Dr Louise Pryke recently joined the Department of Ancient History in a new position created through the generous support of the Education Heritage Foundation. We sat down with her to learn about her research career and her new role at Macquarie.
What drew you to your research field?
Thomas King said that the truth about story is, that’s all we are. I think a love of stories drew me to my field. I’m interested in the world’s oldest written narratives, epics and myths. My research explores what these stories say about humanity, divinity, animality and civilisation. In my new role, I’m teaching the history of Ancient Israel and Ancient Hebrew. Teaching these units together provides a wonderful opportunity to consider how the biblical authors constructed their texts, both in terms of narrative techniques and the language of the Bible itself.
What would be an ‘elevator pitch’ of your research area?
My research is focused on exploring the literature of the Ancient Near East, especially Mesopotamian myths and epics. I’m currently writing a book on Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of love. I also work on the comparative study of ancient religions – from Ancient Israel, to Mesopotamia, as well as Greece and Rome. The way that different civilisations use literature to express cultural values, and to address the ‘big questions,’ is most interesting.
In layman’s terms, what is the wider impact of your research?
My research aims to bring Ancient Near Eastern literature and culture to a broader modern audience. The modern day cultural impact of the Classical world is difficult to overstate, but it’s important to consider that the Classical traditions didn’t develop in isolation, but in a kind of cultural dialogue with the traditions of the Ancient Near East. The Hebrew Bible developed as part of the cultural landscape of the Ancient Near East, and again, has an impact on Western thought that is difficult to adequately quantify – yet it in considering the Bible in terms of the historical and cultural Ancient Near Eastern context, we gain greater insights into both the biblical text and the surrounding ancient civilisations. So, hopefully my research can add to this developing understanding.
Who has been your most significant research mentor?
I’m so appreciative of the support of Dr Noel Weeks and Professor Ian Young – my ‘dream team’ of PhD supervisors. My friend and colleague Professor Julia Kindt has given me so much support and encouragement, but also provides an amazing model of a young scholar at the top of her field, which is so inspiring.
If you were given one million dollars in research funding, what would be the first thing you would do?
The continued political and social upheaval in the Middle East presents a very real threat to preserving the irreplaceable cultural legacy of some of the world’s most ancient civilisations. I’d love to develop a program strengthening communications and connections between institutions that work to raise awareness of the importance of studying the various civilisations of the Ancient Near East. I’d also love to develop greater opportunities for community outreach locally. I would hope that a greater emphasis on teaching the history of Ancient Israel and the Ancient Near East in schools would help to improve the accessibility to these fields.
What has been your favourite and/or proudest research moment?
I’ve been fortunate to have many wonderful students in my teaching career, and seeing them develop as scholars makes me very proud! The publication of my first book, Scorpion, a few weeks ago was also a very exciting moment.