Category Archives: Postgraduate student profiles

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!

—-

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

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

Introducing…some of our new PhD students!

Several of our PhD students have appeared on this blog since we launched it back in February 2015. This year, we’ve already been introduced to Adam Parker and his PhD research on ancient magical objects, while Rebecca Fallas gave us the lowdown on her PhD thesis submission (a piece that subsequently got picked up by the Times Educational Supplement). Sian Beavers wrote about her project on ‘Classics, Films and Video games’, and – moving back into 2015 – we had posts from John Harrison about his work on Georgian Stourhead, and Sophie Raudnitz, who is writing a thesis on memory and forgetting in ancient Greek literature. And then there was that lovely piece about Mair Lloyd’s Living Latin project, published last week!

This Autumn we welcomed a host of new PhD students to the department, including some who are co-supervised with other departments such as Philosophy and Religious Studies. Here, three of our newest PhD students introduce themselves and their projects (hint: avid blog readers may recognise one of these students from her earlier post about the Classical Studies MA degree!)

Sarah Middle

Sarah MiddleI’m Sarah Middle, and I’m looking at how Linked Data can be integrated with existing research methodologies in the Humanities in general, and for study of the Ancient World in particular. My supervisors are Elton Barker and Phil Perkins from Classical Studies, and Mathieu D’Aquin from the Knowledge Media Institute. Linked Data resources bring together materials held in various digital collections, allowing researchers to find connections between items that might not have been apparent previously. For example, in Classics, Linked Data techniques could be used to create a virtual collection of artefacts that were found at the same site but are now held in different museums, or to link historical texts to the places mentioned within them (such as the Pelagios project). The technology has been around for quite some time, but has only started to be applied to Humanities projects relatively recently. I am really keen to see how this develops, and where Linked Data could best be used to inform the answers to existing research questions.

Before returning to study, I worked as Repository Manager at Cambridge University Library, where I was responsible for managing and curating collections of digital objects, such as articles, theses, datasets, images and videos, as well as advising researchers on how best to describe these materials in order to facilitate their discovery by other users. I had previously worked in other academic libraries, as well as Cambridge’s Admissions Office, where I managed digital media projects to encourage students to apply to the university. My previous qualifications include an MA in Electronic Communication and Publishing from UCL, and an MA in Archaeological Research and BA Ancient History and Archaeology, both from the University of Nottingham.

Paula Granados

Paula Granados Open UniversityComing from an art historical background, Paula Granados soon recognised the importance and interdependence of both history and digital technologies. After completing her Bachelor degree in History of Art at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, she was awarded a Graduate Certificate in Teaching Spanish to Adults (First Class) by the Instituto Cervantes de Londres and Roehampton University which helped her to enhance her research skills. Paula then studied for an MA in Classical Art and Archaeology as an intercollegiate student at Kings College London and University College London, undertaking modules related to classical art and digital humanities. During this degree, Paula gained expertise in academic research related to the classical world and she also developed her knowledge about digital humanities. Her MA dissertation was entitled “HYBRID SCULPTURE, Sculptures from the Seville region, III BC – I BC: Iberian identity and Roman influence”, and looked at Ibero-Roman art and the manifestation of cultural contact in artistic artefacts.

Following along the path of her MA dissertation, Paula’s PhD research will focus on the study of cultural contacts and identity development in Early Roman Spain through Linked Open Data. Her proposal is the first step of a comprehensive study of cultural, social and political contacts and identities in Early Roman Spain by means of connection to and creation of Linked Data resources. The main problem that this research will address is understanding the dynamics of a colonial encounter where the data is fragmentary, heterogeneous and interdisciplinary. Using Linked Open Data resources and other digital technologies, this study will open up the possibility of making effective relations through large amounts of data. These relations will allow us to provide the data with some relevant context and therefore to interpret, reuse and contextualise the information in a much broader way, aiming to break through the current impasse in scholarship.

Liz Webb

Liz WebbAfter completing my MA in Classical Studies with the OU in 2014, I was eager to continue my research in more depth. I had thoroughly enjoyed working on my final year dissertation, which focused on vision and hearing in books 1 and 6 of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. I was particularly intrigued by scholarship about his use of audiences, both internal and external to the text. I also became interested in the application of sensory theory to the classical world and am therefore trying to bring these research interests together in my work.

Recent reception of Thucydides has focused on his role as a political theorist, a military strategist, a scientist and a rhetorician, which brings him firmly into the sphere of a political and intellectual elite. However, I plan to address the limitations of this approach by developing a new framework for experiencing Thucydides.  I am looking to understand how Thucydides immerses his audience in episodes of his history, giving them a sense of presence which forms a point of tension with his detached authorial persona. This will open fresh perspectives on ancient war narrative which will chime with current approaches to in-depth war reporting.

