Professor Diana Spencer BA, MA, PhD, PGCLTHE

Professor Diana Spencer

Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology
Professor of Classics
Dean of Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences (2014-2018; 2019-)

Contact details

Telephone
+ 44 (0)121 41 47967
Email
d.j.spencer@bham.ac.uk
Twitter
@dianajspencer
Address
Department of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology
Arts Building
University of Birmingham
Edgbaston
Birmingham
B15 2TT
UK

I am primarily interested in what we think Romans thought about themselves (as reflected in texts), how they conceptualized themselves as a people, and responded to (and were shaped by) the world they lived in.

I enjoy investigating how identity and cultural politics are manifest through narratives emphasising space, territory, cultivation of place, and ethos. I research authors and texts fascinated by the built environment, but also engaged in interrogation of what “self”, “nature”, and “wild” mean, and why.

Qualifications

  • PGCert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, University of Birmingham, 2003
  • PhD in Classics, University of Cambridge, 1997
  • MA in Late Antique and early Byzantine Studies, University of London, 1992
  • BA (Hons) in Modern English and Classical Civilization, Trinity College Dublin, 1991

Biography

History and literature play a vital, sometimes disturbing role in the Irish psyche. I went to TCD curious about Classics and passionate about English. I left, with a BA, as a cheerleader for antiquity and in love with Latin. Study abroad helped me to understand more about how Classics developed its edges, and I enjoyed a year of Byzantine explorations at Royal Holloway before returning to Latin authors (Q. Curtius Rufus), and Classics, at St. John’s College, Cambridge.

These diverse studies focused my interests around questions of who people think they are, and why this matters. Rather than going home after completing doctoral study, I found myself happily employed as a Lecturer in Classics at the University of Birmingham; in subsequent years I have enjoyed teaching many cohorts of sparky students both in Classics and more recently, in our Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences programme suite.

My research has always progressed in tandem with my teaching; ideally the two are complementary. I have in this way benefitted not only from running undergraduate lecture courses and seminars on Latin prose and poetry (in tandem with publications on e.g. Horace, Propertius, Statius, Lucan, Livy, Valerius Maximus, Q. Curtius Rufus, Cicero, Seneca the Younger, Vitruvius, Cicero, Varro), but also thematic courses, entwined with publications on e.g. identity, landscape, aesthetics, urbanism, translation, embodiment.

Working with outstanding students, undergraduate and postgraduate, continues to enrich my understanding of Classics and scholarship, to generate new research ideas, and to enable me to fit my intellectual development with my work on interdisciplinary structures (learning and research) through the University’s BA/Sc in Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences.

Teaching

As Dean of Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences, and with a sabbatical leave year in 2018-2019, I have no regular teaching portfolio at present, but I have recently taught “The Age of Cicero”, and other topics in Latin literature and in interdisciplinary thematic areas.

Postgraduate supervision

I welcome proposals dealing with any of the following:

  • Latin literature and cultural identity (first centuries BCE/CE)
  • The city of Rome in ancient and modern literature and culture
  • Translation in ancient Rome, and translation of Latin texts
  • Reception of Rome in historical fiction

Current and most recent postgraduates

  • Miriam Bay (co-supervised with David Hemsoll) – Cultivating Myth and Composing Landscape at the Villa d’Este, Tivoli
  • Elizabeth Crump (co-supervised with Gareth Sears) – The Discourse of Autocracy in Julio-Claudian Literature
  • Simon Matravers (co-supervised with Gareth Sears) – Commentary on Valerius Maximus Book IX.1-10. A Discourse on vitia: An Apotreptic Approach (completed 2017)
  • Anna Thorogood (co-supervised with Gareth Sears) – Translating Troy: Trojan Mythology under the Emperor Nero
  • Jessica Venner (co-supervised with Gareth Sears) – Subsistence and commercial production in the private gardens of the Roman Empire

Through the Midlands4Cities AHRC Doctoral Training Programme, I also co-supervise students based at partner organizations:

  • Rebecca Batty – Rivers, Rulers and Romans: How do rivers in Augustan literature reflect the relationship between power and environment? (University of Nottingham)
  • Benjamin White – The Roman 'porticus': promenading from Republic to Empire (University of Nottingham)

Research

Varro and the late Roman Republic

The first-century BCE polymath Marcus Terentius Varro (intellectual, sparring partner of Cicero, satirist, politician, and more) has been a central focus for my research since 2011, and has produced multiple presentations at conferences, invited lectures, and short publications. The culmination of this project is the monograph Language and Authority in De Lingua Latina: Varro’s Guide to Bring Roman.

