New publications on the ancient body

The first half of 2017 has seen the publication of several new books by members of the Ancient Body cluster in the department of Classical Studies, so we thought we’d share with you some further details.

Eleanor Betts (ed) (2017) Senses of the Empire: Multisensory Approaches to Roman Culture (Routledge).

This new edited volume addresses the growing field of sensory approaches to Roman material culture. Extending beyond the presentations from the November 2013 conference held at The Open University Regional Centre in Camden (London), this volume discusses the value of integrating sensory perspectives into existing archaeological, historical and literary analyses of the ancient world. Amongst the chapters you will find important new explorations of theoretical and methodological approaches to ancient sensory studies, as well as specific case studies on urban sensescapes, Roman funerals, entertainment venues, the smells of the military fort of Vindolanda, the sounds of the tuba, touching and tasting in animal sacrifice, the visual and tactile aspects of signet rings and votive dedications, and the motion of pantomime performances. Several contributors are members of the Classical Studies department: Eleanor Betts, Emma-Jayne Graham and Valerie Hope. From the cover:

“The Roman empire afforded a kaleidoscope of sensations. Through a series of multisensory case studies centred on people, places, buildings and artefacts, and on specific aspects of human behaviour, this volume develops ground-breaking methods and approaches for sensory studies in Roman archaeology and ancient history. Authors explore questions such as: what it felt like, and symbolised, to be showered with saffron at the amphitheatre; why the shape of a dancer’s body made him immediately recognisable as a social outcast; how the dramatic gestures, loud noises and unforgettable smells of a funeral would have different meanings for members of the family and for bystanders; and why feeling the weight of a signet ring on his finger contributed to a man’s sense of identity. A multisensory approach is taken throughout, with each chapter exploring at least two of the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. The contributors’ individual approaches vary, reflecting the possibilities and the wide application of sensory studies to the ancient world. Underlying all chapters is a conviction that taking a multisensory approach enriches our understanding of the Roman empire, but also an awareness of the methodological problems encountered when reconstructing past experiences.”

For more see the Routledge website 

 Jessica Hughes, (2017). Votive Body Parts in Greek and Roman Religion (Cambridge University Press).

This major new monograph began life as part of a Leverhulme-funded project titled Changing Beliefs of the Human Body based at the University of Cambridge (2005-2009). By exploring a range of different forms of anatomical votive, across the ancient Mediterranean and parts of Europe, the book ‘aims to track how and why the anatomical votive cult developed and spread in classical antiquity, and to shed light on some of the varied meanings that these objects held for their ancient users and viewers’ (p. 3). By bringing votive body parts into a conversation with other visual and literary sources from the classical world, it emphasises their importance for a wide range of topics in classics, as well as demonstrating how votives intersect with modern theories and perceptions concerning the body. From the cover:

“This book examines a type of object that was widespread and very popular in classical antiquity – votive offerings in the shape of parts of the human body. It collects examples from four principal areas and time periods: Classical Greece, pre-Roman Italy, Roman Gaul and Roman Asia Minor. It uses a compare-and-contrast methodology to highlight differences between these sets of votives, exploring the implications for our understandings of how beliefs about the body changed across classical antiquity. The book also looks at how far these ancient beliefs overlap with, or differ from, modern ideas about the body and its physical and conceptual boundaries. Central themes of the book include illness and healing, bodily fragmentation, human-animal hybridity, transmission and reception of traditions, and the mechanics of personal transformation in religious rituals.”

For more see the Cambridge University Press website.

Jane Draycott and Emma-Jayne Graham (eds) (2017). Bodies of Evidence: Ancient Anatomical Votives Past, Present and Future (Routledge).

Continuing the anatomical votive theme, the origins of this edited volume lie in a conference held at the British School at Rome in June 2012. Contributors to the book explore not only the roles that anatomical votive offerings played in ancient religious and healing contexts but also the roles their subsequent collection and study continue to play in shaping ideas about the human body today. Chapters include examinations of confession stelae, swaddled babies, hair, eyes, wombs, feet, and open torsos, as well as topics such as fragmentation and disability, museum collections and new chronological and theoretical assessments. Emma-Jayne Graham and Jessica Hughes, from the Classical Studies department, are both contributors. From the cover:

“Dedicating objects to the divine was a central component of both Greek and Roman religion. Some of the most conspicuous offerings were shaped like parts of the internal or external human body: so-called ‘anatomical votives’. These archaeological artefacts capture the modern imagination, recalling vividly the physical and fragile bodies of the past whilst posing interpretative challenges in the present. This volume scrutinises this distinctive dedicatory phenomenon, bringing together for the first time a range of methodologically diverse approaches which challenge traditional assumptions and simple categorisations. The chapters presented here ask new questions about what constitutes an anatomical votive, how they were used and manipulated in cultural, cultic and curative contexts and the complex role of anatomical votives in negotiations between humans and gods, the body and its disparate parts, divine and medical healing, ancient assemblages and modern collections and collectors. In seeking to re-contextualise and re-conceptualise anatomical votives this volume uniquely juxtaposes the medical with the religious, the social with the conceptual, the idea of the body in fragments with the body whole and the museum with the sanctuary, crossing the boundaries between studies of ancient religion, medicine, the body and the reception of antiquity.”

For more see the Routledge website.

Happy reading!