I began my part-time PhD in October 2016, supported by a CHASE scholarship, and my first months have been a thoroughly enjoyable and busy time. The Open University’s induction was a wonderful starting point, giving lots of support and advice. My three supervisors, Elton Barker, Eleanor Betts and Emma Bridges, have provided fantastic support and direction in their fields of expertise. I feel very excited about taking my research forward: it really is the opportunity of a lifetime.

A celebration of Mair Lloyd’s ‘Living Latin’

Many of you know Mair and the enthusiasm she has for reminding us that Latin was, and can be, a real language, more than grammar grind and reading a bunch of fusty old texts…! I hope you’ll join with me and Mair’s other supervisors – Regine Hampel, Uschi Stickler, Linda Murphy – in congratulating Mair on her amazing achievement of winning the prestigious AOUG Vice-Chancellor Sir John Daniel Award for Education and Language Studies (2016).

AOUGMairMair, with her enthusiasm and dedication, has bridged boundaries and brought a lot of people and ideas together. By sharing supervision between the Classical Studies and Modern Languages departments we have learned much from each other (and the ways we work with language and think about language). By asking pertinent questions in her research, Mair has made Latinists across the country aware of the value of technology for teaching and learning, and by travelling to the US and participating in a Latin immersion course as a student, Mair has herself experienced the power of Living Latin for real communication.

 

The award Mair has received is in the name of Sir John Daniel, an educator who has always encouraged the use of technology, and promoted learning in unconventional ways and places, so it is quite fitting! Mair’s research is about making learning better and more enjoyable. She has discovered that ‘good Latin learners’ read with engagement and with fluency, and has demonstrated that Latin is a language that can be brought to life and can be used.

‘Tweeted’ reactions to her organisation of the ‘Living Latin’ panel at the 2016 Classical Association conference in Edinburgh (for which she secured the attendance of leading exponent of Living Latin, Prof. Tunberg from the University of Kentucky) illustrate this point:

@MairLloyd‘s enthusiasm makes Vygotsky accessible even at 9am in the morning. Great introduction to the theory behind Living Latin #LL#CA16

#CA16@MairLloyd is absolutely brilliant. There are many layers to language learning. Learners can help each other in the process.

This panel on spoken Latin as a learning method (with taster lesson from Terence Tunberg) was absolutely brilliant

The Living Latin panel. It has been mind-blowing. And we all spoke some Latin!

The panel on Living Latin is so mesmerising and inspiring it is difficult to tweet… sorry! Blog to follow. #CA16

Mair’s exploration of learning to read in Latin has highlighted aspects of reading that have not been extensively explored in modern languages either  – i.e. exploring reading with comprehension in the target language without resorting to translation or checking unknown vocabulary, and reading with engagement. She has used an innovative approach to evaluation of this type of reading that includes reading and drawing.

Her research has been far more extensive than that which is presented in her final thesis, and she will be submitting a range of further papers and conference presentations outlining findings related to learning of Ancient Greek and the development of interaction and collaborative Latin learning through Information and Communication Technology.

Mair’s thesis, Living Latin: Exploring the communicative approach to Latin teaching through a sociocultural perspective on Latin learning, is an investigation of the current approach to the ab initio teaching of Latin in Classics departments in UK universities and how this aligns with the aims and aspirations of students. Drawing on Second Language Acquisition theory and practice in Modern Language teaching she has examined how the implementation of methods and activities based on a communicative approach to Latin teaching can help students to attain their ab initio Latin-learning goals. She then explored the explanatory value of a Vygotskian sociocultural theoretical perspective (as applied to modern language learning) in the analysis of learning events during communicative Latin teaching and interpersonal interaction in Latin. The research forges new links between the Department of Classical Studies and the Department of Languages.

Mair came to the research having noticed her own difficulties as a beginner getting to grips with reading Latin, compared with the faster progress she felt that she had made as a beginner learner of French. She intuitively felt that the more interactive use of French might actually be helping her to read more easily in French, and that Modern Language theory and practice might have some benefits in the teaching of Latin. Like many learners of Latin and their teachers, her aim was to be able to read and enjoy original texts in order to be able to gain insight into and appreciate the life and perspectives of the writer and the ancient world.

Although a number of classicists have previously looked to Modern Language theory and pedagogy to inspire their approach to Latin teaching, Mair has established that little or no attention has been paid to demonstrating the benefits of these approaches for Latin teaching or determining how well their effects are explained by language learning theories. The results of her survey of UK University Classics departments showed no evidence of awareness of curricula underpinned by theoretical positions. Despite having no previous knowledge of language learning theories herself before beginning her research, Mair has analysed current approaches and classified them according to the theoretical and pedagogical concepts drawn from Modern Language research. To achieve this, she has drawn on research conducted by fellow postgraduate students and brought together a range of different perspectives on theory, history of language teaching and methodology, supplemented by her own insights into the field. She has demonstrated that much current Latin teaching practice can be classified as behaviourist and structuralist with a heavy emphasis on cognitive skills, but shows very little evidence of developments in modern language teaching which focus on interaction, context, collaboration and emotional response and have been strongly influenced by a Vygotskian sociocultural theoretical perspective.

