Beard is Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, a fellow of Newnham College, and Royal Academy of Arts Professor of Ancient Literature. She is the Classics editor of The Times Literary Supplement, where she also writes a regular blog, "A Don's Life". Her frequent media appearances and sometimes controversial public statements have led to her being described as "Britain's best-known classicist."
Beard was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2013 New Year Honours and a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2018 Birthday Honours for services to the study of classical civilisations.
Beard in 2017
Winifred Mary Beard
1 January 1955
|Education||Shrewsbury High School|
|Alma mater||Newnham College, Cambridge (MA, PhD)|
|Thesis||The state religion in the late Roman Republic: a study based on the works of Cicero (1982)|
|Doctoral advisor||John Crook|
|Notable works||The Roman Triumph |
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome
Mary Beard, an only child, was born on 1 January 1955 in Much Wenlock, Shropshire. Her mother, Joyce Emily Beard, was a headmistress and an enthusiastic reader. Her father, Roy Whitbread Beard, worked as an architect in Shrewsbury. She recalled him as "a raffish public-schoolboy type and a complete wastrel, but very engaging".
Beard was educated at Shrewsbury High School, a girls' school then funded as a direct grant grammar school. She was taught poetry by Frank McEachran, the inspiration for schoolmaster Hector in Alan Bennett's play The History Boys. During the summer she would join archaeological excavations, though the motivation was, in part, just the prospect of earning some pocket-money.
At eighteen she sat the then-compulsory entrance exam and interview for Cambridge University, to win a place at Newnham College, a single-sex college. She had considered King's, but rejected it when she learned the college did not offer scholarships to women.
In Beard's first year she found that some men in the university still held very dismissive attitudes regarding the academic potential of women, which only strengthened her determination to succeed. She also developed feminist views that remained "hugely important" in her later life, although she later described "modern orthodox feminism" as partly cant. One of her tutors was Joyce Reynolds. Beard has since said that "Newnham could do better in making itself a place where critical issues can be generated" and has also described her views on feminism, saying "I actually can't understand what it would be to be a woman without being a feminist." Beard has cited Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, Kate Millett's Sexual Politics, and Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess as influential on the development of her personal feminism.
Beard graduated from Cambridge with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree: as per tradition, her BA was later promoted to a Master of Arts (MA Cantab) degree. She remained at Cambridge for her Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree: she completed it in 1982 with a doctoral thesis titled The State Religion in the Late Roman Republic: A Study Based on the Works of Cicero.
Between 1979 and 1983, Beard lectured in Classics at King's College, London; she returned to Cambridge in 1984 as a Fellow of Newnham College and the only female lecturer in the Classics faculty. Rome in the Late Republic, which she co-wrote with Cambridge historian Michael Crawford, was published the following year.
John Sturrock, Classics editor of The Times Literary Supplement, approached her for a review and brought her into literary journalism. Beard took over his role in 1992 at the request of Ferdinand Mount. In 1994 she made an early television appearance on an Open Media discussion for the BBC, Weird Thoughts, alongside Jenny Randles and James Randi among others.
Shortly after the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, Beard was one of several authors invited to contribute articles on the topic to the London Review of Books. She opined that many people, once "the shock had faded", thought "the United States had it coming", and that "[w]orld bullies, even if their heart is in the right place, will in the end pay the price". In a November 2007 interview, she stated that the hostility these comments provoked had still not subsided, although she believed it had become a standard viewpoint that terrorism was associated with American foreign policy. By this point she was described by Paul Laity of The Guardian as "Britain's best-known classicist".
In 2004, Beard became Professor of Classics at Cambridge. She was elected Visiting Sather Professor of Classical Literature for 2008–2009 at the University of California, Berkeley, where she delivered a series of lectures on "Roman Laughter". In 2007–2008 Beard gave the Sigmund H. Danziger Jr. Memorial Lecture in the Humanities at the University of Chicago.
In December 2010, on BBC Two, Beard presented Pompeii: Life and Death in a Roman Town, submitting remains from the town to forensic tests, aiming to show a snapshot of the lives of the residents prior to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. In 2011 she took part in a television series, Jamie's Dream School on Channel 4, in which she taught classics to teenagers with no experience of academic success. Beard is a regular contributor to the BBC Radio 4 series, A Point of View, delivering essays on a broad range of topics including Miss World and the Oxbridge interview.
