Author Archives: Joanna Paul

Studying for the MA in Classical Studies: a schoolteacher’s view

We’re delighted to introduce this guest post from Tim Ayre, a current student on our Classical Studies MA. Tim teaches Classical Civilisation and English at a secondary school in Dorset, and is a recipient of the MA scholarships that we have been able to offer to teachers looking to introduce or enhance the provision of Classical Studies in their schools. This is one aspect of our role as a partner in the Advocating Classics Education project – watch this space for news of our 2019 ACE event, which we will be publicising very soon. In this post, Tim explains how his work on the MA has helped him to develop his skills as a Classical Civilisation teacher. 

I began teaching A Level Classical Civilisation five years ago, almost by accident. On interview for my current role as an English teacher in a large upper school in Dorset, I was asked whether I’d be willing to teach A Level Classical Civilisation as well. My knowledge of the ancient world was limited at best, but having fallen in love with the school I replied that I’d be more than happy to teach what was then a completely unknown subject to me. Since that moment, I’ve had to get to grips with a wide range of authors, texts and topics, from Homer and Virgil to Aristophanes, the Persian Wars, the poems of Sappho and more. Although I have worked hard to gain a respectable level of knowledge, I always felt something was missing. As a ‘non-specialist’ I think I’ve always felt as if I have been pretending or faking it in some way. The MA in Classical Studies has enabled me to make this transition from non-specialist to someone who has, or will have, a recognised qualification in the subject, and I will always be grateful to the Open University for such a rare opportunity. Continue reading

POSTPONED: ACE event, 12 March

We’re sorry to announce that our planned ACE (Advocating Classics Education) live-streamed event has been postponed, due to ongoing industrial action by the Universities and Colleges Union. Watch this space for details of a rescheduled event! Please direct any queries to Joanna.Paul@open.ac.uk or Virginia.Campbell@open.ac.uk.

Programme for our ACE event, 12 March

As we announced in our last blog post, our event with the Advocating Classical Education project is just around the corner. We’re now very excited to reveal the programme for the afternoon! If you’re interested in attending the event through our live-streaming platform, see our previous post for contact details for an initial registration of interest. More details about what to expect from each session, and how to join in on the day, will be available soon – watch this space!

2pm            Introduction and welcome

2.15pm      The World of Greek Drama (Jan Haywood, Christine Plastow)

2.40pm       In Conversation with Mary Beard

3.15pm       Classical Studies Question Time (Mary Beard, Edith Hall, Elton Barker)

3.45pm       The Votives Project (E-J Graham, Jessica Hughes)

4.10pm       Keeping in Touch with Classical Studies at the OU

4.30pm       Teachers’ Q&A (Arlene Holmes-Henderson, Stephen Dobson, Virginia Campbell,          Stephen Dobson)

Save the date for our live-streamed ACE event!

The Classical Studies department at the Open University is pleased to announce our upcoming ACE event on the 12th of March 2018, 2-5 pm. This event is unique in the ACE programme for being live-streamed and open to any school groups or teachers, across the UK, to attend remotely.

As part of the AHRC-funded project, Advocating Classical Education, this public partnership event will feature a range of talks and activities promoting the study of Classical Civilisation. We are lucky to have Professor Mary Beard, undoubtedly the best-known Classicist in the country, joining us: Professor Beard will speak on the importance of Classical Studies in her life and career, and will also participate in a Classics-themed ‘Question Time’. The event will include talks and interactive sessions from Open University academics on their own research, guidance for teachers on introducing Classical Civilisation to the curriculum, and an introduction to the wide range of open access resources provided by the OU. Full programme details will be published very shortly.

The entire event will be live-streamed, and will include interactive features enabling our online audience to participate remotely – asking questions, joining in quizzes, and adding your comments to proceedings. Schools or teachers interested in participating in the event online should contact one of the event organisers, Virginia Campbell (virginia.campbell@open.ac.uk) for more information.

