Sensory Experience in Rome’s Northern Provinces – a report by Colin Gough and Kirstie Morey

On the 6th October 2018, several members of the department, current and former PhD students, and a handful of MA Classical Studies students attended a conference hosted by the Roman Society at Senate House in London. The theme for the day was Sensory Experience in Rome’s Northern Provinces and here, fresh from submitting their dissertations for A864, OU Classical Studies MA students Colin Gough and Kirstie Morey share their multisensory impressions of the day.

Colin Gough

The one question that unites students, academics and anyone interested in Classical Studies is ‘what was it like in classical times?’ At the Senate House conference last Saturday we had the opportunity to experience some of the sensations of a Roman. What does the Roman ketchup that is garum, made from putrefying fish, smell like? To this modern, westernised nose – not pleasant, and it would have taken real courage to use it as an edible additive. Yet it was so popular in Roman times that there was mass production. Did Roman men wear perfume? Thomas Derrick (Leicester) not only gave a presentation on the multisensory approach to the impact of Roman settlements in the north but, during lunch demonstrated his (real) passion for Roman scents and perfumes. There is nothing like pouring olive oils with rosemary and pepper, scaping off the excess with a strigil to get the authentic Roman post-bathing experience, even though I spent the rest of the afternoon smelling like focaccia. Patty Baker (Kent) not only gave an interesting presentation on archaeological data to explore retrieving indigenous conceptions of flora but introduced the concept of experimental archaeology in recreating floral crowns from mosaic images in Britannia. These were passed around to give the sensory feel of manufacture and wearing resulting in some new profile pictures on social media. We were treated to a fabulous talk by the author Caroline Lawrence who, with a range of ‘props’ not only gave an insight into how she uses the sensorium to develop her books but gave us a hands-on experience of some of the sights, sounds, smells and feels of the Roman world.

This brings me onto an important point, the value to Classical Studies of experientialism, that is, personally experiencing a location, environment or object. Naturally, our experiences will not be the same as an individual or group in classical times but it does give an opportunity to consider sociological changes and responses and, indeed, help formulate questions to be addressed. But it goes further. It opened my understanding of the different applications of Classical Studies. This was underpinned by the excellent talk by Mike Bishop. Twitter users may know him as @perlineamvalli. He has walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall over fifteen times and has produced two-minute soundtracks at each milecastle prompting the discussion of how the soundscape has changed (Editor’s note: you can listen to them here!). This approach not only focusses the mind on the establishing a temporal frame but allows reconstruction of a likely soundscape in Roman times. Nicky Garland (Newcastle) suggested physiological responses not available from empirical evidence that can be gained by a personally experienced, multisensory approach to the partially re-constructed Commanding Officers House at South Shields. Sophie Jackson (MOLA) gave an interesting presentation on the modern history of the Bloomberg Mithraeum and how consultants, design teams and scholars approached interpreting the archaeology to translate the atmosphere and ritual into a sensory experience for the 21st Century audience.

Unfortunately, because of space constraints, I have not named all the presenters or the subjects tackled (for more see Caroline’s own blog). However, to finish, I have two abiding memories. The enthusiasm of all who presented and the generosity they have in sharing their experience and knowledge. Using our imagination, new methodologies can be developed giving a greater insight into the past and engaging students of the future and the wider public. It has never been a better time to study classical times and sensory studies can be at the centre of all disciplines. Along with OU postgrad and WiP days, I think everyone should experience conferences – if nothing else it makes you appreciate how good we all are and how approachable and helpful other people can be.

Kirstie Morey

As an A864 OU Master’s student, October 1st was a significant date for me. The culmination of two years of hard work and my dissertation was finally submitted. But I had mixed feelings: I was extremely proud of both what I had written, and of how far I had come. I was incredibly relieved to know that it was in and that I had managed to finish it on time and within word limits. But, I was also very sad. Studying for my Masters had been such a journey and had become such a big part of my life, I simply didn’t want it to end. So, I booked myself onto a Roman Society workshop that I’d had my eye on since reading about it on Twitter, and on Saturday last, ventured to the Senate House for the Sensory Experience in Rome’s Northern Provinces workshop. I was nervous at first as I didn’t think I’d know anybody and I wasn’t sure how ‘interactive’ I would be expected to be at a workshop. But, a couple of familiar faces appeared in the room and we were off. It was great.

Having been introduced to the idea of sensory studies in A864, the concepts were easy enough to follow. And the speakers were very engaging and interesting. Some papers were quite theoretical, like Thomas Derrick (Leicester) and Andrew Gardner (UCL); and some were very much more practical. We wore, felt and smelled our way through various coronas, courtesy of Patty Baker (Kent) and heard our way through the milecastles along Hadrian’s Wall, thanks to Mike Bishop. We oiled and ‘strigilled’ ourselves during lunch with ‘authentic’ Roman perfumes and we chewed on mastic chewing gum.

The highlights for me were Stuart McKie’s (Durham) talk on curse tablets and the connection between them and votive offerings and author Caroline Lawrence’s explanation of how she tries to evoke every sensual experience for the readers of her Roman Mysteries series of children’s books.  I wish she had been available for my kids’ birthday parties – she was brilliant! While Sophie Jackson from MOLA was talking about the history of the London Mithraeum, she showed us a newspaper photograph showing the thousands of people who queued daily in the 1950s to see the original ruins. A lady in the audience shared with us her memories of being in that queue and how it inspired her to become an archaeologist.  That was the icing on the cake.

