OU Classics at 50: a view from the hill country – by Judith George

Judith George was appointed as a Classics tutor in 1973, teaching Classics courses steadily thereafter till the present, with A229: Exploring the Classical World. She became an Assistant Staff Tutor in Arts in 1975, Senior Counsellor in 1978, and Deputy Scottish Director in 1984. As well as teaching on OU Classics courses, acting as critical reader for a number, and writing Learning Guide 4 (Creating your own TMA) for A295: Homer, Poetry and Society, she took her Doctorate at Edinburgh University (part-time of course, as a typical OU single parent mum), with practical support from the OU’s Regional Academic Services, and from David Sewart in particular, a Director of that unit who was himself a classicist. The PhD was on the subject of Venantius Fortunatus, a sixth-century Italian poet who established himself in the developing courts of Merovingian Gaul, and proceeded to embed Latin literature and culture in that culturally aspirational society – Romanitas was the watchword of both secular and religious authorities (George, 1992).

Her time in the Scottish Directorate came at the exciting period of expansion of open and distant learning on all sides. She was heavily involved in many innovations for the country as a whole, including the piloting of new technologies for the support of OU students, and for education, business and industry in general, and the development of community education, Open Learning projects, a new Scottish Prison Scheme, and the creation of the University of the Highlands and Islands. She also acted as an international educational consultant, to disseminate OU experience and expertise in Scandinavia and in Europe. In all these activities, continuing as a Classics tutor and academic, and taking OU courses herself, was an essential element in keeping a vivid awareness of the experience of being a learner, which contributed to her developmental work and action research. She has published widely on Late Antiquity and educational topics. She was awarded a personal Chair in Educational Research and Development in 2001, an Honorary Fellowship in the University of the Highlands and Islands, and in 2004 an OBE in recognition of her services to higher and lifelong learning.

Transformation is the motif running through my experience as a classicist within the OU – personal, social, cultural, institutional. On the personal front, having read Greats at Oxford, it was naturally out of the question for me to teach in the Classics Department of the ancient university to which my husband was appointed – husbands and wives could not work together.  The only work forthcoming was a teaching post in the Moral Philosophy Department – a post which, as Saki has it, was of ‘nomadic but punctual disposition’, consisting usually of my being phoned late on a Sunday evening in late September to be told that I was required to give classes on some aspect of Moral Philosophy from the following morning onwards. The pay was less than that of the departmental cleaners, and exam marking was onerous and unpaid. This did mean that my husband’s colleagues felt that they could now broach conversational topics with me on issues other than domestic trivia; but what was very frustrating was their total disinterest in what was actually happening in learning for their students. You could discuss their finances or their sex lives more readily than what was happening for their students. An apparently enthusiastic student, for example, kept on submitting work which I felt was seriously below her capacity. I eventually found out by chance that she had diabetes, was struggling to adjust her insulin levels, and had assumed that I was aware but just not willing to give help. The Head of Department, when I raised the matter, seemed quite shocked that I should be so intrusive and intimated that such interest in students, and especially in the circumstances of a student’s learning, was totally improper.

Appointment to the OU was a revelation. I had colleagues who were passionately interested in students’ learning; the focus of the Foundation courses was on creating a level baseline for students coming from unimaginably diverse backgrounds, so that they then had the capacity and the skills to move on to higher level courses. We spent our time devising support systems, ways of giving advice and guidance, strategies for compensating for life circumstances – it was wonderful. I remember vividly the first month of the first Classics course I taught, being contacted by a student on the Scottish Borders, who apologised profusely for his work being late, but explained that the lambing had started early this year. Such passion for Classics, interwoven with the classical shepherd’s calendar, had a vivid reality and weight rarely found in the conveyor-belt teenagers of privilege. So teaching Classics in the OU was a transformation to an institute where students not only mattered, they were the be-all-and-end-all of our professional work; and where studying Classics was a matter of passionate commitment.

I had always wanted to do a PhD, but had been unable to up to that point. Occasional translation work for the Professor of the History of Fine Art at Manchester had got me hooked on the question of what people hung on to and why as the so-called Dark Ages rolled over them. So I enrolled to do my doctoral work at Edinburgh, with the warm support of Regional Academic Services, on Venantius Fortunatus and his part in the transmission of Romanitas in sixth-century Gaul. Teaching for the OU had moved me substantially away from the narrowly compartmentalised traditions of Classics to the interdisciplinary approach of Ferguson (see Lorna Hardwick’s blog), and teaching A100 had also highlighted the vivid impact of poetry on people new to its world. All this fed into my approach to Fortunatus, in a field, the then-called Dark Ages, at a time when there was little interest and even less current scholarship, creating the space to expand and experiment with approaches. So Classics in the OU gave me the chance to move to doctoral level, and also the scholarly framework within which to innovate and be creative.

And being a Classicist member of the Scottish directorate enabled a distinctive OU contribution to the continued existence and vitality of scholarship in Late Classical Antiquity in Scotland.  In the mid-80s, these departments were on the brink of extinction. A couple of friends and I created EMERGE (the Early Medieval Europe Research Group), which brought together Insular and European scholars from across Scotland at least twice a term, for a convivial and supportive supper in the OU’s splendid Edinburgh centre, followed by an excellent paper, usually from an internationally recognised scholar. This raised morale, fostered interdisciplinary thinking, strengthened people to resist erosion and cuts, and encouraged younger students.

Being a ‘country member’ of the Classics Department and involved as a critical reader was also a great privilege. Apart from the fascination of crafting learning material across various media, it kept me in touch with a range of scholarly disciplines and gave me colleagues who have become lifelong friends. And it also gave me the chance to experiment with reflective learning. I designed Learning Guide Four of A295: Homer, Poetry and Society, to talk students through the process of choosing a topic which had one foot in Homer and the other in any topic of interest to them, formulating a question and answering it. This was a loosely formulated remit, deliberately so to give them the chance to be experimental and creative – so the Learning Guide talked them through the process of reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses as learners, on choosing appropriate formats of question, and then constructing a solid and sound argument. The results were fascinating.  We inevitably had a solid cluster on women’s role in the poems and the society, but also ones which were totally unpredictable.  A surgeon produced a vividly illustrated assessment of the wounds described in the Iliad, demonstrating that the accounts reflected a sound practical knowledge of the impact on human anatomy of a spear striking from this angle or an arrow penetrating from that. Quite gruesome, but quite clearly these descriptions were not purple passages. We had thoughts on birds in Homer from someone in Shetland, and many other idiosyncratic but valid topics. So working through Block 5 of A229 (Exploring the classical world: End-of-module assessment preparation) with my current students these past weeks has being revisiting that territory with pride that this has become embedded in our Classical teaching!

