Meet the Speaker: Hannah Cornwell

Dr. Hannah Cornwell and graduate students at dinner

Last month, Dr. Hannah Cornwell of the University of Birmingham spoke at UT about Roman diplomacy, embassy, and peace. Dr. Cornwell generously participated in two graduate seminars about literary and material evidence for diplomacy in Republican Rome and Roman mediation and diplomacy in the Hellenistic world, in addition to speaking at our weekly colloquium with a talk entitled, “Liminal spaces, diplomatic spaces and the social formation of power in Early Imperial Rome.” In addition to all of this, Dr. Cornwell also kindly agreed to answer a few of our questions about her life and work. We want to thank Dr. Cornwell for all of her time and thoughtful engagement with our department!

What is your strategy for productive writing and research? Do you have a special routine or work ritual?

Finding the space (both time and location) amongst everything else that the job requires of me (teaching, administration etc.) for research, is very important. I still struggle with saying no to requests and invitations, and so often find myself up against more deadlines than I would necessarily like. After a three-year research fellowship, which end at the end of 2018, I am still learning how to protect my research time in the face of more immediate jobs (particularly departmental and teaching admin.). I am still developing the best strategies for myself to accomplish this within the constraints of the teaching year.

I am not sure that I necessarily have a special routine or ritual, though I do find that I am much more focussed with my time in a library than necessarily working in my office. For me, research trips to the British School at Rome have allowed me both a change of working space (I find the break from my usual routine helps focus me) and a space that I find incredibly conductive to productive work. I think it is a combination of a fantastic library — open 24/7 for residents of the School, and the architectural space itself with a lot of natural light.

Also as someone who has a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) — in my case dyslexia — I think I have, over many, many years developed strategies surrounding that. It is necessary for me to give myself enough space to catch my writing copiously.

Hannah Cornwell’s talk, “Liminal Spaces, Diplomatic Spaces, and the Social Formation of Power in Early Imperial Rome”

What is your favorite part of being a professional classicist?

Well, if it hasn’t already become obvious, I very much like getting to go to Rome for research! This is not the only reason that I am the Roman historian, but I’d be lying if I said that it had in no way informed my career choices!

I’ve discovered over several years that just as research informs my teaching, teaching often helps me approach my research in new ways. Not only do I enjoy talking at university level, but I think public engagement and impact is an integral part of the job as well. I appreciate that not everyone is necessarily comfortable with talk about their work to a non-academic audience but this should not mean that the responsibility continuously falls to particular individuals (often younger female academics). There are still institutional issues with how public engagement is viewed, but fundamentally, for me, it is about finding ways of initiating conversations about our work through a variety of different registers. We are fortunate in classics that public interest in the discipline is very active.

As an ancient historian who works on a variety of topics within the Roman world, it seems like you are often asked to wear many hats — philological, archaeological, art historical, etc. How does this multidisciplinary approach affect your research?

I often feel like a jack of all trades and a master of none! This question has made me think about what is the driving force of my research. The areas that I have tended to find most interesting — most notably understanding the socio-political function of concepts and ideals, intellectual history and social practices — can be examined through a range of different media, because the ideas and practices I am interested in are not confined to a particular disciplinary approach. But perhaps I have been drawn to these areas of research for the very fact that they offer a multidisciplinary approach. This also comes down to how I was taught: both the late Dr Simon R. F. Price and Prof. Liv M. Yarrow influenced how I research and teach, particularly regarding how visual and physical media are just as relevant as literature and verbal communication for understanding a society’s concerns and structures.

What advice would you give to undergraduate/graduate student you if you could talk to her now?

Probably not to take myself so seriously and to worry less and that time spent away from work, is not a waste of time; although that is advice I still need to listen to!

How does being the Equality and Diversity Lead within your school effect your work as a teacher and researcher, and vis versa?

I am still very new to the role, but I think it is opening up new avenues for actively thinking about how I personally teach and research. Even before I took up the role we had been having discussions in our department about decolonising the syllabus and I now find myself continually assessing the reading and assignments I am setting my students in terms of both the issues and frameworks we are using to examine, for example, social conflict within the Roman state. I am hoping to introduce my students to contemporary literature addressing the issues of gender and politics in the construction of history.

I hope that my experiences as a teacher will also help with my role as EDI leader: just as with teaching, communication and the creation of a dialogue and discussion on issues is of vital importance.

What do you like to do when you’re not being a scholar and educator?

Something creative and involving the use of my hands, but still with an element of research. This usually involves sewing clothes and costumes (although finding time of the big projects is becoming increasingly difficult), and baking. I also row, though finding time to train during term time is tough (spot the running theme!). I have to keep reminding myself that is good and healthy to step away from the desk and do something else!


— Anna Papile, PhD student

From Waggener Hall to anywhere our faculty, staff, and students wander.

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