For BBC Two in 2012 she wrote and presented the three part television series, Meet the Romans with Mary Beard, which concerns how ordinary people lived in Rome, "the world's first global metropolis". The critic A. A. Gill reviewed the programme, writing mainly about her appearance (teeth, hair, and clothes), judging her "too ugly for television". Beard admitted that his attack felt like a punch, but swiftly responded with a counter-attack on his intellectual abilities, accusing him of being part of "the blokeish culture that loves to decry clever women". This exchange became the focus of a debate about older women on the public stage, with Beard saying she looked an ordinary woman of her age and "there are kids who turn on these programmes and see there’s another way of being a woman", without Botox and hair dye. Charlotte Higgins assessed Beard as one of the rare academics who is both well respected by her peers and has a high profile in the media.
Beard is known for being active on Twitter, responding to critics and trolls with reason and optimism; she sees this as part of her public role as an academic. Beard received considerable online abuse after she appeared on BBC's Question Time from Lincolnshire in January 2013 and cast doubt on the negative rhetoric about immigrant workers living in the county. Beard used her blog to quote some of the abusive comments about her, and to reproduce (until the TLS took them down) the doctored images ("pornographic, violent, sexist, misogynist and also frightfully silly") which no mainstream media would print or let her read aloud. She also reasserted her right to express unpopular opinions and to present herself in public in an authentic way. On 4 August 2013, she received a bomb threat on Twitter, hours after the UK head of that social networking site had apologised to women who had experienced abuse on the service. Beard said she did not think she was in physical danger, but considered it harassment and wanted to "make sure" that another case had been logged by the police. She has stood up to bullies and shone a light on "social media at its most revolting and misogynistic", bringing to wider public attention a problem that had previously not been much discussed in mainstream press.
In 2013 she presented Caligula with Mary Beard, describing the making of myths around leaders and dictators. Interviewers continued to ask about her self-presentation, and she reiterated that she had no intention of undergoing a make-over.
On 14 February 2014 Beard delivered a lecture on the public voice of women at the British Museum as part of the London Review of Books winter lecture series. "Oh Do Shut Up, Dear!", shown on BBC Four a month later, started with the example of Telemachus, the son of Odysseus and Penelope, admonishing his mother to retreat to her chamber. Three years later, Beard gave a second lecture for the same partners, entitled "Women in Power", from Medusa to Merkel. It considered the extent to which the exclusion of women from power is culturally embedded, and how idioms from ancient Greece are still used to normalise gendered violence. She argues that "we don’t have a model or a template for what a powerful woman looks like. We only have templates that make them men."
In December 2015, Beard was again a panelist on BBC's Question Time from Bath. During the programme, she praised Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn for behaving with a "considerable degree of dignity" against claims he faces an overly hostile media. She said: "Quite a lot of what Corbyn says I agree with, and I rather like his different style of leadership. I like hearing argument not soundbites. If the Labour Party is going through a rough time, and I'm sure it is rough to be in there, it might actually all be to the good. He might be changing the party in a way that would make it easier for people like me to vote for."
2016 saw Beard present Pompeii: New Secrets Revealed with Mary Beard on BBC One in March. While May 2016, brought about a four-part series shown on BBC Two, titled Mary Beard's Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit.
Beard's standalone documentary Julius Caesar Revealed was shown on BBC One in February 2018. In March, she wrote and presented "How Do We Look?" and "The Eye of Faith", two of the nine episodes in Civilisations, a reboot of the 1969 series by Kenneth Clark.
On 5 January 2019 Beard gave the Sesquicentennial Public Lecture for the Society for Classical Studies, marking the 150-year anniversary of the organisation. The topic of her presentation was "What do we mean by Classics now?".
In response to a Times report of Oxfam employees engaging in sexual exploitation in disaster zones, Mary Beard tweeted "Of course one can’t condone the (alleged) behaviour of Oxfam staff in Haiti and elsewhere. But I do wonder how hard it must be to sustain 'civilised' values in a disaster zone. And overall I still respect those who go in and help out, where most of us would not tread."  This led to widespread criticism, in which Mary Beard was accused of racism. In response, Mary Beard posted a picture of herself crying. Fellow Cambridge academic, Priyamvada Gopal, referred to Mary Beard's tweet and subsequent blog post as "genteel and patrician casual racism." Mary Beard's use of a tearful photo was branded as "manipulative" and she was accused of shedding "white feminist tears".