Classics has always also reflected the wider culture of society, and there has been transformation here too. In the first year of teaching students on the Isle of Lewis, I had fundamentalist Wee Free Presbyterian students who were enthusiastic, but totally paralysed by being expected to look at and even discuss representations of nude figures, especially female ones. And there was the audio conference call, drawing eight or so students across Scotland together for a discussion of Euripides. All was going smoothly, until I heard a strong intake of breath on one of the lines, and a stressed voice launched into the charge that we were discussing FAKE TEXTS – everyone knew that the Greeks were fine, upstanding folk, but this play was filthy and debased, so it could not be a true Greek text. That tutorial took quite a bit of handling! But times have changed. Naomi Mitchison, the author, receiving an Honorary OU Doctorate at a ceremony in Glasgow, spoke of the OU having lit candles in every little community the length and breadth of the Highlands and Islands, which illuminated and transformed them. She was right – the OU, and Classics playing above its weight, has broken barriers and brought people together in understanding and acceptance. Or has it? Inga Mantle, another OU classicist, is producing Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazusae in June this year. She has been banned from her usual venue by a church minister outraged by a frisky new translation, no longer clad in the decent obscurity of a learned language or more bland English!

So, a very Happy 50th anniversary to this remarkable institution, in which we have all been so lucky and privileged to be caught up.

 

Bibliography

George, J.W. (1992), Venantius Fortunatus: a poet in Merovingian Gaul (Clarendon Press, Oxford).

Happy Birthday OU – by Paula James

This post by Dr Paula James is the fourth in a series celebrating the Open University’s 50th birthday. To access the previous posts, click on ‘History of the OU’ in the ‘Categories’  menu, or follow the links in the first paragraph below. 

Dr Janet Huskinson has followed Professors Lorna Hardwick and Chris Emlyn Jones, the dynamic duo who put our subject on the map in Distance Learning, with her eloquent and generous reminiscences about writing and teaching Classical Studies modules.  It was an honour and an education for me to work so closely with Janet on The Roman Family and Culture, Identity and Power, both groundbreaking modules.

There are other colleagues who were a joy to write and teach with but special mention must be made of another dear friend, Dr Anastasia Bakogianni, who chaired the Classical Studies MA and with whom I produced the ‘Reception of Greek and Roman Tragedies’ option at the end of my OU career.  Like any course and module team process this could be a roller coaster of redrafts and frayed tempers but thank heavens for brilliant course managers and media experts who kept us on track!

Being an OU Lecturer and in my case Staff Tutor based in the South East I would say that the learning curve in earlier and later years was just amazing. I became a creature of interdisciplinary studies partly because I was managing and supporting tutors (local Associate Lecturers) across the Arts Faculty departments and of course Janet and I were asked almost immediately in 1993 to take on the Colosseum unit for the new Humanities course A103, An Introduction to the Humanities, a study section which proved really popular with students and rewarding and challenging for me and Janet.

A103 Humanities

Gladiators took me well out of my comfort zone (although Ridley Scott’s epic movie of 1999 yet again proved that Classicists in the OU have an eye on the cultural future as well as the ancient past!) but then I was already reeling from my first residential school in Manchester (summer 1994) when I was teaching face to face on A102 (An arts foundation course) about mid-Victorian Britain. The weeks when students and tutors could experience the camaraderie and stimulation of campus life and learning were so important for retention and progress; their demise is still to be mourned even in a high tech age.

I became quite skilled at intermeshing all the new subject areas with my research activity so that I produced articles and chapters on the Roman arena, a monograph on the myth of Pygmalion on screen (Burne Jones and Ovid’s mythology was part of my A102 pre Raphaelite fun lecture at Manchester, while Shaw’s play featured in A103) and even a book on Trade Union emblem imagery 1850-1925, courtesy of the Culture Block in A102 (this book was produced together with Dr Annie Ravenhill-Johnson; I edited her essays on the art and ideology of the Trade Union emblem). A book on literary parrots also came to fruition during seminars on Wide Sargasso Sea for A103 and I had the pleasure of writing alongside polymath Associate Lecturer Dr Julia Courtney who ended up as an honorary member of the Classical Studies Department.

Paula James publications

None of this would have been possible without the expectations of the Arts Faculty and my more experienced colleagues that you knuckled down and got on with what our degree programmes needed and our students wanted. To me this should continue to be the driver that ensures many more years of the Open University as the benchmark of lifelong learning. The now joined up Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences should be widening our perceptions of society in all its rich diversity and keeping us critical and reflective, and that applies to all of us at every level of the teaching and learning journey.

I want to end with something I tend to do on personal birthdays (and 69 approaches in September of this year) which is assess what I have achieved and what is to be done. My blog post here is full of praise for what the OU means to me and why I am a better scholar after my 28 years (I started as an OU tutor in 1991 and am still at the margins of academic life as a research associate) but my last days were marred by the closure of my regional office (R13) during 2014 and the loss of many (mostly female) staff who ran our wonderful tutor and student support teams.

This was followed by the shutting down of most other offices and the further centralisation and digitalization of processes that need the personal, holistic and local touch.  I am shamelessly going to ask that the OU leadership and senior management take stock of past decisions in this our 50th year so that we can, hand on heart, say our vision for more socially and aesthetically aware citizens is what we are giving to the UK in the 21st century.  I used to swell with pride at seeing so many students receiving their degrees at our ceremonies in Brighton.  Those days of celebration are an abiding image of what the human spirit can achieve with personal dedication, collegiate learning and critical reflection. Happy Birthday Open University!

 

Listen to Paula James talk about her research on Ovid, Pygmalion, Salmacis and Hermaphroditus (audio recorded at the 2017 Classical Association conference in Kent).

Studentships: MA in Classical Studies

We are delighted to be able to offer three 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.
  • Two scholarships, 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. In addition, the Leventis scholarships come with a small bursary designed to help recipients acquire and develop resources for teaching Classical Studies or related subjects in their school.

Developing Classical Studies in Schools:

Schoolteachers applying for one of the Leventis scholarships may be interested in the panel discussion at a recent Advocating Classics Education event at the Open University, in which  representatives of the ACE project, Classics for All, and a teacher with recent experience of developing Classical Studies provision in a state secondary school shared their experiences and offered guidance and advice. The full discussion is available online here.

How to apply:

To apply for the scholarship, please complete the MA-scholarship-application-form-2019 and send it 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 10th June and we intend to inform all applicants of the outcome by early July.

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

Happy birthday, OU! – by Janet Huskinson

This is the third in a series of blog posts looking back at the history of the Department of Classical Studies at the Open University, on the occasion of the OU’s 50th anniversary. Janet Huskinson arrived at the OU in 1993, joining Lorna Hardwick and Chris Emlyn-Jones in the Department of Classical Studies.

Happy birthday, OU!

Many congratulations on being 50, which – I think it’s true to say – in human experience is a time for a big gulp, and a fair amount of self-reflection!

In fact, I was nearly 50 when the OU gave me my first, full-time permanent job, after many years of juggling various part-time jobs teaching Roman art in Cambridge (where I continued to live with my daughters).

So I know that a 50th anniversary is a good time for moving forward into a new future, while being aware of what’s been achieved in, and shaped by, the past. Many students speak from their heart about how their OU studies have led them to a new life. Well, I am an academic, a teacher, who can proudly say the same! It was a wonderful opportunity in so many ways.

