Through an Art History Major, Internships, and Study Abroad, Eleanor Robb ’24 Ignites Her Passion for Archaeology

Through an Art History Major, Internships, and Study Abroad, Eleanor Robb ’24 Ignites Her Passion for Archaeology

Academics, Internships, Research, Study Abroad, Testimonials

May 14, 2024

Through an Art History Major, Internships, and Study Abroad, Eleanor Robb ’24 Ignites Her Passion for Archaeology Eleanor Robb '24

She smiles about it now, but Eleanor Robb ’24 vividly recalls a truly anxious moment during her work last summer with the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeological field school.

“I was one of eight students in the program, and each of us had to keep a journal of what we were digging up and what we were learning,” Robb recalls. “Every other student produced a digital journal where they typed up their observations and inserted images. But I’m a very tactile person. I like to handwrite all of my notes, and I also did drawings of everything I was doing, either from pictures or from real life.”

Halfway through the six-week program, the students turned in their journals for feedback since the field school offered college credit for the successful completion of the program. Later that day, Robb was out on a dig when she noticed that Dave Givens, director of archaeology at Jamestown Rediscovery, was walking her way.

“He’s holding my journal, and he yells to me, ‘Come here!’ Now, he was known for doing this fake-mad thing with students, but I still got really nervous. He asked me, ‘What did you think when we said you should write down everything you’re learning?’ I didn’t know what to say, and it was at that point he told me, ‘This is amazing!’”

The level of attention and quality that Robb devoted to her Jamestown field journal is characteristic of her work throughout her Hollins experience, through which she determined that archaeology is indeed her calling. That journey of discovery began in earnest midway through her first year at Hollins.

“I had intended to be a studio art major, but then I visited a museum exhibit in Richmond [her hometown]. I was geeking out over all the ancient art and artifacts and a friend who was with me said, ‘You know, I think you’re supposed be an art history major.’ And I replied, ‘I think you’re right!’”

By her sophomore year, Robb was seeking study abroad opportunities to augment her major. She applied to a program in Rome conducted by The Centro (the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies), which is dedicated to providing undergraduate students with opportunities to study classical antiquity on site. Robb spent the fall semester of her junior year exploring ancient sites throughout Rome and the surrounding region. “Going to archaeological locations and interacting with the almost living remnants of people from a long time ago was powerful,” she says. “The Centro a really amazing program and it’s what got me thinking about archaeology as a career.”

Three weeks after her semester in Rome concluded, Robb headed to Greece to join up with Professor of Classical Studies Christina Salowey and other Hollins students to spend the 2023 January Short Term exploring more ancient sites. “It was nice to see the contrast between Rome and Greece,” she says.

During her semester abroad, Robb was intrigued to learn that some of her fellow students had also participated in field schools in Athens, Rome, and Pompeii. “I didn’t realize programs like that were available to undergraduates because I was just beginning to explore what a path to a career in archaeology would look like,” she explains. By the time she returned to campus for the spring term of her junior year, many of the deadlines had already passed for applying to field schools in the Mediterranean. “So, I started looking in Virginia and that’s what led me to Jamestown.”

Over the past 20 years, the Jamestown Rediscovery project has mapped thousands of archaeological features and unearthed more than four million artifacts. After completing their field school program, Robb and two other students were invited to intern there for the rest of the summer. “My focus during the internship was combining aerial photography with excavation data on a computer to create a model of one of the landscapes we were investigating. Then I did a watercolor rendering of that landscape of what it might have looked like at a specific point in time.”

Robb says she had the most fun excavating the Governor’s Well. “It was exciting because wells are anaerobic environments, which means no rot has occurred. So, when you get down to the water layer, you’re finding leather and wood items that have been intact since the early 1600s.”

After completing her internship last summer, Robb was offered a full-time position with Jamestown Rediscovery to begin after she graduates this spring. “My start date is June 3, so just a couple of weeks after graduation.” Laughing, she adds, “I have some friends from Hollins that I’m dragging down to live in Williamsburg with me!” She plans to work at Jamestown for at least a couple of years before going on to graduate school, “but if I fall in love with Jamestown I might work there forever.”

At Hollins, Robb has immersed herself in a couple of significant research projects. She wrote “Krautrock, Kraftwerk, and Techno: The Transnational and Interracial Circulations of Electronic Music Genres Between Europe and America” for the course Going Global: U.S. History in Transnational Perspective, taught by Ruth Alden Doan Assistant Professor of History Christopher Florio. It centers on how the United States interacts with other nations.

As she pondered a topic for the course-required research paper, Robb remembered watching the video of the 2021 song “Twerkulator” by the hip hop duo City Girls. She was struck by the fact that the track samples “Trans-Europe Express,” a 1977 song by the pioneering electronic band Kraftwerk. “I wondered, ‘What is Kraftwerk doing in a rap song?’ I discovered that American hip hop artists actually sampled this German techno group a lot.” Interested in the underlying reasons, Robb says, “I got this inkling – why not do a research paper on Kraftwerk?”

This spring, “Krautrock, Kraftwerk, and Techno” was named a finalist for the Wyndham Robertson Undergraduate Research Award, which each year recognizes exemplary undergraduate student research projects completed in Hollins courses. 

Robb displayed her range of academic interests with the subject she chose for her senior thesis in art history. “I really like ancient art and I wanted to keep some classical themes in my thesis, so I decided I should take a myth and track its representation over time.” As she investigated which myth to research, she found that by an overwhelming margin, the myth of Narcissus had a higher amount of art devoted to it than any other. As she looked more closely into why, Robb says she found that “the word ‘narcissism’ didn’t exist whatsoever until about 1900. Before that, art about Narcissus was just a depiction of the myth. It wasn’t about whether he was a bad person, it just tells his story.”

Once narcissism was introduced as a psychological concept, Robb continues, “artists started using Narcissus as a visual medium to explore narcissism. Because Narcissus and narcissism sound the same, that connection is immediately there. If you think about Narcissus, you’re automatically going to think about narcissism, and vice versa. That connection doesn’t exist for any other mythological character, and I think that’s the reason he’s the most represented myth in art.”

At Hollins’ 47th Honors Convocation in April, Robb received the Margaret Markley Smith Award, which spotlights a senior majoring in art for outstanding work.

Robb enthusiastically shares her passion for her scholarship with her fellow students, serving as a Latin tutor (“It’s also a way to keep my Latin a little bit sharper and to refresh myself on basic concepts”) and offering herself as a resource “for anybody who wants to talk about doing archaeology, getting internships, or studying abroad.” She’s also worked as a campus tour guide, where she says she got to impart two of the crucial lessons she’s learned about getting the most out of the Hollins experience.

“Number one is taking advantage of everything Hollins can give you. I really try to emphasize to prospective students that internships and study abroad are both financially accessible here, and you’re not going to find that at every school. Second, I tell them to be curious and versatile. That’s important at whatever school you choose.”