James Kierstead

Dr James Kierstead profile picture

Senior Lecturer in Classics School of Languages and Cultures


Teaching in 2020

Research interests

Classical Athens, its history and culture; direct democracy, theory and practice.


BA Classics (Oxford); MA Ancient History (London); MA Political Science (Stanford); PhD Classics (Stanford).


I was born into a Canadian army family and grew up in Canada, Germany, and England. I got the chance to learn Greek and Latin at Sherborne School in Dorset after winning a scholarship and subsequently studied classics (Literae Humaniores) at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and ancient history at King's College London. After that I moved to California, where I studied political theory and wrote a PhD thesis on Athenian democracy under Professor Josiah Ober. Since coming to Wellington in 2013 I have continued to research and teach in the field of ancient Greek democracy, and I also oversee the Victoria Ancient Theatre Society (VATS), which produces an ancient play every year. I've also spent a little time in Athens over the years; in 2016 I was Early Career Fellow at the British School at Athens, and I have also spent time at the American School and the German and Canadian Institutes, as well as volunteering with the Agora Excavations and Museum.

Research specialties

My main interest is in ancient Greek democracy and what we might learn from it today. As a consequence, I spend a lot of time immersing myself in the history and culture of the largest, most important, and best documented ancient democracy, classical Athens. I also try to keep up with contemporary developments in the study of democracy in fields such as comparative politics and political theory.

Current research projects

  • My current book project is called Associations and Democracy in Classical Athens (proposal currently under review with Edinburgh University Press).
  • I am also writing a series of articles that seek to look again at 'the Athenian Empire' from a fresh perspective.
  • I am also working on a number of papers that examine the influence of the Athenian democracy on modern liberal thinkers, from Rousseau to Rawls


  • For five years I taught 'The Greeks,' a large lecture course for first years which offered a comprehensive introduction to Greek civilization. Now I teach the Greek half of 'Ancient Civilizations,' which offers a similar introduction to Egyptian, Greek, and Roman history in a single term.
  • I also regularly teach ancient Greek language and literature, where I tend to focus on Athenian authors such as Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Plato.
  • From time to time I get to teach Latin language and literature as well.
  • I have taught Honours courses on Athenian democracy and ancient Greek democracy, and this year I'll be offering 'Ancient Democracy and Modern Liberalism'.
  • I am happy to work with postgraduate students on any topic in Greek history and literature - and this includes the history of ideas.


  • 'Women in Associations in Classical and Hellenistic Athens,' in Tskiuropoulou-Summers, ed. Women and the Ideology of Political Exclusion: From Antiquity to the Modern Era, New York: Routledge (2019), 173-187
  • 'Incentives and Information in Athenian Citizenship Procedures', Historia 68 (2018): 26-49
  • 'Deliberative Democracy and Aristophanic Comedy', in Villacèque (ed.) Le Théâtre de la Démocratie, Rennes: Presses universitaires (2018), 177-192
  • 'The Distribution of Wealthy Citizens in the Attic Demes', in Ober, Erskine, Gray and Canevaro (eds.) Ancient Greek History and the Contemporary Social Sciences, Edinburgh: EUP (2018), 376-404
  • Protagoras’ 'Cooperative Know-How’, in Marquez (ed.), Democratic Moments, London: Bloomsbury (2018), 17-25.
  • ‘Democracy’s Humility: A Reading of Sophocles’ Antigone’, Polis 34 (2017), 288-305
  • ‘Associations and Institutions in Athenian Citizenship Procedures’, Classical Quarterly 68 (2017), 1-16
  • ‘The Delian and Second Athenian Leagues: The Perspective of Collective Action’, in Armstrong (ed.) Circum Mare: Themes in Ancient Warfare, Leiden: Brill (2016), 164-181.
  • ‘Democratization: A Modern Economic Theory and the Evidence from Ancient Athens’, Classicum 41 (2015): 2-24.
  • ‘Majority Decision-Making and Democracy’ (A Reply to E. Flaig), Erwägen, Wissen, Ethik 25 (2014): 439-41.
  • 'Grote’s Athens: The Character of Democracy’, in Demetriou (ed.) Brill’s Companion to George Grote and the Classical Tradition, Leiden: Brill (2014), 161-210


  • Paul Cartledge, Democracy: A Life, Polis 35 (2018): 603-606
  • Oliver Grote, Die griechische Phylen: Funktion, Entstehung, Leistungen, Bryn Mawr Classical Review (2017)
  • Pritchard, Public Spending and Democracy in Classical Athens, Ancient History: Resources for Teachers (2018), 162-172
  • Tiersch, ed. Athenische Demokratie in 4. Jahrhundert, Ancient History Bulletin (2018)
  • Maurizio Giangiulio, Democrazie greche: Atene, Sicilia, Magna Grecia, Classical Review (2016), 1-3
  • Egon Flaig: Die Mehrheitsentscheidung: Entstehung und kulturelle Dynamik, Gnomon 87 (2015): 326-335
  • Danielle Kellogg, Marathon Fighters and Men of Maple: Ancient Acharnai, American Journal of Archaeology 119 (2015)
  • David Teegarden, Death to Tyrants! Ancient Greek Democracy and the Struggle against Tyranny, Polis 32 (2015): 264-9.
  • Catherine Mayo, Murder at Mykenai, New Zealand Association of Classical Teachers Bulletin 40 (2013): 110-113
  • Marie-Joséphine Werlings, Le dèmos avant la démocratie: mots, concepts, réalités historiques, Bryn Mawr Classical Review (2012).

Other Writing

  • 'The Best Books on Athenian Democracy,’ Athenaeum Review (2018)
  • 'Why Comments Should be Free Again,’ The Spectator Australia (July 2018)
  • '"Progressive Stacking"Leads to a Wobbly Form of Equality,' Times Higher Education (May 2018)
  • 'Protagoras and the Google Memo,'Areo (March 2018)
  • ‘Democratic from the Start?’ Tricycle (Spring 2018)
  • ‘One More Push to Make MMP Fair,’ The Newsroom (October 2017)
  • ‘The Uncertain Origins of the Modern Marathon,’ The Conversation (August 2017)
  • Five Entries on Athens in Phang, Spence, Kelly and Londey (eds.) Conflict in Ancient Greece and Rome: The Definitive Political, Social, and Military Encyclopedia, Los Angeles: ABC-Clio (2016)
  • ‘There’s Nothing Wrong with Democracy,’ Quadrant (October 2016)
  • ‘Aldous Huxley’s Theory of Democracy’, The Utopian (June 2012)
  • ‘Democracy in Athens’, n+1 (August 2011)

Links to my work can be found on my academia.edu page


Teaching in 2020