Undergraduate Alumnus John Liao Featured in JHI’s 2022-2023 Year in Review

September 25, 2023 by Department of Classics

John Liao, who graduated last spring with a double major in Classics and Classical Civilization, was featured in the Jackman Humanities Institute’s annual newsletter, the 2022-2023 Year in Review. In the article, John recounts his time as 2022-23 JHI Undergraduate Fellow, during which he worked under the supervision of Department of Classics Professor Seth Bernard on a project titled Bibliographic Labour and the Ancient Utilitarian Text.

During his time at U of T Classics, John served as President and twice as Senator of CLASSU, the department’s undergraduate student union, as Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Plebeian: The Journal of the Classics’ Student Union, and was a JHI Scholar-in-Residence in 2022. He graduated with a Governor General’s Silver Medal, awarded to the student with the highest average in their program. We wish John all the best in his future studies, and his presence in the department will be missed dearly.

The article is reprinted in full below.

Bibliographic Labour and the Ancient Utilitarian Text

The JHI gave me the opportunity to bring my interests in authorship, rhetoric, textual culture and production, and the ancient scholarly reception of philosophy together in an examination of the complex authorial self-presentation of the Roman biographer Diogenes Laertius. His sole extant work is an organized collection of biographies in ten books often translated in English as the Lives of the Eminent Philosophers. My project attempted a different reading of Diogenes by focussing on his merit as a shrewd and self-conscious literary agent. I developed an author-specific typology of formulaic tropes, vocabularies, and behaviours designed to map out his patterns as an author.

I received excellent guidance from my supervisor, Dr. Seth Bernard, who helped me to shape a cohesive response to the body of scholarship on Diogenes. His expertise in parts of the Greek and Roman world different from those I normally inhabit challenged me to think beyond the narrow confines of a purely textual exercise, and to write with clarity and purpose for a more diverse group of readers. 

I look back fondly on the interdisciplinary encouragement and advice I received from other scholars at the JHI, and especially Dr. Ruby Lal, who took the time to listen to undergraduate fellows as potential future colleagues. The space itself was invigorating, particularly the multimedia experience curated by The Centre Cannot Hold; while my engagement with the theme of labour is textual and abstract, the landscape at the JHI provided vigorous inspiration and reminders of the materiality and tangibility of cultural production and the precise labour behind it. 

In the coming year, I will start a Ph.D. in Classics at the Johns Hopkins University, where I hope to continue working on Imperial Greek intellectual history and authorship, with the robust foundation of work I established in the supportive environment of the JHI.