The Netherlands Institute for the Near East

Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten  -  Institut nĂ©erlandais du Proche-Orient

Karen Sonik is a cultural historian whose interdisciplinary work examines themes of metamorphosis and identity as they pertain to the visual and literary arts of the ancient Near East.

Her research focuses on Mesopotamia, where the first cities arose, and, more broadly, on ancient and non-Western cultural frameworks. A primary strand of recent research explores issues pertaining to the authenticity, identity, and aesthetic value of ancient and non-Western things from cult statues and divine images to cosmetic containers. A second strand of her work has examined constructions of outsiders and Others (with a focus on women, monsters, and demons) in the arts of the first cities. Related research pursues issues of identity and representation in the extant literature of Mesopotamia, with an emphasis on character and characterization. Her current book project, taking up the question of what it meant to be human in the world’s first cities, draws on developing research into the emotions, the senses, and aesthetics at the dawn of urban civilization.

Her research has been supported by organizations including the American Philosophical Society, the American Council for Learned Societies, and the Kolb Foundation, and she has been a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School; a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Art History at the University of California, Los Angeles; a postdoctoral fellow in Egyptology & Ancient Western Asian Studies at Brown University; and a visiting research scholar at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University. She is currently Associate Professor in the department of Art and Art History at Auburn University.

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