Expert Breakfast Report for 1 August 2018: Dr Gwynaeth McIntyre, Dept of Classics

From Greek Mythology to Roman Emperors, then finding your niche, travel opportunities and back to Roman Emperors.

Scandal and Intrigue
Dr McIntyre displayed a refreshingly open approach to this occasion. She teaches CLAS 105, Greek Mythology - among many other activities. By training, she is a Roman historian and also teaches a paper on Roman Emperors: From Augustus to Nero: Scandal and Intrigue in Imperial Rome. “Basically, it is incest, everyone killing each other, poisoning - Game of Thrones, but 2,000 years earlier.” She also teaches Latin.

Her early academic progress was more in the direction of Science than the Classics. A Canadian, she had a wide-ranging school education, excelling in Science, and was interested in pursuing Biochemistry and Microbiology at University, with the aim of studying viruses with an interest in the human body and how it works.

Finding the Right Niche
Gwynaeth did two years of a Biochemistry degree which allowed an optional paper in the second year, “And, because I am ridiculous, I decided to take Ancient Greek for fun.” There was some reasoning behind this decision, however, in that she hoped it would help in remembering scientific names, but it ended up with her spending more time on Ancient Greek homework than the other subjects.

Discussions with friends about summer internship options indicated they were not attractive to her. Gwynaeth was in the fortunate position of being able to take spend her next year trying a variety of papers in order to find out what she might be interested in, with the backing of her parents. She chose some Sociology, Anthropology, Archaeology, Classics and Ancient Greek papers.

“I was terrified of going into the Humanities, because I had never done well at Humanities subjects at school, and I almost failed History in my graduating year.” Whereas Science studies are largely restricted to certain subjects, a Humanities degree enables you to take pretty nearly anything you find of interest. She opted for Archaeology, on the grounds that it is “almost science”, going for a double major in Classics and Archaeology. Upon graduating, Gwynaeth sent off applications to do Masters in Classics or in Archaeology as both options were possible, and was offered places on several Masters programmes. She chose to go for the Masters in Classics, with a view to going on to a PhD in Classics later.

Dr McIntyre’s archeology background has proved very useful here in Dunedin, however. With her colleague Dr. Daniel Osland, a Roman Archaeologist, Gwynaeth is going through “a treasure-trove of material that is sitting in boxes in storage at the Otago Museum.” While some materials have been studied in detail, limited experience, expertise, and resources at the museum have prevented anything more than a cursory study of other parts of the collections. Two students per year now assist in this work, through the HUMS 301/401 internship program, and digital images of ceramics from the museum are used in classes such as CLAS 105.

Travel Opportunities in Academe
In response to a question about places she had visited in the world, Dr. McIntyre noted that being an academic means you “travel a lot. - I would thoroughly recommend spending a semester somewhere using the Student Exchange Programme. It’s just a really cool opportunity and you are paying Otago fees to be somewhere awesome.”

Classics students this year are headed to the UK, “We have a student in Bristol, we have a student in Exeter, and we have one going to Edinburgh shortly. . . . Especially in the Humanities, there is so much variety in what we do that every programme is going to be different regardless of where in the world you go.”

During her own University Education, Gwynaeth spent time in several parts of Canada, undergraduate studies on the western coast of Canada, then a Masters in Toronto. This was followed by a PhD at St. Andrews in Scotland, a Research Fellowship in Germany, then back to Canada where she taught in various places, before moving to Dunedin in 2015.

“The other nice thing about the Classics is that you have the excuse to go to Rome. I spent three weeks in Rome “for research”. Or perhaps you could go to Greece. Or to go to Cyprus - or any of these places that the Romans were.”

Use the Available Resources
“If any of you want to come and talk to me about any of this at any point, I am always in the Department . . and my door is always open unless I am teaching or working on something . . One of the cool things about Otago is that you do get the chance to find out that your lecturers are human beings - we are not weird, scary people who just deliver the facts and flail our arms around.” There is a community of knowledge that you can tap into. “The reason that we have office hours is so that we can meet with you.” Apparently few students make use of this opportunity. “On Tuesdays in particular, from 2 pm to 4 pm, I just sit there. . . It may seem intimidating, but especially in Health Science where you are under such pressure, it is worth using the resources that are available to you. The best resource you have is your lab demonstrators, your tutors, your instructors - if they have office hours, use that to your advantage.”

Asked about her favourite Roman Emperor, Gwynaeth responded that it was “Caligula, by far. Some of the work that I have been doing is looking at the sources and trying to determine why Emperors are portrayed in the way that they are.” In popular culture Caligula is reputed to have made his horse a Senator, whereas the probability is that, in a fit of temper at the perceived incompetence of actual Senators, he may well have suggested that his horse would do as good a job of running the country as they were doing. Over the centuries this may have been distorted to the belief that he actually made his horse a senator.

There was more, especially on the dramatisation of Roman history in series such as I, Claudius, (John Hurt played Caligula, and received plaudits for his acting in this and other productions in this talk), and various movies.

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Posted: Friday August 3, 2018