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Dr Selena Wisnom

Junior Research Fellow in Manuscripts and Text Cultures


I initially read Classics at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, before moving to Wolfson to take up graduate work in Cuneiform Studies. My MPhil and DPhil focused on Babylonian poetry, and alongside my research I wrote a trilogy of plays set in ancient Assyria. Subsequently I held an AHRC Cultural Engagement Fellowship, working to build links between theatres in Oxfordshire and the university. I arrived at Queen’s in 2016 as the first Junior Research Fellow in Manuscripts and Text Cultures.


I give tutorials on all aspects of Akkadian and Sumerian literature, including sessions on Greece and the Near East for Classicists. I teach language and text reading classes, and co-developed the curriculum for teaching elementary Akkadian to sixth-formers at the UNIQ summer school. I have lectured at the universities of Cambridge and London on Mesopotamian literature, scholarship, and the history of the book.


My research centres on the languages, literature, and culture of ancient Iraq, with a particular emphasis on poetry and divination. My DPhil explored the range and significance of literary allusions in three poems central to Babylonian culture: Anzû, Enūma elish, and Erra and Ishum, heroic narratives about warrior gods. I have also been developing a new system for analysing Babylonian metre, which is currently not well understood. As a JRF I am affiliated with the Workshop on Manuscripts and Text Cultures, an interdisciplinary group at Queen’s for the study of material aspects of writing and textual transmission. My project examines manuscripts dealing with omens, specifically extispicy: divination from the entrails of sacrificial sheep. The aim is to understand the rules and symbolism of Babylonian logic: why do they connect certain signs with certain outcomes, and how does the underlying theory work? Interdisciplinary and comparative methods play an important role and I use methodology from Classics and anthropology across my work. I was a fellow of the Advanced Seminar in the Humanities at Venice International University in 2013 and 2014, and am a member of the Anthropology Research Group at Oxford on Eastern Medicines and Religions.


‘Stress patterns in Enūma Elish: a comparative study’, KASKAL 12 (2015), 485-502.

‘Bringing Assyria to the Stage’, Altorientalische Forschungen (forthcoming).