Dr Mathura Umachandran
Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History
I'm interested in the disciplinary politics of Classics - why and how it has come to be as it is, its borders and exclusionary tactics - as well as critical-theoretical approaches to ancient Greek textss, espcially in the precincts of decolonial, postcolonial and queer thought. My current book project examines some thinkers of the generation of the Frankfurt School - Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, Walter Benjamin - and the pressure they apply and the use they make of the notion of (ancient) myth in their ambitious and devstating critiques of concepts such as Enlightenment, law, and civilization. Since 2020 I co-steward a project with Marchella Ward (Open University) called Critical Ancient World Studies (Routledge 2023) that reprises ideas of ancient-ness through a decolonial lens.
Contribution to discipline
In 2020 I co-founded Sportula Europe, a microgrant mutual aid group for BIPOC and working class classicists who were impacted by COVID-19. Sportula Europe – Solidarity, not charity (wordpress.com).
With Edmund Richardson (Durham) and Eugenio Refini (New York Univeristy), I edit 'Classics After Antiquity' a book series at Cambrdige University Press for cutting edge work in classical reception studies. Classics after Antiquity (cambridge.org)
In the following essays, I speak to the disipline at large about the structures of race, racism, and racecraft as legacies of empire, and how we might undo them:
- Disciplinecraft: Towards an Anti-racist Discipline', TAPA Vol.152.1 Spring 2022, pp. 25-31
- 'More than a Common Tongue: Dividing Race and Classics Across the Atlantic'
- 'Fragile, Handle with Care: On White Classicists'
I'm an daughter of the Tamil Eelam diaspora, born and raised in London and Essex. I took a BA in Literae Humaiores (Classics 1b) at Wadham College, Oxford 2005-2009 where I encountered classical reception studies for the first time and learned ancient Greek. An MA in Reception of the Ancient World at Univeristy College London (2010-11) altered my intellectual trajectory permanently, and I pursed the thread across an ocean to Princeton when I took my PhD in Classics (2011-2018). With a tip of my hat to Hannah Arendt, my PhD dissertation 'Antiquity in Dark Times: Classical Reception in the thought of Erich Auerbach and Theodor Adorno' was the place for me to investigate how ancient texts and particulalry Homer are read, used, interpreted when totalitarianism comes knockin at the door. As a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Oxford (2018-2019), I worked on the Leverhulme funded 'Anachronism and Antiquity project in its final year before moving to Ithaca NY to take up a Mellon post-doctoral fellowship at the Society for the Humanities and the Department of Classics at Cornell University. There I was lucky to be in conversation with brilliant scholars from across the Humanities, as part of the 'Fabrication' and 'Afterlives' cohorts of fellows.