I am told that this conference may not have been typical and that others aren’t usually so ‘touchy feely’ but, while that may have been the case, the fact that the theme was so interesting, and the speakers were so engaging was secondary to my enjoyment of just being there. It made me realise that my academic journey is not over and that there is plenty more to be involved with, to listen to and, maybe even one day, to contribute to.

By Colin Gough (@saddad52) and Kirstie Morey (@K33Morey)

Classical Encounters

Last summer, we ran a blog post that included some suggestions from colleagues in Classical Studies for classically-themed ‘days out’ in the UK; this year, we thought we’d catch up with a few colleagues on their ‘classical’ adventures over the summer vacation. So, as the nights begin to draw in, we look back at some of our recent encounters with the classical world through archaeological sites, theatre, films, and more. We’d love to hear about your recent classical encounters too … why not tweet us over at @OU_Classics?

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Eleanor Betts

I’ve meant to visit Tuscany for years, and finally made it this summer. If you haven’t visited, do! First, I was digging on the Albagino Sacred Lake Project. Beautiful location for an excavation, despite the mosquitoes!

The Albagino Sacred Lake Project

Aside from trowelling clay, my role was to make a phenomenological survey of the site. Why were people in the middle of the first millenium BCE leaving bronze figurines in the countryside? We recorded the sights, sounds, temperatures, birds and beasts in and around Albagino. Our working hypothesis is that people travelling between Prato and Marzabotto may have passed through Albagino, taking advantage of the fresh water and ample provisions there.

After the dig I made a whistle-stop tour of Tuscany. My first, and favourite, stopping place was Volterra … where I found this chap:

Replica of an Etruscan votive figurine

Votives aside, Volterra was one of the significant settlements of Etruria, and is well worth a visit. Enjoy the archaeological museum, Palazzo Priori and wandering the town’s medieval streets. From there I went to Vetulonia (3rd– 2nd century BCE), which has another lovely archaeological museum and the best basalt street I’ve seen outside Rome!

Most of what we know about the Etruscans is from their tombs. Each place has its own character, suggesting localised beliefs and practices. I visited Volterra, Vetulonia, Populonia, Chiusi, Tarquinia, Orvieto and Cerveteri, and can recommend them all. I found the house tombs at Crocofisso del Tufa (Orvieto) and Cerveteri the most resonant. Going inside any of these tombs feels like walking into someone’s house – and they’re homely! Oh, and Tarquinia has amazing painted tombs, such as the Tomb of Hunting and Fishing (Tomba della Caccia e della Pesca).

The Tomb of Hunting and Fishing

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Elton Barker

I confess: I’m not much of a theatre-goer, even though I love (and research) Greek tragedy. I much prefer cinema, perhaps because it comes with less class baggage. But this trip to see a staging of Sophocles’s Electra at the end of August was going to be different, since the play was being performed outside in a semi-circular theatrical space (thus appealing to my classical sensibilities) in the forest that overlooks Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki.

In a word: Wow. This adaptation by the National Theatre of Greece (under the direction of Thanos Papakonstantinos) was something else! At one level, it appeared quite traditional: the play wasn’t located in a contemporary setting; the costumes were simple, bordering on the stylised; it used music throughout; the chorus sung *and* danced; the text wasn’t excised or adapted in any way (other than it being the modern Greek translation). But it was like nothing else I had seen. As you’ll see from the photographs, the stage was stark in its simplicity, an effect that was further amplified by the simple, almost abstract costuming of all the actors. Not only did this help focus attention on the gestures, movement and interactions of the actors; it also helped to defamiliarise the action and detach it from any particular setting, whether classical or modern. This is something, I think, that Greek tragedy generally manages to do: that is, to speak to audiences not bound by space or time. But one costume did possibly have a contemporary resonance: the clothing of the chorus seemed to me to be a pristine white version of the clothing worn by the handmaids in renowned TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.

Electra reachers out to her sister Chrysothemis

Controlled and in control, this was a chorus of and for our time, gaining power through their collective action. A *spoiler alert* #metoo movement. Unlike every other chorus I’ve ever seen, this chorus sung and chanted in metre throughout in unison. They also moved as one, like polished mannequins, often with minimal gesture of forefinger touching the thumb, like a Greek orthodox Christ blessing his congregation. Then, as the play hurtles towards its terrifying climax (the matricide; the forever deferred murder of Aegisthus), they transform, as Electra’s hatred and bitterness finally comes to affect and infect them. They transform, indeed, into those terrifying presences who are notably (notoriously) absent from Sophocles’s play. As this performance made real what is only ever hinted at in the text, the chorus take up Electra’s murderous, blood-curdling calls for her brother to strike down her mother, for vengeance to strike down Aegisthus, by transforming into screaming, writhing Erinyes (the Furies). This wasn’t so much a tragedy as a full-on horror show. It was, quite simply, thrilling and has stayed with me, goading me to think and to respond, ever since.

Electra and the Chorus

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Jan Haywood

Towards the end of the summer break I went to see an incredible new film by Zhao Ting entitled The Rider. The film tells the story of a hippophile named Brady, who recently suffered a major head injury after his horse fell on him while he was bronc riding at a rodeo event. As the film begins, we follow Brady’s troubled road to recovery, and remain on tenterhooks throughout, wondering whether or not he will choose to ride again. Although the film bears no obvious resemblances to any specific source text from the ancient world, I found myself continually transported to the literature of classical antiquity; for instance, in one of several stunning sequences, Brady is shown wrangling a particularly stubborn horse, aptly named Apollo. The scene captures powerfully the profound trust between horse and human protagonist, who communicate with each other silently through a series of dance-like movements.

