Introducing Assistant Professor Katie Dennis

Our department is excited to welcome Katie Dennis (Princeton University, PhD’23), who joined our department in fall 2023 as an Assistant Professor. Learn more about her in the Q&A below.

1. What is your main area of research, and how did you get into that area of focus?

In general, I’m interested in the intersection of literary analysis and social history, the ways that texts shape and are shaped by the world around them. My dissertation and first book project are both about the relationship between slavery and pastoral, particularly Vergil’s Eclogues. I first worked on the pastoral/bucolic genre during my master’s degree, studying Theocritus’ Idylls: the texts are strange, often inscrutable, often beautiful, and usually understood to represent a fictional or imaginary world. When I read the Ecloguesduring my PhD program, I was interested in how this idea of fictionality aligns with the political and social realities expressed in the poems: why would Vergil thematize slavery and manumission at the opening of the Eclogues, and what does the text have to say about the institution of slavery, which was an intrinsic part of Roman agriculture? I answer these questions by looking at the poetry alongside a variety of other forms of evidence that often aren’t brought to bear on literary analysis, for example Roman agronomy. (This is an interest that Professor Nelsestuen and I share!) The project also got me interested in intellectual history and reception, to answer the question of why the material realities of slavery have often been considered irrelevant to our understanding of pastoral. I have a variety of other research interests, usually clustering around historicist and materialist analyses of ancient literature: one article I’m looking forward to completing over the next year is on witches and farts in Horace. Like most academics, I’d love to talk more about my research and yours—reach out any time.

2. What is your favorite thing about the CANES department, UW, and/or Madison so far?

From the time that I first visited CANES last year, everyone I met, from faculty to grad students to staff, has been generous and welcoming—I’m excited to join a community that’s not only intellectually vibrant but also collegial and collaborative. I’m also excited that CANES brings together scholars working on texts and cultures from throughout the ancient Mediterranean, and look forward to thinking about ways to facilitate scholarship and teaching across disciplines. I’m still getting acquainted with Madison—please let me know if there’s anything I have to do as a newcomer—but I’ve loved going to farmers markets, wandering on the capital city trail, and exploring campus. I can tell I’ll be a frequent visitor to the ice cream counter at the Babcock Dairy Store!

3. What are your passions, hobbies, and interests outside of academia?

I love food: growing it, cooking it, and eating it! I’m an avid baker, and I hope I’ll have lots of opportunities to share the excess. I like learning about the science of cooking and fermentation, and I make my own yogurt, sourdough, and kombucha. I also started running at the beginning of the pandemic, and it’s one of my favorite hobbies. If you have any can’t-miss routes, I’d love to hear about them. My greatest passions, though, are my two cats: Dido, adopted while I was teaching Aeneid 4, and Doug, full name Doug H. Nuts (i.e. doughnuts). I’m biased, but they’re the best cats in the world.