OU Classical Studies Postgraduate Work in Progress Day 2017 (#OUCSWiP)

OU PhD student Sian Beavers reflects on this year’s Classical Studies postgraduate Work in Progress event which was held in Milton Keynes on 10th May 2017. 

After hanging up my organiser’s hat from the OU Classical Studies postgraduate work in progress conference, I’m left with a sense of wonderment over the nature of the day for a few reasons, and I’m pleased to be able to share these with you.

The themes for the day’s panels – Greek Writers; Digital Tools for Classicists; Linked Data; and Receptions of the Ancient World – really allowed for presenters to build upon and towards other presentations in each panel. PhD students Elizabeth Webb and Sophie Raudnitz kicked off the day with their presentations on sensory perception in Thucydides and ‘the future’ in Plato respectively, and did a brilliant job of setting the tone for the event – as well as setting the presentation- bar high. The idea of this thematic building upon and towards presentations couldn’t have been more evident than with Valeria Vitale’s presentation on linking data with Pelagios, followed by Sarah Middle and Paula Granados-Garcia’s presentations on the use of Linked Data in the Humanities, with a live-demo by Valeria (a Research Fellow at the Institute of Classical Studies in London but who kindly accepted our invitation to share her work with us) of the remarkable Pelagios tool. For those, like some of our delegates (and oft times, me) that might find terms such as “data” a little intimidating on occasion, these three presentations did a fantastic job of opening our eyes to the benefits of these approaches to Classical Studies as a discipline, as well as personally inspiring us to potentially use such tools in the future in our own work. Similarly, with our final session on Receptions of the ancient world, with presentations from OU MA students Simon McLaughlin and Madeline Chawner, as well as my own presentation (a project on the side of my PhD research), we found that the themes relating to the epics, and indeed hero narratives, kept reoccurring with reference to different contexts and from differing viewpoints. It was almost as if the presenters, and one would hope the attendees, were seeing “linked data IRL” in the final session.

The standard of the presentations was so high that I wonder how we can make more of this at future WiP events. Unlike other universities, so many OU students are geographically spread, making attendance in person problematic for a myriad of reasons. OU Lecturer Jess Hughes’ brilliant session in the ‘Digital Tools for Classicists’ panel, on the different ways in which social media and digital technologies can be used to bring people with shared interests together, to promote collaboration, and also to share and disseminate findings, really got me thinking about how we can use the technology we have to further bring classicists together. On the one hand, a focal point of the WiP day is to provide an informal context for students to present and get feedback on their work, and not to give them the extra pressure of presenting to an unknown audience. On the other hand, however, I’d really like to see the next WiP day being live-streamed or recorded for later sharing (with the permission of the presenters, of course). This would offer access to the talks to OU students who can’t attend in person; it would also provide speakers with a wider audience to disseminate their research; and it would help to share with the wider world the range of research taking place within OU Classical Studies.

As this is my second WiP conference (and the third for some of our presenters!) I am in a position to say, without agenda, that the standard of presentations in both years I have attended has been astounding. To label the day as a ‘Work in Progress’ event almost has the connotation that there is something unfinished about the content – which of course is true to an extent, but this terminology may not reflect what was, in no uncertain terms, a polished professionalism displayed by every one of the presenters in both their content and delivery.  To quote one of our presenters, “For those who can attend these events, they present a fantastic opportunity to meet up with staff and students from the OU Classical Studies Department, as well as some very knowledgeable people from other universities…Every single talk was interesting, and importantly, they showed a future pathway for Classical research that is massively encouraging… it was thrilling to see our subject blazing a trail that other disciplines will undoubtedly follow.”

Reading the bios of the presenters also got me thinking about how people come – or return – to Classical Studies. Some start off in Classical Studies before returning later in life, sometimes having picked up other disciplines or professional experience along the way; others come from somewhere else (professional or academic), and find the subject through an indirect route. Some start and end with Classical Studies, though integrate differing perspectives and disciplines into their practice as classicists. Through reading the backgrounds of just the presenters at the event, I realised that we bring both our academic and life experiences into our research areas; precisely one of the reasons that events like these are so valuable. They make it clear that there is such diversity in the subject and this is something that should be celebrated: there is no “right” approach to studying Classical Studies and the discipline is made stronger for it.

Perhaps most of all, our presenters were overwhelmed by how engaged the audience were with the presentations and research topics. The feedback and questions from the delegates really highlighted for me that the WiP is not merely a vessel for content delivery, but a reciprocal process whereby both the presenters and the audience can discuss aspects of Classical Studies to the mutual benefit of both. The Open University is built upon the ideas of diversity, inclusivity and, of course, openness. These ideals were exemplified in both the presenters and the delegates at the WiP day, and also in the way that the event brought together students and staff from the OU and elsewhere to celebrate the discipline that we share. So let’s continue to celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of the discipline, and the innovation that the researchers within the field deliver. With this in mind, I leave you with these musings, but hope to see you – as a presenter or a delegate – at next year’s event!

If you would like more of a sense of the day, have a look at the Storify of the tweets!

by Sian Beavers

#CA2017 Part II: Getting the most out of the conference

The Classical AssociationAs the OU Classical Studies team gears up for the Classical Association annual conference (#CA2017), which we’re hosting jointly with the University of Kent from 26th-29th April 2017, this week we’re following up our earlier blogpost offering advice for conference speakers with some more of our top tips on how to get the most out of attending the UK’s biggest classically-themed academic conference.



