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Dr. Helen Kaufmann

Image: Dr. Helen Kaufmann

Humboldt Research Fellow and guest researcher at FAU´s Chair of Classical Philology (Latin)

Dr. Helen Kaufmann’s research interests include late Latin poetry, intertextuality, poetic genres, local identities and reception.

In 1999, she completed her studies in English language and literature and Classics at the University of Basel. She then obtained a postgraduate certificate in education (English, Latin and Greek) from the University of Bern. From 2000 to 2005, Dr. Kaufmann completed her doctorate in Classics at the University of Fribourg and graduated summa cum laude.

Already during her doctorate, Dr. Kaufmann went to the Classics Department of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, for one year as a Fulbright Scholar. After her doctorate, Dr. Kaufmann continued her career in the USA – as a lecturer in Classics at the Department of Greek and Latin at Ohio State University, Columbus. Afterwards, Dr. Kaufmann went to Oxford, where she mainly worked as a lecturer at various colleges and also taught evening classes in continuing education..

In 2020, Dr. Kaufmann will further her research on the Latin poetry of the late antiquity at FAU´s Chair of Classical Philology (Latin). Her stay is supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

FAU’s Chair of Classical Philology (Latin), Prof. Dr. Schubert, has a strong interest and expertise in the Latin poetry of late antiquity, FAU has a very good reputation and library, and Erlangen is a pleasant town as well as neither too small nor too big.

Dr. Kaufmann, what is your field of research and what initially sparked your interest in this field of research?

My field is the Latin poetry of late antiquity. Latin has been my favourite subject ever since I started to learn it, and among Latin texts, I like poetry better than prose. I ended up in late antiquity because it is a very fascinating period – much closer to today’s world than the Rome of Caesar or Cicero for example – and because comparatively little research has been done on its literature.

You are currently a guest researcher at FAU´s Chair of Classical Philology (Latin). What are you researching during your stay at FAU?

I am writing a book on local identities in the Latin poetry of late antiquity. For this, I study what the poetry says about place and space, for example about the regions from which the poets came, the Roman empire, how migration affected identities or not and so on.

How would you assess the importance of your research for society?

A lot of people today consider their place of origin or residence, often also their nationality, to be part of their identity, and the link between place and identity is also a popular theme in modern literature, for example in Saša Stanišić’s Herkunft. In my research, which looks at the same link in the Latin poetry of late antiquity, I have discovered that place of origin and residence is given far less weight in descriptions of identity, and it is interesting for society today to see the link between identity and place as a matter of choice rather than necessity.

As far as I can tell, the UK gained more from its EU membership than it lost.

Why did you chose FAU as your host university?

FAU’s Chair of Classical Philology (Latin), Prof. Dr. Schubert, has a strong interest and expertise in the Latin poetry of late antiquity, FAU has a very good reputation and library, and Erlangen is a pleasant town as well as neither too small nor too big.

You usually teach at the University of Oxford. Have you already noticed any differences or similarities between FAU and Oxford?

Structurally, FAU is more straightforward, which makes life easier, and it comes across as less arrogant. But it’s difficult to compare like with like because I was in a teaching position at Oxford and have a research fellowship here.

You and your family came to Erlangen in September 2019. Did you already have the chance to settle in a bit? How do you and your family like Erlangen and the surrounding region?

Yes, thank you! We like Erlangen, in particular our considerably bigger and better insulated house and the cycling lanes in and around Erlangen: In Oxford, space is limited, both for houses and on roads, and the cycling lanes usually end where roads become narrow, i.e. exactly where they would be most needed.

What do you think about Brexit?

As far as I can tell, the UK gained more from its EU membership than it lost. In that sense, it would have made sense for the UK to stay in the EU. However, I can also understand the attraction of or the idea of independence and appreciate that many ‘leave’-voters took the referendum as a rare opportunity to have their say. The real problem, in my view, was not the outcome of the referendum, but what has been done about it by politicians who have put their own interests before those of their country, who have resorted to lying and manipulation without blinking an eye and who haven’t shrunk back from ripping their country apart just because it served their purpose.

Thank you for the interview, Dr. Kaufmann.

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