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Durham Centre for Classical Reception


Ancient Greece and Rome have shaped western culture to a degree that is hard to overestimate, and the classical tradition, i.e. the continuing presence of Greco-Roman antiquity in later centuries, is a vast subject, studied across the spectrum of the humanities. The Centre aims to give research in this area institutional acknowledgement and provide a context for more intense inter-departmental collaboration and dialogue both within Durham and beyond. Exploration of the classical tradition is also an area of rapid growth within Classics itself: 'the classical tradition' and 'reception' are areas of research recognized by the RAE for Unit of Assessment 59, which includes Classics, Ancient History, Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. Durham, as a founding member of the Classical Reception Studies Network (CRSN) has been at the forefront of this development for some time.

History: The First Three Years

The Centre for the Study of the Classical Tradition (CSCT) was set up in 2007, with the help of competitive start-up funding from the Durham Faculty of Arts & Humanities for the first three years of operation. This initial phase is now coming to a close, and the Centre can look back on a successful ktisis-period, with all of its main aims and objectives met, at times ahead of schedule. Thus, we now have an MA programme in the Classical Tradition, with a dedicated core module entitled 'The Classical Tradition: Art, Literature, Thought', which is also proving highly popular among 'straight' classicists, who take it as one of their optional modules; the Centre has established an initial portfolio of events and activities, with one flagship event in each year of its existence; and it was also able to broaden its directorship beyond the Department of Classics & Ancient History, with Dr Stefano Cracolici, Department of Italian/ School of Modern Languages and Cultures (MLAC) becoming co-director of the Centre in 2009. In addition, the Centre has already started to prove its worth in facilitating outside funding applications.

Durham Distinctiveness

All members of the Centre from the Department of Classics & Ancient History have strong research interests in 'traditional' areas within this broad field of study - in addition to expertise in specific topics or periods in the classical tradition, or related areas, such as classical reception studies or reception within antiquity. This also means that at Durham, philological skills and historicizing research on the one hand and the exploration of antiquity's afterlife on the other, far from being mutually exclusive, are mutually supportive activities - not least by stimulating an ongoing  conversation about the tricky issues in methodology and theory that such a catholic approach to classics necessarily entails. Likewise, the Centre benefits from a unique concentration at Durham of colleagues in other departments, who are 'cross-trained' as classicists and have research interests in the classical tradition. Thus Professor David Cowling read Latin and French at Oxford and has special expertise in one of the greatest printers of classical texts, Henri Estienne (among classicists better known as Henricus Stephanus). Professor Richard Gameson (History) holds the recently established Chair in the History of the Book and teaches a variety of modules at all levels on medieval manuscript culture and paleography. And the English and Italian Departments have particular strengths in key periods of the classical tradition, such as Renaissance Italy and 17th-century England, or, indeed, consider aspects of the tradition in toto, as does Dr Robert Carver in his recent monograph on the reception of Apuleius in Western literature. More generally, CSCT greatly benefits from the presence of more established research centres in the faculty, such as the Institute for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (IMRS) and the Centre for 17th-Century Studies, not least through the synergies generated by collaborative projects.

Future Plans

In the coming years, the Centre plans to build on these achievements and develop further its role as facilitator of disciplinary and cross-disciplinary research. In particular, we hope to follow up initial soundings in the area of the visual arts (in the wake of a departmental research project on Text and Image in 2007/8, and of the AHRC-funded Hadrian's-Wall project Tales of the Frontier, run by Professor Richard Hingley in the Department of Archaeology) as well as in the area of political theory (reinforcing current links with continental collaborators). A highly desirable area of expansion is the area of 'thought' more generally, including philosophical thought, after an extraordinarily well-attended lecture series on 'Being Human - Classical Perspectives' (2008/9), which featured, among others, papers on Ficino, Nietzsche, and the contemporary relevance of Stoic philosophy. Members of the Centre have been extraordinarily successful in attracting research grants for projects in reception and the classical tradition from such prestigious sources as the British Academy, the European Research Council, and the Leverhulme Trust. The Centre plans to continue its role in the facilitation of application for research funding in future; and is, without question, ideally poised to make a unique contribution to the Impact agenda.