Woman Roper, Lyndal (1956 - )

28 May 1956
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Lyndal Roper is a leader in the history profession, who has contributed in significant ways to the social and cultural history of sixteenth and seventeenth-century Germany; gender history; witchcraft; the German Reformation.

Roper was born in Melbourne on 28 May 1956. A passionate trade unionist, Roper's grandfather would pour out animated and angry reminiscences of Gallipoli. Her mother Ailsa Roper taught drama and literature in schools and had a strong interest in psycho-drama. After retiring she taught at the Melbourne College of Advanced Education, later part of the Faculty of Education at the University of Melbourne. Roper's father William Stanley 'Stan', who had done intelligence work in Germany after the Second World War, became a State Director in ASIO but then resigned to obtain a theology degree. For a while he was a minister of religion before leaving the ministry to work as a social worker supervising children's and youth services in an outer district of Melbourne.

Roper is an alumna of the University of Melbourne graduating with a BA (Hons) in History with Philosophy in 1977. It was during her studies on the German Reformation at the University of Melbourne that her interest in the early modern past and the changing role of women and the family began to emerge. Having submitted an Honours thesis titled,'The Reformation preacher and authority: Andreas Osiander in Nuremberg, 1522 - March 1525 Roper was encouraged to go on to further postgraduate work by historian Charles Zika: 'Charles's inspirational teaching is the reason why I became a historian of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Germany' (The Witch in the Western Imagination, 2012).

Awarded a Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (German Academic Exchange) scholarship to study in Germany the twenty-one-year-old Roper departed for Tübingen where she embarked on archival research under the guidance of Ingrid Batori, Heiko Oberman and Hans-Christoph Rublack. She began researching the role of women in early modern Germany, visiting south German towns, including Ulm and Reutlingen, in search of documentation. Roper later recalled this time as a lonely and demoralising period, as she grappled with her research-and with the handwriting of the period! In Augsburg Roper would uncover the criminal records containing information about domestic life that would provide the basis for her doctoral thesis on women and morals in Reformation Augsburg, completed at the University of London (King's College) under the supervision of key influence, the Australian Reformation historian, Bob Scribner.

After completing her PhD Roper held a Junior Research Fellowship at Merton College Oxford. She was then appointed to a Lectureship at Royal Holloway, University of London where she worked for fifteen years, becoming Professor in 1999. She moved to Balliol College, Oxford, in 2002, becoming Fellow and Tutor in History. Roper co-edited the historical journal Past & Present from 2001 until 2012 and is a member of the Board of the German Historical Institute London. She was also elected a Fellow British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences in 2011 and took up the prestigious Regius Professorship in History at Oxford University. She was the first woman, and first Australian, to hold the Regius Chair in History, and is now at Oriel College, Oxford.

In her first book, Holy Household. Women and Morals in Reformation Augsburg (1989), Roper argued that the Reformation developed a theology of gender. Its attraction lay in its offer of the vision of a 'holy household' where the roles of men and women were clearly distinct. Oedipus and the Devil (1994), her second book, ranges through the literary culture and archival records of the sixteenth century, applying psychoanalysis to the study of witchcraft. For Witch Craze (2004) Roper undertook four archivally-based case studies of witch hunting in southern Germany. Roper argued that what powered the witch craze was a set of fears about fertility in the human and the natural world. The study encompasses areas of human experience that often elude the historical record, realms such as fantasy, envy and terror. The Witch in the Western Imagination (2012) explores images of witches and witchcraft in art and literature. Roper is currently completing a biography of Martin Luther. She is the editor of influential edited works: Disciplines of faith: studies in religion, politics, and patriarchy, with Jim Obelkevich and Raphael Samuel (1987); and Dreams and history: the interpretation of dreams from ancient Greece to modern psychoanalysis, with Daniel Pick (2004).

Roper dedicates The Holy Household to the women's movement: 'My thanks, first of all to the women's movement, without which this book could not have been written'. A leader in the field of gender history, in 1999 she founded the Bedford Centre for the History of Women with Professor Amanda Vickery. The centre pioneered the field when the study of the history of gender first came to fruition.

While her work has taken her to Germany and the UK, Roper has maintained close links with the Australian academic community. In 2007 she was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Roper is also an Honorary Professor at the University of Melbourne and a member of the Advisory Board of the Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence for the History of the Emotions. She often mentors visiting Australian students.

Roper is married to the modern German historian Nicholas Stargardt. They have two children.

Published Resources

Journal Articles

  • Snowman, Daniel, 'Lyndal Roper', History Today, vol. 52, no. 1, 2001, pp. 30 - 32. Details

Online Resources

See also