At a large conference like this, where there are usually several panel sessions taking place in parallel at any one time, it can be tricky to decide which ones to go to, so it’s a good idea to work out beforehand which papers you’d most like to hear. Eleanor Betts advises attendees to “read the programme and abstracts in advance, and decide which you’d most like to go to; look up the people whose papers you’re interested in to see more about their research interests and publications, and make an attempt to talk to them at the conference.” A large-scale conference like this is a good opportunity to find out what’s going on across the whole field of Classics, so don’t feel that you should only go to the papers which relate closely to your own areas of research; dip in to other topics which look fun or interesting. That said, the CA conference is set up in such a way that there are some key conference themes which will be the focus of several panel sessions; you may find it beneficial to follow one of these strands throughout the conference. Sessions might not always take place in the same building on campus, so it’s also worth familiarising yourself with the campus map and factoring in the time it’ll take to get from one venue to another.

Learning experiences

Even (or perhaps especially) if you’re not presenting a paper of your own, a conference like this not only offers a chance to learn a lot about other people’s research, but it’s also a good place to observe others’ presentation techniques; this can help a great deal when it comes to delivering your own research talks in future. Elton Barker recommends that, when listening to papers, delegates should “pay attention not only to what’s said but also how it’s said. (This is particularly true for papers that are not on your subject.) Try to identify elements that work or, alternatively, that don’t work. What would you have done differently, and why? What impressed you the most?” Jessica Hughes elaborates further: “When you go to panels, don’t just focus on the content of the papers – be alert to the different styles of delivery, and the varied ways in which colleagues ask and answer questions. For me, this has been the most important cumulative learning experience of past conference-attendance. Which papers were the most engaging, and why? How did the speaker interact with the audience, and how far did they capture and retain attention? When it gets to the post-paper questions, see if you can pick up some tips about how to respond elegantly to difficult questions without seeming too defensive. And see who manages to ask intelligent questions of a speaker without seeming aggressive or overly self-important. It’s a fine art.”

Aside from the papers, I’d always advise making some time to browse the book stalls. This is a great way to find out a little more about some of the latest publications in your areas of interest (and to figure out whether it’s really worth splashing out on/persuading your university library to buy that book whose title sounds ideal but which might not be exactly what you thought it was). There are also sometimes good deals to be had, as publishers often offer discounts for conference delegates; Jo Paul suggests, “Make sure there’s room in your bag for the book(s) you’ll undoubtedly end up buying!”

Networking (and not)

Elton writes, “Networking is important at these things, but don’t do it for the sake of it. If, on the other hand, you’re genuinely interested in a particular topic/issue, then do try to collar the person who was talking about it. In my experience speakers welcome conversations after the event, when the glare of public scrutiny is off and it’s less of a performance. At the same time, you should feel free to ask questions in the space given after each presentation, if you’re confident enough. Just don’t feel bad that you don’t…” If you do take the opportunity to chat to other academics, Eleanor offers a reminder that it’s a good idea to think beforehand about how you want to introduce your own work if asked: “be prepared to have a snappy oneliner/one minute summary of your research interests.”

If you’re feeling nervous about not knowing many people at the conference, then Jo has some good advice. She notes that “even seasoned academics can feel cold stabs of terror at the thought of heading into a meal or a tea break when they don’t know anyone, and plucking up the courage to talk to new people doesn’t necessarily get easier. But it’s invariably worth it, and people will often be glad that you made the effort – they may be feeling nervous themselves.” To assuage some of your worries Jo suggests: “Make use of networks before you get to the conference. Twitter’s not for everyone (and livetweeting of papers can sometimes be as much of a hindrance to your focus on the paper as a help, so don’t feel obliged to get stuck into this kind of thing), but it can be a great way of ‘getting to know’ people before you meet in the flesh. Or ask around in your department: Are other PhDs going? Does your supervisor or colleague know of other people who’ll be in attendance who might be worth meeting? If your supervisor’s going to the conference, they can be a great way of getting introductions to people you might want to meet, so don’t feel afraid to ask if they can introduce you to professor x.” If you do use Twitter then check out the conversations happening under the hashtag #CA2017; and if you are keen to get involved in livetweeting then before you do I’d recommend taking a look at the advice given in this crowdsourced ‘livetweeting protocol’ put together by Dr. Liz Gloyn of Royal Holloway.

All that said, as Jessica notes, “Attending a big, busy conference like the CA can be exhausting. Everyone has different stamina levels, and you may find that you want to spend every single minute listening to papers, chatting with colleagues over drinks, lunches and dinners, and browsing book stalls. But if you find yourself flagging, do take some time out to be on your own, have a quiet cup of tea in your room, and gather your thoughts. Hopefully you’ll feel refreshed and ready for Round 2 of networking!”


Several members of the OU Classical Studies team will be at the conference next week – we’re looking forward to seeing you there!

MA Schoolteacher Scholarship in Classical Studies

We are delighted to be able to offer a fully-funded MA scholarship 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 scholarship, supported by the A. G. Leventis Foundation, is being offered in conjunction with a UK-wide project, ‘Advocating Classics Education’ (ACE), led by Prof. Edith Hall of King’s College London and supported by fourteen partner universities including the Open University, to foster the teaching of Classical Civilisation in state secondary schools.

