Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Cambridge
Unit of AssessmentClassics
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Archaeology, Historical Studies
Summary of the impact
As a result of her outstanding research in Roman history and archaeology,
Beard was invited to work with a TV production company to develop two
programmes for BBC2. The first was a one-off programme specifically linked
to her book Pompeii (2008), the second a series (Meet the
Romans, 2011) related to her research on Pompeii and to her research
on Roman social history and inscriptions. Recognised as landmark
broadcasts (Pompeii gained 3.4 million viewers, the largest audience for a
factual BBC2 programme in 2010, and was shortlisted for a BAFTA), both
have led to widespread public engagement and (with major overseas sales)
to considerable economic and cultural benefit to the UK.
Mary Beard has been on the academic staff since 1984; and Professor of
Classics since 2004. The main underpinning research is represented by Pompeii:
Life of a Roman Town (below 1). Pompeii was an
attempt to consolidate and develop recent work on the archaeology of
Pompeii within a more radical framework of recent advances in Roman social
history, to ask explicitly what contribution the material evidence makes
and to engage a wider audience with the history of the city. This was
augmented by a longstanding research interest in Roman social and cultural
history, and a series of papers on Roman epigraphy (4,5,6). These
have combined high-level technical expertise with a more nuanced, literary
reading of Roman tombstones and other epigraphic material, to demonstrate
the sophistication and complexity of these documents.
Pompeii was distinctive in uniting big research questions in Roman
history (the nature of slavery, of the Roman house, of urban social
structures) with a presentation that warmly welcomed a more general
audience. It asked directly how we understand the life of the ancient city
and with what difficulties; and how convincingly the material remains can
ever deliver conclusions on the major issues of Roman social history. This
was innovative in bringing together research into technical archaeological
issues on Pompeii with broader questions about ancient life. In addition,
Beard's epigraphical work has consistently tried to integrate the most
recent discoveries and re- interpretations into mainstream ancient history
and critical theory. One central concern of this work has been exactly how
to read Roman inscriptions, and this was developed within the
series Meet the Romans.
All this has been augmented by Beard's work on the modern reception of
the Vesuvian sites, which has shown how crucial it is to reflect on the
history of modern engagements with the story of Pompeii and Herculaneum in
order to understand their ancient history (2,3). This aspect of
Beard's work was itself underpinned by a Leverhulme research programme
grant (of which she was a joint PI) on "Past versus Present in Victorian
References to the research
1. M Beard, Pompeii: Life of a Roman Town (London: Profile Books,
2. M Beard, `Taste and the Antique: Visiting Pompeii in the nineteenth
century', in C. Mattusch (ed.) Rediscovering Antiquity on the Bay of
Naples, 1710-1890 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013) 205-228.
3. M Beard, `Dirty Little Secrets: changing displays of Pompeian
"erotica"', in V. C. Gardner Coates (ed.) The Last Days of Pompeii:
Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty
Museum Catalogue, 2012) 60-69.
4. M Beard, `Vita inscripta', in La biographie antique, Entretiens
sur l'antiquité classique, Fondation Hardt 44 (1998) 83-118.
5. R. Gordon, M. Beard et al., `Roman Inscriptions, 1986-90', JRS
83 (1993) 131-158.
6. R. Gordon, J. Reynolds, M. Beard, C. Roueché, `Roman Inscriptions,
1991-95', JRS 87 (1997) 203-240.
S. D. Goldhill, M. Beard, P. Mandler (joint PIs), "Past versus Present in
Victorian Britain: Abandoning the Past in an Age of Progress", Leverhulme
research programme grant; start date, 1 October 2006; end date, 1 April
2012; value, £1,179,459.
All outputs can be supplied by the University of Cambridge on request.
Details of the impact
This research has led to impact in many forms and media:
1) The book itself has been widely read, reviewed and cited, and won the
Wolfson Prize for History (2009) (section 5:1).
2) BBC2 programme, Pompeii: Life and Death in a Roman Town (first
broadcast, December 2010). This programme, for which Beard was presenter
and script consultant, gained a UK audience on first broadcast of 3.4
million viewers (making it the top-rating BBC2 history programme of the
year); the consolidated audience with two repeats amounted to 6 million
viewers (5:2). It was reviewed very positively: `Here at last was a
history presenter who knew her subject inside out and couldn't wait to
share it. The antithesis of the TV-trained academic ... her uncluttered
enthusiasm shone like a beacon across the centuries' (Metro; 5:3).