Brady comforts Apollo in The Rider

This kind of special devotion to and care for one’s horse is deeply ingrained in ancient Greek culture; one only need think of Alexander the Great’s famous steed Bucephalus who purportedly served the Macedonian King in several battles, or indeed the Trojan hero Achilles and his immortal horses, Balius and Xanthus, who, in Book 17 of the Iliad, weep at the sight of mutilated Patroclus. Watching the film, I was also reminded of the fourth century BCE Athenian writer Xenophon and his equestrian treatises, namely the Peri Hippikes (‘On Horsemanship’) and Hipparchicus (‘The Cavalry Commander’). In the former of these two works especially, Xenophon includes precisely the kind of exacting details on how to achieve the ‘best of himself and his horse in riding’ that is so vividly depicted throughout the film’s delicate, long takes of Brady and his beloved Apollo. So, a film that is not about equines in antiquity, but nonetheless one that lends itself to contemplation on the values of horsemanship that were deeply ingrained in the classical world.

Alexander and Bucephalus, detail from a Roman floor mosaic, Pompeii

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Jessica Hughes

This summer I continued my travels around the sacred sites of Campania, this time exploring the regions of Cilento and Vallo di Diano. It was a wonderful trip, and now – back in England as the autumn leaves turn gold and brown – my mind keeps returning to one place in particular: the Early Christian baptistery of San Giovanni in Fonte, which is located just a few hundred metres from the Charterhouse (‘Certosa’) of San Martino in Padula. I’m sharing some video footage that I took at the site, which is thought to have been built on top of an earlier Roman site, perhaps a nymphaeum. In this short sequence, you can see the spring water which the sixth-century writer Cassiodorus described as “a marvellous fountain, full and fresh, and of such transparent clearness that when you look through it you think you are looking through air alone” (Variae 8.33). The camera then moves into the interior of the building, towards the huge ‘font’ in which those receiving baptism may have been fully immersed. You’ll get a brief glimpse of some fragmentary frescoes of Saints, which have been dated to the tenth century, and which may originally have surrounded an image of Jesus. I love the way that the water casts its dappled reflections on the ceiling – and I can’t wait to visit this ‘marvellous fountain’ again in the winter.

(Don’t) judge a book by its cover

This blogpost by Elton Barker was originally posted on the blog Sententiae Antiquae, and republished here with minor alterations.

As some of you on the Twitterverse may have seen, all this month @OU_Classics has been celebrating the books that members of the department have published over the past few years. This has been a great way to find out what colleagues spend their “spare” time on, as well as to enjoy how the books look and to speculate on the choice of image—that arboreal skeletal hand gripping E-J’s book Death Embodied, for example, or the implied dialogue between Aristotle and Homer in Jan’s Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War.

When my own book on debate in Homer, historiography and tragedy was tweeted, I was reminded of a couple of things about the title: specifically why I had chosen to treat those genres in that order (wouldn’t historiography have been better discussed after tragedy?), and my then students’ game, when Google was just becoming a thing, of typing “Entering the Agon” into the search box and returning the result “Do you mean Enter the Dragon?”. But it also got me thinking about my choice of cover …

With the possible exception of writing acknowledgements, I find choosing a cover image for a book arguably the most pleasurable, and most difficult, of the final tasks that needs accomplishing before I can happily pack off my manuscript on its merry way to the press. Even if we are told otherwise (in the famous axiom not to judge a book by its cover), how a book looks can play a decisive role in its purchase; after the subject matter and author, it’s the one thing that may determine whether I buy book a book or not. If I look on my bookshelves, for example, the dust jackets that stand out for me are: the famous image (from the so-called François vase) of Ajax carrying the dead body of Achilles that emblazons Greg Nagy’s 1979 classic The Best of the Achaeans (and Michael Lynn-George’s equally ground-breaking Homeric criticism Epos: Word, Narrative and the Iliad); the contemplative Regarding Penelope by Nancy Felson; the highly wrought, yet seductive, Medea of James Clauss and Sarah Iles Johnston; the satirical depiction of famous classicists playing characters from Aristophanes (!) on Martin Revermann’s Comic Business; and the striking pose of Gertrude Eysoldt captured in the role of Electra that advertises Simon Goldhill’s Who Needs Greek?. The arresting contemporary nature of this image (though the photograph dates back to 1903) hints at Goldhill’s thesis of the continuing legacy of Victorian attitudes to, and contests over, the Classics that shape and inform our own implicated relationship with the subject.

As these examples suggest, aesthetic looks isn’t the only desideratum when it comes to choosing a book cover. For sure we want something that looks good; but it’s equally, if not more, important for that image to say something about the book itself (a picture is worth a thousand words, right?), though perhaps not in an obvious or straightforward way. Let me explore this issue by reflecting on my own choice of three covers that I’ve had the pleasure to be able to choose.

