Jewels and Latin prose – series „Women in Research”

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Dr. Helen Kaufmann (photo: private)

She is researching late Latin texts and she is a Humboldt research fellow: In this last part of the “Women in Research” series, meet Dr. Helen Kaufmann, Visiting Scientist at FAU at Prof. Dr. Christoph Schubert’s Chair of Classical Philology (Latin) since January 2020. “Latin had been my favourite subject in school already, and within the literature I prefer Dichtung to prose”, she recounts. (note: In German, the term Dichtung refers not only to poem format but to any kind of creatively composed text with intentional aesthetic form). Born in Switzerland, Helen Kaufmann went on to study Classics and English Studies, acquired an additional teaching diploma, and earned her doctoral degree. “Topic-wise I ended up in late antiquity, since this era fascinates me – it seems much closer to our world today than for example the Rome of Caesar and Cicero – and because there is comparatively little research on late antique literature.”

What is it like researching in a small discipline (Kleines Fach)?

In Germany, Classics belong to the so-called “Kleine Fächer”, subjects that generally do not hold many professorships in relation to the number of German universities and no more than three tenured professorships at any one German university, but this is not necessarily the case in the US and UK, where Helen Kaufmann has also taught and done research before. Especially at the British universities of the ‘Russell Group’, which are considered to be particularly renowned, study places in Classics are also highly sought after. When Dr. Kaufmann taught at Ohio State in the US in 2006, their department was the only one that could take on and train PhD students and was thus considered the flagship of the College of Arts and Classics.

Helen Kaufmann says that researching in a Kleines Fach is exciting, and she sees advantages such as the international perspective: It may take more time to understand the perspectives, questions, and findings of colleagues from other countries and research traditions, but in return, she says that the subject can be better understood with this multitude of questions and perspectives. She encourages students to make use of exchange programs like Erasmus or regional university networks so as to acquire more diverse instruction, since teaching could potentially fall a little short due to the situation as a Kleines Fach. “For the benefit of the field in general, I would wish for university management that recognizes the multitude of subjects as a trait central to the university itself, and for Chairs with a will to shape the future. The field has so much to offer: New questions are going to transform it, but they will not render it obsolete.”

Her research and the international conference about ‘the Jeweled Style’

In June 2021, Dr. Helen Kaufmann organized a conference about ‘The Jeweled Style’, a by now well-established term coined in 1989 with which Michael Roberts described the style of Latin Dichtung from late antiquity.

The concept of the ‘Jeweled Style’ describes the artful decoration of language and content in late Latin Dichtung, for example by means of symmetrical lists or detailed descriptions of art such as paintings or (fictional or factual) buildings. The approach then relates these to the contemporary aesthetics. New approaches to research are examining how this concept can be applied to other texts in late antiquity such as Greek Dichtung of the late imperial period or speeches in the late Latin period. Another interesting question is whether the ‘Jeweled Style’ is specific to late antiquity or whether it can be found in texts of other periods, such as in Dichtung of the first century AD, especially that of Ovid and Statius, or texts of the Early Medieval Period.

These and other research questions about the ‘Jeweled Style’ were addressed in the DFG-funded conference “the Jeweled Style Revisited” that Dr. Kaufmann organized for June 2021. The conference was held in English together with colleagues from other parts of Europe and from North America – typical for a Kleines Fach? “Yes, the international character is indeed typical”, Kaufmann confirms. “In my field there are rarely and conferences that are not international. The only thing that is not representative in this respect is that there were no speakers from France present. The presentations were given in English since Michael Roberts’ book “The Jeweled Style” was published in the US, and since I planned and hosted this conference together with a colleague from the US. We had not decided on regulations for a conference language, but most of the participants seem to consider English the conference standard. We discussed the language choice at a lecture before the conference, but we ultimately did not change it. In the US and the UK, English is the conference standard even for international conferences, and in parts of Europe that are not English-native, such conferences are usually multilingual. Both formats come with gains and losses in respectively different aspects. In any case, communication worked thus well at this conference that we were able to exchange ideas intensively despite the online format, and this exchange took place in a very pleasant atmosphere. In times of reduced contacts and exchange opportunities due to COVID-19 especially, these two full days in the discussion-friendly group were very inspiring.”

At the moment, Dr. Kaufmann is working on publishing the conference proceedings together with Dr. Joshua Hartman (Bowdoin College), with whom she organized the conference. Most of her time however is committed to her monograph on space, place and identity (Raum, Ort und Identität) in late Latin Dichtung.

Dr. Helen Kaufmann is a Humboldt Fellow: She is especially happy that the foundation funds people over projects. “That gives me the opportunity of working on multiple projects at a time without having to consider them in competition with each other.”, she says. She would recommend applying for a Humboldt scholarship in general, because being faced with a different culture of research helps develop one’s own research approach and paves the road to new ideas, Kaufmann says.

Helen Kaufmann will be a Visiting Scientist at FAU until end of August 2021, when she will be returning to the UK for family reasons.

Find out about funding opportunities for women researchers at the faculty (in German)

Humboldt Research Fellowship