HDR student in focus: Emma Bremner

2 November 2020

Emma Bremner

A passion for weird things and being creative drew Emma into studying Latin ghost stories.

Latin ghost stories are everywhere but surprisingly hard to find. No one’s published them all in one place (which is very inconvenient for me) so I have to dig around in the texts to find them. I did assignments on Roman death practices and beliefs, and I wanted to know what people said about ghosts. How do ghost stories fit in with rest of Roman burial practices and beliefs? What makes people ghosts in ancient Rome? How are we supposed to interpret the characters in ghost stories?

Honestly, I just like learning weird things. I started my MPhil in July 2020 after doing my honours at UQ and taking a gap year. I took languages in the middle there, too. I got into this topic by browsing through the library and found a book on necromancy and loved it. It’s the weird bits in history that interest me, like: why was Hadrian the first emperor to have a beard?

I moved around a lot as a kid. My dad was an engineer so we moved from Brisbane to Townsville to Canberra and back to Brisbane where I did high school. Science and art always interested me as a kid. I’d watch Backyard Science and loved going to Canberra’s science and technology centre, Questacon. During the school holidays my mum would enrol me in art programs so I’ve done art since I was young. I still have some of that art.

I wanted to be an artist in high school, but I didn’t like people grading my art. I just liked to make it. I do embroidery now. My work was shown in an exhibit, and at the moment I’m working on a gift for a friend. I started it three months ago for her birthday, which was also three months ago. Embroidery’s just like that.

There’s something satisfying and relaxing about the repetitive stabbing motion in embroidery work. It focuses me, and I can multitask. I used the technique of embroidering while taking French classes and I was able to concentrate so much better, as long as I didn’t poke myself.

I hated reading until I picked up a fantasy book in grade 7. Everyone gave me the wrong books when I was younger. I tried to borrow a book from the library once and they told me it was above my reading level so I couldn’t take it out. My mum, who’s a librarian, was upset at that. I got into David Eddings. I still have the books and they are falling apart from reading them so much. Now I’m reading a series about an interdimensional librarian spy: it’s fun and super enjoyable. (FYI: It’s called The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman.)

I am inspired by a few scholars and those who help people with chronic illnesses. Valerie Hope and Maureen Carroll, who study death in the Roman empire, and Daniel Ogden, who wrote the book on Greek and Roman necromancy. I am also really inspired by Brianne Benness who runs the hashtag NEISVoid through Twitter. She’s helped create a community of chronically ill people on Twitter, who all listen to and support each other. She’s hugely inspirational.

To my younger high-school self, I would say: do your homework, it will help you when you’re in university and have to do a million readings every week. To my honours self, I would say: get a hobby.

I am actually really bad at horror, which is hilarious because I study ghost stories. Apparently, ancient ghost stories are different.

Emma is an Mphil student in Classics working with Janette McWilliam and Tom Stevenson.

Narrative and photo by Ryan Williams