The image I chose for my first book—Entering the Agon: Dissent and authority in Homer, Historiography and Tragedy (Oxford, 2009)—is in many ways very traditional. It’s the famous image (on the black-figure amphora by Exekias) of Achilles and Ajax playing dice. But it’s an image that worked for me not only because of its beauty—though hats off here to the team at OUP who extended the pot’s gleaming background (which sets off the black figures) to cover the entirety of the book’s cover in a fiery golden afterglow. Figure4This image also spoke to my book’s subject matter: namely, the idea of contest (agōn) and its representation in ancient Greek literature. In truth, I had a hard time finding an image that worked for me. I wanted some kind of ancient Greek artistic representation; perhaps because it was my first book (the “book of the thesis”), I felt it needed to be unambiguously classical. It should have been easy, right, to find an image from the whole corpus of ancient Greek ceramics, right? Wrong. I could find none of the scenes of debate in epic, history and tragedy, which were the core focus of my argument, that had been illustrated, not even—as one may have expected—the quarrel between Achilles and Agamemnon that starts off the Iliad with such a bang. There is a fresco, highly fragmented, from Pompeii’s House of the Dioscuri (on exhibition at the National Archaeological museum in Naples), which shows Achilles going for his sword; and of course there are later Renaissance paintings depicting the quarrel (such as Giovanni Battista Gaulli’s baroque rendering). But I could find none from the world of ancient Greek ceramics or friezes—perhaps because, as Robin Osborne pointed out to me, Greek artists simply were less interested in illustrating literary stories than in creating their own. (It is striking that the wall paintings from Pompeii *do* look like illustrations of early Greek literary narratives, including the moment Euripides’s Medea ponders killing her children.) What Exekias’s scene of gaming heroes gave me was a hint not only of the formalisation of contest, but also of the prominence of Achilles (who in my argument institutionalises contest in the arena of debate) and, moreover, of his pairing with Ajax (whose story in Sophocles’s tragedy formed one of my chapters).

The second book I needed to choose an image for presented a rather different challenge. This was for an edited volume entitled: New Worlds out of Old Texts: Revisiting Ancient Space and Place (Oxford, 2016). Figure7The book derived from an interdisciplinary project that I had led called Hestia, which investigated representations of space and place in Herodotus, as well as the spatial construction underpinning his Histories. At the heart of the book was a discussion of the different disciplinary approaches that we undertook, spread over three chapters (which I co-authored with different team members), exploring: digital annotation and mapping (with Leif Isaksen and Jessica Ogden), geographical spatial theory (with Stefan Bouzarvoski), and philological close reading (with Chris Pelling). Our resulting book included other contributors working in this space (pardon the pun), who had presented at our conference in Oxford, and who, like our team, represented an array of disciplines—not only Classical Studies, but also archaeology, digital humanities, and the history of thought. The image I wanted, then, needed to respect these different disciplinary approaches while at the same time hinting at ways in which they might be combined and intertwined (for interdisciplinary research). And, of course, it needed to be in some way spatial, to suggest the complexity of trying to represent and unpick spatial entities and relations. A web-designer friend (a shout-out here to Richard Rowley of Agile Collective) put me on to London-based artist Emma McNally, whose work attempts to “portray essence not as substance… but rather as the result of a process of reciprocal determination, where individual lines, markings, and trajectories are brought to significance through their interrelations with those around them” (https://www.flickr.com/people/emmamcnally/). After getting her approval (she was very happy for us to use her work provided that she got a copy of our book: gold armour for bronze, as Homer would say!), I chose her scratches, traces, spaces. This work on graphite (“a medium that lends itself perfectly to [a] sort of rhythmic making and unmaking. It is a material for palimpsest”: ibid) seemed to me to perfectly capture the spatial palimpsests that many of us were striving to reveal and more closely examine in our texts, while also being provocatively new and overtly relational. Emma later informed me that the very same artwork was used by Ridley Scott as a navigation map in his latest Alienprequel Convenant. If it’s good enough for Ridley…!

Figure8

All this brings me to the last image—the one that Joel had invited me to write about in the first place… Our book, Homer’s Thebes, sets out to argue that the Iliad and Odyssey (mis)represent heroes and themes from the Theban tradition to set out and realise the unique superiority of these texts in performance. In arguing this, we are attempting to view the Homeric poems in a new light, by emphasizing a non-hierarchical model of “reading” them and the Epic Cycle together within the framework of oral-formulaic poetics and artistic rivalry. With this in mind, we wanted an image that suggested Homer in some way (epic poetry, heroes, etc.) but that wasn’t a straightforward classical take on that. From a very early stage I was convinced that a cubist painting of some kind would work, with that central idea of taking something familiar (for us, reading Homer; for Homer’s audience, the Troy story and the siege of Thebes) and, by viewing it from different perspectives, producing a radically different picture (a Troy story that emphasises internal conflict among the Achaeans, for instance). For me, cubist works echo the type of violent reception and adaptation that our book is about. But here we ran into a significant problem that meets anyone looking to reuse a contemporary image, whether that is a museum photograph of an ancient artefact or a modern painting in a gallery’s collection: copyright. For all the cubist paintings that I could find that seemed to dialogue with our approach, the answer kept coming back from our publishers that we couldn’t use them because of the copyright and/or the costs involved. Out went The Thebaid by Wyndham Lewis, along with his Composition; we fared no better with Barbara Hepworth’s Two Heroes; we couldn’t even use Le Poèteby Picasso, even though I had sourced it from Wikipedia.

Just as I was beginning to despair, and I thought that we would have to give up on this idea of a cubist-style makeover for our Homer, I had the inspiration to look for works by modern Greek artists. I knew that ever since the twentieth century, Greek writers and painters alike have been grappling with the problem of their country’s complicated (and often times suffocating) classical legacy. And thus I had the fortune to come across the work of Nikos Engonopoulos. He’s the painter most famous in Greece for revisiting classical themes in a distinct modern style (tending towards surrealism). Having found a number of post-classical images that I thought that we could use, I contacted the person responsible for his website and who owns the copyright to his works, his daughter Errietti Engonopoulou. Like Emma, Errietti could not have been more accommodating, and immediately allowed us to use a high-resolution image of the image that we decided on.