The scholarship covers full fees for the MA. The successful applicant’s school will also have the support of the Open University and the national project lead, including the opportunity to participate in training courses and promotional events relating to Classical Civilisation.

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 two years, it gradually builds up your knowledge and the skills you need to explore ancient visual and written material, all the 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, and it 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 here.

To apply for the scholarship, please complete the application form, which includes a section for a personal statement. This section should be used to outline your teaching experience to date and to provide a clear indication of the way in which you propose to develop the provision of Classical Civilisation in your school. 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 introduce or develop the provision of Classical Civilisation in the school where you teach.

Preference will be given to applicants working in the state sector, and 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

The deadline for applications is 4pm on Monday 19th June and we intend to inform all applicants of the outcome in early July.

Informal enquiries can be made to Ursula Rothe (

Researching Born-Digital Archives Workshop

OU PhD student Sarah Middle reports on the Researching Born-Digital Archives workshop.

On Thursday 16 March 2017 I attended Researching Born-Digital Archives at the British Library, a collaborative workshop with three AHRC consortia – CHASE (who provide my PhD funding), South West and Wales, and WRoCAH. The focus of the day was on managing, curating and using collections of objects that had originated in a digital format (as opposed to digitisation of physical materials), and how the nature of these resources might lead to the study of new research topics.

British Library Initiatives

Several speakers from the British Library presented on the theme of managing the lifecycle of born-digital materials, from initial processing (Jonathan Pledge and Eleanor Dickens) through to long-term preservation (Maureen Pennock) and creative methods of reuse (Stella Wisdom). As a former collections professional, and current data enthusiast, particular points of interest for me included the processes involved in turning the files and directory structure of e.g. a floppy disk into an archive collection of digital objects, as well as the innovative ways in which people have reused the British Library’s publicly available datasets.

One project that stood out for me was the Big Data History of Music, which used library catalogue data to visualise trends relating to music production over time, by geographical location, and in relation to historical events. Stella’s talk was very inspiring, and prompted me to consider whether I might be able to make use of the library’s data as part of my PhD research.

Annual output of printed music for six major cities, 1500–1699. Data from RISM A/I and B/I (Stephen Rose, Sandra Tuppen, Loukia Drosopoulou, ‘Writing a Big Data history of music’, Early Music 43 (2015), 649-60 doi: 10.1093/em/cav071; distributed under a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution licence)

Born-Digital Archives and Creative Writing

Another theme from some of the talks was the impact of born-digital archives on the research and practice of creative writing, presented here from the point of view of an archivist (Justine Mann, University of East Anglia) and a writer (Craig Taylor). Justine spoke about collecting the ongoing work of emerging contemporary authors and preserving it in a born-digital archive, which will allow future researchers to gain an unprecedented insight into their creative processes. Craig is working with the British Library on his current project, Genesis, which involves writing his latest novel on a dedicated laptop with spyware installed. Every keystroke is recorded, documenting his creative process in minute detail.

One particularly interesting question from the audience was whether authors are more self-conscious in the production of their digital materials, in the knowledge that they will be archived, and whether this has an effect on their content (e.g. wanting to present themselves in a certain way). It is not yet possible to answer this question fully; however Craig said that, while he usually forgets that the spyware is there, he becomes very aware of it at points where he is struggling. Perhaps this question might form the basis of a future research topic years from now.

Student Panel

A particularly exciting aspect of the event for me was the opportunity to present my work as part of a student panel, with three other AHRC-funded PhD students. Helen Piel (British Library / University of Leeds) started by talking about her work with the different materials held in the British Library’s John Maynard Smith archive, containing the various works relating to his research interests in the areas of Engineering and Zoology. Kate Walker (University of Sheffield) then spoke about her research, which focuses on social media communities of wadaiko (Japanese drum) players, and involves collecting data from Facebook groups of which Kate herself is an active member. Acatia Finbow (Tate and University of Exeter) is studying documentation of performance art at Tate Modern, which similarly includes a large amount of social media content, but with more focus on image and video, rather than text.

Student panel discussion, including Helen Piel (left) and Acatia Finbow (right) (unfortunately Kate Walker and I are hidden by the audience) (image via @UEAArchives on Twitter)

I gave a brief overview of my work converting the AHRC project data held in the Research Councils UK’s Gateway to Research (GTR) to Linked Data (of which more in a future post). My focus was on the differences in data structures between the existing GTR and the Linked Data, and how the Linked Data structure allows more complex queries, which will help me identify projects to use as case studies as part of my future research. I was quite nervous, as it was the first time I had presented on my PhD research, but my talk seemed to go well, and I received many positive comments afterwards. Several people said they had not heard of Linked Data previously, but understood my explanation, which indicates I had managed to pitch it at the right level – always an issue when explaining technical concepts to a non-specialist audience.

A simplified example of how Linked Data can be applied to Humanities collections, based on the idea of Pelagios

Final Thoughts

As well as providing the experience of presenting my research in a friendly and supportive environment, I found this event an interesting and stimulating half-day. It provided me with a strong foundation of knowledge in the various stages involved in managing born-digital collections, as well as their potential for opening up new areas of academic research. In particular, I really enjoyed meeting academics, professionals, and other PhD students from all over the country, who are working in areas relating to digital collections. I would like to thank the British Library and the three AHRC consortia for organising the event and for making my attendance possible.

by Sarah Middle

Editor’s note: To find out more about Sarah and her PhD research, take a look at the OU Classical Studies blogpost ‘ Introducing …some of our new PhD students!‘ 


OU Classical Studies Postgraduate Work in Progress Day 2017

Classical Studies at the OU is delighted to announce the programme for our annual postgraduate work in progress event, to be held at the OU’s Walton Hall campus in Milton Keynes on Wednesday 10th May 2017.

