World Class Educator

World Class Educator

Grant Richard Parker

Title: Assistant Professor of Classical
Studies, Duke University, Durham, N.C.

Education: Ph.D., Classical Philology,
Princeton University; M.A., Latin, University of Cape Town; B.A., Latin, University of
Cape Town

Age: 35

In the last years of apartheid rule in South Africa, Grant Richard Parker, a native of Cape Town, had a burning ambition to continue his education outside his home country. Though he managed to work abroad in Germany, he had envisioned pursuing graduate studies in the United Kingdom after gaining admission to a doctoral program at Oxford University.

When Oxford didn’t provide Parker the necessary scholarships to fund his doctoral education, the young South African turned his attention to America, where he would gain admission and scholarship funding to Princeton University in New Jersey.

Nearly a decade after migrating to the United States, Parker is now an assistant professor of Latin at Duke University in Durham, N.C. The mixed-race South African is one of a few Black classicists holding a full-time academic position at an American university.

Defined as a so-called “coloured” person, as a youngster, Parker endured apartheid and lived in a segregated township outside Cape Town. His parents, who are retired teachers, encouraged Parker’s interest in literature and history, which led him to study Latin in high school. Taking up ancient Greek in addition to Latin in college, he attended the University of Cape Town during the turbulent years of national protest against apartheid in the 1980s.

“Students of color were very much a minority at the University of Cape Town. It was a very political time,” Parker says.

His odyssey from Cape Town to Durham reflects in spirit the cross-cultural boundary-breaking orientation of his classics research. He’s currently at work turning his Princeton dissertation, which explored the perceptions that ancient Romans had of what is now India and its peoples, into a book. Unlike most scholars in the classics, Parker is most interested in exploring the interactions of the ancient Greeks and Romans with cultures that had their own intellectual, linguistic and social traditions. Traditionally, classicists explore topics that are contained within the sphere of ancient Greek or Roman societies.

In addition to being grounded in Latin and ancient Greek, Parker has a working knowledge of Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language, that has allowed him to explore the cultural encounters between ancient Indians and Romans in a thorough and comprehensive way. His knowledge of French, Italian and German also lets him read modern research in the classics and ancient civilizations.

“Scholars who have familiarity with a number of languages are able to study cultural encounters from more than one direction,” Parker explains, noting the multi-directional approach he takes should allow him to conduct path-breaking work.

Before accepting an appointment at Duke, Parker had a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan. He finished his doctorate at Princeton in 1999. Although work on the dissertation book continues, Parker already has begun studying an ancient Egyptian language to help him write a planned book about the interactions between ancient Rome and ancient Egypt.

While Parker’s fascination with cultural encounters helps fuel his research, it’s enhancing his teaching opportunities as well. Parker was scheduled to direct the university’s Duke in Tunisia program during this spring semester until international security concerns led the university to cancel the program. Though Parker will have to wait to lead the Tunisia program, he plans to teach a campus-based course on the ancient Mediterranean world that incorporates a strong focus on north Africa similar to what he had planned for the Duke in Tunisia program.

— By Ronald Roach



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