First Stepsay Postdoctoral Fellow to Advance Classics Scholarship

John McDonald will expand the community of classics scholars in the College of Arts and Letters.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016
John McDonald comes to SDSU from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
John McDonald comes to SDSU from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

John McDonald will never get to meet the man who made it possible for him to come to San Diego State University.  

His benefactor, David Stepsay, ’83, passed away last year after creating the Stepsay Family Postdoctoral Fellowship, a $1.3-million endowment to support a lecturer/researcher position in the Department of Classics and Humanities.

McDonald is the inaugural fellow, and his enthusiasm for teaching the classical languages would have pleased Stepsay, said department chair Risa Levitt Kohn. His plans to expand the community of classics scholars at SDSU is exactly what Stepsay had in mind when he made his gift, Kohn added.

The classical and popular culture

“The classical world of Greek and Rome continues to have a substantial impact on popular culture, and studying this world leads to a deeper appreciation of the films, book, songs and other forms of entertainment we enjoy,” McDonald said.

By organizing film screenings, exhibits and other events related to the study of classics, he hopes to illustrate the ways in which students are already familiar with classics through popular culture and the ways in which ancient Greece and Rome were vastly from the world we know.

McDonald said the study of Latin also has the potential to interest SDSU’s Spanish-speaking community.

“Because Latin is the language from which Spanish derives, speakers of Spanish can gain new insights into the language they grew up speaking or learned later in life,” he said.

Visiting scholar at Harvard

McDonald comes to SDSU from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, where he was a lecturer. He earned a Ph.D. in classics from Cornell University and served as a visiting scholar at Harvard University during his doctoral studies.

As the Stepsay Family Postdoctoral Fellow at SDSU, McDonald will continue to teach while developing his dissertation into a book. The work uses historical and comparative methods to investigate the Roman poet Virgil's seemingly unique incorporation of the bugonia into the biography of the mythical poet Orpheus. Bugonia is the process described by the ancients by which bees can be generated spontaneously from a slaughtered cow.

McDonald is also writing journal articles on the study of animal imagery in Greek and Roman poetic descriptions of marriage and on the narrative ancestry of Homer and Virgil’s Proteus episodes.  

About endowments and the Stepsay Postdoctoral Fellowship

Stepsay graduated from SDSU at the age of 55 with a degree in classics. The endowed fellowship he created will enable the classics and humanities department to hire freshly minted doctors of philology to spend up to two years at SDSU teaching classes related to the study of the classical world while advancing their research to publication at a critical time in their careers.

Endowments are an important component of The Campaign for SDSU, which is raising $750 million to strengthen the university’s academic excellence. Endowments can support specific areas of research, fund faculty or postdoctoral positions, strengthen academic programs and build SDSU’s scholarship fund.

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