The programme was short-listed for a BAFTA (specialist factual), has been
reissued as a DVD and has been sold to (and broadcast in) over 100
countries overseas (from Australia to Thailand, Finland to Egypt and Papua
New Guinea) (5:2).
3) BBC2 three-part series, Meet the Romans, first broadcast in
April 2012 (audience averaged at over 2 million per programme in the UK),
with repeated, dubbed or subtitled versions sold to over 60 countries
worldwide, in five continents (export fees for Australia, Canada &
Sweden alone amounting to c £86,000, 5:4). In addition to the
overall viewing figures, there were very positive reviews (`Wherever she
went, Beard broke a site apart and let knowledge flood out.' L. Mangan, Guardian;
5:5) and the series was shortlisted for a Broadcasting Press Guild
Award, 2013 (for the best documentary series). Beard has received hundreds
of emails and letters that confirm the impact of the programmes on the
learning of Latin; for example: `I am a first-year sixth-form student...
and I absolutely love Classics. I felt incredibly inspired [by the
programmes]...' (5:6). A recent letter confirms that a UK prisoner
has been brought to learn Latin thanks to the programmes. Beard's article
for the Daily Telegraph on visiting ancient Rome tied into the
series, won an ENIT (Italian Tourist Board) award for the best travel
article on Italy in a newspaper, 2012 (5:7). Beard has been
nominated for a 2013 Grierson award ("the Oscars of the documentary
world") for Meet the Romans (5:8).
4) Various digital versions of outreach material: including BBC website
"tie-in" discussion of a featured inscription (372,614 page-views on first
day; 5:9), BBC blog discussing Meet the Romans (`Mary, if I
had my time again, I would wish to come back as one of your classics
students'; 5.10); and British Museum blogs relating to BM objects
in the programme, directing people to them (`Fascinating! I will
definitely go along and look for this'; 5:11).
5) Later spin-off materials, including BBC Radio 4 broadcast "A Point of
View", on rich and poor in ancient Rome (first broadcast 9 November, 2012,
but also 64,200 page views on first full day of web-posting, 11 November,
2012; 5:12), and, in the same series, on Pompeian "dead bodies"
(broadcast 23 November 2012, and 521,000 pages views on first two days on
6) The research led directly to Beard's involvement with exhibitions of
Pompeian material at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, for which
she wrote a catalogue essay and recorded part of the audio guide, and at
the J Paul Getty Museum California, for which she wrote a catalogue essay
(section 3:3), recorded part of the audio guide and was involved in
planning. For the 2013 British Museum exhibition, Life and Death in
Pompeii and Herculaneum, she was co-curator of outreach events (all
of them sold out), contributed to the multimedia guide, and was a lead
contributor to the first ever live-streaming to cinemas of a BM exhibition
(over 280 in the UK, and over 1000 worldwide; section 5:13).
7) This work has led directly to other forms of impact, including
appearances teaching Latin on Jamie Oliver's Channel 4 series Dream
School (2011). This had its own effect: e.g. `I have always loved
studying Classical Greek and Rome but family and work have left me with
little free time to pursue my interest. However, that all changed when I
saw you on the television series about Jamie Oliver and his Dream School.
I signed up with the Open University to complete my BA History and have
also taken the plunge to start my MA in Classics' (5:14). It was
also followed by an appearance at the House of Commons Education Select
Committee, in which the impact of Latin in the curriculum was discussed
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Reviews quoted at http://www.profilebooks.com/isbn/9781861975966/
- e-mail from person 1 (managing director Lion TV) (production company;
incorporating BBC data), 26 April 2013
Metro 14 December 2010; http://metro.co.uk/2010/12/14/life-and-death-in-a-roman-town-tv-review-612186/
- Sales summary All3 Media for sales of Meet the Romans to
Australia, Canada and Sweden. COMMERCIALLY CONFIDENTIAL
- L. Mangan, Guardian 17 April 2012; http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2012/apr/17/meet-the-romans-mary-beard
- e-mail from person 2 (sixth-form student, Longsands Academy), 2 May
- Article Daily Telegraph, 20 April 2012
- e-mail from person 3 (Assistant Editor, BBC), 18 April 2012
- e-mail from person 4 (Producer, BBC) 14 November 2012
- e-mail from person 5, 4 December 2012
- House of Commons Education Committee, Jamie's dream School, Oral
Evidence, 21 June 2011: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmeduc/1169/11062101.htm