Thomas Heffernan, Kenneth Curry professor of Humanities and interim director of the UT Humanities Center is being honored in Chicago, Ill., this weekend by the Modern Language Association committee.
Heffernan will receive the 'Prize for a Scholarly Edition' for his work entitled "The Passion of Perpetua and Felicity," which was published by the Oxford University Press in 2012.
"Thomas J. Heffernan's edition of the third-century 'Passion of Perpetua and Felicity' is not only a model of scholarly method but also a readable, humane work," the MLA committee stated in a press release. "The commentary seems effortless — yet any working critic or editor will recognize the extraordinary effort that went into it.
"Heffernan's edition combines delight with instruction and deserves all the praise and honor that it has received."
Heffernan was inspired to write the book after coming across the story of Perpetua and Felicity, Christian martyrs who were imprisoned during the third century. He was intrigued by the idea of Perpetua leaving behind a diary of her time during imprisonment, as this was the first autobiographical journal left by a woman in history.
"I read it and got fascinated with it and decided to do the book," Heffernan said. "I could hardly believe the story could be true and decided to investigate it.
"Normally, it would seem to be fake because there are no other documents during the time period written by a woman, so I got involved, tying to see if it was actually real. To my amazement and satisfaction, I found it to be true."
John P. Zomchick, a professor of English and vice provost for Faculty Affairs at UT, is a close friend and colleague of Heffernan.
"The MLA Scholarly Edition prize is awarded every two years, which makes this honor even more impressive," Zomchick said. "Tom's patient bibliographical work — the work of many years — has received the top honor in our profession. It recognizes his learning and his painstaking skill in establishing a reliable text, illuminating annotations and informative historical context for generations of scholars to come."
Heffernan is originally a New York native who later traveled to England, where he studied at Cambridge University. During this time, he took a major interest in historical studies. After graduating, Heffernan began a career at UT, where he has been a professor ever since.
His love of history played an important role in his 12-year compilation of facts and information for the book, which competed against hundreds of other titles for the prize.
Heffernan traveled to numerous places, such as Africa and Jerusalem, in order to see and read the original historical documents for his work.
He said while creating the book he's "learned much more about the status of women in the Roman Empire, particularly the status of upper class women and elite women."
Heffernan hopes that those who read the book will be inspired by Perpetua's courage and strength to stick with her faith and beliefs.
"We should try to emulate people who have this kind of courage," Heffernan said. "She can be a role model for your own beliefs."