10:00-10:25: Coffee available

10:25: Welcome and Introductions

10:30-11:30: Greek Writers (Chair: Sian Beavers)

  • Elizabeth Webb. ‘Audience Sensory Perception in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War
  • Sophie Raudnitz. ‘Intertextuality and Remembering the Future in Plato’s Apology and Theaetetus

11:30-12:30: Digital Tools for Classicists: Discussion led by Valeria Vitale (Institute of Classical Studies) and Jessica Hughes (OU)

12:30 to 13: 30: Lunch

13:30-14:30: Linked Data (Chair: Simon McLaughlin)

  • Sarah Middle. ‘Investigating data use in the Humanities by linking AHRC projects’
  • Paula Granados-Garcia. ‘Cultural Contacts in Early Roman Spain through Linked Open Data’

14:30-15:00: Break

15:00–16:20: Receptions of the Ancient World (Chair: Sophie Raudnitz)

  • Simon McLaughlin. ‘Acropolis Now (or why we should stop looking at American wars when making comparisons with ancient conflict).’
  • Sian Beavers. ‘Digital Games as New Epic Form’
  • Madeline Chawner. ‘Captain America – Homeric Hero for the Twenty-first Century’

16:20: Closing Remarks

Registration for the event is now open. For further information or to reserve a place please contact Sian Beavers ( by Monday 1st May.

Exploring the classical world: on location with the module team

This week Jan Haywood reports on a trip to Greece to film material for our new Classical Studies Module.

Elton on camera at the Lion Gate, Mycenae

The Classical Studies team at the OU are currently working hard to produce our brand new second-level undergraduate module, ‘Exploring the Classical World’ (A229), which will replace its predecessor of the same name, and which is due for its first presentation in October 2018. The module will cover a whole range of aspects of the history, literature and culture of the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, from the Homeric poems to the Roman imperial period. As part of the production process, the module team is also creating a number of audio-visual resources, including two new films, one focusing on the archaeology of Mycenae and the other on the Athenian religious festival, the Panathenaea. Last week my colleague Elton Barker and I were fortunate enough to travel to Greece with a production team—Morgan Phillips and David Herd from Angel Eye Media—to create these new films.

The Parthenon

The filming began at the ancient site of Mycenae (in the Argolid gulf), and then moved to several sites in Athens, including the Acropolis, the agora (Athens’ central marketplace in antiquity), the Cerameicus (a well-preserved cemetery located at the outer limits of classical Athens) and the spectacular National Archaeological Museum of Athens, which hosts a fabulous collection of Greek antiquities.

Filming the Caryatid porch


The entire trip was a fascinating, deeply rewarding experience. While Elton and I have spent years studying the classical world, and both of us have considerable teaching experience in higher education, the filming process quickly proved to present a novel set of challenges. On the first day of filming proper, we were exposed to many of the obstacles that are associated with recording video footage. Hyper-sensitive audio equipment (apparently asking after one’s breakfast to get the audio levels for the microphone is a commonplace in media circles), loud crowds, gusts of wind, hedge trimmers, tuneful European sirens, seemingly endless numbers of enthusiastic street-sellers (lime green pillows are clearly all the rage in modern Athens!), and unexpected bug attacks were just some of the less esoteric trials that we had to contend with as the camera rolled.

Capturing the Acropolis on camera

At the sites where we were filming, we had the opportunity to record brief vignettes (known in the media business as ‘pieces to camera’); it was during this process that we were presented with the chance to think afresh about our discipline. Indeed, working with Dave and Morgan—who were coming at things from a visual storytelling angle—brought into sharp relief the core argument in each of our films and the signal importance of thinking about the Greek landscape. For instance, it was while the crew was capturing various shots of the Acropolis from the Areopagus (a low hill northwest of the Acropolis, literally meaning ‘Ares Rock’) and I was looking over westwards towards the Pnyx (the meeting place for Athens’ citizen assembly in the Classical period) that I came to appreciate more clearly the complex topographical and ideological dialogue between the Pnyx, the beating heart of Athenian democracy in the fifth century, and the Acropolis, the city’s highest point, where the ancient Athenians would make offerings to their city’s gods. There were several such moments in which our engagement with the Greek (built and natural) landscape served to inform and enrich the content of the module’s new films.

It would be impossible for me to sum up in a single sentence what was a highly edifying week. Instead, I shall leave you with the words of Morgan, the director: “That’s a wrap!”

by Jan Haywood

Editor’s note: For news on the progress of this new module, and more images taken on location by Jan and Elton follow @OU_Classics on Twitter or search for the hashtag #OUA229.

Image credits: Elton Barker and Jan Haywood

#CA2017 Part I: Tips for speakers

The Classical AssociationClassical Studies at the Open University is looking forward to co-hosting this year’s annual Classical Association (CA) conference, which will be held at the University of Kent’s Canterbury campus from 26th-29th April 2017. While we’re busily working behind the scenes to make sure that the event is a success, we’ve also been talking about how delegates can get the most out of their conference experience. For many speakers the CA will be their first experience of presenting their research at a large conference; this week’s blogpost shares some of our top tips on how to ensure it goes smoothly.