I present to you Engonopoulou’s 1939 oil on canvas The poet and the muse. We hope that you like it as much as we do.

Figure9

Elton

Studentships: MA in Classical Studies

We are delighted to be able to offer two fully-funded scholarships for our MA in Classical Studies:

  • One scholarship will be awarded through an open competition, on the basis of the academic excellence of the applicant.
  • One scholarship, generously funded by the A.G. Leventis Foundation, will be awarded to a UK schoolteacher who intends to introduce or develop the provision of Classical Civilisation in the curriculum of the school where they work.

The Open University’s MA in Classical Studies:

The MA in Classical Studies at the Open University focuses on the question ‘How do we know what we know about the ancient world?’ It is designed both to introduce you to key concepts and themes in Classical Studies and to allow you to explore some of these in more depth. Over the course of the two modules that make up the qualification, it gradually builds up your knowledge and the skills you need to explore ancient visual and written material, while also training you to become an independent researcher. This is the ideal qualification for anyone who wants to know more about the ancient world and the ways in which we can approach it as researchers. It also offers an excellent starting-point for those wishing to teach classical subjects in secondary school. It is a two-year qualification requiring approximately 16 hours of study time a week, which means that it can be completed alongside employment, and it is taught entirely online. No specific prior knowledge is assumed, and there is no requirement to have studied Latin or Ancient Greek, but an undergraduate degree in a cognate discipline is recommended as a basis. By consultation other arrangements can sometimes be made if you do not hold a degree in such a discipline. This usually involves preparatory reading. Further information about the MA is available on the OU website, and on our departmental website. The scholarship covers full fees for the MA.

How to apply:

To apply for the scholarship, please complete the MA-scholarship-application-form 2018 and send it, completed, to FASS-ClassicalStudies-Enquiries@open.ac.uk. With the form you should also send:

  • a separate curriculum vitae (CV) of no more than two pages;
  • a copy of your latest degree certificate;
  • a transcript of your degree that makes clear the level of your academic achievement;
  • the name of an academic referee who would be prepared to support your application if you are shortlisted (this should be someone who has taught you or worked with you);
  • a statement from your headteacher indicating that they are willing to support your plans to develop Classical Civilisation, if you are applying for the Leventis scholarship.

The application form includes a section for a personal statement.

  • Applicants for the Leventis scholarship should use this section to outline their teaching experience to date and to provide a clear indication of the way in which they propose to develop the provision of Classical Civilisation in their school. The successful applicant will be selected on the basis of this statement, and on academic excellence in their studies to date.
  • Applicants for the open competition scholarship should use the personal statement to give an account of their prior experience of studying the ancient world, and to explain why they want to study for the MA in Classical Studies at the OU.

The scholarships will not be awarded to students receiving full funding from other funding bodies. It is not necessary to register for the MA degree before making this application.

The Open University promotes diversity in education and we welcome applications from all sections of the community. If it would help to have the application in an alternative format please contact FASS-ClassicalStudies-Enquiries@open.ac.uk.

The deadline for applications is 4pm on Monday 2nd July and we intend to inform all applicants of the outcome in mid-July.

Informal enquiries can be made to Joanna Paul (joanna.paul@open.ac.uk).

 

 

The John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay Prize in Classical Studies

boy writing on a wax tablet, as shown on a Greek vase

An annual prize is awarded for the best essay in a competition, open to all current Open University undergraduate students. It is likely to be of particular interest to students on A219, A276, A275, A330 and A340. The essay, of not more than 3000 words, should be on any topic related to Greek and Roman Antiquity.

Submission dates for the next prize are as follows:

  • the closing date for notice of intention to enter the competition is 30 June 2018, and
  • the deadline for submission of essays is 30 September 2018.

For further details, rules and regulations for the competition, see below.

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Information and Regulations for Entrants

1. The prize will be an annual award based on the income from a donation given by the late Alec Kassman in memory of his son. Alec was an Arts Faculty Staff Tutor in London Region of the Open University and a contributor to Classical Studies courses. The purpose of the prize, which will be awarded for the best essay in an annual competition, is to develop and foster study of Classical Antiquity in the Open University. The award will take the form of a book-token (or other academic related goods) to the approximate value of £100. 

2. The competition is open to all current OU Undergraduates and Associate students (i.e. current at the date of notice to enter the competition – see below 4) Candidates may compete in more than one year if they wish, but no candidate may submit an essay more than once on the same topic.

3. Details covering presentation of essay:

i) The essay may be on any topic related to Greek and Roman Antiquity; this regulation may be interpreted liberally – including e.g. comparative study, provided that a substantial part of the essay deals with a Greek or Roman aspect of the topic. The right is reserved to refuse proposals deemed unsuitable.

ii) The essay should be an original piece of work, written for the purpose of the competition, and should not replicate material submitted by candidates for previous assessment (TMAs and EMAs) at the OU or elsewhere.

iii) A word-limit of 3000 words, including notes, should be observed (if appropriate to the essay subject, a limited amount of additional illustrated and/or diagrammatic material may be included). A bibliography should be appended, together with a statement that the essay is the candidate’s own unaided work.

iv) Essays may be typed or hand-written, but must be double-spaced and written on only one side of the paper. In order to preserve anonymity for judges, the candidate’s name and address should not be written on the essay itself but enclosed on a separate cover-sheet to be included with the essay.

v) Essays will be returned after the competition provided that an SAE is included with the essay.