Lorna Hardwick and Chris Emlyn-Jones have described in their blogs the early days of our Department of Classical Studies, and the many challenges and opportunities which it involved. Many years after it began, I joined them as a third colleague in 1993 – very soon to be followed by Paula James, another Romanist.  As was the case then for colleagues in many university Classics departments, I found myself the only person whose specialism was not in textual but in material sources (in my case, visual).  But here too, as the department expanded, I was soon joined by colleagues – Phil Perkins, Lisa Nevett, Val Hope, and Dominic Montserrat –  with their own particular interests in the material culture of antiquity. (And now, one of the few things that just might make me regret retirement are the exciting new research opportunities offered by The Baron Thyssen Centre for the Study of Ancient Material Religion.)

Working with a variety of scholarly disciplines makes Classics such a good subject to study. But I think that the particular inter-disciplinary approach of our courses is a great strength – and not just for our students. Through teaching on OU course teams I’ve learned some lasting lessons , e.g. about working with various types of source material, and how to frame discussions at different levels, in terms that are informative, challenging and accessible. I’ve been able to apply them in my own research (on the visual imagery on Roman sarcophagi), but their impact was stronger on my teaching  – perhaps because at the OU this also involved  a variety of modern teaching media, rather than conventional lecturing.

I’ll just mention two courses, in which I was heavily involved during production (and for several years after in presentation).

The first was ‘ A428 The Roman Family’,  which I wrote with Paula. It was the departmental offering in a suite of short, low cost, low population  third level courses which had a dissertation rather than an exam. as the final assessment.  This was a fairly hot topic in Roman social history in the 1990s, and had inspired a number of books ideal as texts for our third level students (some of whom would have no prior knowledge of Roman society). I’d worked on it myself in the course of researching the imagery Romans used on children’s sarcophagi.  So – for once! – I felt generally confident in my knowledge of the topic and ability to produce the teaching material required.

Sadly for me, the cost constraints in producing the material for these courses meant that I could not include many enticing illustrations of Roman art  ( but by then I had already learned that I had unfortunately chosen an academic specialism that could prove expensive to write about, in teaching and research!)  But the sources that were included, and introduced to students, were wide-ranging – as indeed were the subjects chosen by students for their dissertation.

This business of choosing subjects, and advising students on how to follow them through in writing up , helped make A428 a friendly and enjoyable course to teach. Students, tutors, and course team could get to know each other quite well in the process, which for me was great ( as I never quite reconciled to the OU’s lack of opportunity to watch students develop by teaching them face to face over a period of time).  I was sorry when A428 ended –  and I’ll now confess it was my favourite course to work on!

The second course , ‘AA309: Culture, identity and power in the Roman empire’,  was in all respects, very heavy duty – certainly in comparison with A428, and my role as course chair there. This was to be the department’s principal Roman offering, and a successor to the much-loved course ‘Rome in the Augustan Age’. No pressure, then!

But we began with an excellent subject (chosen by Lorna, I believe), which linked into topical concerns in questions of identity, and in the ‘cultural turn’ of classical scholarship; and on the course team we had a strong range of talents and specialisms which would mean that we could teach interestingly about it for our students.

And we did, I think. The course attracted good numbers, and its book, Experiencing Rome (another good title, this time thanks to Paula), co-published with Routledge, was a great success on the open market and used as a textbook elsewhere.

En route to that happy ending I learned a lot – much about the opportunities of interdisciplinarity, but even more perhaps of the ‘keep calm and carry on’ type!

As for every OU course produced, I guess, there was the early problem of  how best to structure the course so that it would deliver appropriate academic content  (i.e. appropriate to the range of the Roman empire itself, to the range of historical sources to be taught, and to the range of students, some of whom may not have done a  Classical Studies course before, and certainly not at third level) AND at the same time fit it with the expertise and personal timetables ( scheduled leave, end of contracts etc etc)  of the course team members best suited to teach the various components.  In the end many of us ended up writing about topics which wouldn’t have been our first choice, as I personally recalled rather bitterly when walking around forts on Hadrian’s Wall in a very wet July for a video on Roman Britain !

Interviewing Lindsay Allason-Jones at the the site of the Roman fort at Benwell, for the course AA309: Culture, identity and power in the Roman empire

At this time audio-visual material was still produced by the BBC unit at Walton Hall, rather than being contracted out to independent production companies. Picture research and the editing of our draft texts were done by specialists in the Faculty – so we got to know these colleagues well, for their support as well as for their regular issuing of deadlines. Looking back, I feel that we worked with a lot of paperwork, of which some items – usually some complex list of illustrations/captions – regularly went AWOL and had to be re-done in a hurry! But perhaps that’s just a fake memory. I do, however, have a lasting souvenir of some of our best (?) AA309 experiences – a ‘Candid Camera’ video sneakily made by Mags Noble our BBC producer of various course team presenters caught at unsuspecting moments. Not available for this blog, though!

Janet Huskinson  ( OU 1993-2008)

April 2019

Special cake made to commemorate the final exam meeting for the module A428 ('The Roman Family'), which ran from 1997 - 2004

Special cake made to commemorate the final exam meeting for the module A428 (‘The Roman Family’), which ran from 1997 – 2004

Book launch event in honour of John K. Davies

This Monday saw the festive gathering of UK and international colleagues at the Victoria Gallery & Museum, University of Liverpool. This event heralded the publication of a book I recently co-edited with Dr. Zosia Archibald in honour of the Ancient Historian John K. Davies (Emeritus Rathbone Professor of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology at the University of Liverpool), The Power of Individual and Community in Ancient Athens and Beyond.

The event was officially launched by the current Rathbone chair, Professor Lin Foxhall, who reflected on the major influence that John had made at the beginning of her own career. Following this, Dame Janet Beer, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, addressed all those present, congratulating John on his significant achievements in the field, and thanking him for the important contributions that he made to the institutional environment at the University of Liverpool.

Dame Janet Beer addresses John and all those gathered

Following this, John spoke for some twenty minutes on growing up in Cardiff, his early encounters with the ancient world (for example, at the old Corbridge museum at Hadrian’s Wall when he was 15 years old), and his various undertakings since his retirement in 2003. Indeed, John has remained an active member of the scholarly community, delivering the opening or closing address at a number of major conferences, as well as taking up myriad fellowships and residencies in various European institutions. John ended his reflections by issuing a warm encouragement to all those in the field that have ‘so stimulating a challenge’ in front of them.

John K. Davies delivering his speech of thanks

Following lengthy applause for John, all involved proceeded to the Leggate Lecture Theatre, where we were treated to a very special guest lecture by the Wykeham Professor of Ancient History at Oxford University, Nino Luraghi, who spoke on ‘The Peloponnesian Peace: Thucydides and the Ideology of the Peace of Nikias’. Professor Luraghi delivered a highly engaging paper that took in many passages from Thucydides’ History, several of the comic playwright Aristophanes’ plays, as well as certain edifying passages from the Life of Aristeides, written by the first-second century CE biographer Plutarch. The evening closed with a series of more informal celebrations, including a drinks reception.

