Tara Trahey ('14)

Using her educational experiences around the globe, Senior Tara Trahey, from Concord, N.C., is shedding light on the ancient trade of vases.

Trahey, a Dean’s Summer Research Fellow, began her research on ancient vase trade between Athens and Vulci, an ancient city in what is now known as Tuscany, Italy, during her freshman year. She was conducting research for the class Women in the Classical World, taught by Sheila Dillon, professor of art history and classical studies. She stumbled upon two nearly identical vases—both featuring an image of an “ambiguously identified” woman riding a bull.

“It turned out to be a connection that hadn't yet been made and presented an interesting case for both modern and ancient art markets,” Trahey said.

Scholars have made the connection that the icon of a woman riding a bull was popular in the 6th century B.C. vase trading between Athens and Vulci. Trahey said studying the vases may shed light on relationships in trade and how the iconography can be understood in both a Greek cultural context and an Etruscan cultural context.

“By analyzing how both objects and ideologies move through space and historical time, I hope to introduce a different understanding of the sophistication in trade between these two places,” she said.

To expand her research, Trahey participated in the Duke in Tuscany program in the summer of 2014 and is currently in Athens, home to the largest collection of ancient vases in the world. There, she is studying the details in iconography by drawing particular elements to recognize patterns in skill and technique. She is also learning how to use digital tools and networking software to visualize the relationships between Athens and Vulci.

“When studying ancient artifacts, there’s only a certain perception that a book, a class, or a museum can give you,” Trahey said. “Often working with objects in isolation limits or distorts your understanding of their cultural context—the part of their history that’s really the most important. On site, I’m constantly reminded how important direct interaction and observation is to what I study.”

Trahey is majoring in art history and visual arts and European and Italian studies, with a minor in classical civilizations. She is currently preparing her research for a senior distinction thesis at Duke, as well as the Historical Network Research Conference in Ghent, Belgium in September.

“Independent research has changed the way that I approach research, even in classes on different fields of study. It has dissolved my fear of asking questions that may not always produce the intended answers,” Trahey said. “It has also led me to experiences abroad and, through my digital work, it has shown me the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration.”

Trahey’s passion for the arts doesn’t stop with her academics. She is currently organizing the Art, Art History and Visual Studies department’s first undergraduate union. In her spare time, she practices art, drawing, printmaking and sculpture, as well as tutors as a language partner at Duke.

Trahey spent the fall semester of her sophomore year with the Duke in New York study away program. There, she made a documentary about graffiti and street art, and since then has taught theoretical workshops on the subject in a local elementary school in Durham. She added that she hopes to start an art club at the elementary school this coming year.

After graduation, Trahey hopes to enter a graduate program in art history and someday work as a professor with a joint position at a museum in curatorship.