4. Notice to enter the competition should be sent, together with the proposed essay title, by 30th June 2018 to the Assistant (Academic Support), Department of Classical Studies, FASS, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA; or via email FASS-ClassicalStudies-Enquiries@open.ac.uk

The deadline for receipt of essays will be 30th September 2018. This timing is intended to give competitors an opportunity to work on their essays after the 2018 academic session. The decision of the judges, which will be final, will be announced to all competitors as soon as possible after the closing date.

5. The administration and adjudication of the competition will be by a Committee appointed by the Department of Classical Studies. The committee reserves the right not to award the prize in any given year if there is no essay of an acceptable standard.

6. Guidelines for competitors. The following criteria will be observed by the judges:

i) Quality of the Essay as a piece of English prose

ii) Appreciation of the issues involved in the selected topic

iii) Quality of thought displayed in setting out and addressing such issues

iv) Sensitivity to the historical ambience of the topic, and its significance within that setting

v) Capacity for independent critical analysis

vi) Imaginative choice of topic.

 

Postgraduate Work in Progress Day 2018 (#OUCSWiP) – a report by Paula Granados Garcia

Paula Granados Open UniversityWhen I received an email from Christine Plastow asking for help to organise this year’s Work in Progress Day at the department, I didn’t hesitate for a second! My experience presenting in last year’s WiP Day was so rewarding that I was sure I wanted to get more involved with this year’s event. Fortunately, I wasn´t wrong. As a co-organiser of this year’s conference as well as one of the presenters, I think I speak on behalf of all the attendees when I say that the WIP day celebrated on Wednesday 9th May by the OU Classical Studies department was especially stimulating and unique! We had the pleasure to count on three very different but at the same time complementary panels that demonstrated how varied and rich is the research carried out at the department.

 
Christine Plastow introduces the day.

The day began with a very nice cup of coffee, where all the attendees had time to catch up with the latest news and updates and meet some new faces. Senior OU lecturer Emma-Jayne Graham recently shared with me how great it was to meet and have a chat with so many enthusiastic students and colleagues. Indeed, in my case it was really nice to meet fellow students who started their PhDs at the same time as me and see how things are progressively developing.

After the nice welcome, the seminar began. Christine and myself wanted to have a dynamic and approachable conference where everybody could have a chance to speak and feel welcome to share their views; as Christine said, ‘all of us are doing some work in progress and all of us are researchers no matter the stage’. We thought that it would be nice to break the ice with a group discussion on the joys and perils of post-graduate Classical Studies and how to move forward in academia. In my own experience, it is really difficult to find the chance to listen to what comes next after finishing a Classics MA or a PhD. So, it was very beneficial to have a nice conversation in a friendly environment where everybody could share their hopes and fears about postgraduate research. Even more interesting was to hear the experiences of Christine Plastow and Jan Haywood. Both of them are early career researchers that have recently become part of the OU family and commented on how they got into the Classical world almost by chance, to later make it their profession.


Jan Haywood describes the first open discussion session.

This nice discussion led towards the first panel of the morning and perhaps the most ‘traditionally classic’ session regarding Classical Studies and Classical Reception. I am very proud myself to have chaired such a stimulating couple of presentations. First Elizabeth Webb, who also contributed to last year’s WIP, gave a fascinating talk titled: ‘Collective and individual emotion: Thucydides’ presentation of emotions in the History of the Peloponnesian War’. Following Elizabeth, Claire Greenhalgh provoked the reflection of all attendants with her presentation: “Rape in the depiction of female slavery in HBO’s Rome and Starz’s Spartacus”. Both papers raised very interesting thoughts regarding the depiction of emotions not just in Greek text but also in other visual media such as sculpture. This discussion fitted nicely with the latter debate on how current perceptions of visual violence and especially sexual violence against women have changed.


Liz Webb summarises her paper on Thucydides and emotion.

After lunch, the seminar continued with the staff spotlight panel chaired by Christine Plastow. Again, as a student, it is not very common to be able to attend presentations regarding the research curriculum of your institution and even less common to do so in conjunction with the presentations of postgraduates. Because of this, it was especially inspiring to listen to the ongoing research of the department staff. Elton Barker kicked off the session with his introduction on ‘Homer´s Thebes’. Joanna Paul followed with a brilliant presentation on her work on the receptions of Pompeii under the title ‘In search of the lost city: ongoing explorations of Pompeii and its contemporary reception’. The session continued with the Roman experts of the department including Ursula Rothe´s fabulous exposition on ‘The toga in the Roman culture’ and Emma-Jayne Graham’s presentation about ‘The thingliness of Roman religion’. Finally, Christine Plastow attracted the audience´s attention by speaking about ‘Space, place and identity in the Athenian forensic oratory’.

The final session of the day was thematically oriented towards Digital Humanities and Digital Classics. It highlighted the active role that the Open University has recently taken in collaborating with Digital Humanities projects. Sarah Middle opened the panel speaking about her work on “Linked ancient world data and user research: methods, frameworks and challenges”. It was followed by my own presentation on one of the sections of my PhD research, the development of a Linked Open Database of coins from the Iberian Peninsula. The closing paper for this session was delivered by Francesca Benatti, OU Research Fellow in Digital Humanities. In her presentation, Francesca highlighted the supportive role that the OU Digital Humanities group has developed with so many resources and opportunities for training available for postgrad students. I found it really interesting to hear about the many DH projects in which the OU collaborates including Pelagios, Hestia, Classics Confidential, The Reading Experience Database, and Open Arts Archive. These three presentations showed how useful digital resources can be when applied to humanities research and especially classics. Most of the attendees demonstrated their interest in the digital world and showed how engaged they were by asking really thought-provoking questions regarding Linked Open Data and the dissemination of digital research.

