Spotlight on Postgraduate Research in Classics

Read about some of the fascinating doctoral projects currently underway in Classics and Ancient History, courtesy of the Classics & Archaeology Postgraduate Society. The Society’s committee members gathered these profiles together as part of their August 2020 Classics Week initiative, designed to make up for the loss of the usual March 2020 Classics Week, which was disrupted this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ash Finn – The History of Violence in Roman Society

I first took an interest in the Ancient World as a small child having been born and raised within an hour or so’s drive to Hadrian’s wall in Lancaster (itself a Roman town once upon a time, although most of what was Roman now resides under a carpark). Despite such an early interest in them there Romans it wasn’t until I went to university in Manchester circa AD 2013 that I really studied them. After graduating with my BA, I undertook my MA at the same place. During a chance meeting with Professor [Tim] Parkin at a seminar about curse tablets, he informed me that he had recently accepted a position here in Melbourne and, so, after several months of writing and rewriting a research proposal, I arrived here in 2019 to undertake my PhD.

My main research interest is social history and legal history but, in particular, where the two meet and the question of how the law adapted to and shaped the social interactions around it, for example. More specifically my current project examines the social and cultural aspects of interpersonal violence in Roman society and what it meant, or rather how it felt, to be a victim of violence in the Roman world and how said victim might achieve recompense, retribution, revenge, or all three. By understanding the social interaction between stabber and stabbee and puncher and punchee I hope to be able to approach the development of the laws surrounding violence in a different and more social way to previous research which has often focused on violence as a tool of the state.

Ash Green – Birds in Roman Life and Myth

I became a PhD candidate in Classics and Archaeology in 2016, pursuing the study of animals in the ancient world. My thesis, ‘Birds in Roman Life and Myth’, aims to give a comprehensive overview of the place of birds in different aspects of ancient Roman life, from augury and auspices to farming and pet-keeping. I submitted my thesis in June of this year, and I am awaiting results.

Growing up on a farm instilled a love of animals in me that persisted even as I followed my first passion, history. I hope that the study of birds and their place in ancient life will prove inspiring in a world where many culturally iconic birds are under threat. I currently have two publications, one of which examines how cultures across the Mediterranean responded to the migration of barn swallows (Hirundo rustica), and I hope to write more on migratory birds in food and belief systems of the ancient world in the months to come.

Elena Heran – Gender in Ovid’s Metamorphoses

My main interests are in the performance of gender and the ways in which different genders and sexualities are understood and represented in poetry and literature, but I’m also fascinated by the Greek and Latin languages themselves, and, more recently, the study of emotions. My PhD project looks at gender in Ovid’s Metamorphoses – specifically, at the ways in which Ovid uses mythological narratives to explore masculine anxieties such as fatherhood, desire, and the transition from boy to man, and the ways in which female characters are consequently sidelined and oversimplified in these narratives.

I got into classics for very straightforward reasons initially – really, I just thought the stories were fun and the language was vivid, and I wanted to be able to read them as they were written. As a woman in the discipline, however, I soon found myself irresistibly drawn to the feminist and gender studies side of classics. Feminist classics – like most feminist spaces for discourse – is a lively and spicy place, and it has been a wonderful home both for me and for my writing. While, I think, it is impossible to celebrate classics without drawing attention to its history of prejudice and exclusionism, it is the efforts of writers and thinkers like those I have met and read during the course of my studies that keep me at my desk, typing furiously. And, of course, it is all those iconic classical female characters and writers, who deserve to be re-read and argued about, again and again and again.

Tom Keep – Virtual Reality and Archaeology

I’m looking into the use of virtual reality reconstructions of archaeological sites as a means of investigation and promotion, with a particular interest in the potential benefit to small scale rural sites which are often neglected and forgotten. My research is particularly focussed on one Australian site, and two in Italy, and I’m hoping that the outcome of this research will help to make archaeology more approachable and interesting to people without expertise, and support regional communities’ sense of pride in their heritage. But for COVID I would be in Italy right now, enjoying an aperitivo at the Gran Caffè La Caffettiera and looking wistfully at the Temple of Hadrian.

Donna Storey – Italian Fascism and Ancient Rome

I came to Classics through a fairly circuitous route, having previously been a commercial lawyer. One day whilst sitting in my windowless office on the 3755th floor (or so it felt) drafting a fairly boring contract, I decided that I needed to do something more interesting with my time … and so I quit and off I went to study Classics and Archaeology at Melbourne Uni! My PhD thesis, entitled ‘Race and Romanità in Fascist Italy’, falls into the realm of Classical Reception and is an investigation of the use of ancient Rome in Italian Fascist propaganda, particularly in the context of race and racism. It is really a study of the manner in which history can be manipulated to suit an extremist political agenda, sadly rather relevant in these strange times! I am lucky to have the brilliant Associate Professor Frederik Vervaet as my primary supervisor, along with the wonderful Dr Steven Welch and Dr Jan Nelis as secondary supervisors.

I have been fortunate during my candidacy to travel overseas for my research (remember when we could do that?!), including to Italy, Croatia and the UK, as well as presenting at conferences in the UK, South Africa and New Zealand. I was particularly humbled to be named as the 2019 inaugural recipient of the Thérèse and Ronald Ridley Scholarship, which enabled me to spend an amazing two residential research months at the British School at Rome last year. I was also very lucky to be named the Cassamarca/Australasian Centre of Italian Studies recipient of the Dino de Poli Scholarship for 2020, to undertake thesis research in northern Italy. I started this research in Italy in early March this year, however it was very unfortunately cut short due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

I have zero regrets in leaving law to pursue an academic career in Classics & Archaeology, and would say to anyone thinking of taking up any form of studies later in life: do it! Time will continue to tick on anyway, you may as well spend it doing what you love. And so, in keeping with the Classics theme this week, I will leave you with this (terrible) Classical themed joke:

Q. Can an ancient Roman woman win hide and seek?
A. No, because Julius Caesar!

The Classics and Archaeology Postgraduate Society is a friendly and active group that provides our members with academic and social opportunities with the aim of enriching their time at the university. Through its program of events and activities, the Society aims to build a strong and supportive community and to facilitate intellectual exchange, networking, professional development, and the celebration and encouragement of our members in their research endeavours.