Where did you grow up?
What drew you to your field?
It started with love. I had always enjoyed Latin and Greek more than anything else I studied in high school and college, but knew I was going to law school and put them out of my mind. As I became more advanced as an undergraduate, I started to realize that I thought about law and legal history differently than most classicists, and that I could study something I really loved while also making a difference in my field. That’s when I decided to pursue two graduate degrees: a JD at Yale, and a PhD in Classical Studies at Columbia.
How would you explain your current research to someone outside of your field?
I’m studying how Roman emperors in the early third century CE used law to market themselves, essentially—how law worked as a part of these emperors’ broader representational or self-legitimating strategies.
What is your favorite thing about being a student at Columbia GSAS?
The collegiality. The faculty here are so interested in encouraging the development of students, even if those students are in a different department. I’ve never felt anything less than supported in conducting interdisciplinary work.
What resources or opportunities that Columbia provides have been most valuable to you?
My fellow students, by far. My colleagues here are hilarious, brilliant, and kind. They have helped me through the hardest parts of my time here, sharpening my ideas as much over drinks as they do in the library.
Is there a common misconception about a topic in your field that you wish you could correct? People in the ancient world weren’t perfect, and they didn’t wander around wearing bright white clothes and laurel crowns talking about democracy. The civilization I study was dirty and violent and smelled atrocious. Also: There were people of color in Roman Britain.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
An article I wrote in law school (on stereotyping and employment discrimination) was cited by a federal court of appeals. I was quoted in the same opinion as Marlo Thomas.
Who is your hero of fiction?
Jane Gloriana Villanueva.
Who are your heroes in real life?
Nicholas Katzenbach, Hillary Clinton, and my mother.
Who in your field do you consider to be a role model?
Mary Beard. She's brilliant, obviously, but what I really admire is how committed she is to engaging with the world as a public scholar, and the level of thought she puts into her role as the face of Roman history. If I had to put up with half of what she puts up with, I'd be hiding in a cupboard somewhere.
What is your favorite blog or website?
zacharyherz.com, of course!