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Classics, Ancient History, Religion and Theology

Photo of Dr Katharine  Earnshaw

Dr Katharine Earnshaw

Senior Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History


01392 723322


I am interested in how we learn about the world with and through texts, and particularly enjoy topics and concepts in ancient didactic poetry that intersect with modern philosophy and physics. I am currently PI on two NERC-led UKRI grants looking at present and future landscape decisions and agricultural ethics, Co-I on a large NERC grant looking at memory in trees and climate change, and a Co-I within the Land Use for Net Zero (LUNZ) Hub, which is co-funded by UKRI, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (on behalf of England and Wales), the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, and the Scottish Government. I enjoy the pluralistic aspects of Classics, and often work with other disciplines and non-academic partners.

My research centres around Latin hexameter poetry (in particular the authors Virgil, Lucan, and Lucretius), and texts such as Seneca's Natural Questions, especially where they initiate a discourse with 'science', geography, and philosophy. In recent times I have worked mainly on didactic poetry and its reception, especially Virgil's Georgics, and environmental ethics.

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Themes (select):

Space and landscape: I am particularly interested in agricultural landscapes and practice (including urban agriculture), environmental ethics, trees and treescapes, seascapes, weather, and in environmental approaches to literature. I have worked with local farmers and artists in Devon (see e.g. here), and have been awarded two grants as PI (working with the Cultural Geographer John Wylie), both part of the 'Landscape Decisions: Towards a new framework for using land assets' programme. Both grants utilise Virgil's Georgics and interrogate understandings of cultural value in relation to narrative, time, and agricultural ethics. Field\work is an AHRC SPF Research Network, and Field || guides is an AHRC SPF Follow-on project; both projects began in February 2020. I am on the steering group for AALERT 4DM: Arts and Artists in Landscape and Environmental Research Today for Decision Making.

I am the Arts and Humanities lead Co-I on MEMBRA, part of the UKRI-NERC 'Future of UK Treescapes' programme. MEMBRA (Understanding Memory of UK Treescapes for Better Resilience and Adaptation) studies how trees can adapt to stress alongside using the concept of memory to integrate a science-and-humanities perspective on how best to enhance the resilience of UK Treescapes. The project will demonstrate experimentally whether and how trees can remember past stress conditions and transfer these memories to descendants through epigenetics-based DNA modifications. This new awareness will also advance our understanding as to how an appreciation of tree-memory, and the language of memory, can influence human decision-making capabilities and our moral relationship with treescapes. I am working alongside Tim Lenton and David Wallace-Hare at Exeter.

I am interested in space more broadly, especially imagined space, and this includes the conversations and ideas about cosmological and astronomical space seen in texts such as Manilius' Astronomica and Aratus' Phaenomena. In 2017-18 I held a UoE Education Incubator Fellowship, leading a project called 'Locating Imagined Spaces' with Leif Isaksen.

Time, death, consciousness: including consciousness as experienced in death and in the imagination; in spatial understandings of time; the concept of distance. Much of my writing has been on death and the afterlife, either directly or indirectly.

Approaches (select):

Cognitive Humanities: especially texts and multimodality, spatiality and temporality, memory, perception and mental visualization. On this latter I co-organised (together with Felix Budelmann) a conference on 'Cognitive Visions: poetic image-making and the mind' (, the edited volume for which is currently under review. I also co-manage the Cognitive Classics website ( I am very interested in the two-way direction of neuroscientific research and the humanities.

Classical Reception: especially in British and American literature and art of the Long Eighteenth Century, and of the last quarter of the 18th and into the Romantic period in particular. I work or have published on the reception of Lucan, Lucretius and Virgil in authors such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and J. Hector St.John de Crèvecœur, and artists such as Henry Fuseli. I am also interested in different ways of thinking about reception beyond the chronologically linear, as explored in the grants mentioned above. I serve on the Editorial Board of Classical Receptions Journal (OUP).

In general, I enjoy the close philological detail of traditional classical approaches (my PhD thesis was a commentary on a section of book IV of Lucan's Pharsalia), and I also enjoy opportunities that allow me to work and collaborate with those in other disciplines (e.g. Geography, Physics, History of Art, English, and the Cognitive Sciences) and beyond academia.

Research through practice

I am keen on exploring academic research-in-practice through alternative forms to the traditional article/monograph format, and especially through creative methodologies and in situ practice. In 2022 I published a poem and notes - 'Araneous, with scholia || Exercise in Applied Ethics' - within Lauren Gault and Katherine Murphy's book 'Galalith' which explores Lucretius' De Rerum Natura, philosophy of mind, and landscape. In 2018 I worked with the artist Laura Hopes and the farmer Mary Quicke on a project called 'Ingenious Soil', which was informed by Virgil's Georgics. This led to a research film by Laura ('Marginalia'), which has been shown in various locations; you can hear us talking about this here at Cove Park in 2019. Laura and I are currently working together on a visual art project as part of the UKRI-funded grants Field\work and Field || guides.

I have embedded autoethnography within my academic writing (see e.g. 'Know your place: field notes on disciplining the Georgics', forthcoming in Helios, 2023), and have an ongoing collaboration with Dr Doyeeta Majumder of Jadavpur University combining autoethnography with a focus on red soil, justice, solidarity and the moral valuation of nature.

