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Lumen Summer 2010 Issue
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From Adelaide to the Roman Empire

Her parents advised her to keep studying Law but Adelaide graduate and University Medalist Dr Meaghan McEvoy decided to follow her passion for Classical Studies and is now forging her career around the imperial politics of the late Roman Empire.

By the time Dr Meaghan McEvoy completes her recently-won postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oxford, she will have been granted over $500,000 worth of awards and fellowships since her graduation in 2002.

It's an impressive success story for any young researcher, but especially so for someone in the highly specialist field of Classical Studies.

Meaghan grew up near Birdwood in the Adelaide Hills and went to Loreto College where she first "stumbled across" Classics in Year 12, later deciding it was actually the perfect blend of earlier interests in history and ancient literature.

As a Law / Arts undergraduate at the University of Adelaide, her interests soon shifted away from Law towards Classical Studies. She picked up Ancient Greek and Latin as an undergraduate - vital for her later research.

"It was hard work to start the languages at university but it was well taught here at Adelaide. It's an important skill to have; it means you can read the original sources yourself and not have to rely on others' translations." A classical language was also necessary for her Oxford entry.

During her Honours year in 2002 under the "enthusiastic and inspiring" teaching of her supervisor, Dr Paul Tuffin, she became 'hooked' on the history of the late Roman Empire and she still researches in this area.

Meaghan finished her Honours year with a University Medal and the award of the national John Crampton Travelling Scholarship, which covered her fees and living costs for five years, to complete her MPhil and PhD at Oxford, accomplished in January 2009.

Her PhD thesis looked at the reign of four consecutive child emperors in the late Roman Empire and the surrounding imperial politics, from eight-year-old Gratian through to six-year-old Valentinian III.

"I was specifically interested in how these child emperors were presented as plausible rulers of such a vast empire, particularly when the function of most emperors of the time was to lead an army," Meaghan said. She is now turning her thesis into a book with Oxford University Press, to be published in 2010.

Studying at Oxford was "pretty demanding" but a wonderful experience.

"I studied at New College which was built in 1379. It was a beautiful place to live," said Meaghan. "It was very hard work but I learned a tremendous amount. There were amazing people to learn from and to be taught by."

Following her PhD, Meaghan was awarded a one-year fellowship to the British School in Rome, funded by the British Academy, which she finished in June this year, and she is now completing a one-semester fellowship to Dumbarton Oaks, the specialist Byzantine Studies Centre at Harvard University.

Recently Meaghan heard she had won one of the highly prestigious and sought-after British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship awards for a three-year research project at an institution of her choice. She will return to Oxford to Corpus Christi College.

This time Meaghan will move 100 years on from her PhD study, taking her to around 450-550AD, looking at the emperors who followed the boys of her previous study.

"Christianity had just been adopted as the state religion of the Roman Empire and there was a push to increasingly 'Christianise' the emperors' role," said Meaghan. "The emperors that followed after the child emperors no longer had the powers they might have once had. Christianising their role was one way of making the emperor still look adequate."

Meaghan says the late antiquity is a growing field.

"Traditionally it was regarded as a period of destruction and degeneracy and so tended to be ignored," she said. "But interest is growing and there is a still a lot of original research to be done."

Back in Adelaide recently to visit her family, Meaghan also caught up with Classics staff at the University.

"While I was studying here at one stage it was hard to see what direction I might follow with Classics, but I had a lot of encouragement from the department to continue with further study. They were very supportive."

No doubt her parents have long forgiven her for not continuing with Law. ■


Meaghan McEvoy in Rome viewing an inscription in the Roman Forum which relates to three of the emperors she is researching

Meaghan McEvoy in Rome viewing an inscription in the Roman Forum which relates to three of the emperors she is researching
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Meaghan McEvoy in front of the Doge’s Palace, Venice

Meaghan McEvoy in front of the Doge's Palace, Venice
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Meaghan McEvoy in Rome with the Colossus of Constantine the Great.

Meaghan McEvoy in Rome with the Colossus of Constantine the Great.
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