Visiting Scholar, CIAMS
Kaja’s research interests include ancient gardens and landscapes, environmental history, and issues pertaining to sustainability and resiliency in the ancient world and in contemporary archaeological practice. Her secondary area of interest includes nineteenth and twentieth century urbanism and architecture.
Kaja received her B.A. in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology and in Political Science from the University of Minnesota (2007), an MA with distinction in Ancient Art History from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (2012), and a PhD in Ancient Art and Archaeology at Cornell University (2020). She is a recipient of two distinguished teaching awards, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Distinguished Teaching Award (2011-2012), and the Cornell University James F. Slevin Assignment Sequence Writing Center Instructor Award (2017). Kaja was a Junior Fellow in Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks in Fall 2017, and in Spring 2018 and Fall 2018 was an Exchange Scholar in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She has primarily excavated at Messene, Greece, and in the ancient Vesuvian towns in the Bay of Naples. She is currently the Assistant Director of the Cornell University-University of Reading archaeological excavation of the garden at the Casa della Regina Carolina at Pompeii (http://blogs.cornell.edu/crcpompeii/). Follow the project (#CRCPompeii) on Facebook and Twitter.
Kaja’s dissertation, “Cultivating Empire in Ancient Roman Gardens: Unearthing the Tangled Relationship between Plants and their Gardeners,” focused on the rapid blossoming of a new cross-Mediterranean plant trade, burgeoning horticultural innovation, and rise of a new gardener class in the first centuries BCE and CE. Centered on questions of plant agency, her project develops a new plant-centric approach for the study of ancient Roman gardens by identifying and exploring the entangled relationship between ornamental plants and their slave, freed, and free gardeners—a group of non-elites that has largely been ignored. To this end, the project is interdisciplinary, drawing on gardeners’ funerary inscriptions, textual descriptions of gardeners and plants, archaeological and archaeobotanical evidence from excavated gardens and garden representations. Comparative case studies are also utilized, including interviews with contemporary Italian gardeners and designers, and documentation of pre-industrial free and enslaved garden labor in early modern Italian gardens and American Antebellum plantations.