The Classical World: in modern policymaking, planning for diversity and the public sphere

Professor Dame Mary Beard (credit: Robin Cormack)

Mary Beard’s research into the uses of the classical tradition in contemporary cultural and political debates, and the role of women in antiquity and the modern world, has been particularly important in uncovering the classical origins of contemporary assumptions about women’s power and voice.

Her research explores the complex ways in which the modern world is the inheritor of the traditions and debates of antiquity, probing questions such as: how does gender inflect our understanding of the classical world? What has been the role of women in contemporary classical scholarship? How far are modern assumptions about the place of women in (or out of) the public sphere still the legacy of Greco-Roman theories and assumptions?

Beard brought these themes together in her book Women and Power (2017), which exposes the origins in classical antiquity of many contemporary assumptions about the power and voice (or powerlessness and silence) of women.

Her book has inspired political leaders and policymakers worldwide, from the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, to Hillary Clinton, to think differently about issues of gender, speech and power.

Her presentations at, for instance, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, British embassies and the World Economic Forum, have brought enriched historical understanding into equal opportunity and leadership debates.

Women and Power also informed Juliet Stevenson’s West End theatre portrayal of Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, provided fashion designer Edeline Lee’s theme for her Autumn/Winter 2019 collection (with quotes from the book played at the catwalk show), and inspired Crazy, Classic, Life on award-winning US rap artist Janelle Monáe’s 2018 album.