Get to know Dorian Borbonus

Dorian BorbonusAn assistant professor in the history department, Dr. Dorian Borbonus is the University of Dayton's resident ancient history specialist, but he didn’t always dream of life inside four walls.

Dorian was born in Germany and lived there until he completed his undergraduate studies. His accent gives his heritage away immediately, but his eyebrows still rise in feigned dismay if you tell him you already knew where he was from. After earning his bachelor's degree, Dorian began his graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he eventually met his wife while in the process of obtaining both his master's degree and PhD in Mediterranean archaeology.

Dorian's interest in the archaeology of that area can be traced back to when he was a child, traveling with his family through the region. He was always fascinated by the sites and eventually studied them. He used to go on real, dust and sweat excavations, mostly in Turkey and Greece. The excavating work he did, he admits, is not what is typically thought of when the word "dig" is brought up.

"In archaeology, the most important thing is not what you find, but how you find it," said Dorian, when asked what kinds of treasures he'd unearthed. "So mostly, we're not finding anything spectacular that's going to end up in museums. ... That never happens — or only once, and then they make movies about it."

So while Indiana Jones he is not, he is modest about his finds. The most common thing pulled from the dirt is pottery shards, but he has also excavated graves. He has pulled skeletons out of the ground, along with all the things deemed important enough to bury with them by their ancient loved ones.

These days, Dorian studies indoors, thumbing through books rather than scraping through layers of sediment.

"Sometimes the office gets pretty small," he admitted. "But I love this job, too. It’s just a different stage of life."

Dorian came to UD immediately upon earning his PhD. His wife (then girlfriend) had obtained a job in the philosophy department and Dorian had to rush to complete his thesis in order to get to the university in time to begin work — a lucky circumstance considering the competitive nature of jobs in higher education. In his six years, he has taught all of the ancient history courses, including Greek and Roman history. Dorian also developed a new class, his favorite to-date, analyzing ancient history and modern ideology, in which students look at how ancient history is being used today. It's a class in which Dorian sometimes finds himself learning right along with his students."I think you won't find a professor that doesn't like to learn," he said, "at this school or any other one. Life is learning, it never ends."

Like many other professors, Dorian’s favorite part about teaching is not only the personal discovery, but seeing the learning happen in his students — when they come to his office hours, ask questions, and bring in the next assignment with a new understanding. That is what makes the long hours worth it.

In conjunction with his teaching load, Dorian is currently working on publishing his dissertation and expects to see it in print in 2014. A book-length project, his papers study underground tombs called colombaria, which housed the ashes of slaves and freed slaves from the beginning of the Roman Empire.

"The idea that I have here is that this is not a coincidence," he said, holding up a photograph of the towering, underground niches. "I'm studying the tombs and then I will try to come up with an historical theory that explains why they exist."

Dorian will be traveling to a conference this year in Iowa City to present some of his results.

Next up, Dorian plans to write a book about the tombs of Rome. If his belief is correct, one can tell the history of a place from the ways in which they’ve kept their dead, so there is much to be learned from these burial sites.

"How people commemorate the dead says something about their lives," he said.

Aside from teaching and research, Dorian enjoys spending time with his young family. He has two young children who happily consume his spare time.

"That's what I do for fun," he said. "I spend time with my family."

In the future, Dorian looks forward to continuing his travels, spending time in the Mediterranean with his family by his side, taking his wife to Greece and Vietnam (where her family is from) and maybe, one day, taking the honeymoon they have yet to enjoy. Dorian also looks forward to the opportunity to dust off the drum set he has sitting in his basement, next to an old piano, and start to make music again.

"I'm always going to continue researching because that's learning," he said. "[But] I'll start to make music again, I’m sure of it."

And if you ever find yourself wandering the halls of the history department, stop in Dorian's office and ask about the time he spent in a Turkish prison.