Literary Roman landscapes

My interest in the city of Rome in texts inspired me, with Prof. David Larmour (Texas Tech) to develop a volume on the Roman cityscape as a site of knowledge, myth, movement, and satire, where history lies – and lies deeply (The Sites of Rome: Time, Space, Memory). Subsequently, as my interests moved from primarily built to natural topographies, I wrote a book on Roman Landscape. This research strand continues to be lively: it emerges in parts of my work on Varro, and has recently generated a chapter on literary Rome in the Blackwell Companion to the City of Rome.

Language and identites

Language and genre have a strongly placial quality in Latin literary culture, and in ancient studies of memory. I am interested in language structures, vocabulary, and etymology, and while my work on Varro (de Lingua Latina) is the most obvious expression of this interest, I have also written on Horace as a translator, and on genre and identity-politics in Statius. Through approaches such as ecolinguistics, cognitive linguistics, and neurolinguistics I am continuing to explore how language shapes and is shaped by experience, memory, and environment.

*All three of these research strands feed into my current project, Out of Place.

 

Current projects

Out of place

My current research investigates what made particular places significant in relation to the bodies (human and other) that defined, occupied, inhabited, and dwelt in them. This means digging into their qualities of lived experience, and the expressions of understanding, emotion, sensation, and knowledge that made certain sites iconic and real in the words of Roman authors of the first centuries BCE and CE.

This enquiry, building on my research expertise, takes shape through a range of disciplinary approaches; it unites (e.g.) ecolinguistics, neuroscience, social geography, discourse analysis, literary criticism, aesthetics (art and architecture, as well as environmental) and history. I am also interested in exploring what constitutes embodied experience in different eras, how and why it is recounted in particular ways in different contexts, and its impact upon those who describe and write down its qualities as well as their impact on audiences.

In forthcoming publications I am already testing some examples, and trying out a range of methodologies. This exploratory work will result in additional case-studies and eventually, a monograph (Out of Place). I will also blog aspects of this research, so that insights into how, where, and why some key sights, featured in ancient texts, can continue to resonate in the real-world experience of visitors and travellers now. 

Other activities

  • Adviser on cases for tenure and promotion to Professor at universities in the UK and USA.
  • AHRC Peer Review College member (2009-2013)
  • BBC’s ‘In Our Time’ expert speaker (Alexander the Great)
  • British School at Rome, Ambassador (2016-2019)
  • Classical Association Council member (2006-2010)
  • Council of University Classics Departments committee member (2000-2004)
  • Disciplinary reviewer for Research Quality Review (RQR) Ireland (2014-2015)
  • External examiner for PhDs at the University of London, the University of Reading, Bristol University, the University of Nottingham, and the University of Cape Town
  • External examiner for UG programmes in Classics and Liberal Arts and Sciences (Open University, University of Durham, University of Reading)
  • Journal editorial board member:
    • American Journal of Philology (2014-)
    • Classical Association Journals Board (2018-)
    • Intertexts (2017-).
  • Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) Advisory Panel for History, Classics & Archaeology (2002-2005)
  • Peer reviewer for major presses and journals, e.g. (journals) Antichthon, Acta Classica, American Journal of Philology, Hesperia, European Review of History, Transactions of the American Philological Association; (presses) Blackwell, Cambridge University Press, Sage, University of Oklahoma Press, Oxford University Press, Routledge, Sage, University of Toronto Press, Brill.
  • Social media:
    • twitter: @dianajspencer
    • blog

Publications

Books

  • (2019), Language and Authority in De Lingua Latina: Varro’s Guide to Being Roman, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press
  • (2010), Roman Landscape: Culture and Identity, Greece & Rome New Surveys in the Classics 39, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • with Larmour, D. H. J. (eds.), (2007), The Sites of Rome: Time, Space, Memory, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • with Theodorakopoulos, E. (eds.), (2006), Advice and its Rhetoric in Greece and Rome, Bari: Levante.
  • (2002), The Roman Alexander: Reading a Cultural Myth, Exeter: University of Exeter Press.

 

