Author Spotlight: Pamela Bradley

15 AUGUST 2014
An interview with the author of the forthcoming title The Ancient World Transformed

Cambridge is very happy to present our first interview in the author spotlight series.


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CUP: Pamela Bradley, thanks for chatting with Cambridge for our first author spotlight interview. Can you please tell us about your background as an educator?

PB: I graduated from Sydney University with majors in Ancient and Modern History and a Diploma of Education. From the moment I started teaching I was fortunate to be able to teach HSC Ancient History. For over two decades I was also involved in Ancient History HSC marking and for much of that time I was a senior examiner. I have taught at co-ed comprehensive, single-sex selective and GPS high schools. Also, I have been on syllabus and curriculum committees and my teaching experience over 35 years, some of it in the UK, has given me the opportunity to specialise in a variety of Ancient History topics and to address a myriad of objectives, outcomes and exam-types.


CUP: You have written numerous history textbooks for Cambridge University Press. What is the best part of the writing process for you?

PB: No matter how many times I have written about Egyptian, Greek and Roman historical periods, societies and personalities, I am forever learning something new due to recent scientific advancements, archaeological processes and discoveries, to more and varied interpretations of the written sources by scholars and to the different emphasis on the evidence required by each new syllabus. I also love the variety of methods that can be used to make the material more accessible to students.


CUP: Your latest text, The Ancient World Transformed, focuses on periods of change and transformation within Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Why is it important to look at these factors when studying history?

PB: We live in a world that is constantly changing. These changes are occurring at such a rapid rate that it is really hard to keep up with them and adjust appropriately. In many cases there is a tendency to want to overthrow traditions (institutions, ways of behaving etc often leading to social upheaval and chaos) without weighing up why it is important to keep some aspects of the past as a stable context for necessary changes. Studying the historical forces that contributed to change, transformation, and continuity in the past can be very useful in making decisions for the future even though they generally occurred very slowly by today’s standards.


CUP: Figures that have been subject to reinterpretation and controversy feature prominently within The Ancient World Transformed. How can teachers continue these conversations in the classroom?

PB: First of all teachers must impress on students that all history is biased and full of propaganda. They should urge them to look at the time frame in which writers lived, their agenda in writing, their cultural, social and political context, and the specific questions they ask of the sources in order to understand their various interpretations. The problem with many modern interpretations of personalities of the past is that they are not judged within the context of their own time. I think formal classroom debates about personalities are very valuable tools.


CUP: Who is your favourite historical figure discussed in The Ancient World Transformed? Why do you think he or she is so memorable?

PB: I guess I am partial to Alexander the Great for the following reasons: he was a flawed genius, complex, contradictory, passionate, imaginative, impatient, a heavy drinker and totally ruthless, when necessary in a world where the law of war did not encompass humanitarian ideals. He was under unimaginable pressure due to his background to prove his superiority at every moment; he was a military genius and attempted to achieve what Aristotle taught him about the Great-Souled man. Because of his existence the ancient world was never quite the same again. He was probably one of the greatest catalysts for change in history.


CUP: How important is debate when it comes to the sources available for studying Ancient Worlds? How much can we ever really know about the past?

PB: It is impossible to ever really ‘know’ the past even when there is an abundance of evidence, and this is particularly the case the further we go back in time. Remains have deteriorated or been lost and many interpretations of what is available (often taken out of context) have been based on individual agendas, subjective impressions and uncontrolled guesswork. Although modern scholars are certainly trying to make sense of the past in a more scientific way, and by asking different questions of the sources, debates must continue and this can begin in the classroom. It should be remembered that even scholars come up with completely different interpretations using the same sources.


CUP: Historical quotes are featured at the beginning of each chapter. What led you to including these and what impact do you hope these quotes have on the students reading them?

PB: I chose examples of both primary and secondary sources, not only to trigger the interests of students in the various options, but also to focus on a significant issue in each chapter.


CUP: A love of history can go much further than the classroom. How does studying history in school benefit learning post graduation?

PB: I have found that some of my ex-students have developed a keen sense of inquiry whether this is related to historical issues or not. Others have a greater understanding of the various political processes they read about in the newspapers and watch on TV. Many of those who were fascinated with the ‘stories’ of history have been led to the pleasures of reading historical fiction, watching historical documentaries and drama and perhaps investigating the truth behind them. Others I know have discovered the delight of ‘understanding’ more fully many of the places they have travelled to as adults.




Pamela Bradley's new text The Ancient World Transformed will be released in September.

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