Marginalized Voices and Educational Pathways: A New Perspective on Higher Education in Late Antiquity
Sinja Küppers

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Duke University

Primary Discipline

The scholarship on higher education in the later Roman Empire has focused on the social and intellectual influence of key figures, such as Augustine of Hippo. Little attention has been paid to what their educational pathway looked like before reaching the peak of their career and how their educational background influenced them as teachers and social stakeholders. This dissertation broadens the social history of education to nontraditional career paths and diverse socioeconomic conditions within the Roman intellectual elite while showing the boundaries of Roman higher education. The aim of this dissertation is a more comprehensive understanding of the social fabric of later Roman education and the diverse perspectives represented in higher education and society. Specifically, my literary analysis of intellectuals? biographies and letters sheds light on marginalized voices in higher education, using Bourdieu?s sociological distinction of capital, Lin?s social network theory and Allport?s concept of prejudice. The ancient literature that informs about socioeconomic conditions and educational pathways are contextualized with reference to scholarship on Roman intellectual cultures, ancient demographic data and the legal framework of Roman immigration. Overall, this dissertation offers a fresh perspective on Roman higher education by drawing attention to students in need, teachers from the provinces, orphans and women. My historical analysis of the legal, economic, social and emotional challenges of these less privileged members makes an important contribution to the research on how educational backgrounds play into the social norms and culture of higher education.
About Sinja Küppers
Sinja Küppers is a fifth-year Ph.D. Candidate in Classical Studies at Duke University. Her research focuses on the social history of higher education in the late Roman Empire. Sinja is particularly interested in educational biographies and the impact of class on education. In spring 2022, Sinja taught a special topics course on Roman Education at Duke and discussed the relationship of privilege and students in need with the fellows at the Kenan Institute of Ethics. After reflecting on what brings purpose and meaning to college education as a Teaching Purpose Fellow, Sinja is supporting the Curriculum Development Committee in the summer 2022 with revamping the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences curriculum. Over the course of her PhD, she developed multiple digital projects for research and instruction, such as mapping the movement of Greek intellectuals around the ancient Mediterranean. Prior to her Ph.D. at Duke, Sinja earned a M.St. in Greek and Latin Languages and Literature from the University of Oxford and a B.A. in Ancient Languages and Cultures from the University of Cologne.

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