The Advocating Classics Education (ACE) project is a national campaign to increase access to the study of the classical world in secondary schools and sixth form colleges across the United Kingdom. Led by Professor Edith Hall and Associate Professor Arlene Holmes-Henderson, ACE is a partnership of fifteen partner universities in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Wales and England. Since 2017, the project has co-hosted twelve high profile events for teachers, students and members of the public to raise the currency and status of qualifications in Classical Civilisation and Ancient History. The project has received funding from AHRC (£350,000) and was awarded a major grant by the Classical Association. For more information, visit the ACE website.
Ancient letter collections
This AHRC-funded project (a collaboration between Durham and Manchester Universities) will produce two books:
(i) a critical review of all the surviving (Greek and Latin) letter collections up to about 410 CE and
(ii) a synchronic monograph surveying the collections from a number of different perspectives. We have identified just over 50 letter collections for inclusion. The project is moving into the final phase of work on the critical review and is producing draft entries of about 4,000-6,000 words on each of the letter collections. Prof. Roy Gibson is the Principal Investigator.
Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson is a partner investigator on the University of Western Australia’s ‘The Ancient Today’ project, led by Professor Yasmin Haskell and funded by the Australian Research Council. The team (with researchers in Australia, China, Singapore, Thailand, Italy, Germany and the UK) will examine the purpose and value of classical Chinese, Greek, Latin and Sanskrit language, both historically and within global education systems today. The project will compare teaching ideals and practices across different eras and cultures, as well as testing the potential of inclusive classical language learning to boost educational outcomes for disadvantaged students. The project will publish two books, a range of scholarly articles and a selection of educational policy reports to help better inform decision making regarding where, and how, classical languages and cultures are taught. The project will also offer PhD student training.
‘Aristotle Beyond the Academy: The Reception of Aristotle in Britain and Ireland 1660-1922’
The aim of this Leverhulme Trust-funded project, led by Professor Edith Hall, is to ask how and why Aristotle has made cultural appearances outside university circles in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales since the Restoration, focusing on ethics/politics, rhetoric, and natural science.
Aristotle's Good Life and European Identities
Dr Giulia Bonasio has been awarded a four-month fellowship to be Guest Professor (Junior) at the Zentrum Altertumswissenschaften of the University of Zürich. During this period, Dr Bonasio contributed to the annual theme of the Zentrum on the role of antiquity in the construction of European identities. She taught a weekly seminar on "Contemplation and virtue in Aristotle's ethics and its reception in Europe," she delivered a public lecture on "Aristotle's good life and European identities" and she engaged in outreach activities with students in the local Gymnasium.
Dr Bonasio has been awarded also a Senior Fellowship at the Collegium Helveticum where she organised a workshop on "Wisdom: what is it? What is its use (if any)?" with experts from different fields (ancient philosophy, Buddhist philosophy, Indian philosophy, Islamic philosophy, wisdom literature, neuroscience and biology). Dr Bonasio is currently preparing a volume that collects the papers presented in the workshop and that will be published by De Gruyter.
‘Aristoteles Pezographos: The Writing Styles of Aristotle and their Contribution to the Evolution of Ancient Greek Prose’
A UKRI Frontier Research grant has been awarded to Professors Edith Hall and Phillip Horky to pursue knowledge of Aristotle’s writing styles and their reception in ancient philosophy and science. The project, titled ‘Aristotle Pezographos: the Writing Styles of Aristotle and their Contribution to the Evolution of Ancient Greek Prose’, will take place under the aegis of the Durham Center for Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (DCAMP) and feature two postdoctoral research assistants. The team, which includes an advisory committee of experts on Aristotle and on Greek prose stylistics from around the world, will read and determine the prose stylistics of all the major texts of Aristotle and the Aristotelian Corpus, as well as ascertain the influence of Aristotle’s styles on later philosophers and scientists, like Aspasius, Galen, and John Philoponus, over a 5-year period (from September 2023 until September 2028).
This AHRC-funded project (a collaboration between Durham, Cardiff, and Manchester Universities) aims to locate, edit and publish all 250 inscriptions from ancient Athens and Attica which are now in the UK. The inscriptions are scattered across museums and private collections throughout the UK; most have not been studied for over 100 years. We are producing new texts of each inscription, together with translations and scholarly commentaries. The inscriptions are also being made freely available on the website Attic Inscriptions Online, with notes aimed at school and university students and museum visitors. Prof. Polly Low is a Co-Investigator.
This AHRC-funded project, based in Durham and Exeter, seeks to understand the nature of language contact and multilingualism in Italy, taking a comparative approach to language use in multiple regions and at both urban and non-urban sites from c. 800 BC to c. 200 BC. It explores the implications of the linguistic evidence for our historical understanding of migration, mobility and connectivity in Italy and the ancient Mediterranean, investigates how written language was used as a mode of interaction within and between communities. Dr Katherine McDonald is the Principal Investigator. A sourcebook, Italy Before Rome, was published in 2021.