Our MA in Classical Studies: a student’s perspective

In this post, John Teller, a recent graduate of our MA in Classical Studies, reflects on his experience. If you’re interested in finding out more about this qualification, visit our department website

When I came across the details for the MA in Classical Studies at the Open University, in 2015, I knew it was exactly what I was looking for. I had no background in Classics, and no experience of studying history (I’d previously studied as a scientist and a policy studies wonk), and to begin with, I was advised against registering. However, after discussion with tutors, I convinced them that I might make the grade – and in 2017 I completed the MA with a distinction!

My initial excitement at being accepted was quickly tempered by the realisation that I had no idea what Classical Studies really was. My lifeline turned out to be the very heavily recommended book by D. M. Schaps, Handbook for Classical Research. This did for me what a good Lonely Planet guide does for the traveller. It showed me the scope of where I was going to travel in my studies and, whilst the enormity and the depth of the study material was mindblowing, it only whetted my appetite for what was to come. Continue reading

Classical Day Trips

A couple of years ago, we ran a blog post which shared some of our favourite ‘classical’ holiday destinations; this year, we thought we’d gather a few suggestions from colleagues in Classical Studies for classically-themed ‘days out’ in the UK! The summer holidays are now upon us and, whether or not the weather is kind, there are lots of good ideas for days out at archaeological sites, museums, exhibitions, and more. Here are some of our ideas, but we’d love to hear yours too…

York (as suggested by Emma Bridges)

It’s not difficult to find a reason to visit the beautiful city of York, but for a classicist the city once known as Eboracum is a great place to spot some Roman remains. Try navigating your way around the city with the help of this Roman York walking tour and podcast; be sure to take a look at the city’s best preserved Roman fortifications and Roman coffins in the Museum Gardens as well as Philip Jackson’s 1998 statue of Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. It’s also well worth dropping in to the Yorkshire Museum (where OU PhD student Adam Parker is Assistant Curator of Archaeology); the museum hosts, among many other treasures, a fine collection of Roman artefacts, including a mosaic floor. And if you visit York’s Art Gallery before October, you’ll find an exhibition of works by Albert Moore, many of which have a distinctly classical theme.

A statue of the Emperor Constantine in York

York’s one of those places where almost every new building development turns up some Roman finds, but even those who don’t know one end of a trowel from another can get a taste of life as an archaeologist by visiting DIG museum, which gives children a chance to become trainee ‘diggers’.

The city famously has 365 pubs, one for every day of the year, but if you’re after some refreshment in a classically-themed location the watering hole for you has to be the Roman Bath pub in St Sampson’s Square; its basement houses York’s Roman Baths Museum.

Hepworth Gallery (as suggested by Jessica Hughes)

My No. 1 summer day-trip recommendation is the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield, recent winner of the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2017 Award. The Hepworth Gallery is a really beautiful space, with its big windows looking out onto the canal and busy road beyond. In addition to its temporary exhibitions (currently showing is Howard Hodgkin: Painting India), the gallery also has a unique permanent collection which includes works by Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and other modern British artists whose paintings and sculptures often resonate with classical antiquity in some way. When I visited last month, I particularly enjoyed looking at a display of ancient artefacts (including Cycladic figurines) that Barbara Hepworth owned, and at the new display of books selected from her personal library. These included an annotated dual-language text of Sophocles’ Electra, several other translations of Greek tragedies, and a number of books on Cycladic and Classical art.

The Hepworth Gallery

Wakefield is well-connected by train (approximately 2 hours from London), and you can get a taxi to the Hepworth from the train station. There’s also car parking over the road, and a very nice cafe and bookshop inside. The Hepworth Wakefield is part of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, together with Leeds Art Gallery, the Henry Moore Institute, and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The National Coal Mining Museum for England is nearby.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (as suggested by Jan Haywood)

Medea by Frederick Sandys

One of my favourite places to visit is Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (conveniently located in the centre of the city, in easy walking distance from the railway stations) which houses a world-class collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, a group of works from the later half of the nineteenth century that drove against contemporary artistic trends through their admiration for medieval Italian art. Many of these artworks display clear affinities with the ancient world and/or portray famous classical figures. Indeed, be sure to catch Frederick Sandys’ arresting portrait of the magician and princess Medea (1868), which imagines the enchantress preparing a foul potion of magical ingredients. Amongst the many other highlights is Sir Edward Burne-Jones’ fascinating Troy Triptych (1872-1898), an unfinished work that represents several scenes from the Trojan War story.

