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Pushy parents in a competitive society: how ancient Roman teens had it tough too

April 19th, 2010

( -- Professor Kathleen Coleman, Professor of Latin at Harvard University and renowned author on Latin literature and history will give Newnham's biennial Jane Harrison Memorial Lecture on Friday, 23 April 2010.

She'll argue that pushy parents and a competitive society driving youngsters to extremes to succeed is far from a modern phenomenon.

Entitled "Fatal ambitions: the hazards of educating the gifted and talented in Ancient Rome", Professor Coleman will discuss how literary, musical, and athletic contests with special categories for children were imported from Greece to Rome. She'll reveal how less wealthy classes embraced these competitions, with an eager eye on the advantages to be gained from success, but that even then, some educators worried that the children were being pushed too hard and in some cases, to the grave.

Professor Coleman received her graduate education at Oxford University and joined the faculty of Harvard University in 1998 after a teaching career in Africa and Ireland. She has published extensively in the areas of Latin literature and history. She has also been active in the media, contributing to programmes on the BBC, National Public Radio, the Discovery Channel, Grenada Television, and the History Channel. Professor Coleman was appointed special consultant to Hollywood's Dreamworks studio when it produced the cinema blockbuster 'Gladiator', but she asked for her name to be removed from the film's credits because she felt her advice wasn't reflected in it when it was released.

In her lecture she'll suggest that while precocious children and ambitious parents are a universal phenomenon in advanced societies, culturally specific circumstances were also factors in ancient Rome. With children regarded as mini-adults, and literacy seen as the key to social advancement; Professor Coleman argues that the ability to perform at virtuoso level was one of the hallmarks of Roman culture and that the accompanying pressure to do so blighted the lives of the gifted and talented children of Ancient Rome.

The Newnham Jane Harrison Memorial has been hosted by Newnham since 1928. It was created to honour the memory of Jane Ellen Harrison (1850-1928) who studied and lectured in Classics at Newnham. She was renowned for her public lectures on Greek art and for her unconventional and outspoken views. As a pioneering female scholar, Harrison was at the centre of a revolution in the study of Greek culture and religion, undermining the conventional view of Greek culture as essentially intellectual and "rational"; while at the same time deploying French anthropological theory in the attempt to understand Greek religion. She wrote on a wide variety of subjects, from Russian language and literature to women's suffrage and herself.

The Jane Harrison Memorial Lecture: "Fatal Ambitions: The Hazards of Educating the Gifted and Talented in Ancient Rome" will be given in LG17, the Law Faculty, Sidgwick site on Friday 23 April at 5.30pm. All are welcome and no booking is required.

Provided by University of Cambridge

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