For Jonathan Conant, an archaeological dig in Tunisia 15 years ago was life changing in more ways than one. Not only did he meet his future wife while excavating the former site of a stone church, the trip also sparked his passion for medieval history.
Conant had always had an interest in things medieval since high school — sparked by Robin Hood or some other popular period movie, he guesses — and he went on to major in medieval studies at the University of Illinois and to study a variety of historical time periods for his master’s at Harvard. But it was while working in Tunisia, piecing together the structure of an ancient church that has long been robbed of its valuable stone, that he realized he wanted to make a career out of teaching and studying North African medieval history. He says the topic holds his interest in part because of the variety of languages it exposes him to and the numerous places he’s traveled, a list that includes Iceland, Italy, England, and Eastern Europe. His research languages include Latin, Greek, Arabic, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
Conant held a previous appointment at the University of San Diego as assistant professor of history, and says that he’s thrilled to be returning to the East Coast, having lived in Boston while attending Harvard for both his master’s and doctorate degrees. He says he’s heard “fantastic things” about Brown’s students and is anxious to jump into the roster of classes he’ll be teaching, which includes “From Rome to the Year 1000,” a class on medieval North African history, and possibly others on Charlemagne and the Vikings. He says that he’s also heard positive things about the collaborative nature of the Department of History at Brown and is looking forward to working with his new colleagues.
He was attracted to Brown by the wealth of resources that will be available to him to conduct his research, which will no doubt come in handy as he completes his first book. Titled Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700, the tome was inspired by that life-changing dig a decade and a half ago.
Once settled, Conant hopes to begin a second book, this one focusing on Charlemagne’s relations with the Arabs, Scandinavians, and Anglo-Saxons — and what those relationships show about the European conqueror’s vision of empire.
In the meantime, Conant is enjoying exploring the Fox Point neighborhood that he now calls home and relishing in the ability to walk to work, something he couldn’t do in San Diego. His free time is spent with his family — his wife, their 8-month-old daughter, and two dogs — and cooking. An avid outdoorsman, he’s looking forward to experiencing winters once again and breaking out the cross-country skis that have sat unused in a closet in California for the last six years.