Organising your ideas

Sometimes when you’ve been immersed in a research topic it’s easy to forget that others will be far less familiar with the material you’ll be discussing; when giving a conference presentation it’s a good idea to make it as easy as possible for your audience to follow your argument. Laura Swift advises, “Flag your structure as clearly as possible. People really appreciate it if they understand where you are going, and what the point is, and in an oral delivery it’s even more important as they can’t flick back to your introduction to remind themselves.”

Elton Barker offers some further suggestions as to how to ensure that you keep your listeners’ attention. He says:

– It’s always a good idea to have a ‘hook’. So, rather than simply starting with the bald statement of your research objective, lead in to your discussion with a catchy example.

– As well as a hook, an introduction – particularly for an oral presentation – needs to take your audience through the steps of what you’re going to talk about. So, sketch out what you’re going to do, and why that’s important.

– Keep references – or at least citations of references – to a minimum. I’d advise against reading out long chunks of text or citing page numbers of secondary scholarship in your oral presentation; these can be given on a handout as ‘further reading’ for your audience to refer to after the event (more on using handouts below).

– Remember, you’ll have the Q&A session after your paper to go into more detail or introduce other material. It might even be worthwhile saying ‘I don’t have time to go into this now, but perhaps we can talk about it further in the discussion’. It’s always a good idea to plant the kinds of questions in your audience’s minds that you want to follow up.

– Your paper will need a summing up to remind your audience what you’ve shown or the issues you’ve raised and/or the problems that need addressing. Have in mind to leave your audience with (no more than) three ‘take home’ messages.

Think about how your paper will sound

Again, bear in mind the differences between a written paper and one which is delivered orally to a live audience. Laura Swift warns, ”Don’t write a dense piece of academic prose and simply read it out as people won’t be able to follow and will switch off.” Jessica Hughes has some good advice here, saying, “Giving a conference paper can be nerve-wracking, and many of us like to have a written copy of our paper in front of us on the desk as a ‘safety net’. However, the most successful conference presentations are often those where the speaker appears to talk spontaneously rather than reading the paper from a pre-prepared written text. If you do choose to read your paper out, make sure that it is written in a colloquial style (with short sentences), rather than in complex prose. And try to remember to look up occasionally to make eye contact with the audience! You could also try to memorise the important points and the order they appear in. This will give you the confidence to occasionally depart from the script, resulting in a more engaging ‘performance’.” Jessica also advises that it’s definitely a good idea to do several practice runs before the conference, which leads us to our next point…

Timing is everything!

Papers at the CA are each 20 minutes long, followed by ten minutes for questions from the audience. Keeping to time is not only vital to ensure the smooth running of the panel sessions, which can be derailed if individual speakers overrun, but it’s also a matter of showing courtesy to your audience, panel chair and fellow speakers. A good chair will always do their best to keep things to time, but you can help them out by planning ahead to make sure that your paper isn’t over-length. Laura Swift recommends, “Check your timing, as it’s incredibly irritating for everyone when a speaker goes on beyond their allotted time – it can disrupt other speakers’ timings and the schedule of the whole conference, and makes you look self-centred, as though you think your ideas are more important than anything else going on. So give your paper several times at home beforehand, timing yourself with a stopwatch, and make sure you are comfortably in time, while speaking at a normal pace. Never think ‘oh well, I can just speak faster and get it all in’ – if you do, you’ll seem nervous and run the risk that people won’t be able to follow your argument. Try to make sure your paper comes in below the allotted time rather than just on it, as that takes any stress away on the day and removes any temptation to rush.” The speed at which individuals speak naturally does vary (which is why practice is so important!) but as a rule of thumb, Elton Barker suggests that around 2800 words is about right for a twenty-minute paper, given that you’ll also need to take into account the ‘live’ element (nerves, pausing to take a drink of water, looking up to make eye contact, articulating key ideas on the spot and so on). It’s a good idea to build in time for short pauses during your paper – this gives you, and your audience, time to think before you move on to the next point. If you think you’ll forget to do this on the day, mark suitable ‘pause points’ in the margins of your paper to remind yourself.

Hi-tech and low-tech props

Handouts and audio-visual presentations can be useful aids in helping your audience to follow your discussion (although do avoid the temptation simply to read out in full everything that’s on your handout/Powerpoint – think of these tools as prompts for the audience, rather than as another version of the text of your talk). On using handouts, Naoko Yamagata offers a couple of reminders about directing your audience to the right place on the page, suggesting, “Let the audience know which item on the handout you are about to discuss before you read out/analyse the passage, and underline (or highlight in some other way) the relevant bit of the text on your handout if you are only focusing on part of a longer passage.” Do also provide an English translation of the key parts of any Latin or Greek passages (or those written in other foreign languages); you risk alienating some members of the audience if you make the assumption that everyone has the same level of understanding of the languages. Jessica Hughes also has some good advice on using technology: “If you are preparing a slide presentation (e.g. Powerpoint or Keynote), make sure you have the latest version of your presentation on a memory stick. It’s good to bring some kind of back-up too, even if this is just a black & white print-out of your slides, which you (or a helper) can run off and photocopy if the technology fails. If you use an file storage service like Dropbox, make sure that you’ve reminded yourself of your log-in and password before arriving at the conference. You never know – it may prove useful to be able to log into your account from another computer to access your Powerpoint or other files.”

