Prof Kate Cooper - Professor of History
I’m a social and cultural historian of late antiquity, the period when the Roman Empire had begun its long decline and the ‘barbarian’ kingdoms and empires had begun to take root. (In other words, roughly AD 100 to 700.) My research explores how women, children, and adolescents changed history in various ways. I’m especially interested in religious and social change, and the distinctive (and sometimes disturbing!) institutions of daily life such as marriage, asceticism, slavery, domestic exploitation, and violence.
Story-telling and memory are at the heart of my teaching and writing. How do we know what we know? What traces did the people of the past leave? What pressures or power relations led to certain stories being preserved, while others were allowed to lie untold and then forgotten? These are important questions for the history of women and children, but they are also important for any historian.
When I was growing up in Washington, DC in the 1960s, I was fascinated by the strange world of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Alabama, the world my mother came from. Some of the memories were incredibly painful – indeed, the more painful stories were the ones that lived on in memory the most vividly. It may seem like a remarkable jump from there to early Christianity and the fall of the Roman Empire, but I find that understanding the inner workings of a different place and time is in some ways just as challenging when you are studying a world close to your own as one farther away.
One of my keenest interests is in women, as the tellers of the ‘viral stories’ of the ancient world – some of which still survive – and as the heroines of many of those stories. The book I’m most proud of, Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women, explores what we know about these women, assessing what we can reasonably say we know about women’s leadership and agency, as well as the distinctive role of women as what modern social science might call ‘brand ambassadors’.
My first book, The Virgin and the Bride (1996), offered a breakthrough analysis of the changing rhetoric of gender in late antiquity, tracing how and why virginity replaced motherhood as the iconic credential of female moral authority. The second, The Fall of the Roman Household (2007), took up the problem of the Christianization of the family from a more empirical perspective, arguing for the continued importance of the married female householders who had been ‘left behind’ by the rise of the virginal ideal.
I am currently completing a book on the women of St Augustine’s Confessions, which will be published by Basic Books (USA) in 2022. You can find an episode of In Our Time in which I talk about this project under ‘Media Experience’ at the bottom of this page.
A related research, project The Family in Slavery and Freedom, explores the differing experiences of elite and enslaved women and children and the problem of domestic exploitation in the wider framework of late Roman power relations, drawing on studies of comparatively document-rich slave societies in later periods. (There is surprisingly good evidence, for example, for violence against enslaved women by female owners at this period, which resonates with what we know about the plantations of the Antebellum South.) A recently completed edited collection, Conflict and Social Control in Late Antiquity: The Violence of Small Worlds (jointly edited with Jamie Wood) surveys relations of dominance and exploitation in the small-scale social structures of the late Roman world.
More information about my research is available via PURE
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter - @kateantiquity
early medieval history
2018 BBC RADIO 4: IN OUR TIME (episode: Augustine’s Confessions, hosted by Melvin Bragg, with Kate Cooper, Morwenna Ludlow, Martin Palmer, 15 March 2018)
2017 BBC One: The Big Questions: Featured Guest (2 April, ‘Do We Underestimate The Wisdom Of The Ancients?’
2017 CNN: Finding Jesus 2 (six-part documentary programme; Easter 2016): Interviewee (all episodes)
2016 Travel Channel: Mysteries at the Museum (Season 12, Episode 9 Buried Alive [Pompeii], aired 17 November): Interviewee
2015 BBC One: The Big Questions: Featured Guest (8 March, ‘Is it More Important to do Good than to do God?’; 17 May, ‘Is God the Problem?’)
2014 BBC iwonder: Why didn’t Christianity Die out in the 1st Century?: co-creator
2014 CNN: Finding Jesus (six-part documentary programme; Easter 2015): Interviewee (episodes on Mary Magdalene, The Apostle James, The Empress Helena) and historical consultant (episode on the Empress Helena)
2014 National Geographic Channel (US), The Jesus Mysteries (one-part programme; Easter 2014): Interviewee – speaking about my original research on Mary Magdalene
2013 Premier Christian Radio: Interviewed by Maria Rodriguez-Toth for Woman to Woman (31 December 2013)
2013 Trunews Radio: Interviewed by Rick Wiles (13 September 2013)
2013 BBC Radio 4: ‘The Ideas that Make Us: Love’ (Interviewed by Bettany Hughes along with Angie Hobbs, William Dalrymple, and Faraneh Vargha-Khadem, Wednesday, 18 September 2013)
2013 BBC Radio 4: ‘Every Generation Within Christianity Has Had Female Leaders’ – Kate Cooper from Manchester University Talks About Her New Book (William Crawley interviewing Kate for Sunday Programme, 11 August 2013)
2013 RTÉ 1 (Ireland): Interviewed by Pat Kenny for Today with Pat Kenny (30 July 2013)
2013 NewsTalk (Ireland): Interviewed by Sean Moncrief for Moncrieff programme (30 July 2013)
2013 Kate Cooper, A Different Kind of Family Debate, The Huffington Post (29 June 2013)
2013 BBC Radio 4: In Our Time (episode: Queen Zenobia, hosted by Melvin Bragg, with Kate Cooper, Edith Hall, Richard Stoneman, 30 May 2013)
2013 Kate Cooper, A Week in December’ Revisited, The Huffington Post (26 April 2013)
2013 BBC One: The Mystery of Mary Magdalene (one-part programme fronted by Melvin Bragg, transmitted 29 March 2013): Interviewee, speaking about my original research on early Christian women
2013 National Geographic Channel (US): Jesus: the rise to power (one-part programme on Christianity in the Roman world, transmitted 28 March 2013): Interviewee, speaking about my original research on the Emperor Constantine
2013 Kate Cooper, Female bishops: Be wary of crude interpretations of Biblical Christianity, The Guardian (13 February 2014)
2012 Kate Cooper, Whose Hand Rocked the Cradle of Christianity?, The Times [of London] (20 October 2012)
2012 BBC Two: divine women (three-part programme on women and religion in the ancient world fronted by Bettany Hughes, transmitted April 2012): Interviewee in two episodes speaking about my original research on the ancient family
2011 BBC Radio 4: Banishing eve (one-part programme on women in early Christianity): Interviewee, speaking about my original research on ancient women and family
I have two podcasts on the Backdoor Broadcasting website:
History and Fiction in the Age of Fake News
Constantines dream: Faith, Victory and the Search for Roman Unity