Guests gather to celebrate John’s career at the Victoria Gallery & Museum, University of Liverpool

But things did not end there, however; on the following day, John, Zosia and I reconvened to discuss in more depth John’s intellectual approach as an historian of the ancient world, Zosia and John’s shared research interests in Hellenistic economies, and our thoughts on the future direction of the discipline. A special video recording of our discussion will soon be made available on the website Classics Confidential.

In sum, this event was a marvellous celebration of a scholar who has inspired countless students, and who as a researcher has continued to play a leading role in the field for more than four decades.

‘Mighty oaks from little acorns grow’. Personal reminiscences of the early years of Classical Studies in the OU, by Chris Emlyn-Jones

This is the second in a series of blog posts looking back at the history of the Department of Classical Studies at the Open University, on the occasion of the OU’s 50th anniversary. The first post, written by Professor Lorna Hardwick, gave some fascinating insights into the early days (‘50 years in the OU‘). In this second post, Professor Chris Emlyn-Jones shares some of his memories, picking up the story from 1979 – the year in which he joined the university.

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Lorna Hardwick has given an incisive analytic survey from a broad perspective of the development of Classical Studies in the OU over the last 50 years. She was in it more or less from the beginning, and rather than unnecessarily trying to cover the same ground I would like to consider a limited selection of aspects of the early years from a personal (reminiscing, but I hope not too self-indulgent) point of view.

My entry into the OU was 10 years into the 50, in 1979. I had been teaching conventional Classics for 10 years in the small Welsh University College of St David’s Lampeter, and was keen to expand my horizons (not to mention my wife’s desire to live somewhere with more job opportunities, and less remote than West Wales). Moving from what was probably the smallest to the largest University community in the country was expansion with a vengeance; I knew very little about the OU and unlike Lorna had not previously been an AL (what we then called a tutor). So I was moving from a fairly comfortable rural existence into the unknown. For some reason, and I think surprisingly, my ignorance of the OU at interview didn’t prevent me getting the job, though I now gather from Lorna’s blog post that my redbrick degree might, unknown to me,  even have denied me an interview, since I have been amazed to learn that she had to fight off a move to restrict interviewees to Oxbridge graduates! Like Lorna (see her blog post) I encountered other instances also where this most revolutionary of institutions clearly still thought on traditional lines.

As lecturer in Classical Studies I had the strong feeling of parachuting in medias res into what I discovered was clearly an evolving pattern of study, in which distinct Arts disciplines were combining in new and stimulating ways. I also discovered I was a junior replacement in the Classical Studies area for the retiring Dean of Arts, John Ferguson. Ferguson, the first Dean of the Faculty and Professor, was qualified in Classics and Theology and had obviously been concerned that elements of both should be part of A100, the first Foundation Course (see Lorna’s blog post). Ferguson’s plan that Classical Studies should maintain a 2nd level presence with 30 point Interdisciplinary courses in both the Greek and Roman periods was not everywhere favourably received after his retirement, and shortly after I joined Lorna and I had to fight off an attempt at Arts Faculty Board to reduce this offering. On the assumption of some colleagues that I had been brought in on Ferguson’s retirement simply to ‘mind the shop’, predatory eyes were cast on our little empire, and a colleague from one of the bigger departments, attempting to reassure me that I’d still have a job in a couple of years’ time, kindly consoled me with the thought that Classics would always be useful as a service department to teach Greek Philosophy, Classical Background etc., to aspiring philosophers and students studying Renaissance literature! Not knowing quite what to do with us, the Faculty placed Classical Studies (the core department being simply Lorna and myself) with Religious Studies in a Working Area Group, an arrangement which didn’t ideally suit either party, and least of all the Dean, Arthur Marwick, whose job it was to chair it.

The absence of students on campus took a bit of getting used to. As a Central Academic it was difficult to spend time, face-to-face, with students (very different and from much more varied backgrounds than the 18-21 year olds I had previously taught). And in the early years, no email! Taking a regular tutorial group in a Region was only rarely possible if one was not displacing an existing or potential tutor. The teaching alternative was two weeks of Summer School, which actually turned out to be a very fruitful experience. As there was no Classical Studies element in the new Foundation Course (A101) this meant teaching subjects at the A101 Summer School in which I was not formally, or only partly, qualified. In my case it was modern Philosophy, which involved tutorials on ‘scepticism and sense data’ (not in my opinion the ideal introduction to the subject for OU students, but fashionable in the 1970-80s). One military student obviously felt the whole subject to be highly subversive: N.B his interesting take on Dr Johnson’s ‘I refute you thus’—‘if I were to take this chair and hit you over the head with it you’d bloody well know it was real, wouldn’t you?’ He never actually carried out his threat and Summer School was most enjoyable, a vital link with the variety of actual OU students which, sitting in relative isolation in Milton Keynes, it was only too easy to miss. And one particularly useful period was spent as a stand-in Staff Tutor in Region 6 (West Midlands), allowing Lorna, the actual Staff Tutor, to take study leave. This involved day-to-day contact with students, Regional colleagues and, in particular, organising weekend Day Schools, involving close liaison with tutors. I also had invaluable experiences as a visiting teacher to day schools in various regional centres around the UK, including, memorably, a fascinating tutorial visit to Ulster’s Maze Prison (1980s) which, because of tight security, took longer for a visitor to get in and out of than the actual duration of the tutorial (on Thucydides, I remember); when I went out for my lunch break the students apologised most politely that they were unable to accompany me.

One of Classical Studies great strengths in the numbers game of University politics in the early days, and ensuring our survival, was our success in generating interest in the Ancient World among students moving from first to second level and so attracting substantial enrolment. The two courses which I was first involved with helping to devise, A293 (Rome: the Augustan Age) and A294 (Fifth Century Athens: Democracy and City State) gave us a chance to build on and develop the Foundation level skills of closely studying primary source material, both written and visual, in a new and challenging context. A key resource for this was the development of the recording of extracts from texts (historical, poetic, dramatic performance) on audio cassette with stop/start facility enabling students to engage in detailed interactive analysis (I remember using this to some effect with analysis of Augustan poetry in A293). We were also able to use audio to interact with TV, for example, studio discussion of Tom Paulin’s TV play ‘Seize the Fire’, based on Prometheus Bound (A294 TV Programme—for illustrations see Lorna’s blog post). Use of Video-cassette, allowing the same level of analysis of TV, and making it unnecessary for students to stay up to watch programmes when the Beeb put them on in the small hours, came in a bit later, after considerable University discussion over whether students should be required to go to the expense of buying a VCR, the clinching argument in favour being that many students were getting their beauty sleep by recording the programmes anyway!  (One of my more bizarre experiences: attending a Classical Association conference (late 80’s/early 90’s?) in order to speak on the subject of ‘teaching OU students with video-cassette’ only to discover that their machine wasn’t working. I don’t actually remember how I got through the session; Lorna may—I seem to remember she was there!)

