Meet Rachel Sternberg: Historian, Associate Professor, AuthorOctober 09, 2009
Rachel Sternberg’s research about social attitudes and moral sensibilities related to misery in ancient Athens was in part inspired by the year she spent in Mexico before starting graduate school. She said that in the 1980s Mexico was filled with beggars and that compassion fatigue set in quickly in Mexico City. “You would set forth from home with a pocket full of change, but that would be gone in about 10 minutes. It was overwhelming,” she explained.
In 2003 Rachel was awarded an American Fellowship, which allowed her to finish two books related to her classical studies research: Pity and Power in Ancient Athens and Tragedy Offstage: Suffering and Sympathy in Ancient Athens. Those books helped Rachel land a tenured position at Case Western Reserve University, where she is an associate professor of Greek language, literature, history, and civilization in the Department of Classics. “The help I got was crucial,” said Rachel. “It came just in the nick of time,” as she was raising two daughters in the midst of trying to further her academic career.
Looking ahead to the future, Rachel is now working her way up the timeline of history by relating her research on ancient Athens to more contemporary issues. These days she has been analyzing how her earlier research could be compared to the 18th-century enlightenment. As she delves deeper into the research, she said she is being led in the direction of human rights. “Laws about human rights are important, but the other side is compassion. That’s where my work comes in,” explained Rachel.
Perhaps her extensive research on power, pity, suffering, and sympathy in ancient Greece can help shed some light on the complex contemporary issue that she witnessed firsthand more than 20 years ago in Mexico City.