Author Archives: Jessica Hughes

‘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.

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.”

 

A letter from Provence – Alexandre Dumas and the Classics

Paul Jackson – one of our recent Open University PhD graduates – writes from Provence with exciting news of his forthcoming translations of Alexandre Dumas’ work. Thanks for keeping in touch, Paul! 

For the best part of five years I was juggling my day job as head of classics, a second master’s degree in teaching and learning in which I was investigating active learning in the Latin classroom, and a PhD on the theology of the Epicureans under the supervision of Dr Naoko Yamagata and Professor Sophie-Grace Chappell. With the master’s degree completed, my thesis was then examined by Professor Tim Whitmarsh and Dr Carolyn Price on 21 May 2015 and was passed without any corrections. The day after I handed in my notice at work, and when the term ended I followed my heart and took myself off to Provence, and there have been ever since.

Here I have been teaching literature, stuff like Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, and I am also an associate member of Le Centre Transdisciplinaire d’Épistémologie de la Littérature et des Arts vivants at the Université Nice-Sofia-Antipolis. Alongside this I have been publishing parts of my thesis, travel diaries, and translations of French poetry, and in 2018 a little collection of some of my own pastoral poetry was launched over here in Valbonne. However throughout all of this I have been engaged in a much bigger project, a project that first occurred to me during my PhD.

The project, I suppose, is one of classical reception, and more specifically the reception of the classical world in French literature, in particular in the works of that great feuilletoniste Alexandre Dumas, père. Now I have been an aficionado of his since reading his stories of high adventure like Captain Pamphile and The Corsican Brothers as a child, but especially so when, as a classics scholar, I learnt of his historical writings and his novels set in antiquity, works which have yet to be rendered into English despite the enduring popularity of the author beyond the borders of France, being one of the most widely read of French authors whose books have been translated into many languages and adapted for film, television, theatre, and opera on numerous occasions.

So it is then that I am engaged in producing a new series of English editions of these works through Noumena Press, in the hope of revealing a perhaps hitherto unknown side of Dumas to the English-speaking world, a perhaps more erudite side, and of showcasing the enormous range and sheer genius of Alexandre Dumas, père, who wrote some 650 books and 100,000 pages but who is of course associated more with those swashbuckling Napoleonic epics like The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers than anything else.

The first of these editions will be published this year in 2019, namely Isaac Laquedem: A Tale of the Wandering Jew. This sweeping, sprawling epic remains largely unknown beyond the borders of France, and curiously so, because the author himself, having spent over two decades on it, claimed that this, not The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers, was his magnum opus, and he truly thought that it would one day be recognised as a classic alongside the likes of the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid! And it was indeed a hugely ambitious, and it must also be said controversial, undertaking, for in it Dumas attempts to tell, through the eyes of his Wandering Jew, the whole history of the world! It is then an epic on the grandest of scales, with Odyssean voyages and Virgilean descents down into the Underworld thrown in there and with huge philosophical and theological questions being posed throughout. It is deeply rooted in antiquity and the author draws from an unusually large pool of sources even for him, from Apuleius’ Golden Ass, Pausanias’ Description of Greece, Herodotus’ Histories, Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, and Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana, for instance. I should perhaps also add that, unlike The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, both of which Dumas’ chief collaborator Auguste Maquet had a big hand in, it can be safely said that Isaac Laquedem represents Dumas unassisted, for the manuscript, all in Dumas’ own handwriting, was later presented by his son to the town of his birth, Villers-Cotterêts. Isaac Laquedem, this historical work set in antiquity, is then perhaps a better example of the ‘real’ Dumas than those other two.

Further information about this edition and indeed the series will be published on my website, http://paultmjackson.com, as well as on my social media pages, links to which can also be found on the website.

I hope that you enjoy discovering the classical Dumas as much as I have!

All the best for now,

Paul.

‘Institute in Ancient Itineraries’ – a report by Sarah Middle

Sarah Middle is a PhD student in the Department of Classical Studies. She tweets at @digitalshrew

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During the first two weeks of September I took part in the Institute in Ancient Itineraries, an international collaborative research project funded by the Getty Foundation and led by King’s College London. The main aim of the project is to develop a digital proof of concept to facilitate the study of Art History in general, and the art of the Ancient Mediterranean in particular. This prototype will draw strongly on the concept of object itineraries, the journeys that objects take through space and time, including their interactions with people and organisations.