Much of what we did may now seem rather quaint from the perspective of colleagues working in 2019: but remember, this is still the (pre-digital) 1980s!

You might be wondering how Lorna and I working alone managed to cover the  spread of disciplines involved in interdisciplinary courses like A293 and A294, and of course the answer is we didn’t do it alone: we had the valuable assistance in A293 of Jennifer Potter on the later Julio-Claudians, Beryl Bowen on Augustan painting and sculpture and Tony Lentin of the History department, who deployed his acute forensic skills in deconstructing the subtle propaganda of the emperor Augustus’ Res Gestae. Colin Cunningham of the Art History department, an expert in Victorian visual culture, but actually a renegade Classicist, presented material on Architecture and Town planning and was an expert TV performer. We were fortunate in securing other distinguished external consultants to provide provincial case studies, notably E. Mary Smallwood on Judaea. One of the OU’s valuable assets, of which we made considerable use, was the BBC, which had its own branch at Milton Keynes, housed on the site of what is now (or was when I last looked) the Faculty of Arts. This association gave us the enviable opportunity of making programmes in which we were able to bid for quite extensive financial resources (on which envious eyes may now be cast). We were also particularly fortunate in securing the expertise of BBC producers who were able to move with us from course to course and so became integrated members of the Course Team and very familiar with the material on the ground and our key aims and objectives. In both A294 and A295 (Homer: Poetry and Society) on both TV and audio we had the great good fortune to work with Tony Coe and Mags Noble, two outstanding producers who not only became very familiar with the material but also brought a vital media perspective to bear on what we were doing. (One of Tony’s great moments, I remember, was when he was asked by one of our consultants in Athens where he had taken his Classics degree!).

The theatre of Dionysus, Athens

The theatre of Dionysus, Athens, Orchestra and Theatron from A294, TV 2 (‘The Theatre and the State: Archaeological reconstruction’). Presenter Chris Emlyn-Jones, Producer Tony Coe, Production Assistant, Mags Noble. The programme combines evidence from the plays of the 5th century Athenian dramatists with on-site investigation of the extant (largely Roman) remains of the area where they were first performed, in order to reconstruct the probable nature of the original 5th century BCE theatre.

As a result we were able to give students detailed visual experience of important Classical sites, but from unexpected points of view and from unusual perspectives: for example, in a programme supplementing an A294 block on the Greek Theatre, as well as the well-trodden route along well-known sites like the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens and at Epidaurus, students were introduced to an unusual and interesting perspective by an exploration of the (by Epidaurus standards) unusual Greek theatre at Thorikos in Southern Attica, which was linked by Colin Cunningham to a study of the silver mining district of Laurion, a valuable source of wealth for the Athenian polis.

The late sixth century BCE theatre at Thorikos

The late sixth century BCE theatre at Thorikos in Southern Attica, from A294, TV2 (‘The Theatre and the State: Archaeological reconstruction’). Presenter Chris Emlyn-Jones, Producer Tony Coe, Production Assistant, Mags Noble. Besides diverging in shape from the ‘standard’ Epidaurus model, the theatre’s link with silver mining is revealed by the rectangular light structure in the background to the left of the theatre, a restored washery for concentrating silver ore.

Likewise, in our course A295 (Homer: Poetry and Society) John Purkis, a Staff Tutor in the English Department, kicked off the course on the Odyssey by linking a detailed survey of evidence on the ground on the island of Ithaka, legendary home of Odysseus, to traditions developed in Homeric oral poetry and story-telling more widely, in British, European and Indian culture. In this same course, we were also able film in detail the ancient site of Troy, and how its importance as a focus of Homeric legend can be related to its position in the surrounding landscape. This was a project in which I was closely involved, and I much enjoyed interviewing the archaeologist, Donald Easton, and Professor Manfred Korfmann, who inaugurated a multi-disciplinary approach to the site, including Greek archaeologists and pre-historians.

Interview with Donald Easton

Interview with Donald Easton by CE-J from A295, TV, ‘Troy, Reading the Site’. Presenter Chris Emlyn-Jones, Producers, Tony Coe and Mags Noble, Production Assistant, Carole Browne. The programme attempts to relate the complex settlement layers of the citadel of Troy [as the site was in the 1990’s] to the literary evidence for the Trojan conflict. Easton’s significant contribution was a meticulous reconstruction of the evidence in the light the notorious north-south excavation trench, dug in the late 19th Century by Heinrich Schliemann, the discoverer of Çanakkale as the site of the citadel.

This account has had an unashamedly Graeco-centric bias, principally because the Greek world has been my main area of expertise, though I hasten to add that, as someone mainly working on Greek literature and philosophy, it was the peculiar circumstances we were in which gave me exciting, and often scary, opportunities to pontificate on the heights of Troy, in the Athenian Agora, Greek theatres and elsewhere, well outside my comfort zone (and I was never a very confident TV performer—the advice ‘treat the camera as your friend’ never quite worked for me; one of my clear memories is of Colin Cunningham going to sleep behind a wall in the Athenian Theatre of Dionysus while I did my umpteenth take!).

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The 1990’s saw a decisive expansion into a formation present colleagues might recognise: we finally became a department, with Lorna as the first HoD. And we gained a number of new colleagues: in 1993 our first new departmental colleague, Janet Huskinson, was appointed, followed by Paula James and later Val Hope, Lisa Nevett, Phil Perkins, James Robson, Trevor Fear and Naoko Yamagata (apologies for not getting precise order and dates of entry—my memory is not what it was). This meant a radical strengthening of the Roman side especially in social and art history and archaeology and a move into 3rd level with a major Roman course AA309 (Culture, Identity and Power in the Roman Empire). And we were also able, finally, to offer courses in both languages. And the department succeeded in getting top marks in the Teaching Quality Assessment of 2001 (however, as Lorna has made clear, apart from the kudos, much good did it do us in material terms!).

If by this stage (early 2000’s) not a mighty oak, then an extremely vigorous sapling. But this has gone on quite long enough—I hope others will take the story further.

by Chris Emlyn-Jones

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John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay Prize 2019

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 A229, 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 28 June 2019, and

·         the deadline for submission of essays is 30 September 2019.

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 2019 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 2019. This timing is intended to give competitors an opportunity to work on their essays after the 2019 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.

 

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50 years in the OU – by Lorna Hardwick

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will look back at the history of the Department of Classical Studies at the Open University, on the occasion of the OU’s 50th anniversary. 

