I specialise in the political life and oratorical culture of the Roman republic and early Empire, especially the political history of the late Roman republic, all aspects of Cicero, oratory and rhetoric, the reception of republican orators and oratory, fragmentary evidence, exempla and cultural memory.
My first book, Cicero’s Role Models, explores Cicero’s rhetorical and political strategy as a newcomer in Roman republican politics. It argues that Cicero advertised himself as follower of chosen models of behaviour from the past – his role models or exempla – in order to promote his public persona and political influence.
My second book, Oratory and Political Career in the Late Roman Republic, investigates the relationship between oratory and political career in the Roman republic. Through close study of speech fragments and testimonies, I analyse how far the oratorical profile and performances of politicians such as Pompey, Caesar, Cato the Younger and others define and restrict their political actions and agendas, and, ultimately, their political influence and careers. In relation to this project, I co-organised an international conference on Oratory and Political Career in the Roman Republic (Oxford, 2010) from which an edited volume appeared: C. Steel & H. van der Blom (eds) (2013), Community and Communication: Oratory and Politics in Republican Rome, Oxford University Press.
I am planning a new book on the reception of Roman republican orators and oratory in the Roman imperial period, with a focus on Valerius Maximus.
I am the founding director of the Network for Oratory and Politics (NOP), an interdisciplinary research network on the relationship between oratory and politics. The aim of the Network for Oratory and Politics is to facilitate research into and discussion of political oratory across historical periods and regions in order to broaden up the study of political speech and reach out to non-academic communities. It does so by connecting academics with political practitioners of public speech such as politicians, speech writers and the general public in an exchange of knowledge and ideas. The Network has received funding from The Royal Society of Edinburgh and the AHRC. For more information, visit the website for Network for Oratory and Politics.
Another research project, funded by the AHRC (2017-19) and entitled The Crisis of Rhetoric, has taken the ideas of the Network for Oratory and Politics further: I led a project group of political scientists, linguists, historians, classicists and rhetoricians to analyse what is going wrong in current British political communication. We involved politicians, speech writers, civil servants and political journalists in our research to remedy the faulty communication.
The Crisis of Rhetoric project led to a collaboration with the award-winning theatre company Dash Arts on a new project Speech! Speech! Dramatising Rhetorical Citizenship, to train people in the art of speechwriting and speech delivery through workshops and public performances, and develop models for such training that outlast the life of the project. Our research will eventually lead to The Public House, Dash Arts’ state-of-the-nation theatre production, inspired by our workshop participants and our work to empower their speech.
I am co-investigator on an international and interdisciplinary research project into the leadership through letters by Cicero, St Paul and Seneca, funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark, entitled Epistolary Visions of Transformational Leadership and running 2018-23.
Together with Professor Harvey Yunis, I co-edit the first volume of a new Cambridge History of Rhetoric (5 vols, edited by P. Mack and R. Copeland) which focuses on the ancient world from the third millennium BC to AD 350. The volume is due to come out in 2025.
I am a member of the editorial and advisory boards of the Fragments of the Roman Republican Orators project (University of Glasgow) which will provide a new edition with commentary and translation of the fragments of the non-Ciceronian Roman orators of the republican period. Alongside this edition, I co-edited with Professor Catherine Steel and Dr Christa Grey a conference volume entitled Institutions and Ideology in Republican Rome: speech, audience and decision (Cambridge University Press, 2018). For more information, visit the website for the Fragments of the Roman Republican Orators.
I sit on the editorial boards of the journals Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte and Journal of Roman Studies, as well as on three book series. I sit on the scientific committee of the Society for the Friends of Cicero, and I have served on the Council for the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies and on the Council for the Classical Association (UK).