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DR EMMA ASTON: RESEARCHING MY PASSION – University of Reading

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  • ENRAPTURED BY CLASSICS

    How a childhood obsession with the ancient world became an enthralling career

DR EMMA ASTON: RESEARCHING MY PASSION

Dr Emma Aston has been obsessed with the ancient world since childhood. Deciding to combine her passion for Classics with her love of teaching, Emma is now an Associate Professor at Reading specialising in the history of Thessaly.

"It was the Asterix books that really fired my interest in antiquity when I was a small child, and as I grew up historical fiction continued to be an inspiration: Robert Graves' Claudius novels, and then, most powerfully, Mary Renault, who brought Alexander the Great to life for me. Detailed career-planning came much later, of course, but from my teens I knew that the job I chose would have to involve thinking, writing and talking about the ancient world."

"I consider myself extremely lucky to have a career which allows me to make a living from my lifelong enthusiasm!"

"It was my love of teaching that surprised me. However, it was clear to me from the start of my doctoral study, when I taught my first classes at university, that this was going to be an important part of my life. I now teach in the Classics Department at the University of Reading: my particular research specialism is in the history of Thessaly, in northern Greece, between the seventh and the second centuries BC. I teach on a wide range of topics across Greek history, with some occasional Latin classes thrown in as well."

"I really equate success with enjoyment. For me the important thing is that my subject still obsesses and enthrals me."

A PAST THAT KEEPS MOVING FORWARDS

Emma's passion for her research is kept alive by the evolving nature of the discipline:

"Within my specific area of research exciting new things keep happening, for example: the discovery of a major Classical settlement in western Thessaly; fresh approaches to the study of ancient federal states; and regional history being pursued in a much more dynamic and imaginative way."

"In Classics generally, I have noticed a much more constructive and supportive atmosphere developing between researchers."

"The events I attend are genuinely meetings of minds, where scholars help each other to produce the best possible work in a spirit of enjoyment."

"This is what the discipline ought to be like - it constitutes real progress, the fruits of which will benefit everyone."

RESEARCH THAT FEEDS INTO TEACHING

Emma has taught a variety of modules, which draw substantially on her research and on her academic interests more broadly:

"Teaching the first-year Ancient History core module "Greek History: War, Society and Change in the Archaic Age" allows me to indulge my love of military history and of the cavalry on which Thessaly's reputation for military achievement was founded. My second-year module "Early Macedon" examined the Argead dynasty which produced Alexander the Great, Greece's most famous northerner. And at master's level I have taught a special option on Thessaly itself, introducing postgraduates to the joys of reconstructing the region's federal institutions using two poorly-preserved fragments of Aristotle and a selection of inscriptions!"

"You have to have a love of your subject which will stand firm against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. An academic job can be tough, and only profound affection for, and belief in, the discipline you inhabit will make it all worthwhile."

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