Dr Joyce Reynolds is oldest person to earn an honorary Cambridge degree
PUBLISHED: 08:04 30 June 2018 | UPDATED: 10:15 30 June 2018
Iliffe Media Ltd
The renowned historian and epigraphist received the university’s highest honour, aged 99.
Renowned for her contribution to our understanding of Roman history and archaeology, Dr Joyce Reynolds has become the oldest person to be given an honorary degree by the University of Cambridge, at 99 years old.
She was among eight recipients of the university’s highest honour.
Dr Reynolds went to Rome in the late 40s and there became an epigraphist and, as one of very women working in the field at that time, paved the way for others who would follow.
She is an honorary fellow of Newnham College and still works three days a week, currently revealing details of Pompeiian family life through a study of pottery.
She doesn’t use the internet, but continues her work with books. “They’ve always worked,” she told the Cambridge Independent.
“I just keep on working,” she said. “I’ve always liked my work and I was more interested the more I could find.
“There weren’t in those days very many women doing the sort of thing that I did.
“When I started in an academic job it was in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It was very shortly after the war and the staff was in any case small, so I easily got to know everyone of them and the things that needed doing. I had been a civil servant during the war and was used to doing things, so I did them.”
During the war Dr Reynolds worked for the Board of Trade.
“We were aiming to discover whether a reasonable number of basic household goods, like saucepans, actually got to the shops throughout the country. Interestingly enough, my German friends said oh, we never had anything like that.
“I failed the civil service examination, and I had to think about what to do next. I could have taken it again but I thought, blast them. I took up a scholarship in academic work and went to Rome.
“It was a Rome that was really still very deprived. A lot of things had been repaired in England because it had been properly organised. They didn’t. On the other hand they had lots of lovely food.”
This was in the late 40s, and within months of arriving in Rome, working as a postgraduate Rome Scholar at the British School at Rome, Dr Reynolds embarked on her first expedition as an epigrapher.
“The director of the school was planning an expedition and he knew he needed an epigraphist, so I went to Tripolitania,” she said. “We went to a series of sites and I found that I rather liked being an epigraphist. You find things and they’re new, and they say new things and you wonder what they mean. Sometimes they’re badly damaged and the letters are not there.”
It was fascinating work, she said, and as well the discoveries she made Dr Reynolds said some of her fondest memories are befriending the locals and helping them learn English.
In 1951 she became a fellow of Newnham College, three years after women had been admitted to degrees. In the same decade Dr Reynolds drove an all-woman party of archaeologists across North Africa. She has taught many students who have gone on to shape the field of classics in their turn, including Dame Mary Beard, who said: “Joyce’s work at Aphrodisias [Turkey] really changed historians’ views about how the Roman empire worked. I bet it will still be being read in 200 years time.”
Dr Reynolds is reader in Roman historical epigraphy emerita, gold medallist of the Society of Antiquaries and a fellow of the British Academy. She became a doctor of letters.
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