Studying the Past in Modern Times


by Melissa Mair 12C

I’ve noticed that studying women in the ancient world tends to bring out my feminist side. Often I find myself thinking things like: I can’t believe Aristotle wrote that! It reminds me of what I so often tell others, that to study the past is also to study the present.

I cannot research ancient women without my own status as a woman in some way influencing my studies. Logically, I recognize that it was a different time, place, and people group, and I try not to apply my cultural norms onto another society.  However, I cannot deny that my studies often tell me as much about myself and how I view my society as what the birthing process in ancient Egypt was like for women (which was mostly painful and dangerous thanks to the lack of modern medicine). In addition, the very subject I have chosen to research is shaped by my interests and experiences in today’s society. Current political debates concerning abortion and birth control have made me interested in pregnancy and its role in ancient society. Currently, I am writing my dissertation for my MA in History of Art on depictions of pregnancy in Greek and Roman Egyptian art.

Not surprisingly, this topic is not too far removed from undergraduate dissertation. While working on my thesis at the Fox Center, I had a support base that encouraged me in my research on women in ancient Egypt. I also had conversations about the role of the humanities in modern times and the challenges I might face as I continued my research. All of this has been immensely helpful when facing the looming giant otherwise known as graduate studies. Again and again as I have been working on my Master’s degree in England, I have been reminded of the opportunities I had at the Fox Center that have helped me get to where I am now. The experiences that have helped me to see just how linked my studies to the past are to the present.

As I look forward to moving to Oxford in September, I am reminded of everyone in the past who has helped to support me on my academic journey. To say I am grateful for my experience at the Fox Center would be an understatement.