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I enjoy research supervision a great deal and am always happy to talk to potential candidates on supervision related to any aspects of my research. In particular, I am interested in:

- Greek and Latin poetry and prose, especially hexameter poetry (didactic, epic) and scientific/technical literature

- Creative, critical, and reflective approaches to Classics

- Environmentally informed topics and theoretical approaches

- Philosophical topics, including e.g. time, reality, consciousness, death, the afterlife

- Cognitive humanities

- Interdisciplinary work cutting across science/humanities

- Traditional (and non-traditional) philological commentaries

- Classical Reception in the long 18th century

Research students

Current research students:

Freddie Kimpton (2021-) 'Patterns of time in Ovid's Metamorphoses and Fasti'

Katherine Woods (2021-) 'Twisted Patriarchy: Gendered Trees in Latin Epic'

Past research students:

Ben Pullan (2017-2021) ‘Commentary on the pseudo-Virgilian Aetna’, College of Humanities Full Scholarship

Liam Preston (2018-2022) 'Pain for Pleasure: Exploring Epicurean ethical ideas in the Literature of the Neronian period', Bob and Sandy Jessett PhD Studentship

Ryan Denson (2019-2023) 'The Depths Below: the supernatural lore of sea creatures in antiquity'

I have been external and internal examiner to several doctoral theses.

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Copyright Notice: Any articles made available for download are for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the copyright holder.

| 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2013 |




  • Earnshaw K, Collison M, Finn M, Gascoigne M, Melkonian H. (2020) Lockdown learning: notes on distanced education. [PDF]


  • Earnshaw KM. (2019) Shelley's Georgic Landscape, Reflections and New Perspectives on Virgil's Georgics, Bloomsbury Academic, 169-183, DOI:10.5040/


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External impact and engagement

I am very interested in policy work, especially as it relates to the environment. I was co-author on the policy paper 'Making Landscape Decisions to Meet Net Zero Carbon: Pathways that consider ethics, socio-ecological diversity, and landscape functions', which can be found here. The MEMBRA grant includes active policy work with a range of stakeholders. I am always happy to discuss the policy implications of my work.

I work closely with several artists, including Laura Hopes, Walking Forest, and Lauren Gault, and a number of other artists from the South-West through the arts-informed primary-level educational programme I designed with Beaford.

I am on the steering group for AALERT 4DM: Arts and Artists in Landscape and Environmental Research Today for Decision Making, 'a transdisciplinary network that facilitates dialogue and debate between artists, scientists, philosophers, policy practitioners, decision makers and the public to articulate and advocate the role of arts research in communicating knowledge, opening-up different perspectives and creating new understandings of values within wider cross-disciplinary environmental research and decision making collaborations'.

I feel very strongly about fair access to higher education, and my career has been characterized by a firm commitment to outreach and widening participation activities. Whilst at St. John's College, I initiated the 'St. John's College Classics Essay Competition', and I have been involved in giving a large number of school talks since being a postgraduate, both to students (of all ages) and to teachers. I'm always happy to be contacted.

My research on classical reception in art has led to my working collaboratively with various art galleries, and I am always keen to establish further such links.

Contribution to discipline

I serve on the Editorial Board of Classical Receptions Journal (OUP), am on the Editorial Advisory Board for the Ancient Cultures, New Materialisms EUP series, and am a Council Member and Trustee of the Roman Society.


I have taken part in two television documentaries, both of which (coincidently) were filmed, rather glamorously, in Naples. In 2015 I was approached to be a talking head on the National Geographic documentary 'Map of Hell', directed by Julian Jones. In 2018 I took part in 'Akala's Odyssey', directed by John O'Rourke; you can see a clip of Akala and I talking about dactylic hexameter here.

In May 2023 I was on BBC Radio 4's 'In Our Time' as part of the episode on Virgil's Georgics, available to listen to again here.

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I particularly enjoy and encourage students to connect the words, texts, concepts we discuss in class to the world we live in and the lives we lead. To that end (for example) I often run field trips to local farms and vineyards within my final-year courses to help consider text and practice, and try to create communities beyond the classroom via social media. I am interested in diversifying the types of assessment on offer, and have a creative/reflective assessment wihtin the Didactic course.

I have been nominated for several Student Guild Teaching Awards since coming to Exeter, including 'Best Lecturer', 'Most Supportive Staff Member', 'Best Personal Tutor' and 'Pastoral Support Award'. In June 2020 I was lucky enough to win the 'College Star' Teaching Award.

I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, have previously been the department Director of Taught Postgraduates, and am currently the Co-Chair of the College Ethics Committee.

Modules taught

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Originally from Blackpool, I did my BA, MA and Ph.D. all at the University of Manchester. I then worked briefly as a Teaching Fellow at the University of Leeds (2008-9), and as the Postgate Teaching Fellow at the University of Liverpool (2009-10). At Liverpool, a significant part of my job was also focussed on outreach and widening participation. I was a Fellow at St. John's College, Oxford (2010-16), where I was the organising tutor for Classics and Joint Schools. I started at the University of Exeter in 2016.

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