Lorna Hardwick was a part-time tutor on the very first OU Arts Foundation course in 1971 and was appointed as a Staff Tutor in Arts in the East Anglian Region in 1976. When Classical Studies became a separate department she was its first HoD (‘Head of Department’). She was made Professor of Classical Studies in 2002. Lorna was an author on all the Classical Studies courses as well as on several interdisciplinary ones up until her retirement in 2010 when she was appointed as Professor Emerita. She has supervised many PhD students in the OU and other universities and is the joint series editor of Classical Presences (Oxford University Press). She directed the research project on the Reception of Classical Texts in Drama and Poetry, c.1970-2005, was the founding editor of the Classical Receptions Journal (Oxford) and of the OU online journals Practitioners’ Voices and New Voices. She is currently the Convenor of an international research group Classics And Poetry Now, which works collaboratively to explore the range of relationships between ancient and modern poetry. Here she reflects, not entirely reverently, on some of the key aspects in the history of CS in the OU.

The history of Classical Studies in the Open University has been well documented (Ferguson 1974; Hardwick 2003). There have been highs and lows as well as moments when we might have thought we were in the Theatre of the Absurd. A whole essay could be written about the contributions of students and tutors and the collaborations with the BBC that included the stunning overhead film of Masada (Roman Judaea), the commissioning of Tom Paulin’s play Seize the Fire (a version of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound) and the extensive material on the archaeology of Troy.  However, in my contribution to this 50 Years Blog I’d like to stand back and focus on what is revealed by the social history of Classical Studies and its environment inside and outside the OU.

The founding Dean of the Arts Faculty, John Ferguson was a classicist and insisted that the subject was embedded in early courses (now called modules). The effects, especially when seen from a distance, were paradoxical.  Ferguson was a liberal scholar who in many ways was ahead of his time, especially in his determination that classical study should be open to all and that it had a big part to play in dialogue with other subject areas. He had spent time teaching in Nigeria and had a strongly internationalist outlook, insisting that the Arts Faculty’s inaugural first level course (which started in 1971) included a study of Yoruba history and culture. This was widely ridiculed at the time as an eccentric aspiration (and in hindsight its execution might have reinforced polarities between European traditions and those of the exotic ‘Other’), but the insight that students should be made aware of pluralism was sound. Ferguson’s global perspective also sat paradoxically with his view (set out in his Greece and Rome article of 1974) that classical studies was at the root of what he called ‘our western culture’. There has subsequently been extensive work to analyse the forms and implications of such perspectives (see most recently Mac Sweeney et. al., 2019). The limits of liberal humanism were also revealed in the strongly masculine staff profile of the OU at its inception, especially in senior posts. Ferguson’s Greece and Rome article even managed to refer to a female ancient historian in terms of her husband’s career. Those beginnings offer a salutary warning that even the most prescient can be unwitting prisoners of the norms of their own time, which they then transmit to others. Celebrations of progress are best tempered by a critical look at underlying assumptions and that is as true today as it was then.

Seven Branched Candlestick. Cover for Units 15-16, case study of Judaea for A293: Rome the Augustan Age (1982-1992). The course included case studies of Provinces in the Roman Empire (including Roman Britain) enabling students to compare and contrast the experience of resistance to Rome and incorporation into the Empire. The seven branched candlestick is a symbol of Jewish religion and cultural identity. It was used by the Romans on their coinage to advertise their victory.

Cover for Units 15-16, case study of Judaea for A293: Rome the Augustan Age (1982-1992). The course included case studies of Provinces in the Roman Empire (including Roman Britain) enabling students to compare and contrast the experience of resistance to Rome and incorporation into the Empire. The seven branched candlestick is a symbol of Jewish religion and cultural identity. It was used by the Romans on their coinage to advertise their victory.

I felt the full force of the unreconstructed gender prejudice of the time when I was interviewed in 1976 for a full time post and the bulk of both the interviews I had was spent quizzing me on why I was prepared to move when I was the mother of a small child and whether this meant that ‘the marriage had broken down’ (sic). Astonishingly, perhaps, I was appointed. My euphoric assumption that this must have been because of my intellectual merit was quickly shattered when I discovered soon afterwards that the decisive factor was that it was considered that I might be able to stand up to a troublesome (non-Classicist) colleague. This was a small example of the power of internal politics to open or close doors and I soon found that this was a big factor in the place of CS in the OU as a whole. When Ferguson left the OU there was a big backlash against CS – its dependence on the Dean’s patronage was perhaps summed up in the metaphor used to describe Ferguson’s relationship with senior management elsewhere in the university; ‘the Barons at the court of King John’. Ferguson’s successor as Dean wanted CS abolished and systematically excluded it from the next two Arts Foundation courses. Much had to be done by stealth, including making sure that CS contributed to the high population interdisciplinary courses.

Aerial shots of the fortress of Masada, the site of Jewish resistance in the revolt against Roman rule 66-74CE. Masada had been built by King Herod in the first century CE on a plateau overlooking the Dead Sea and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Roman siege of Masada and the last stand of the Sicarii defenders was described by the Jewish historian Josephus. The course reviewed the written and archaeological evidence relating to his account.

Aerial shots of the fortress of Masada, the site of Jewish resistance in the revolt against Roman rule 66-74CE. Masada had been built by King Herod in the first century CE on a plateau overlooking the Dead Sea and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Roman siege of Masada and the last stand of the Sicarii defenders was described by the Jewish historian Josephus. The A293 course reviewed the written and archaeological evidence relating to his account.

I also discovered in the early days that class prejudice, even in the OU, mirrored the assumptions of its time. For example, I had to fight a hard battle to prevent the faculty from stipulating, when Ferguson retired, that for the relatively junior appointment that was then permitted the short-list should be confined to candidates who had attended Oxford or Cambridge universities. Many part-time tutors were women and, in the light of this and because they were paid on a ‘piece-work’ basis, they were sometimes disparaged by senior management as ‘pin-money tutors’ (although never by Ferguson, who gave impeccably courteous responses to suggestions and criticism sent in by tutors). Classical Studies at that time was not a separate department but with other smaller disciplines was characterized as a ‘working area group’ (this was the first and, I hope, the last time in my career when I have been a WAG).

Changes in the Classical Studies curriculum over the last 50 years have been partly evolutionary, partly achieved through challenging dominant norms and partly responsive to the broadening of its constituency of students. In the 1970s and 1980s the study of Greek and Roman antiquity was largely thought to include two aspects: study of literary and historiographical texts in the original languages and the study of society in terms of politics and war. Social History, as opposed to military and political history, was frequently marginalised as a ‘soft’ option (what might be called ‘ladies’ history without the hoplites’). Nowadays Social History is central to the subject area nationally and internationally. The early OU Classical Studies courses contributed to that development but trod gently. They did include Social History but as separate sections with revealing headings such as ‘Women’ and ‘Slaves’.  This gradualism in acceptance and then mainstreaming of new areas of study is a characteristic of Classics and Ancient History in general, a more recent example being Reception Studies (Brockliss et al., 2012).

Cover of the source book that accompanied the ‘Which was Socrates?’ section of the very first Arts Foundation course, A100 (1971 – 1977). This substantial source book, edited by John Ferguson contained translations of virtually all the ancient sources that referred to Socrates and students were taught how to evaluate and compare these.

