Dr. Morgan Palmer - Assistant Professor of Practice in Classics and Religious Studies
Why did you choose this field?
As a high school student, I enjoyed studying English, History, and French. When I had an extra space in my schedule, I decided to take another foreign language: Latin. I had heard that Latin was helpful for building vocabulary and sharpening critical thinking skills, and thought that it would be practical and useful. When I started taking Latin, I realized that Classics encompassed all of my favorite subjects, and that Latin was not just practical, but also fun and interesting. Students who major in Classics immerse themselves in the world of the ancient Greeks and Romans, studying history, literature, religion, gender studies, cultural diversity, art, and archaeology along with Latin and ancient Greek. As an undergraduate student at Brown University, I took a course on “Roman Religion,” which was my first introduction to how Classics and Religious Studies could be studied together. Brown, much like UNL, encouraged students to pursue a broad interdisciplinary education, exploring different subjects and thinking creatively about how they intersect. In graduate school at the University of Washington, I continued to discover new interdisciplinary approaches to Classics while also developing a passion for teaching. As a professor I am interested in designing interdisciplinary Classics and Religious Studies courses that will be fun, useful, and engaging for students with a broad range of interests.
What is your favorite class to teach and why?
I enjoy teaching “Roman Religion” because it relates closely to my research interests and intersects with so many aspects of the curriculum in Classics and Religious Studies, as well as in History. Students who take my “Mythology” class are often eager to learn more about connections between myths and religious rituals. I also think of “Roman Religion” as a “sequel” to our Roman History classes. Once students have learned the exciting stories from Roman History and Mythology, they can go in depth to learn about the religious rituals that were part of these stories. Latin students can also apply their knowledge of the Latin language to study of religious terminology, exploring how language is connected to culture. Additionally, students majoring in “Religious Studies” have the opportunity to complement their study of world religions with a course examining the distinctive features of ancient Roman religion and its rituals. The course also promotes diversity and inclusion by examining the diversity of religion in the ancient Mediterranean. Students study the Roman state religion along with mystery religions, household and family religion, Christianity, and Judaism in the ancient world.
What are you currently researching?
I am currently working on a project on the Vestal Virgins, a powerful group of ancient Roman female priestesses. Over winter break (January 2020), I presented two conference papers about the Vestal Virgins. The first paper, which I presented on the Women’s Classical Caucus panel at the Society for Classical Studies meeting, focused on how the Vestal Virgins served as mentors to other women, and how they provide a model for best practices in women’s mentoring. The second paper focused on the fictores, religious assistants who helped the Vestals. In my forthcoming article “Time and Eternity: The Vestal Virgins and the Crisis of the Third Century,” I discuss how inscriptions highlight the continuing service of the Vestals at a time when traditional Roman religion was in conflict with Christianity. As part of this project I am collaborating with a research group that is working to develop pedagogical materials that can be used to teach conflict resolution to diverse learning communities, and am producing two papers as part of this project on “Conflict Resolution Through Classical Literature.” The project is supported by the AHRC funding stream for Education in Conflict and Protracted Crises, and we are working to apply research on classical models of conflict resolution to peace education in Brazil and Colombia. For the first workshop, which was held at King’s College, London in June 2019, I presented a paper that examined the portrayal of the Vestal Virgins in conflict resolution narratives. In June 2020 I will deliver another paper for this series entitled “Women, Religion, and Peacemaking: The Vestal Virgins and Conflict Resolution Pedagogy” at the Universidade do Estado do Amazonas in Manaus, Brazil. I will also integrate my research for this paper into the capstone seminar on Roman Religion that I am teaching this spring. Students will contextualize ancient case studies with contemporary global examples of women’s involvement in peace-making initiatives. Additionally, they will design creative projects highlighting the roles of the Vestal Virgins in conflict resolution.
My other major research project focuses on how the Roman historian Livy incorporates Latin inscriptions into his text. At a time when the emperor Augustus was introducing inscriptions with new conventions and locations into the city of Rome, Livy vividly recreated ancient inscriptions in his historical narrative. I have published an essay entitled “Inscriptional Intermediality in Livy” in a special issue of the journal Trends in Classics (2019), and another article entitled “Inscriptions on the Capitoline: Epigraphy and Cultural Memory in Livy” is forthcoming. Earlier versions of these papers were presented at the Morphomata Center at the University of Cologne and at the University of Paris-Est Créteil.
What are your areas of specialization?"
Latin literature, Roman History and Religion, Epigraphy, Women in Antiquity
What professional organization(s) are you affiliated with?
Society for Classical Studies, Women’s Classical Caucus, Society for Ancient Mediterranean Religions, American Society of Greek and Latin Epigraphy, Association Internationale d’Épigraphie Grecque et Latine, International Ovidian Society
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I enjoy art and music, and played the trumpet in high school and college. At Brown the band performed during hockey games, and I learned how to ice skate while playing the trumpet. This fall I saw the trumpet player Wynton Marsalis perform with his jazz orchestra at the Lied Center. I had also seen his father, the piano player Ellis Marsalis, when I worked at Tulane University in New Orleans. Additionally, I enjoy volunteer work, and in New Orleans I volunteered for Crescent City Cafe, an organization that provides breakfast to homeless and low-income members of the community in a restaurant-style setting. I also enjoy traveling, and am excited to be going to Switzerland and Brazil for my research this summer.
Additional thoughts from Dr. Palmer.
I love teaching in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at UNL because I think that it provides students with a unique opportunity to craft an interdisciplinary education informed by broad global perspectives. Classics has always been a comparative discipline involving study of both the ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans. When we study Classics and Religious Studies together, we open the door for thinking even more broadly and creatively about issues ranging from the role of women in religion to global peace-making initiatives.