June 5, 2019

Class of 2019: Classics and Religion master's grad digs into science and engineering in ancient Rome

Kathrine Bertram off to England's Durham University in fall to pursue dual passions of engineering and ancient history

From the time she was in Grade 12 plotting out her plans for university, Kathrine Bertram was torn between two seemingly distinct passions. She wanted to study both engineering and ancient history. Completing her undergraduate degree with a double major in mechanical engineering and ancient medieval history at the University of Calgary allowed her to do just that.  

When it came time to do her MA, Bertram felt torn. Of course, traditional wisdom would suggest that she follow the lucrative path of an engineer, and to be sure, she enjoyed her engineering studies immensely. But she also loved her research in the humanities and she couldn’t bear to give up on it. 

She found a way to incorporate both of her intellectual passions in the Department of Classics and Religion, from which she’ll be graduating this June with her Master of Arts in Greek and Roman Studies. While completing her master's, Bertram has focused on science and religion in the ancient Roman world. 

It’s a unique path of research that has paid off. Bertram was accepted into prestigious PhD programs in ancient history at both the University of Oxford and Durham University in England. She ultimately decided on Durham and she will begin her studies there in the fall. 

Bertram believes that her field of study — science and engineering in ancient Rome — though rooted in the past, bears relevance in today’s world. 

“I’m not looking to ancient Rome to find a better way to build a bridge,” she clarifies. “The idea is to look at how their engineers were educated. I want to understand how the science was informed by the social history.

"It’s early in my research, but my impression is that they had a much broader view of what you had to learn to be an engineer or an architect. They believed you should be able to read poetry and discuss all the classical works in order to properly represent your work.”

She adds: “I think this important connection between science and the humanities has largely been lost in modern times.” 

After completing her PhD, Bertram has her sights set on becoming a professor. She also hopes to educate the public on her work. 

“I think there’s a lot of opportunity for public education in this field,” she says. “People are really interested in Roman engineering and ruins, and this is something I would love to engage people in further.”