Cover of the source book that accompanied the ‘Which was Socrates?’ section of the very first Arts Foundation course, A100 (1971 – 1977). This substantial source book, edited by John Ferguson contained translations of virtually all the ancient sources that referred to Socrates and students were taught how to evaluate and compare these.

Also marginalised in the subject community as a whole (and associated with both gender and class assumptions) was the reading of ancient texts through translations. The attitude of OU course approval committees, both in the Faculty and in the wider university, to the introduction of classical language teaching was a bizarre mixture of incredulity and patronizing contempt for mature students. It was argued that OU students wouldn’t want to learn the languages as these were irrelevant and elitist (note the conjunction) and, even if they did so wish, OU students would not be intellectually capable (at their age and with their lack of access to classical languages at school……). That hot-potch of prejudices was then deployed to argue that since the OU taught CS through translation the discipline would not have the respect of other universities and so should wither away. The outcome of much determination and support from the more enlightened Deans of the 1990s was that after a few years the OU was teaching Greek to more students than the rest of the UK universities put together. However, attitudes in the wider community to adult and life-long learning could still be ignorant and dismissive. One Minister for Higher Education commented when he addressed the Council of University Classical Departments that ‘all adult education is merely remedial’ and that it should therefore be of no interest to universities. He got a rough ride from the CUCD, which I found encouraging.

Gaining the respect of other universities was important for CS in the OU in the 1980s and into the 90s. There were positive sides to this – for example, distinguished classicists and ancient historians agreed to be examiners and course assessors. We and our students benefited enormously from this (although my plagiarism from Swallows and Amazons that ‘if duffers better drowned and if not duffers won’t drown’ was not universally appreciated). Nevertheless, approval from the classics community did not always bring rewards from the OU. When we gained a maximum score in the Teaching Quality Assessment in 2001, the response of the OU leadership was to cancel an additional post that we had already been allocated, on the basis that we clearly didn’t need any additional staff!  It was unfortunate that national teaching assessments did not bring with them any resources – in contrast to research assessment, which (as I found when I was a member of an assessment panel) actually rewarded successful departments.

7.John Ferguson with masked actor. Aristophanes’ comedy The Clouds was one of the sources read by students for their study of Socrates. A BBC TV programme dramatized extracts from the play, including the scene in which Socrates is suspended from a basket. The programme was shown on TV in the early evening and provoked protests from general viewers who objected to the scatalogical language of Aristophanes’ play. Some even wrote to the national press to complain that OU students were getting their degrees by sitting in their armchairs watching obscene drama on TV.

John Ferguson with masked actor. Aristophanes’ comedy The Clouds was one of the sources read by students for their study of Socrates. A BBC TV programme dramatized extracts from the play, including the scene in which Socrates is suspended from a basket. The programme was shown on TV in the early evening and provoked protests from general viewers who objected to the scatalogical language of Aristophanes’ play. Some even wrote to the national press to complain that OU students were getting their degrees by sitting in their armchairs watching obscene drama on TV.

Emphasis on gaining the approval of our colleagues elsewhere in the HE system had its drawbacks as well as its advantages.  I think we were too slow, and perhaps too timid, to push ahead with a fully integrated pedagogy of language learning and translation. This can work effectively in both directions by including ‘language awareness’ strands in courses taught through translation and by teaching students how to compare different translations of key passages. I wish now that we had grasped the nettle earlier and challenged the entrenched belief (which still persists in some quarters) that reading through translation was essentially inferior, rather than different. Reading through translation is now an accepted strand in CS in all universities, although it is not systematically taught everywhere. Eventually, OU second level modules did explore this but we should have done it sooner. We could have used our courses more adventurously to transform perceptions by enabling students, and tutors, to experience how translation and text can inform one another. This is just one example of how research and pedagogy can work together. Translation Studies research has brought forward new models of how source languages, epistemology and translation interact. The nexus between classical languages and translation has played a significant part in this (Bassnett 2014).

The other area in which I wish we could have made swifter progress is in helping our students to explore and understand how study of antiquity is not the preserve of any one cultural tradition.  The cultures of antiquity are pre-Christian (to a large extent) and pre-Islamic but are transmitted by and important for both traditions. They provide not only critical distance from the present but also a field where different perspectives and world-views can be studied in a non-polarized way. The OU course Homer: Poetry and Society included a ground-breaking section that compared performance of story-telling in Indian and Homeric oral poetry. The performance of Greek plays around the world has provided excellent primary material that has been included in OU courses at Honours and Masters level (Mee and Foley, 2011). Taking Classics out of its nervously ‘niche’ closet and re-engaging with the study of cultures and their interactions provides a substantial challenge but also an opportunity for developing the lines of enquiry and working methods that are imperative in the modern world. After all, the plural and diverse threads in ‘European culture’ are rapidly transforming it and there are radical questions to be asked about the extent to which classically derived traditions have been at worst instrumental and at best complicit in racialising and marginalising others.

I realise that emphasising the substantial potential of Classics for deepening critical analysis and comparison does run the risk of collapsing into a claim of ‘exceptionalism’, an approach associated with the imposition of special authority. So I prefer to use the word ‘distinctive’. There are indeed distinctive ways in which the study of Greek and Roman antiquity and its reception can not only ensure that future generations get to experience these exciting texts and material culture, it can also provide critical comparisons for other times, places and languages right up to the present. It has become a mantra to say that the ancient texts are ‘good to think with’. I think this is true, provided that we do not suppress the darker sides. They also make us think! Given the current public debates about suppressing or erasing the unacceptable aspects of the relatively recent past and its texts and monuments, the study of antiquity and of how its various aspects have been eulogised and repressed provides a critical field for addressing contentious questions, without either sanitizing or demonising the past.

Looking ahead to the next few years of teaching and research in CS, I can see that the study of ancient religion and its material and social manifestations would be a growth area.  There is also a pressing need to analyse more critically the history of scholarship and to explore how, throughout the history of the subject, the often unexamined assumptions and norms of the most influential scholars have shaped not only the interpretations of the texts but also the values that have accreted around them and which have seeped across disciplines and into society at large. Perhaps as it embarks on the next 50 years, CS in the OU can push that agenda too?

Opening scene from Seize the Fire, an adaptation by Tom Paulin of the fifth-century BCE tragedy Prometheus Bound, attributed to Aeschylus. John Franklyn-Robbins is shown as Prometheus, chained to a rock (set design by George Wisner). In the myth, Prometheus had offended the gods who retaliated by chaining him to a rock where an eagle pecked out his liver, which regenerated overnight so that the torture could continue the next day. The adaptation was commissioned by the BBC for the course A209 Fifth-century Athens: Democracy and City State (dates). The staging was directed by Tony Coe (BBC producer for the course). Published text: Tom Paulin, 1989, Seize the Fire, London: Faber and Faber. The production is documented on the database of productions of Greek drama, www.open.ac.uk//arts/research/greekplays/drama (data base number 217)

Opening scene from Seize the Fire, an adaptation by Tom Paulin of the fifth-century BCE tragedy Prometheus Bound, attributed to Aeschylus. John Franklyn-Robbins is shown as Prometheus, chained to a rock (set design by George Wisner). In the myth, Prometheus had offended the gods who retaliated by chaining him to a rock where an eagle pecked out his liver, which regenerated overnight so that the torture could continue the next day. The adaptation was commissioned by the BBC for the course A209 Fifth-century Athens: Democracy and City State (1995-2005). The staging was directed by Tony Coe (BBC producer for the course). Published text: Tom Paulin, 1989, Seize the Fire, London: Faber and Faber. The production is documented on the database of productions of Greek drama, www.open.ac.uk//arts/research/greekplays/drama (data base number 217)

The gods’ messenger Hermes visits the chained Prometheus. Stephen Earle played Hermes as a spiv, dressed in leather jacket. His role was to try to persuade Prometheus to compromise with the gods and secure his release.

