Hailing from Australia, it was at the University of Melbourne that Professor Lyndal Roper completed an undergraduate degree in History with Philosophy. Soon after, she won the first Caltex Woman Graduate of the Year Scholarship, as well as scholarships from the University Women Graduates’ Association and the German Academic Exchange Service. These scholarships allowed her to continue her research overseas, to first study at the University of Tübingen in Germany and then at King’s College, London, where she completed her doctorate in 1985.
It was during this period that Lyndal first came to Oxford, in 1983, to work as a Junior Research Fellow at Merton for three years. Oxford, it seems, couldn’t keep her, and Lyndal returned to the University of London to work at King’s College and then Royal Holloway, where she became a Professor in 1999 and founded, with Professor Amanda Vickery, the Bedford Centre for the History of Women and Gender. In 2002, Professor Roper returned to Oxford as Fellow and Tutor in History at Balliol College. She is now a Fellow of Oriel College where she has held the Regius Professorship in History since 2011: the first woman, and first Australian, to do so.
Professor Roper is a Fellow of the British Academy, the Royal History Society, the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and the Brandenburg Akademie der Wissenschaften. She is a former Humboldt Fellow and an Honorary Visiting Fellow of the History Department at the University of Melbourne, where she also holds an Honorary Doctorate. In 2019, she received the Humboldt Research Award for ‘Historian Expected to Facilitate Cooperation’ between Freie Universität Berlin and University of Oxford.
In 2016, Professor Roper won the Gerda Henkel Prize for lifetime achievement in History, a prestigious German award for excellence in scholarly research. She was awarded an Honorary Fellowship at Merton in 2013.
Merton & Me
Thinking of the first day you walked through the Merton Lodge arch, what was your first impression?
It was cold and snowing; I had only been to Oxford twice in my life; and I was about to be interviewed by what seemed like 40 men. I was terrified.
Do you have a particular memory that stands out from your time at Merton?
In Governing Body meetings people were always talking about details of this and that being available ‘on the noticeboard’ so finally I asked where the noticeboard was. ‘In the toilets’ I was told. ‘But I can’t use your toilets!’. ‘You’re welcome to use our bathroom!’ was the response. I never did. But the noticeboard is still there.
Tell us something about yourself that we would not know.
I adore almond butter.
What tips would you give your younger self to prepare for the career you have achieved?
Love and family are what abides so don’t delay having children too long; don’t be a perfectionist; don’t agonize, organise.
Describe Merton in three words.
When I arrived in 1983: Old, male, traditional.
40 Years of Progress: Oxford, gender equality, and academia since 1980
Lyndal Roper was one of our panellists for this discussion event on Wednesday 3 February 2021, which explored the full spectrum of gender equality in Oxford and how it has evolved since women were first admitted to Merton College. She joined Dinah Birch and Alison Finch to share the challenges they faced during their careers and personal journeys, and reflect on the progress that has been made.
The panel also discussed less frequently asked, but equally important, questions: are there any advantages that have arisen as a result of being a woman in male-dominated fields? Were there any challenges they did not face which their male peers did? And how will changing ideas about gender shape universities and academia as we look to the future?