Skip to content The Open University

Claire Greenhalgh

Research Student

Thesis subject: Depicting Slavery in Ancient World Television Drama: Politics, Culture and Society (started 2014)
Supervisors: Dr Joanna Paul, Dr A G Keen, Dr Trevor Fear

Outline of research project

The way we conceptualise and value notions of liberty and equality in contemporary western society has become a vital issue. This is especially so in the wake of the 2011 Occupy Movement and other grassroots protests against the power and influence of the global financial elite and the apparent erosion of democratic values. Modern popular culture has, in part, reflected and responded to these developments with a plethora of media and literary ‘slave’ narratives which both privilege and, to an extent challenge, the primacy of political and individual freedom in contemporary society. Drawing out key themes and patterns, this project explores the influence of modern anti-slavery/pro-liberty rhetoric on the depiction of slavery through comparison of two contrasting ancient world television drama series, HBO’s Rome (2005-7) and Starz’s Spartacus (2010-13). Engaging with current cultural, political and media theory and the classical source material, this thesis investigates how television drama uses the theme of ancient slavery as a conduit for illuminating important  contemporary issues surrounding resistance to injustice, social equality, individual rights and the limits of freedom.

Educational background

BA Hons Russian and French, University of Durham (1987-1991)
MSc Russian and East European Studies, CREES, University of Birmingham (1992-1993)
MBA, Open University (1996-2000)
PGCE in Secondary MFL, University of Exeter (2006-2007)
MA in Classics, Open University (2008-2011)

Other background

I have always been interested in cinematic depictions of antiquity, from classic Hollywood epics such as Ben Hur and Quo Vadis? (avidly watched every Easter Sunday) to more recent adaptations like Gladiator and Agora. While studying for my MA in Classics, I began to realise how far the 'Hollywood' version of the past deviated from the known 'facts' as they have been transmitted to us from antiquity and I was keen to understand more fully the different agendas (political, cultural, social, ideological, commercial) shaping these dramatic re-configurations of the classical world. I was intrigued by what these texts had emphasised, elided, adapted, misunderstood or simply 're-written' for modern audiences. While classical reception and film has been studied extensively, ancient television drama - although it shares many similarities with cinema in its approach to depicting the past and is arguably a more influential medium - has been somewhat neglected by recent receptions scholarship and offered a potentially worthwhile opportunity for original research.