Maiden Castle (as suggested by Jo Paul)

One of my holiday destinations this summer is Dorset; as a child, I spent every summer there, and I’m now looking forward to showing my own children the place that introduced me to ‘the Romans’ before I had any idea who they really were. There may not be very much to see at Maiden Castle, besides the vast ramparts and the minimal remains of structures like a 4th century CE Romano-British temple – but the sheer scale of the place (the largest Iron Age hillfort in Britain) is impressive. Walking across the ramparts and up and down the slopes (manageable by all but the most reluctant children!) affords spectacular views across the Wessex countryside, and it’s not hard to imagine the commanding position once held by this fort. As a child, I was captivated by tales of how Vespasian attacked it during the invasion of 43 CE, and though this version of events is now disputed, Maiden Castle still offers an intriguing and evocative insight into the earliest phases of the Roman conquest.

The ramparts of Maiden Castle

The wild landscape of Maiden Castle can be placed in historical context with a visit to the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester (ancient Durnovaria), which houses many finds from the site, including some famous skeletons bearing the signs of injuries which may or may not have been inflicted by invading Romans. Also in Dorchester, you can visit a fully exposed Roman ‘town house‘.

Introducing: Carlos Sánchez Pérez

Carlos is spending the summer with us in the department of Classical Studies, as a Visiting Research Student. In this post, he introduces himself, and tells us about his research project.

In the first pages of Promethea (1999), a comic book by the British writer Alan Moore, we meet Promethea, a young girl who lives in 5th century A.D. Roman Egypt. At the beginning of the story, she has been chased by an angry Christian mob that has just killed her father for being a ‘Hermetic’ philosopher. In the middle of the desert, a strange deity suddenly appears, introducing himself as Hermes-Thoth, and addressing the girl with these words: ‘Now everything is well’. This was my first contact with Hermetism.

After completing my Bachelor in Classical Philology at the Universidad de Sevilla (2013), I moved to Madrid to do a Masters in Classics (2013-2014). There, I first encountered both Classical Reception theory and Hermetism. In my Master’s dissertation, titled ‘Prometheus in Feminine: Uses of Classical Elements in Alan Moore’s Promethea’, I studied the reception of the classical world in this comic, which masterfully combines mysticism, superheroes, science-fiction and fantasy, and I discovered that Hermetism was the main element of the classical world to be reimagined in its pages. Later, I started my PhD under the supervision of Prof. Luis Unceta at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. The title of my dissertation is ‘Hermes Trismegistus: from mysticism to fantasy. Survival of the Hermetic Texts from Antiquity to the present day’, and it focuses on the reception of the Hermetica in 19th to 21st century fantasy, occult and science fiction literature, in authors such as Edward Bulwer-Lytton or Alan Moore.

But what exactly are Hermetism and the Hermetic Texts? The Hermetica, as they are commonly known, are a group of texts from the 2nd-3rd century AD related in one way or another to the wisdom and teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, a legendary figure resulting from the union of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth, two popular deities which shared a similar set of attributes. The Hellenistic fusion of the Graeco-Roman and Egyptian worlds gave birth to a shared cultural milieu, which led to the apparition of this syncretic figure, part god, part prophet. The texts cover a wide range of subjects, and they have traditionally been categorized into two broad ─ and usually problematic ─ groups: ‘philosophical-religious’ and ‘technical’. Under the first label we find texts that exhibit a sort of knowledge in accordance with the Neoplatonic traditions of the first centuries of our era. The second label comprises texts dealing with alchemy, magic or astrology which, ultimately, are the foundation of our modern ‘occult sciences’. Although this categorisation is useful, it has been frequently challenged: religious and philosophical material is to be found within the technical Hermetica and vice versa.

