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English professor digs into history of Rome, literally

Kathleen Lamp, assistant professor of English
October 31, 2011

Kathleen “Kassie” Lamp is not your stereotypical English teacher.

Instead of holing up in a library, she goes on archaeological digs. You can’t find her hanging out at the Globe Theatre in London – she’s in Rome, studying art. And while she certainly respects the written word, she’s on a quest to legitimize visual media – art, sculpture, and architecture – as a form of communication. 

An assistant professor in the Department of English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Lamp challenges the boundaries of her field – historical rhetorical studies – by arguing that visual media is and was an important persuasive device. Lamp’s goal is to gain new insight into the past by examining this previously unrecognized method of rhetorical strategy.

Many are familiar with the concept of “rhetoric” as it was practiced in Ancient Greece.  While not exactly household names, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are recognizable as rhetoricians, their legendary oral debates and writings accepted as record of political and cultural values of the time. Lamp suggests that the art and architecture of ancient Rome functions in the same manner as these canonical writings.

“We have fundamentally misunderstood the early Roman empire by not seeing the visual as rhetorically important,” Lamp explains.  

Lamp’s ground-breaking paper on the topic, “Imitation and Parody: Rhetorical Theory and Augustan Rome” received the top paper award from the American Society for the History of Rhetoric in 2011.

Lamp will give a presentation from her paper at the November 2011 National Communication Association Convention.  In 2010 she also received a top paper award in the Visual Communications division.

Lamp’s paper is part of her current book project about the Augustan age. Augustus, the first emperor of Rome and the adopted son of Julius Caesar, helped lay the foundations for the rise of the Roman Empire.

Lamp suggests that while unpopular, Augustus’ reign could not have been very tyrannical because Roman citizens were comfortable having art openly mocking Augustus in their homes. According to Lamp, “models of citizenship were chiefly conveyed to the populace through visual and material rhetoric – and then the populace could reject that.” 

Interested?  Lamp is currently preparing her manuscript for publication and will also be teaching rhetorical studies in the spring 2012 semester.

Written by Deanna Stover