JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight—John Liao

April 14, 2023 by Sonja Johnston

Zijun (John) Liao is a double-major in Classics and Classical Civilization. Though primarily interested in Imperial Greek intellectual cultures, he is committed to investigating a wide range of questions in Classics using diverse, interdisciplinary approaches. John joins the JHI in 2022-2023 as one of our JHI Undergraduate Fellows and received the Dr. Michael Lutsky Undergraduate Award in the Humanities.

What are your main research interests?

As a Classicist and a Hellenist, I am chiefly interested in Imperial Greek literature and intellectual culture—that is, of Greeks living and writing under the Roman Empire. I am interested in the encyclopedic, miscellaneous, and antiquarian works produced during this period, as well as in the forms of stylized, novelized epistolography—letter-writing—that develops in this time.

What project are you working on at the JHI and why did you choose it?

My project at the JHI is about one of these encyclopedic or antiquarian writers named Diogenes Laertius, a roughly 2nd or 3rd century CE figure who wrote a work conventionally translated as the Lives and Opinions of the Philosophers. Diogenes has been both somewhat understudied and read in a somewhat pejorative manner, often categorized as something called a "doxographer"—a writer of opinions of, and facts about, notable individuals, and a genre strongly associated with a lack of intellectual engagement and indiscriminate, poor quality sources. My project attempts to carve out a somewhat different angle of reading Diogenes, focusing on him not as a 'poor' philosopher but as a literary author who is deliberate and self-conscious in depicting his degree of involvement in the creation of his own work.

What were you hoping to experience as a JHI Fellow?

I was very much looking forward to being able to observe and learn from the very diverse and interdisciplinary group of fellows both through talks and through day-to-day interaction. It was especially exciting to be given the explicit time and opportunity to immerse myself in a community with many more historically and politically-minded researchers, as I am often solely literary in my approach.

What have you enjoyed the most so far?

As a continuation of the last question, it has been extremely edifying to be in this kind of interdisciplinary environment, and to be challenged with research and methods of approach each week that I am unfamiliar with and may not normally get the opportunity to really get my hands around. The community here has also been great! I've really enjoyed seeing the dynamic discussions everyone has been having and really benefitting from them.

Can you share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by?

I have recently been re-reading Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. I'm always very interested in orality and literacy, and Ong is a fun read!

What is a fun fact about you?

I like to worldbuild in my spare time!