is extremely rare for undergraduate students in the humanities to present their work at professional conferences,” says Lefkowitz. “The annual CAAS conference normally devotes one panel to undergraduate research, while the others are all for professors and graduate students.”

Bao was one of three undergraduates chosen to present at the conference, making this a standout achievement. In her paper, she analyzed the fables’ figures under the categories of cognition, learning, and self-reflection. The CAAS committee stated that her “thoughtful examination of how the fables conceptualize animals elicited especially lively discussion among the audience.” 

Bao remembers her presentation being “stressful,” but going by quickly. 

“The discussions I had after I delivered my paper were incredibly enlightening,” she says.

Lefkowitz cites Bao’s work as an ideal example of “the benefits of interdisciplinary work and the ideals of liberal arts education” — her paper on representations of animal cognition in ancient Greek animals perfectly reflects her biology and Greek double major, he says. 

Markus Dubischar, classics professor and associate provost at Lafayette College, co-presided over Bao’s paper session at CAAS and was impressed.

“It was a wonderful paper,” he says. “The substance of the paper, the delivery, and the Q&A session: It was all-around an excellent performance. Listening and presiding over the session, it felt to me like any other paper, which as an undergraduate student is a very big accomplishment.”

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