Francesca Benatti presents on digital tools, resources and projects.

In my subsequent conversations with the delegates, all of them highlighted the high standard of all the presentations and how much they enjoyed the friendly environment and the possibility to share their views and thoughts. I think that one of the most remarkable features of this year’s WiP Day is how the students´ current work was nicely intermingled with the staff research agendas and all of that framed by a warm conversation on how to develop a career in Classics. I would also like to acknowledge here the brilliant work of OU lecturer Jessica Hughes who recorded and tweeted small voxpops of some of the attendees speaking either about their collaboration in the event or their current work in progress. These short recordings were a step forward with regard to the visibility of the session. As Sian Beavers remarked at last year’s WiP Day, perhaps in the future we will be able to record the seminar and make it available for those who can´t attend in person. I am aware that Sian wanted to be there this year but couldn’t make it for personal reasons, we missed you!

Perhaps, most of all, this day was an opportunity for interesting discussion and for students and staff to get to know each other a little better and keep building a stronger community within the department and the OU in general. I want to express my eternal gratitude to Christine Plastow for making everything so easy and to all of the speakers and attendees for making such a fantastic day where everybody had a voice. It has been a wonderful and very enriching experience for me and I hope to see you all again at next year’s WiP Day.

by Paula Granados Garcia

A new publication – Material Approaches to Roman Magic

It’s almost exactly two years since we published a blog post introducing Adam Parker, who was then at the beginning of his PhD on Roman magic. Time flies, and Adam is now in his third year of part-time study. We’re delighted to share news of a recent publication entitled ‘Material Approaches to Roman Magic: Occult Objects and Supernatural Substances’, which Adam co-edited with another (recently graduated) OU PhD, Stuart McKie. 

Adam writes:

“My research is on the archaeology of magic in Roman Britain. It’s a material-led study which is looking at a broad range of different object types from this province in order to establish chronological, spatial, material, and contextual relationships from within this large data-set and it has the ultimate goal of trying to understand what magic was in this period and what function it served for those who used it. Stuart McKie’s PhD (2017) was on The Social Significance of Curse Tablets in the North-Western Provinces of the Roman Empire.  He is now a Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Manchester. We both share a strong belief that material culture analysis has the capacity to revolutionise our understanding of Roman magical practices and that this publication will help to draw the subject into the paths of 21st Century theoretical models, archaeological practices, and analytical techniques.

The core of this book comes from a panel held at the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (TRAC) 2015 entitled “Charmed I’m Sure: Roman Magic – Old Theory, New Approaches” . One of the most exciting features of that panel was the coming together of university academics, postgraduate students, professional archaeologists and museum curators in the pooling of ideas and approaches to Roman magic. The volume has maintained that variety and energy, with papers from five of the original contributors plus further articles from authors working in the same wide range of professions. Our aim with this collection of papers is to further develop some of the ideas presented at TRAC 2015, particularly the focus on materiality and embodied experience of magic in the Roman world. At the core of this volume is the contention that fine-grained artefact analysis has great potential to offer new ways to understand ancient magic practices.”

You can order the book via the Oxbow website, and read a summary and the table of contents below.

Congratulations, Adam and Stuart!

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This second volume in the new TRAC Themes in Roman Archaeology series seeks to push the research agendas of materiality and lived experience further into the study of Roman magic, a field that has, until recently, lacked object-focused analysis. Building on the pioneering studies in Boschung and Bremmer’s (2015) Materiality of Magic, the editors of the present volume have collected contributions that showcase the value of richly-detailed, context-specific explorations of the magical practices of the Roman world. By concentrating primarily on the Imperial period and the western provinces, the various contributions demonstrate very clearly the exceptional range of influences and possibilities open to individuals who sought to use magical rituals to affect their lives in these specific contexts – something that would have been largely impossible in earlier periods of antiquity. Contributions are presented from a range of museum professionals, commercial archaeologists, university academics and postgraduate students, making a compelling case for strengthening lines of communication between these related areas of expertise.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Materials, Approaches, Substances, and Objects
Stuart McKie and Adam Parker
 
2. The Medium Matters: Materiality and Metaphor in Some Latin Curse Tablets
Celia Sánchez Natalías
 
3. Phallic Magic: A Cross Cultural Approach to Roman Phallic Small Finds
Alissa Whitmore
 
4. Little Bottles of Power: Roman Glass Unguentaria in Magic, Ritual, and Poisoning
Thomas Derrick
 
5. Victory of Good over Evil? Amuletic Animal Images on Roman Engraved Gems
Idit Sagiv
 
6. ‘The Bells! The Bells!’ Approaching Tintinnabula in Roman Britain and Beyond
Adam Parker
 
7. Rubbing and Rolling, Burning and Burying: The Magical Use of Amber in Roman London
Glynn Davis
 
8. Linking Magic and Medicine in Early Roman Britain: The ‘Doctor’s’ Burial, Stanway, Camulodunum
Nicky Garland
 
9. The Archaeology of Ritual in the Domestic Sphere: Case Studies from Karanis and Pompeii
Andrew Wilburn
 
10. The Legs, Hands, Head and Arms Race: The Human Body as a Magical Weapon in the Roman World
Stuart McKie
 
11. Amulets, the Body and Personal Agency
Véronique Dasen

NEO: The Classics Students’ Journal – Call for papers

The Classics students’ journal NEO, founded in 2016, is now calling for papers for its second issue. For further information and guidance on the submission process, click here.