In the Renaissance, a Hermetic revival starring scholars such as Marsilio Ficino, Giordano Bruno or Cornelius Agrippa, who worshipped Trismegistus as a forerunner of Plato and Pythagoras, shone a light on the Hermetica, which were then profoundly reinterpreted. Hermeticism was again trendy for almost two centuries. Later, classical scholarship proved that the texts weren’t so old as first thought, and with the arrival of the Enlightenment, they were condemned to what we call Occultism, in the wide sense of the term. It is in the 19th century that the Hermetica are again recovered, this time by members of esoteric and occult societies such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Theosophical Society, many of whom also happened to be literary authors, for example Arthur Machen or Dion Fortune. Thanks to the work of these authors, hermetically influenced ideas became part of the basis of the popular fantasy and science fiction genres throughout the 20th century. And that’s how we arrive at Alan Moore and other comic book authors.

How does Hermetism and Hermetic ideas permeate modern and contemporary literature, and especially those genres? How does it intertwine with the formats in which it appears, such as comic books? How does the reception of Hermetism after the Renaissance work? How has it modelled our own perception of some aspects of antiquity? These are some of the questions that my dissertation poses, drawing on Classical Reception theory as the best framework to approach the ups and downs of a trend of thought traditionally considered peripheral to the canon of Classical Studies, and therefore highly neglected by mainstream research.

I would like to express my gratitude to the Department of Classical Studies of the Open University and especially Dr. Joanna Paul for having accepted me so kindly for a research stay from July to September. I have just arrived and feel very welcomed already. I’m sure I am going to learn very much in the company of such an amazing faculty. I’m very happy to share these months with you all.

Carlos can be contacted on carlos.sanchezp@uam.es. 

 

Behind the scenes: In the studio with the A276 module team

Even if you’ve never studied with the Open University before, you’ll probably be aware of the central role that audio-visual materials play in our teaching resources. In fact, from the earliest days of the university (which was established in 1969), the image of the OU broadcast, delivered by a kipper-tie-wearing lecturer and screened on the BBC at some ungodly hour, has become a fondly remembered (if sometimes gently ridiculed) feature of our teaching. But we’ve moved a long way past these stereotypes now. Today, our modules offer an exciting variety of audio-visual resources, from short documentaries filmed in exotic locations to intimate discussions between academic experts. Everything is carefully planned and integrated with the rest of our study material so as to support students in their studies as effectively as possible. It’s hard work, but it’s also one of the most interesting and rewarding tasks for those of us working on modules in production – and with an unprecedented number of new modules about to be launched by the Classical Studies department, we wanted to take this opportunity to give you some more insight into just how this process is carried out.

I’m the chair of the new Latin literature and language module, Classical Latin: the language of Ancient Rome (A276), which will have its first presentation in October 2015. Earlier this year, the module team finished work on a whole suite of audio features which will be interspersed throughout the three Blocks of the module. A few of them are specifically designed to support the language sections – so, for example, students will be able to hear the Latin texts of some of the literature that they will be studying spoken out loud – but the majority are related to the module’s literary and cultural units. A276 focuses on literature written in the Augustan period, from Livy’s histories of early Rome, to Virgil’s Aeneid, to the love poetry of Ovid, and addresses the central theme of how such texts were vehicles for exploring Roman identity. The units that we’ve been writing, as part of the core teaching materials, offer lots of different angles on this – but sometimes, the best way of bringing these texts and the debates around them to life is to talk about them.