Her blog, A Don's Life, gets about 40,000 hits a day, according to The Independent (2013).
In August 2014, Beard was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian expressing their hope that Scotland would vote to remain part of the United Kingdom in September's referendum on that issue. In July 2015, Beard endorsed Jeremy Corbyn's campaign in the Labour Party leadership election. She said: "If I were a member of the Labour Party, I would vote for Corbyn. He actually seems to have some ideological commitment, which could get the Labour Party to think about what it actually stands for."
I've chosen to be this way because that's how I feel comfortable with myself," Beard said. "That's how I am. It's about joining up the dots between how you look and how you feel inside, and I think that's what I've done, and I think people do it differently.
Mary Beard [...] will be invested as Honorary Doctor of Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) for her important academic and professional merits...
Events from the year 1955 in the United Kingdom. The year is marked by changes of leadership for both principal political parties.Bodley Medal
The Bodley Medal is awarded by the Bodleian Library at Oxford University to individuals who have made "outstanding contributions ... to the worlds of communications and literature" and who have helped the library achieve "the vision of its founder, Sir Thomas Bodley, to be a library not just to Oxford University but also to the world".Helen Morales
Dr Helen Morales is a classicist and the second Argyropoulos Chair in Hellenic Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is best known for her scholarship on the ancient novel, gender and sexuality, and Greek mythology, as well for her public writing and lectures.Mary Beard
Mary Beard may refer to:
Mary Ritter Beard (1876–1958), United States historian, campaigner for woman's suffrage, and collaborator with her husband Charles Beard
Mary Beard (classicist) (born 1955), British classicist, literary critic and journalistShrewsbury High School, Shropshire
Shrewsbury High School is an independent day school for girls from ages 3 to 18 and boys up to age 13 in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. It is an original member school of the Girls' Day School Trust.Shropshire
Shropshire (; alternatively Salop; abbreviated, in print only, Shrops; demonym Salopian sə-LOH-pee-ən, Welsh: Swydd Amwythig) is a county in the West Midlands of England, bordering Wales to the west, Cheshire to the north, Staffordshire to the east, and Worcestershire
and Herefordshire to the south. Shropshire Council was created in 2009, a unitary authority taking over from the previous county council and five district councils. The borough of Telford and Wrekin has been a separate unitary authority since 1998 but continues to be included in the ceremonial county.
The county's population and economy is centred on five towns: the county town of Shrewsbury, which is culturally and historically important and close to the centre of the county; Telford, a new town in the east which was constructed around a number of older towns, most notably Wellington, Dawley and Madeley, which is today the most populous; and Oswestry in the northwest, Bridgnorth just to the south of Telford, and Ludlow in the south. The county has many market towns, including Whitchurch in the north, Newport northeast of Telford and Market Drayton in the northeast of the county.
The Ironbridge Gorge area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, covering Ironbridge, Coalbrookdale and a part of Madeley. There are other historic industrial sites in the county, such as at Shrewsbury, Broseley, Snailbeach and Highley, as well as the Shropshire Union Canal.The Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers about a quarter of the county, mainly in the south. Shropshire is one of England's most rural and sparsely populated counties, with a population density of 136/km2 (350/sq mi). The Wrekin is one of the most famous natural landmarks in the county, though the highest hills are the Clee Hills, Stiperstones and the Long Mynd. Wenlock Edge is another significant geographical and geological landmark. In the low-lying northwest of the county overlapping the border with Wales is the Fenn's, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses National Nature Reserve, one of the most important and best preserved bogs in Britain. The River Severn, Great Britain's longest river, runs through the county, exiting into Worcestershire via the Severn Valley. Shropshire is landlocked and with an area of 3,487 square kilometres (1,346 sq mi) is England's largest inland county.The county flower is the round-leaved sundew.Tamsyn Challenger
Tamsyn Challenger is an English conceptual, political and installation artist based in London and Cornwall. She is known for her acclaimed gender-political work '400 Women' which took five years to create and comprises a critical mass of portraits by nearly 200 artists including Maggi Hambling, Paula Rego, Zoe Laughlin and Rachel Howard.The Roman Triumph
The Roman Triumph is a 2007 book by Mary Beard.
Winners of the Wolfson History Prize