I specialise in the political life and oratorical culture of the Roman republic and early Empire, especially the history of the late Roman republic, patterns of political careers, all aspects of Cicero, oratory and rhetoric, 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 now planning a new book on the reception of Roman republican orators and oratory in the Roman imperial period.
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, initially funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh and now funded by the AHRC, 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. The network aims to connect academics with political practitioners of public speech such as politicians, speech writers and the general public in an exchange of knowledge and ideas. For more information, visit the website for Network for Oratory and Politics.
Another research project, funded by the AHRC and entitled The Crisis of Rhetoric, takes the ideas of the Network for Oratory and Politics further: Over two years, I am leading a project group of political scientists, linguists, historians, classicists and rhetoricians to analyse what is going wrong in current British political communication. We involve politicians, speech writers, civil servants and political journalists in our research to remedy the faulty communication.
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-editing 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 am also involved in a project to co-edit a collection of essays on Mesopotamian, Hittite, Egyptian, Maya, Chinese, Biblical, and Classical usages of the past, provisionally entitled Historical Consciousness and the Use of the Past in the Ancient World.