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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


Ruth Murphy

PhD Candidate
Faculty of Modern & Medieval Languages
Contact details: 

Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics
Raised Faculty Building
University of Cambridge
Sidgwick Avenue
United Kingdom


I am a European Studies graduate of Trinity College Dublin, with French and Italian as my chosen languages. I spent a year at the Università degli Studi di Siena as part of my degree. I went on to study classical singing at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, and then returned to academia, taking an MPhil in Comparative Literature and Culture (ELAC) at Cambridge. After this, I worked for a year at University College Dublin, before coming back to Cambridge to begin my PhD in Italian. My passions are languages, literature, philosophy, music and dance.

Teaching interests: 

I supervise the first-year Italian course ITA3: Texts and Contexts.

I am also teaching a new HML class on Race and Translation in collaboration with Dr Alexis Litvine and Dr Luke Warde. This will be based on our English translation of the French writer Blaise Cendrars’ 1938 novella J’ai Saigné.

Recent research projects: 

My MPhil thesis, ‘Unbidden empathy: the limits of thought in Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and Primo Levi’s I sommersi e i salvati’ was supervised by Prof Robert Gordon. It looked at questions of morality in relation to the Holocaust: in particular, the role of empathy and imaginative thought (or lack thereof) in the mentality of perpetrators, collaborators, and bystanders. My PhD research continues to reflect on Levi’s writing, but also considers how a wider group of European intellectuals – figures such as Hannah Arendt and Emmanuel Levinas - responded to the ethical questions posed by the Holocaust. My work encompasses both literary criticism and moral philosophy. I am particularly interested in how the kind of writing found in these writers/thinkers (a combination of the testimonial, historical, literary and philosophical) is a powerful vehicle for the formulation of ethical concepts.


  • Full PhD scholarship from The Cambridge Trust and St John’s College (2019-2022)
  • St John’s College Scholarship Award, based on my MPhil results (2018)
  • Global Undergraduate Awards Gold Medal (2015). This award was given to my final-year paper entitled ‘Revelations of an anti-Genesis: the Muselmann, Primo Levi and Viktor Frankl’, which was then published in their annual journal.
  • Italian Cultural Institute of Dublin Award for Italian (2015)
Published works: 

‘The Social Distance of Philosophy’ – forthcoming in the Irish journal Studies (spring 2021). This is a reflection on the philosophy of Iris Murdoch and Martha Nussbaum, and their particular relevance for life in a pandemic.

Conference papers

‘Do we need a new category between moral philosophy and literature? Primo Levi’s testimony as a case study’ – Italian Graduate Conference, June 2020

Other activities and roles

I sing with St John’s Voices and dance with the Cambridge University Dancesport Team.