So, from an early stage in the module’s production, we’ve been working with JustRadio, a production company who have a great deal of experience with the OU, as well as in making programmes for the BBC and other broadcasters. They’ve helped us to identify what sort of features would be most useful and interesting for our students, and have enabled us to really get the best out of our material. At the heart of many of these features are conversations with leading academics and professionals, from a discussion about epigraphy with the Cambridge classicist Mary Beard, to an on-site interview with a botanist at Kew Gardens who regularly uses Latin in her day-to-day work. One of the most memorable was a 20-minute piece that we put together for Block 3 of the module, in which students spend some time thinking about the process of translation. I went to King’s College London to interview two academics about their views of translation: William Fitzgerald talked about the scholarly side of things, and the history of different kinds of translation, while Henry Stead gave us an insight into his own practice as a translator of Latin literature. Conducting the interviews in their offices was just the first step, though. Next, my own introduction and links had to be recorded in studios on Wardour Street, Soho (a historic centre of film and radio production in the UK), where I was closeted in a tiny booth behind glass, feeling like I might have been about to read the news on the Today programme. And finally, JustRadio edited these links and the conversations into a seamless piece of audio, interwoven with clips of Henry’s recital of his own poetry, along with archive material of the poet Ted Hughes reading from his ‘Tales From Ovid’. The result is, we think, a really engaging way of getting students to think about what’s at stake when we translate, as well as providing an opportunity to listen to different ways of performing poetry.

The courtyard at the British School at Rome, one of our recording locations

The courtyard at the British School at Rome, one of our recording locations

JustRadio helped us to find other ways of bringing Latin literature to life, too. Not wanting to be outdone by the exotic trips undertaken by our colleagues working on A340, our new Roman Empire module, we also found space in our schedules for a quick trip to Rome. Not merely an excuse to sample pizza and gelato, this turned out to be a real boost to some of the audio features that we wanted to include in the module’s earlier blocks. It gave us the opportunity to speak to people like Chris Smith, Director of the British School at Rome, about his expert knowledge of early Rome, along with Diana Spencer, a leading scholar of Augustan literature – but it also provided crucial atmosphere and a sense of location for our own discussions of Augustan Rome. We didn’t really believe it until we heard the first cuts of the features ourselves, but it was so much easier to conjure up the importance of what was happening in the city of Rome itself when all this great literature was being produced, when we could connect our discussion to a real geographical location – and hopefully our students will feel a sense of our excitement too.

Now that the long process of writing and interviewing, editing and mastering is over, all that remains is for us to unleash our efforts on our first cohort of A276 students. If you’re interested in being among them, and would like to know more about what this module has in store, then our short introductory audio is online now, and you can read more about it on the OU website, too.

 

 

 

Antiquity and Photography: call for papers

On Thursday 10 September, we’re holding a one-day colloquium on the topic of Antiquity and Photography, to be held at the OU offices in Camden, London.

A few days remain before the (slightly extended) deadline to submit an abstract, if you’re interested in speaking at this event. 300-word abstracts for 20-minute papers should be sent to the organiser, Joanna Paul (Joanna.Paul@open.ac.uk) by Monday 13 July. Here’s an outline of what we hope the colloquium will address:

The fantasy of capturing the ancient world on film has fired the popular imagination ever since the early 19th century. Whether allowing armchair tourists the opportunity to view ancient sites without the need for travel, or reanimating ancient history and myth in flesh and blood, rather than pen and paint, the camera has, for more than two centuries, channelled a unique vision of the distant past. But while cinema’s relationship with antiquity has been endlessly studied in recent years, the same cannot be said of still photography, in all its forms. From the earliest days of the daguerreotype, which quickly became a valuable means of depicting archaeological sites, to the artistic photography of the present day, which can variously recreate and redestroy antiquity using both analogue and digital processes, the photographic medium is a powerful vehicle for exploring and commenting on our relationship to the past, which deserves to be examined in much more detail.

This one-day colloquium aims to provide a forum for colleagues interested in this area of research, in which any question or topic related to the theme of Antiquity and Photography can be discussed. In particular, it is hoped that the colloquium will explore some of the more creative and/or subjective ways in which photography has addressed the ancient past, in addition to its use as a tool for documenting archaeological finds. Confirmed speakers so far include Zena Kamash (Royal Holloway), Joanna Paul (Open University), Shelley Hales (Bristol), and Katy Soar (Sheffield).

Watch this space for a final programme and details of how to register for the colloquium!

From the current exhibition 'Pompei e L'Europa 1748-1943' (Pompeii Amphitheatre)

From the current exhibition ‘Pompei e L’Europa 1748-1943’ (Pompeii Amphitheatre)