And finally…

Whilst it can be pretty daunting sharing your work with the wider world, you should take confidence from the knowledge that everyone in the room is starting from a point of common interest – they’re there because they read your title or abstract and as a result they want to know more about your work. Remember to breathe (!), smile and make eye contact with your audience – by doing so you’ll communicate your enthusiasm for your research topic. Enjoy the opportunity to share your ideas with others, and good luck!

For more information about this year’s CA conference, including a full programme, click on the ‘CA2017’ tab at the top of this page. Watch this space for another CA2017 blog post on getting the most out of attending the conference, especially if it’s your first time there.



Translating Myth: A Q&A with Pietra Palazzolo and Ben Pestell

TM editorsPietra Palazzolo is an Associate Lecturer at the Open University, and has taught a number of OU modules with Classical Studies components. She also serves on the executive committee of the Centre for Myth Studies at the University of Essex, and is a Visiting Fellow there. Along with her Essex colleagues Ben Pestell and Leon Burnett, she is co-editor of a new book, Translating Myth, which was published by Legenda in June 2016. This week we talked to Pietra and Ben to find out more about the volume and their work on myth.

Q: Congratulations on the publication of your book! Could you tell us about where the idea for the volume came from?

Ben: Thank you. We’re very pleased with how the book has turned out and the jobTMCover that Legenda has done with it. The idea for the book developed from discussions between Leon Burnett, the founding director of the Centre for Myth Studies at Essex, and a former colleague, Kopal Gautam. Leon and Kopal share an interest in myth and literary translation, and these two areas seem natural companions in the distinct ways they both evoke the migration of ideas across cultures. The theme ‘translating myth’ informed an international conference in 2013 and an MA module before finding lasting form in the book.

Q: Your title is Translating Myth, but you explain in the book’s introduction that for you and your co‐editors ‘translating’ means something broader than simply the act of rendering a story written in one language into a different language. Can you explain what other kinds of things ‘translation’ might mean in the sense in which the book’s contributors have interpreted it?

Ben: A myth is always translated: whether from a mythologem or an image or idea. Our experience of myth is mediated through tales or pictures which adapt primordial material. While some chapters in the book look very specifically at instances of literary translation (as in Eliza Borkowska’s illuminating investigation of Blake’s Polish reception), we felt it important to state at the outset that we adopt a broad definition – what is sometimes called ‘cultural translation’. For example, Jessica Allen Hanssen examines the repurposing of Greco‐ Roman myth for children in Hawthorne’s Wonder Book; Sheila A. Spector explores the evolution of Blake’s mythopoeia through his reconfiguration of Christian and kabbalistic motifs; Rached Khalifa re-examines Yeats’s assimilation of diverse mythologies; Terence Dawson charts the twentieth‐century renewal of the Faust myth in Pessoa’s poetry and Jung’s Red Book; and Suman Sigroha considers the reception of Indian myth by European writers. The unifying principle is the re‐emergence and translation of mythic material in new contexts.

Pietra: What emerges from all the contributions to the volume and in our own work as editors is that literary translation and cultural translation work in unison. When considering adaptations of myth, it is impossible to talk about literary translation without considering cultural translation.

Q: The British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT) at the University of East Anglia recently held a launch for Translating Myth. Could you tell us more about the event and the way translation studies and myth studies intersect in your book?

Pietra: We were very pleased with the Book Launch Symposium organised by Duncan Large at the British Centre for Literary Translation. The event offered the opportunity to explore the links between myth and translation through a series of contributions by Ben Pestell and myself, by Giuseppe Sofo, who contributed the final chapter to the book, and Tom Rutledge of UEA. The event ended with a lively round table debate led by Leon Burnett, where we were joined by another of our contributors, Sharihan Al-Akhras (whose chapter is an impressive study of the Middle Eastern influences on Paradise Lost).

If myth is an act of communication, an experiential act, it is also an act of translation, to use George Steiner’s useful formulation that ‘to hear significance is to translate’. Myth studies and translation studies are cognate disciplines, as they both deal with ways in which translation can be carried out. In applying the concept of ‘cultural translation’ to myth we follow some of the key approaches to translation studies. One, offered by our co-editor, Leon Burnett, proposes the concept of translation as accommodation and reflux. The concept of accommodation takes the focus away from the dichotomy of source text and target text to encompass, instead, a more dynamic understanding of the process involved in translation. In this sense, we can view translations as ‘conduits for cross-currents between native and foreign traditions, whose influence and interaction shape, renew, re-focus and refresh the literary traditions that receive them.’

The concept of accommodation can be aptly applied to myth, since the work of myth entails a transfer of meaning from one spatiotemporal context to another. Our volume reflects myth’s versatility and malleability, its capacity to retain a constant core while showing a high margin of variation, as Hans Blumenberg observed in Work on Myth. The stories of myth relate to specific groups but also travel across periods and cultures.

Q: The book looks at myths from a whole range of different societies, including those from ancient Greece and Rome. Why do you think it is important or interesting to compare the ways in which different cultures use myth?