Fragmentary modernisms: The classical fragment in literary and visual cultures, 1896–1950
This AHRC-funded project takes as its starting point the crucial realisation that the period in which some of the most radical literary and visual experimentations with fragmentation took place also witnessed a series of paradigm-shifting developments in the discovery and dissemination of classical antiquity in fragments. Bringing together archaeology, museology, philology and epigraphy with modern literature and art, it provides the first integrated picture of the combined impact of classical scholarship on the literary and visual aesthetics of modernism and its legacy. Prof. Nora Goldschmidt is the Principal Investigator.
Greek tragedy has been part of the National Theatre’s repertoire since the company formed. Its first performance of a Greek tragedy, Sophocles’ Philoctetes, was in 1964. Dr Lucy Jackson is working with the National Theatre to explore how the challenges of staging Greek tragedy have been met on the National Theatre's stages through four themes: performance space, setting (the world of the play), chorus, and masks.
Visit the digital exhibit or watch Dr Jackson's series of videos on Youtube:
Levelling Up Through Talk: how does oracy contribute to social mobility and employability?
Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson holds a British Academy Innovation Fellowship (2022-2024) working with Voice 21, the national oracy education charity, conducting research into the impact of young people’s speaking and listening skills on their life chances. UK employers have identified a fundamental problem: a 2016 survey by the Confederation of British Industries found that 50% of businesses were unsatisfied with school leavers’ skills in communication. This Knowledge Exchange partnership with Voice 21, six government departments, an APPG and several NGOs will facilitate the first large-scale analysis of oracy's impact on young people's skills acquisition, including their social mobility and employability. This will fill gaps in the existing evidence base helping policymakers understand better the connection between 'speaking well', socio-economic status and employment destinations. Our partnership addresses significant societal challenges while delivering concrete outcomes which provide value for teachers, learners and employers.
The Philosophy of Democracy in Antiquity
Professor Phillip Horky has been awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship (2022-23) to work on a new book project, The Philosophy of Democracy in Antiquity, in which he will seek to trace ancient Greek and Roman philosophical arguments in support of democracy. Part of his work will include a workshop in Durham, under the aegis of the Durham Center for Ancient and Medieval Philosophy, devoted to examining democratic philosophy in the Hellenistic and post-Hellenistic periods (to take place in 2023).
The Religious Life of Dura-Europos
The project concerns a comprehensive study, to be published as a monograph, of the religious life of Dura-Europos, a small-town on the Euphrates river in the Parthian and Roman periods known amongst scholars as the ‘Pompeii of the Syrian desert’ for the richness of its finds. A detailed and systematic study of the various temples, cults, deities and worshippers in Dura will have invaluable implications for our understanding of religious life outside the main cult centres, and will provide a methodological framework for the study of cultural life in the small-towns of the Roman provinces more generally.
Solar Technologies of Antiquity: Ancient and Historical Technologies for Climate Action and Energy Conservation
This project, led by Dr Edmund Thomas with Dr Alessandro Pierattini of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, investigates how architectural technologies of the past can contribute to creating energy-efficient and climate enhancing structures of the future. By considering the strategies and expertise of previous architects and engineers in historical architecture, this initiative pioneers a conversation between architectural historians, engineers and scientists to facilitate the use of a valuable resource, the historical past, for future design and investment. It will lead to a major research outcome, consisting of a printed and online accessible collected volume, and, through dialogue between academic researchers, architects and engineers, to a significant impact on the future design of the built environment.
It aims to pursue a meaningful and sustainable dialogue between contemporary architects and architectural historians through a series of interdisciplinary meetings at Pittsburgh and New Orleans and directed workshops at Rome, Durham and Notre Dame that will build on the research strengths of these two institutions, including the Durham Energy Institute and the Notre Dame School of Architecture, in order to foster an interchange of ideas that will develop critical ideas underpinning a robust and feasible application for an ERC advanced research grant that will have a significant impact on future architectural design, developing understanding of and building on energy-saving solutions in pre-modern historical architecture to design an energy-efficient architecture for the future that will enhance resilience to climate change.
The Syriac Rhetorical Tradition between Greco-Roman paideia and Arabic Aristotelianism
This British Academy-funded project, starting in March 2023, aims to reshape our understanding of Syriac intellectual culture by investigating its engagement with late antique paideia (i) and with Aristotelian rhetoric (ii). Classical texts such as Isocrates, Plutarch and Themistius were available in Syriac translation from as early as the fourth-fifth centuries CE, but it is yet to be ascertained how Syriac Christians used these texts and how the curriculum of Syriac rhetorical studies emerged. Dr Mara Nicosia, working with Dr Alberto Rigolio, will achieve this goal through the first systematic study of the ninth-century Syriac treatise “On Rhetoric” by Antony of Tagrit, a teacher of rhetoric and the first Syriac scholar to articulate rhetoric as an academic subject; his comprehensive treatise demonstrates engagement with the Syriac classics (Ephrem, Jacob of Serug), secular Greco-Roman culture (Homer, Plutarch, and the progymnasmata), Christian rhetoric (Gregory of Nazianzus) – but also with Aristotelianism more broadly. This study of Antony’s treatise will be necessary to reconstruct both the curriculum and the functioning of Syriac rhetorical teaching, but it will also be a crucial addition to our understanding of Aristotelianism in the broader context of Byzantium and Islam.