The gods’ messenger Hermes visits the chained Prometheus. Stephen Earle played Hermes as a spiv, dressed in leather jacket. His role was to try to persuade Prometheus to compromise with the gods and secure his release.

Io is shown visiting Prometheus and telling the story of her torment by Zeus who sent gadflies to pursue her round the world. Played by Julia Hills, Io was costumed as a Marilyn Monroe look-alike. Ancillary material to the course included a video clip of Marilyn Monroe singing ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ at a birthday party held for President John F Kennedy.

Io is shown visiting Prometheus and telling the story of her torment by Zeus who sent gadflies to pursue her round the world. Played by Julia Hills, Io was costumed as a Marilyn Monroe look-alike. Ancillary material to the course included a video clip of Marilyn Monroe singing ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ at a birthday party held for President John F Kennedy.

References:

Bassnett, S., 2014, Translation, London and New York: Routledge.

Brockliss, W., Chauduri, P., Lushkov, A.H. and Wasdin, K., eds., 2012, Reception and the Classics: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Classical Tradition,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ferguson, J., 1974, ‘Classics in the Open University’, Greece and Rome, 21.1 (April), 1-10.

Hardwick, L, 2003, ‘For ‘Anyone who wishes’: classical studies in the Open University, 1971-2002’, in J. Morwood, ed., The Teaching of Classics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 149-158.

Mac Sweeney, N., et al, 2019, ‘Claiming the Classical: the Greco-Roman World in Contemporary Political Discourse’, CUCD Bulletin 48, https://cucd.blogs.sas.ac.uk/bulletin)

Mee, E. and Foley, H.P., eds., 2011, Antigone on the Contemporary World Stage, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Womens Classical Committee campaigns and organises workshops on all aspects of gender and equality in teaching, research and university employment practices.

Opening Up Classical Studies – ACE Event For Schools

We are pleased to announce a rescheduled date for our livestreamed Classical Studies event for schools, hosted by the Open University and the Advocating Classics Education project. This event will be held on 1st April from 1pm-4pm.

We invite you to join us for a live and interactive online broadcast in which you can learn more about Greek drama, listen to an interview with Professor Edith Hall about her recent book Aristotle’s Way and the relevance of Aristotelian philosophy in the modern world, and join in a discussion of ancient religion and votive objects. There will also be a Q&A session for teachers interested in developing the provision of classical civilisation in their schools.

If you would like to get involved, please find our more here, or email us for full information (Jan.Haywood@open.ac.uk or Christine.Plastow@open.ac.uk).

Celebrating a new article by MA student Ben Cassell

We’re delighted to share this post by one of our current MA students – Ben Cassell – who has just published his first article on The Monumental Configuration of Athenian Temporality: Space, Identity and Mnemonic Trajectories of the Periklean Building Programme (full text available online, open access). In this post, Ben writes about his study journey with the Open University, and his particular interest in the academic field of Memory Studies. Congratulations on the publication of your article, Ben! 

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Ben Cassell writes…

“Entering my fifth year of studying Classics with the Open University has, for me, found an appropriate celebration in my having been published for the first time. This is something I consider an important personal achievement, that I know would never have been possible without my time at the University.

In relative terms I recognize my coming to Classics late. This is not to say that I ever had a disinterest in antiquity, rather it was the medieval period that always held my most fervent attention. Yet come to Classics I did, as many of us can claim I’m sure, through Homer, Euripides and Plato, and my decision to study Classics with the Open University was born out of a genuine desire to know the contexts and audiences that produced and consumed these great literary works. I studied for the BA in Classical Studies full time, with two modules in tandem, and moved straight into the MA in October 2017. I’ve done this while running my own business, and though of course both life and study have produced challenges, the time I have thus far spent studying Classics with the Open University has been the most genuinely rewarding of my life. I have made friends I know I will keep for life, and developed a genuine passion for academia.

Over this time, I have developed a keen interest in the application of Memory Studies to ancient contexts, in order to study aspects of social history, identity and power relations. I am fascinated by the methods and actions that facilitated the identities and self-perceptions that made up the cultures of Classical antiquity, and the role of memory is central to all my research. This also, naturally, includes an interest in the manner in which time itself was both constructed and experienced by differing cultural groups in antiquity. Major inspiration for me has come from the works of Aleida and Jan Assmann, especially in in their illustrating the applicability of Memory Studies to the study of ancient contexts, whilst Archaic and Classical Athens have become the focus of my research. It is on this subject that I decided to compose an entry into the Kassman Memorial Essay Prize run by the Open University in 2017, looking at the mnemonic potential exhibited in the Periklean building programme. This in turn underwent drastic expansion, including the consideration of spatial relationships and phenomenological experience, to become the first draft of my now published article last September.

The article was itself motivated by what I perceive as being an underdeveloped approach to the socio-cultural context of Athens: an analysis of the modes, means and arenas of cultural remembering, the essential mechanism for cultivating group identities, in this period. The process of writing was itself a genuine learning curve, with the first round of peer reviews being both exhilarating and imposing. I also enjoyed maintaining a working relationship with the editorial staff over the course of what became several months. Being published marks a truly significant turning point for me both as a person and a Classicist, and has solidified a theoretical direction for my future research. Indeed, for me any study of antiquity is now framed by memory. After completing my MA with the Open University I aim to complete my PhD thesis on the mnemonic trajectories afforded by Athenian ritual and space, and my proposal is presently under consideration.

While I may have come late to field, my future is in Classics. My time with the Open University has cultivated what was an interest into a passion, a lifestyle even, and my intention is use my MA and future PhD qualifications in pursuing a career in academia. My future research will include an examination of the role of Theseus in the cultural memory and temporality of Classical Athens, including his overt presence in the ritualistic landscape. I shall be discussing the general content of the research that became my article at University of the City of London’s Lyceum event in March, and the article itself can be found at http://helenskestudije.me/ojs/index.php/jhs/issue/view/2

I would like to thank all the members of the Department of Classics at the Open University for generating course material, events and an atmosphere that has truly engendered my love of Classics, and also, every one of my past and present tutors, without whose support this small achievement of mine would not have been possible.”