Key articles and book chapters

  • (2018a), ‘Varro’s Roman Ways: Metastasis and Etymology’, In Fitzgerald, W. and Spentzou, E. (eds.) The Production of Space in Latin Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 45-68.
  • (2018b), ‘Written Rome: Ancient Literary Responses’, In Claridge, A. and Holleran, C. (eds.) Blackwell Companion to the City of Rome, Chichester: Blackwell, pp. 621-641.
  • (2017), ‘Aesthetic, sociological and exploitative attitudes to landscape in Greco-Roman literature, art and culture’, In Williams, G. (editor in chief) Oxford Handbooks Online: Classical Studies. Oxford University Press. DOI 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935390.013.121.
  • (2016), ‘Vitruvius, Landscape and Heterotopias: How ‘otherspaces’ enrich Roman identity’, In Kennedy, R. and Jones-Lewis, M. (eds.) The Routledge Handbook of Identity and the Environment in the Classical and Early Medieval Worlds. London: Routledge, pp. 171-191.
  • (2015a), ‘Authority, allusion and Rome-speak in Varro’s De lingua Latina’, In Butterfield, D. (ed.) Varro Varius: The Polymath of the Roman WorldCambridge Classical Journal Supplement 39. Cambridge, pp. 73-92.
  • (2015b), ‘Urban flux: Varro’s Rome in Progress’, In Ostenberg, I., Malmberg, S., and Bjornebye, J. (eds.) The Moving City: Processions, Passages and Promenades in Ancient Rome. London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 99-110.
  • (2011a), 'Horace and the con/straints of translation', In McElduff S. and Sciarrino, E. (eds.) Complicating the History of Western Translation. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing, pp. 101-116.
  • (2011b), '῾Ρωμαίζω… ergo sum: Becoming Roman in Varro’s de Lingua Latina’, In Bommas, M. (ed.) Cultural Memory and Identity in Ancient Societies. London: Continuum, pp. 43-60.
  • (2011c), 'Movement and the linguistic turn: Reading Varro's de Lingua Latina', In Laurence, R. and Newsome, D. J. (eds.) Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 57-80.
  • (2010), ‘“You Should Never Meet Your Heroes...”: Growing Up with Alexander, the Valerius Maximus Way’, In Carney, E. and Ogden, D. (eds.) Philip II and Alexander the Great: Father and Son, Lives and Afterlives. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, pp. 175-91.
  • (2009), ‘Roman Alexanders: Epistemology and Identity’, In Heckel, W. and Tritle, J. (eds.) Alexander the Great: A New History. Chichester: Blackwell, pp. 251-74.
  • (2008), ‘Singing in the garden: Statius’ plein air lyric (after Horace)’, In Blevins, J. (ed.) Dialogism and Lyric Self-Fashioning: Bakhtin and the Voices of a Genre. Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, pp. 66-83.
  • (2007), ‘Rome at a gallop: Livy, on not gazing, jumping or toppling into the void’, In Larmour, D. H. J. and Spencer, D. (eds.) The Sites of Rome: Time, Space, Memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 61-101.
  • with Larmour, D. H. J. (2007), ‘Roma, recepta: A Topography of the Imagination’, In Larmour, D. H. J. and D. Spencer, D. (eds.) The Sites of Rome: Time, Space, Memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 1-60.
  • (2006a), ‘Telling it like it is…: Seneca, Alexander and the dynamics of epistolary advice’, In D. Spencer and E. Theodorakopoulos (eds.) Advice and its Rhetoric in Greece and Rome. Bari: Levante, pp. 79-104.
  • (2006b), ‘Horace’s garden thoughts: Rural retreats and the urban imagination’, In Rosen, R. and Sluiter, I. (eds.) City and countryside in the ancient imagination. Brill: Leiden, pp. 239-74.
  • with Theodorakopoulos, E. (2006), ‘“Good men who have skill in speaking”: Performing Advice in Rome’, In Spencer, D. and Theodorakopoulos, E. (eds.) Advice and its Rhetoric in Greece and Rome. Bari: Levante, pp. 1-29.
  • (2005a), ‘Perspective and Poetics in Curtius’ Gorgeous East’. Acta Classica 48: 121-40.
  • (2005b), ‘Lucan’s Follies: Memory and ruin in a civil war landscape’. Greece & Rome 52.1: 46-69.
  • (2003). ‘Horace and the Company of Kings: Art and Artfulness in Epistle 2.1’. Materiali e discussioni per l’analisi dei testi classici. 51.2: 135-60.
  • (2001). ‘Propertius, Hercules, and the Dynamics of Roman Mythic Space in Elegy 4.9’. Arethusa 34.3: 259-84.

Expertise

Cultural responses to the fall of the Roman Republic; the development of autocracy at Rome in the wake of Julius Caesar; cultural imperialism in antiquity (including propagandist reception of Alexander the Great in Rome); the city of Rome in antiquity, especially as an ideological vehicle; reception of Rome in western civilisation; Latin authors and texts, first centuries BCE/CE, especially Varro.

Expertise

Cultural responses to the fall of the Roman Republic; the development of autocracy at Rome in the wake of Julius Caesar; cultural imperialism in antiquity (including propagandist reception of Alexander the Great in Rome); the city of Rome in antiquity, especially as an ideological vehicle; reception of Rome in western civilisation; Latin authors and texts, first centuries BCE/CE, especially Varro.