Project participants came from all over the world and had a wide range of academic backgrounds, specialising in areas such as Art History, Archaeology, and Computer Science. Everyone had some Digital Humanities experience, which included spatial analysis, data modelling and 3D visualisation. At the start of the two weeks, we divided ourselves into three groups – Geographies, Provenance and Visualisation – based on our previous skills and experiences. However, these terms turned out to be more problematic than anticipated, with considerable overlap between the three groups.

I was part of the Geographies group with four other participants. We fairly quickly renamed our group to Space, as we felt that this term encompassed more than the notion of Geographies. Spaces we discussed included those in the physical world, imaginary spaces, museum/gallery spaces, and the spaces depicted in artworks, as well as the conceptual space of intellectual networks. We then discussed ways of bringing these spaces together digitally to provide an effective representation of the ‘itinerary’ of an art object.

We wrote our ideas on post-it notes, then grouped them into themes.

We wrote our ideas on post-it notes, then grouped them into themes.

Many of our discussions centred on the idea that there is a huge amount of Ancient Art related data online already, which is held by different institutions and represented using different standards and formats. What we hoped to do was to develop a specification for how this data could be connected, along with documentation about how it could be used, written clearly enough as to be understandable by people with varying levels of technical experience. We felt that finding a way to bring existing material together might be more sustainable in the long-term than building something completely new.

Ryan Horne presents our ideas to the group

Ryan Horne presents our ideas to the group

The Provenance group created a mock-up image of an online resource to find provenance details of art objects (incorporating information about related people, places, dates and materials), and had thought about renaming their group to Context. The Visualisation group had discussed different methods and meanings of representation, including appealing to senses other than sight; as such, they considered renaming their group to Representation. All three groups, therefore, realised early on the limits of the terms that defined them, and sought to develop ideas relating to a much broader context. Additionally, all groups discussed the idea of how best to digitally represent uncertainty about any of the information associated with an object and the reasons why particular interpretations have been suggested.

Our group discussions were informed by excursions to the Soane Museum, Leighton House and the British Museum. During the second week, we formed four new groups, which each selected three well-documented items from these collections and discussed the information that is known about them, as well as how this information should be represented. My group decided to base our choices on the theme of whether the object had been taken from the place where it was created – our three objects incorporated:

  1. An object that remains in situ (for this we visited the London Amphitheatre)
  2. An object that has been taken from its place of creation (Ephesian Artemis at the Soane Museum)
  3. An object that has been taken and then returned (Leighton’s painting of Clytie)

In addition to each object’s relationship with the place where it is currently situated, we also discussed the places and people depicted, the objects’ itineraries through space and time, and the people involved.

Visiting London’s Roman Amphitheatre

Visiting London’s Roman Amphitheatre

As well as discussions among ourselves, over the course of the two weeks we heard talks from staff at King’s Digital Lab, the National Galleries in London and Washington, and the Institute of Classical Studies. These introduced us to existing projects in a similar subject area and issues they had faced, which often related to technology and sustainability, as well as access, usability, and the representation of complex ideas within the restrictions imposed by metadata and cataloguing systems.

We ended the two weeks with the seed of an idea to bring together the findings from all three groups, which will possibly take the form of an interactive online publication. This will be developed further at the next Institute in April 2019 to produce a specification for our proof of concept, to be built by King’s Digital Lab. In the meantime, we are in the process of producing a set of white papers that outline the issues identified by each of the Geographies/Space, Provenance/Context and Visualisation/Representation groups.

As well as having this incredible opportunity to take part in an international research project, I came away from the first Institute having made new friends, and with new ideas about how to approach my PhD topic. I would like to thank King’s College London and the Getty Foundation for their support and funding and am looking forward to seeing what the next Institute brings.

By Sarah Middle

The John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay Prize in Classical Studies

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

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

Submission dates for the next prize are as follows:

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

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

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Information and Regulations for Entrants

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

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

3. Details covering presentation of essay:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ii) Appreciation of the issues involved in the selected topic

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

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

v) Capacity for independent critical analysis

vi) Imaginative choice of topic.

 

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

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

 
Christine Plastow introduces the day.

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

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


Jan Haywood describes the first open discussion session.

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


Liz Webb summarises her paper on Thucydides and emotion.

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

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

Francesca Benatti presents on digital tools, resources and projects.

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

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

by Paula Granados Garcia

A new publication – Material Approaches to Roman Magic

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

Adam writes:

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

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

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

Congratulations, Adam and Stuart!

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

Table of Contents

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

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

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

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

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

photograph of powerpoint slide

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

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

Professor Christopher Smith talking from a lecturn

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

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

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

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

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

John E Harrison

12th March 2018

johncpc@btinternet.com