“Twisted Transfers”: Discursive Constructions of Corruption in Ancient Greece and Rome
Twisted Transfers is a joint, international project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the German Research Foundation (2020-23) and based in Durham University and the Universität Potsdam. The project investigates the multiple sides of corruption in Graeco-Roman antiquity. Often when we think about corruption, we focus on the high crimes of corporate finance or the cronyism of politicians. But, as history tells us, corruption’s definition is slippery – we may all be complicit in it as part of our everyday lives. One of the ideas that underpins corruption as a concept is that an act of abuse has taken place which causes one individual or group to benefit at the expense of another. Beyond legally typified criminal acts, corruption is a common practice that affects various fields of human interaction, and that also concerns the ethical behaviour of individuals in the private sphere. This innovative project follows a social constructivist approach to understand how transfers of material and immaterial things are constructed in discourse as “twisted”, and therefore as morally wrong, by actors and observers. Twisted Transfers looks at comparative historical and cross-disciplinary approaches that help us better understand corruption as an ubiquitous and persistent human practice that concerns both past and modern societies.
Building on our collaborations through the Matariki Network, Durham ahas established two seedcorn funds to support joint research with Tϋbingen and Uppsala Universities. Through a competitive process, Durham and its partners jointly advertise, select and fund research projects, seeking to extend the longstanding ties between Durham, Tϋbingen and Uppsala. The Department of Classics & Ancient History currently features three projects funded by the scheme.
Project Academy is a partnership of scholars based in Durham and Tϋbingen, with the aim of developing a major initiative in the study of the Platonic tradition. At the heart of this project will be a series of critical editions, English and German translations, and commentaries of the fragments (and testimonies) of the members of Plato’s Academy (ca. 380–266 BCE). The Durham contribution is led by Dr. Phil Horky.
“Without order or narrative? Reading Latin text collections from late roman republic to the early middle ages” is a partnership of Latin scholars based in Tübingen and Durham, that examines strategies used to design ancient and early Medieval Latin text collections. The non-chronological or apparently random ordering of these texts have given rise to the modern assumption that as collections they lack significance. Such collections stretch from the poetry of Catullus and the Ad familiares of Cicero to legal compilations, speeches and panegyrics, specialist or antiquarian literature as well as biographies and hagiographies. The project seeks to re-evaluate these collections and the assumption that they are the product of untalented or uninterested compilers. The Durham contribution is led by Prof. Roy Gibson.
Marginalia and Machine Learning
“Marginalia and Machine Learning” is a project involving scholars in Digital Humanities, Computer Science and the Libraries of Durham and Uppsala Universities to create machine learning models that will automatically identify and extract handwritten annotations from early printed books, exploiting the rich collections of both Universities for training data. Marginalia in early books by their successive owners is an important source of evidence for European intellectual history, but access to these annotations is often difficult. Catalogues sometime register the presence of marginalia, but rarely its content. Being able to view and search that material promises to offer an important new tool for research and a very useful component in the digitization pipelines of many library collections. The Durham contribution is led by Prof. Peter Heslin.
Selected Past Projects
The Spatial Turn in Roman Studies
From the Mediterranean to the cubiculum, epic travels to artefact distributions, and spatial syntax to proxemics, the spatial turn has been felt across the study of the ancient world. A series of events in 2019-20 will reflect on a generation’s worth of work on the spatial turn in Roman studies and seek out the best new scholarship arising from it. The goal of our programme of events is a double one: first, to gain an overview of the directions research has taken, identify underlying themes and trends, and describe successful spatial methodology as a guideline for future work; second, to move beyond what has been done and explore the full potential of spatial approaches, especially by bringing together work that has taken the same body of spatial theory in different directions.
“The people” are sovereign; “the people’s will” must prevail; but who are “the people”? Who gets to belong to this group, and who decides? How do individuals coalesce into a collective “people”, and what other communities are formed in the same way? This project, drawing on Durham’s strengths in Classics, Law, Human Geography, Politics, and History, investigates how individuals come together to form communities which are legal or social entities in themselves.
The aim of this project is to develop a new approach to classical poetry, based on how listeners and readers imagined the Greek and Roman poets. From antiquity to the present, people have produced a vast range of narrative and visual representations of the ancient poets, drawing from three main sources: their understanding of classical poetry, other representations, and their own personal, lived experience. The main contention of this project is that representations of the ancient poets tell us something crucial – not about the actual poets of Greece and Rome, but about their readers. The project is directed by Prof. Barbara Graziosi and funded by the European Research Council.