Diana Spencer


Accepting PhD Students

PhD projects

I welcome proposals dealing with any of the following:

Latin literature and cultural identity (first centuries BCE/CE)
The city of Rome in ancient and modern literature and culture
Translation in ancient Rome, and translation of Latin texts
Reception of Rome in historical fiction
Current and most recent postgraduates

Miriam Bay (co-supervised with David Hemsoll) – Cultivating Myth and Composing Landscape at the Villa d’Este, Tivoli
Elizabeth Crump (co-supervised with Gareth Sears) – The Discourse of Autocracy in Julio-Claudian Literature
Simon Matravers (co-supervised with Gareth Sears) – Commentary on Valerius Maximus Book IX.1-10. A Discourse on vitia: An Apotreptic Approach (completed 2017)
Anna Thorogood (co-supervised with Gareth Sears) – Translating Troy: Trojan Mythology under the Emperor Nero
Jessica Venner (co-supervised with Gareth Sears) – Subsistence and commercial production in the private gardens of the Roman Empire
Through the Midlands4Cities AHRC Doctoral Training Programme, I also co-supervise students based at partner organizations:

Rebecca Batty – Rivers, Rulers and Romans: How do rivers in Augustan literature reflect the relationship between power and environment? (University of Nottingham)
Benjamin White – The Roman 'porticus': promenading from Republic to Empire (University of Nottingham)


Research activity per year

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Personal profile


History and literature play a vital, sometimes disturbing role in the Irish psyche. I went to TCD curious about Classics and passionate about English. I left, with a BA, as a cheerleader for antiquity and in love with Latin. Study abroad helped me to understand more about how Classics developed its edges, and I enjoyed a year of Byzantine explorations at Royal Holloway before returning to Latin authors (Q. Curtius Rufus), and Classics, at St. John’s College, Cambridge.

These diverse studies focused my interests around questions of who people think they are, and why this matters. Rather than going home after completing doctoral study, I found myself happily employed as a Lecturer in Classics at the University of Birmingham; in subsequent years I have enjoyed teaching many cohorts of sparky students both in Classics and more recently, in our Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences programme suite.

My research has always progressed in tandem with my teaching; ideally the two are complementary. I have in this way benefitted not only from running undergraduate lecture courses and seminars on Latin prose and poetry (in tandem with publications on e.g. Horace, Propertius, Statius, Lucan, Livy, Valerius Maximus, Q. Curtius Rufus, Cicero, Seneca the Younger, Vitruvius, Cicero, Varro), but also thematic courses, entwined with publications on e.g. identity, landscape, aesthetics, urbanism, translation, embodiment.

Working with outstanding students, undergraduate and postgraduate, continues to enrich my understanding of Classics and scholarship, to generate new research ideas, and to enable me to fit my intellectual development with my work on interdisciplinary structures (learning and research) through the University’s BA/Sc in Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences.

Research interests

Varro and the late Roman Republic

The first-century BCE polymath Marcus Terentius Varro (intellectual, sparring partner of Cicero, satirist, politician, and more) has been a central focus for my research since 2011, and has produced multiple presentations at conferences, invited lectures, and short publications. The culmination of this project is the monograph Language and Authority in De Lingua Latina: Varro’s Guide to Bring Roman.

Literary Roman landscapes

My interest in the city of Rome in texts inspired me, with Prof. David Larmour (Texas Tech) to develop a volume on the Roman cityscape as a site of knowledge, myth, movement, and satire, where history lies – and lies deeply (The Sites of Rome: Time, Space, Memory). Subsequently, as my interests moved from primarily built to natural topographies, I wrote a book on Roman Landscape. This research strand continues to be lively: it emerges in parts of my work on Varro, and has recently generated a chapter on literary Rome in the Blackwell Companion to the City of Rome.

Language and identities

Language and genre have a strongly placial quality in Latin literary culture, and in ancient studies of memory. I am interested in language structures, vocabulary, and etymology, and while my work on Varro (de Lingua Latina) is the most obvious expression of this interest, I have also written on Horace as a translator, and on genre and identity-politics in Statius. Through approaches such as ecolinguistics, cognitive linguistics, and neurolinguistics I am continuing to explore how language shapes and is shaped by experience, memory, and environment.

*All three of these research strands feed into my current project, Out of Place.


Current projects

Out of place

My current research investigates what made particular places significant in relation to the bodies (human and other) that defined, occupied, inhabited, and dwelt in them. This means digging into their qualities of lived experience, and the expressions of understanding, emotion, sensation, and knowledge that made certain sites iconic and real in the words of Roman authors of the first centuries BCE and CE.

This enquiry, building on my research expertise, takes shape through a range of disciplinary approaches; it unites (e.g.) ecolinguistics, neuroscience, social geography, discourse analysis, literary criticism, aesthetics (art and architecture, as well as environmental) and history. I am also interested in exploring what constitutes embodied experience in different eras, how and why it is recounted in particular ways in different contexts, and its impact upon those who describe and write down its qualities as well as their impact on audiences.

In forthcoming publications I am already testing some examples, and trying out a range of methodologies. This exploratory work will result in additional case-studies and eventually, a monograph (Out of Place). I will also blog aspects of this research, so that insights into how, where, and why some key sights, featured in ancient texts, can continue to resonate in the real-world experience of visitors and travellers now. 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 15 - Life on Land


  • PA Classical philology
  • Rome
  • topography
  • Varro
  • Ovid
  • Horace
  • self-fashioning
  • landscape
  • Lucan
  • Propertius
  • Cicero
  • Late Republic
  • Italy
  • Latin
  • DG Italy
  • Fascism
  • Romanita
  • ideology


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