The 2017 issue of the journal (which can be downloaded here) includes a piece by former Open University Classical Studies student Ian Ramskill, whose paper ‘Horace Odes 3.14: a pragmatic and welcome acceptance of the early Pax Augusta’ started life back in 2014 as a prizewinning essay for the John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay Prize. This is a competition which is open to all OU Classical Studies undergraduates. Look out for more details soon!

Rumours of our demise …

An article appeared in Thursday’s Guardian (March 22) about proposed curriculum and staffing cuts at the Open University: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/mar/21/open-university-plans-major-cuts-to-number-of-staff-and-courses

There is an implication here that Classical Studies as a discipline is at risk or is being cut.

Despite what is said here, you can rest assured that there are NO plans whatsoever to axe Classical Studies at the OU.  Our student numbers remain buoyant and we are recruiting to all modules and qualifications as normal.  As part of a university-wide review of curriculum there is, indeed, a plan to remove A275 Reading Classical Greek following its 2019/20 presentation, i.e. a year earlier than was initially planned.  But while this is regrettable, it’s hardly something that the department was expecting to be front page news.

The VC has already publically rebutted the Guardian claims about Classical Studies and has reaffirmed his continued commitment to the discipline. So for now in the department, it is business as usual.

The Landscape Garden: Britain’s Greatest Eighteenth-century Export?

OU PhD student John Harrison reports on a conference held at the British School at Rome, Tuesday, 6th March 2018.

BSR_advertisement for conference

Last year I had the pleasure of attending the Hortus Inclusus meeting at the British School at Rome (BSR). It was two fascinating days and featured a diverse and talented international cast of speakers. The ancient Roman content was for me particularly interesting and it sparked the thought that a meeting on the topic of the Eighteenth-century English Landscape garden, so heavily influenced by ancient Rome, would be a worthy follow-up event. Last Tuesday (6th March) that idea came to fruition in the form of a one-day meeting at the BSR titled ‘The Landscape Garden: Britain’s Greatest Eighteenth-century Export?’.

I have previously commented on my good fortune in acquiring speakers for past meetings and I was delighted that we managed to secure an outstanding group of individuals to speak at this event, including the excellent Professor Diana Spencer to lead a discussion on the central conceit of the day – was the Landscape Garden indeed Britain’s greatest eighteenth-century export? More on this issue later.

photograph of powerpoint slide

A week of bad weather in Italy and further afield presented travel challenges for delegates and speakers alike. In the hours before the meeting there was a flurry of ‘I might be a bit late’ text and email messages, but by mid-morning we had a growing audience and speakers ready to deliver. First-up, to set the scene, was the excellent Dr Laura Mayer who had kindly acceded to my request to deliver in slightly less than one-hour a keynote lecture on the English landscape garden from William Kent to Humphrey Repton, via Capability Brown. Laura delivered the perfect scene setter with “‘Original & Indisputably English’: The Landscape Gardens of the Eighteenth Century”, no mean feat given the unenviable task she had agreed to.

With the scene so beautifully set I had the easiest task of the day with the presentation of my PhD research on the eighteenth-century landscape garden at Stourhead. This was the first outing for my critical review of authorial intention theories of Stourhead and my shift to focus on visitor reception. I was a little anxious at the reception of my ideas and research findings, so chose an understated title for my presentation: ‘Roman influences on Georgian Stourhead’. A robust question and answer session followed the presentation, which was very useful preparation for my forthcoming PhD viva.

Professor Christopher Smith talking from a lecturn

Our final speaker before lunch was Dr Clare Hornsby who presented her recent research on the topic of ‘Gardens at La Trappe: neo-classical display in the London suburbs’. Clare explained that this is ‘work-in-progress’, but it was clear from the content of her fabulous presentation that she has already achieved a good deal. The building she has painstakingly researched and described sounded truly magnificent and the account she gave of her research was so vivid it was almost like being in the various archives with her.

We commenced the post-lunch session with a consideration of art and literature’s impact on the English landscape garden. We were honoured to have well-known expert Michael Liversidge take us through a broad sweep of the influence of painting in his ‘Painting and Planting: art, aesthetics and landscaping in Georgian England’ presentation. Michael skilfully covered the better-known links between gardens and fine art, but very helpfully revealed what for me were a number of new links and perspectives.

Our final speaker was Dr Paul Gwynne, who is Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, at the American University of Rome. This was another presentation I was very keen to hear, having had my appetite whetted by Luke Roman’s presentation at the Hortus Inclusus event. Paul’s ‘The Italian Renaissance Villa and Garden: an overlooked source. Some observations and suggestions’, is also work-in-progress, but was hugely informative and thought provoking. It inspired me to revisit the topographical poets I read as part of my Stourhead research.

A day of informed and thorough lectures led us neatly into the panel discussion. I think we came to this mindful that the landscape garden had considerable competition for the title greatest 18th-century export. Nevertheless, given that by the end of the 18th-century ‘English gardens’ could be found in Sweden 🇸🇪, Germany 🇩🇪, Poland 🇵🇱, Russia 🇷🇺, and even France 🇫🇷, and Italy 🇮🇹, it was certainly amongst the most important artistic exports. With this weighty issue partially dealt with we retired to the reception area of the BSR for further reflection over drinks and snacks.

In closing I’d like to thank the speakers for their wonderful presentations and the delegates for their keenness to participate. The success of the day owes so much to the BSR staff who gave so generously of their time. I would particularly like to thank Tom True, Alice Marsh and Christine Martin whose advice, support and participation helped make the day such a joy.

John E Harrison

12th March 2018

johncpc@btinternet.com