Edmund Stewart, Assistant Professor in Ancient Greek History
Edmund teaches on our MA Classics degree, and is a research supervisor for the PhD Classics course.
He explains what he enjoys most about the discipline, his current research expertise, and offers top tips for those considering postgraduate study in Classics.
What made you choose to study Classics?
"Going back to my childhood, hearing stories about Achilles and Hector and the Greek myths, I remember finding that fascinating and wanting to learn more. It was an initial admiration and liking for the subject.
When you’re thinking about the humanities and you have an interest in human beings, you have a natural liking for the particular people that we’re studying.
If you do what I do, which is ancient literature, you spend a lot of time engaging with the thoughts of ancient Greeks and Romans. It’s a natural liking for those ancient authors, and a fascination with their entire culture. What you want to do as an ancient historian or a classicist is recreate that lost world in its entirety and immense complexity."
You can never have a complete idea of what that world was and never bring it back completely to life, so you’re constantly learning more and the world you’re creating in your mind gets more and more complex. It keeps you driving forward in the subject.
What led you to a career in academia?
"As an undergraduate, I only had a vague idea of who academics were and what they did. It was only put to me by my dissertation supervisor that perhaps I might be interested in doing a masters. I had very little idea that being an academic was even a career.
I liked the idea of being able to carry on. That’s the key thing, really. If you’re thinking about postgraduate study, you’ve got to have a love for it. I thought I might as well keep going, see how well I do, and see where it can take me. It’s like everything else, if you don’t love it, there’s not much point. That’s particularly the case with academia, it is a difficult career trajectory. A lot of love has to go into it."
What do you enjoy the most about teaching Classics?
What I most enjoy is spending time with my advanced level language students and also postgraduate students. Just sitting down and reading a text, having small group seminars going through 10-15 lines of an ancient poem.
"I find that is most enjoyable, just looking into the detail of a text. You learn a lot more about your students and have a stronger rapport in small groups."
What's your current research focus?
"I have several! My PhD was on Greek tragedy, Greek drama. It was trying to argue that Greek drama was Greek from its inception, it wasn’t an Athenian art form that was taken on later by other Greeks. I’m still working on that research.
I’ve also moved to looking more at historical research into the ancient Greek economy, so looking at the idea of a profession in the ancient world and concepts of identity and status.
The final area of research is looking at ancient political theory and practice, particularly concerning Greek tyranny. I’m hoping to do a comparative study of Greek tyrannical regimes and forms of modern personalist dictatorship."
Why would you recommend postgraduate level Classics at Nottingham?
"I chose Nottingham myself as a PhD student! One of the reasons for that is the tradition we have in Nottingham for the study of Classical drama, which is what I did for my PhD.
We are a department that’s small enough for everyone to know each other, but also big enough for there to be a vibrant community of students and scholars, and we do produce excellent research, as shown by our REF returns.
We have real excellence in a number of areas, particularly in ancient Sparta, ancient drama, late antique history, and Roman literature, Roman epic, among others. We have some really excellent people."
How do you define success?
"It’s being as good as you can be, and constantly getting better. With Classics, I think it can be the maintenance of knowledge, making sure that you are constantly learning more and also helping students to learn more. It’s making sure people continue to know what the content and wisdom of past ages is.
We want to advance scholarship, but also to preserve the discipline as well. There will be teachers in the next generation. I think that’s an important goal as well."
Top tips for those considering our Classics MA...
- “Read as widely as possible. Be open to a range of intellectual influences and be willing to look at different evidence, even if you can’t immediately see the point in doing so.
- When starting out as a masters student, you won’t have a broad enough knowledge of the subject, and won’t always easily see the connections between different types of evidence. You often don’t really know where the new advances in the subject are. You have to just trust that the ideas will come! There’s a lot of hard work in building the knowledge about the subject, but take courage and know that you will come up with ideas if you put in the work."
Top tips if you are considering our Classics PhD...
- "You will often work out what your original contribution is quite late on. Don’t be too worried if, at the start, you don’t quite know where your contribution is going to be.
- Get the skills that you need for your research as early as possible. Those could be skills to do with the technology needed to do your research, or languages - Greek and/or Latin.
- Think about publishing and getting teaching experience. Don't let it distract you from your thesis, but do consider how you’re going to get some publications out either before you finish your PhD or shortly afterwards. These can make you a credible candidate for jobs or funding applications. Seek advice from supervisors.
- Go to conferences, talk to people, and make as many connections as you can. Also know that senior academics can come across as quite intimidating if you don’t know them, but mostly people are keen to nurture young scholars. Don’t be afraid to send an email to ask for a chat about someone's research."
What do you look for in a research proposal?
- "Show an ambition to do original research. There should be that spark in the masters dissertation, indicating where your original contribution is going to come from.
- Enthusiasm is important. It shows you’re a credible candidate, with the energy and love of the subject to finish the degree.
- A willingness to accept advice and come up with arguments that deal with alternate views. A good PhD student is someone who is willing to challenge his or her supervisor."