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Former Student Spotlight: Lilia Campana rides the tide at Texas A&M

Lilia Campana has done impressive research within the Department of Anthropology’s Nautical Archaeology Program. Her journey from Italy to Texas A&M marks her success as a scholar, researcher, and instructor.

By Hannah LeGare ’19

Lilia Campana. Photo: provided

Lilia Campana. Photo: provided

Lilia Campana, an instructional assistant professor with the College of Architecture, is an expert in her field and research. Her field: nautical archaeology and maritime history. 

She recognizes the dedicated effort required to attain a goal. “My goal is to become a leading authority in my field.” To do this, she had to overcome a variety of setbacks and obstacles. Her journey to and at Texas A&M University did not come easy. 

A native of Italy, Campana’s undergraduate background specialized in Mediterranean history and archaeology, with a focus on Roman seafaring. She grew as a scholar — her interest was found in niche fields that had yet to be explored fully in academia. Her thesis and research on a private collection of amphoras, vessels used in antiquity to store or carry liquids, was groundbreaking and is now on permanent display at the Museo del Mare of San Benedetto del Tronto

After her undergraduate studies in Italy, Campana began to look abroad to continue her education. While working as an underwater archaeologist in Italy, she obtained offers to study at the University of Southampton or Texas A&M. It was difficult for her to choose which school to go to due to the universities’ varying anthropology programs. In the end, she chose the world-renowned Nautical Archaeology Program in the Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M. 

“The reputation of the Nautical Archaeology Program is unparalleled in the world,” Campana said. “It is the first academic program ever established in nautical archaeology and the primary graduate program in the world that offers extensive courses in nautical archaeology with interdisciplinary training.”

According to Campana, the prestige of being in this program and working with excellent scholars, like Cemal Pulak, enticed her to be an Aggie. She was presented the opportunity to continue her research in the technical and cultural aspects of ship construction. 


Balbi’s galea alla ponentina as depicted in a drawing made by Antonio d’Annibale in Corfu

Balbi’s galea alla ponentina as depicted in a drawing made by Antonio d’Annibale in Corfu (10 August 1746).  From: Campana, Lilia. “Technical Experimentation in Ship Design during the Last Decades of the Serenissima: Gerolamo Maria Balbi’s Galea alla Ponentina” Technology & Culture (The Johns Hopkins University Press)

Setting sail for Aggieland

She left Italy with two suitcases full of books and a dedication to advance her research. Once settled into College Station, she soon had to navigate rough waters of being an international student. 

Campana needed to elevate her English skills in order to use academic language, teach classes, conduct research, and complete her degrees. After the completion of her master’s degree in 2010, she was offered a doctoral fellowship at Texas A&M. Under the wing of Pulak, she grew as a student, mentor, and teacher. Across the next decade, her curriculum vitae expanded as she became a specialist in the field of Mediterranean archaeology and history.

An opportunity arose for Campana to apply for a postdoctoral fellowship with the College of Liberal Arts.  At first, she was unsure of applying: “I was completing my dissertation, while there were others who had finished their dissertations and had a stronger chance.” Nevertheless, she persisted and was the sole recipient of the postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Anthropology. Her success as the postdoctoral fellow marked her dedication and allegiance to her professional craft at Texas A&M.

Anchoring in Aggieland

When her fellowship was completed, without an academic career lined-up in the U.S., Campana thought she would have to return to Italy. Soon before she was supposed to leave for Italy, she was offered a job as an instructor of art history with the Department of Visualization at Texas A&M — where she is today. 

“I am an Aggie through and through,” Campana said. “With a master, a doctorate, a post-doctorate, and now a job, I have become a citizen of Aggieland.” 

Campana attributes her successes against insurmountable odds to her liberal arts degree. Her whole education has been devoted to the humanities — language, literature review, the classics. According to Campana, the value of a liberal arts degree lies in its interdisciplinary nature: the humanities tie with mathematics and geometry to create a holistic education. In particular, her research focuses on ancient naval engineering, and the application of mathematics and geometry to ship design from Antiquity to the Early Modern period. It helped her to understand cultural design, construction, and its implications in research.

She finds her success in her dedication to making her work known. Even now she continues to work on what she’s passionate about — her research in maritime history — at dawn before her day teaching art history begins. For her, it’s not about being “the next Indiana Jones of the waters,” but to continue and complete scholarly, grounded research – not to mention she is writing her first book! Instead of being Indiana Jones of the water, she is Lilia Campana — researcher, scholar, and professor. 


You can read more of Lilia Campana’s research here.