Ben: Although the word ‘myth’ derives from Greek, the religious or social characteristics of mythology are essentially universal. Yet, as Harish Trivedi shows in his opening chapter on Indian myth, the pre-eminent ‘classical’ status which is conferred on the Greco-Roman tradition has not historically been attributed to myths from other sources. Even now, non‐Greco‐Roman myths tend to be ironically exoticised. Trivedi’s chapter pithily describes a world of myth and religion – and its secular reception – which is as rich and wondrous as the Greek and Roman worlds. Moreover, his reading of the comparative responses to Indian and Classical myths allows us to see the more familiar mythologies in a new light.

Q: For the benefit of our readers who are interested particularly in classical mythology, could you give us a taster of the Greek and Roman themes or stories which are discussed in the volume?

Ben: The book combines an international outlook with a focus on transactions with English or European literature. As such, it is suffused with the Greek and Roman heritage of Western culture. Thus, in addition to Jessica Allan Hanssen’s chapter which I mentioned earlier, we have Leon Burnett’s survey of nineteenth‐century depictions of the Sphinx (of both Greek and Egyptian varieties), which emphasises the pictorial primacy of myth over the narrative element. Similarly, Michaela Keck applies Warburg’s pathos formula to echoes of Pygmalion in Alcott’s A Modern Mephistopheles, while elsewhere Christina Dokou considers structural echoes of classical epic in the poetry of the early years of the United States. Three chapters will be of particular interest to classical reception studies. Emanuela Zirzotti’s discussion of Seamus Heaney’s appropriation of Virgilian katabasis finds Aeneas returning in the guise of ‘Pius Seamus’; Barbara Goff analyses the structural and political implications of Jacqueline Leloup’s Guéidô, which relocates Oedipus to Cameroon; and Giuseppe Sofo’s concluding chapter follows Derek Walcott’s stage Odyssey as it undertakes a further voyage into Italian, illuminating Walcott’s revivification of Homeric dialect techniques.

Q: What else have you got planned at the Centre for Myth Studies, and where can our readers find out more about the Centre’s work?

Pietra: The Centre for Myth Studies promotes the study of myth with weekly sessions of the Myth Reading Group, together with open seminars, international conferences and publications. We would be very happy to hear from people and institutions interested in myth and mythology from an interdisciplinary perspective. We would especially welcome suggestions for topics to discuss at our reading group. The format we use in these sessions is quite informal, with a short presentation (up to 30 minutes) addressing the theme we have each term, followed by group discussion. Our theme for the Spring term is ‘Journeys’, understood as journeys within myth and in mythical tales as well as in relation to the way texts or mythical objects—such as the image of the Golden Fleece used in our call for proposals—travel across cultures and historical periods. Our next theme, for the Summer term sessions, will be ‘Myth and Magic’, and we would be delighted to have proposals from anyone who is interested either in the intersection between these two dimensions or in interrogating the possibilities of such a connection.

In addition to weekly meetings at the Myth Reading Group, we also organise open seminars and special events. Our latest event was a performance of ‘Babayaga’s Daughter’ by storyteller Sally Pomme Clayton followed by discussion about the forest in Russian fairytales. This year we are planning a one-day symposium entitled ‘Translating Eurydice’ to be held at the University of East London (Stratford campus) in the autumn.

Our centre has an active presence on social media with Twitter and Facebook accounts, and a dedicated WordPress website. If you wish to keep track of our events, I recommend that you subscribe to our website, and send us an email to be included in the mailing list ( We are also very interested in networking with scholars and institutions working on myth and mythology across disciplines, cultures, and periods.


Blumenberg, Hans, Work on Myth, trans. by Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985)

Burnett, Leon, and Emily Lygo (eds), The Art of Accommodation: Literary Translation in Russia (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2013)

Steiner, George, After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975)

Farewell to Helen King

Earlier this month the Classical Studies team met up to bid farewell to Professor Helen King, who retired from the Open University at the end of January; she remains affiliated to the university as Professor Emerita. James Robson reflects on her involvement in OU Classical Studies over the last six years.

HK lunchHelen joined the department as Professor of Classical Studies back in 2011, moving to the OU from the University of Reading. She came to us with a formidable reputation as a scholar of ancient medicine and its reception, her particular focus being on women both as patients and medical practitioners.  But what Helen also brought with her was a genuine enthusiasm to understand how the Open University and distance learning work in practice and to find new and effective ways to engage with students.

Helen certainly threw herself into Departmental, Faculty and OU life during her sixHK lunch 2 years with us. Her list of commitments and achievements during this time is ludicrously long, including a stint as Head of Department (2014-16), the chairing of our gateway module, A219 Exploring the Classical World, and also the key role she played in the production of our brilliant new MA in Classical Studies.  But however busy she has been, both with internal and external commitments, one quality that has characterized Helen is just the sheer fun she has been to work with.  OK, other qualities readily suggest themselves, too: her extraordinary energy; her supportiveness towards colleagues; her enthusiasm for engaging with both students and the public at large; the high standards she demands of herself and others; and the time she is prepared to dedicate to projects and people she believes in.  But for me, it is the fun that steals the show.

HK lunch 3Helen is certainly going to be missed by her colleagues, but, as her must-read blog, The Retiring Academic, reveals, her retirement promises to be full of a similar level of busyness as before (albeit on her terms).  Research, engaging with students on her MOOC on Health and Wellbeing in the Ancient World, various community projects are just some of the things in store.  Plus just a touch of taking it easy.

by James Robson