Mair therefore sought out examples of Latin teaching and learning that resembled more closely the situation in modern language teaching where interaction through oral communication involving both speaking, listening comprehension and negotiation of meaning in the target language is a regular component. She found them in the form of a week-long ‘immersion’ programme at Lexington in the USA. This ‘Conventiculum’ proclaimed the benefits of learning Latin through interaction in Latin and collaboration with other learners as well as interaction with original texts, though once again this seemed to be based on an intuition of the benefit rather than having a firm theoretical perspective. As a participant observer at this event, Mair was able to gather data on the experience of beginner and more experienced learners, including her own reactions, to their ‘immersion’ in Latin and the types of activity and interaction and they engaged in.

Data collection at the Conventiculum included asking participants to read a short passage in Latin and to make a drawing of what this passage evoked for them. They were asked to do this both before and after the event. They were encouraged to envision the scenes described in the passages without making a translation into English. This represented an innovative way to examine readers’ responses to the passages. It enabled readers to avoid the mediation of another language (as would have been the case if comprehension questions in English were given) or adding complexity by questioning in Latin. It also allowed a more personal response to the text. Readers noted the mood of the scene evoked, for example. This method has not been employed to any extent in modern language learning, where despite attention to so-called ‘intensive’ and ‘extensive’ reading (for specific information or for gist), there has been little attention to reading and understanding entirely within the target language and in understanding what is meant by ‘engagement’ in reading.

In her analysis of the data gathered from the communicative Latin teaching and interpersonal interaction in Latin at the Conventiculum, Mair explored the explanatory value of a Vygotskian sociocultural theoretical perspective (as applied to modern language learning). Her findings indicate that this may be a positive way forward in understanding how reading in Latin and engagement with original texts can be facilitated and become more enjoyable for learners of Latin and other ancient languages.

 

MairUschiVivaSince receiving her award, Mair has passed her viva and can look forward to soon being Dr Lloyd, author of Living Latin: Exploring a Communicative Approach to Latin Teaching through a Sociocultural Perspective on Language Learning. Look out for more from Mair, as she has no intention of stopping here, with publications in the pipeline and Ancient Greek to deal with next…

On behalf of the OU Classical Studies department and CREET, and especially from the four of us who supervised you, congratulations Mair, and bona fortuna! As Uschi put it at the AOUG Award Ceremony, Mair fabulosa est!

Introducing…Adam Parker, PhD student

We asked our newest PhD student, Adam Parker, to tell us about his research project and the path that brought him to postgraduate study at the Open University.

AP blog picThe life changing time for me, when I first started to get really excited about the ancient world, was at Durham 6th Form Centre, while doing an A-level in Classical Civilisation. It was over a decade ago now, but reading the Iliad, the Odyssey, and Sophocles’ Theban plays alongside Tacitus, Suetonius and doing a bit of Greek and Roman architecture still looms large in my head as the time when my eyes were opened to the complexity, importance and sheer murderous humanity of the ancient world. Fast-forward to May 2016 and I am five months into my part-time PhD research in Classical Studies at the Open University. My project aims to investigate the artifactual nature of ‘magic’ in Roman Britain and to try to establish chronological, spatial, material and contextual relationships within this huge, amorphous dataset in order to try and understand what magic is and what function it served.

The wonderful thing I’ve found about postgraduate studies with the OU is that the students here have usually gone off and done a bit of living before getting into the PhD research; I’m no different. Undergraduate studies in Ancient History and Archaeology at Leicester cemented my love of archaeology and the Roman world. This was the first time I ever encountered ‘magic’ as something that can be studied. A second year essay for a module on ‘the Roman Principate’ required students to sign up to a seminar group: 25 people, 5 seminar topics, and 5 places per slot. Getting a place on the ‘Magic and Imperial Politics’ seminar required sprinting from the lecture theatre where this announcement was made to the sign up board on the other side of the campus to ensure I got the place I wanted. Staying on at Leicester for a fourth year MA in Rome & its Neighbours allowed me to pick up Magic as a research topic for my dissertation.

Since that point I have never really left the topic alone. Having a consuming and unfaltering passion for history, heritage and archaeology is certainly a benefit in getting from undergraduate to PhD studies. Entering the world of museums in 2010 did mean that I got to play with loads of really cool material culture, but it also meant that I spent a lot of time driving vans and fork-lift trucks (for more of an insight into my day job take a look at this article). Since discovering the phrase ‘Independent researcher’ in 2011 I’ve gone out of my way to try and push my research agenda outside of my professional life. Commuting daily from Crook, Co. Durham to York – where I am currently Assistant Curator of Archaeology at the Yorkshire Museum – meant that I had 4-5 hours per day of bus and train time to kill reading and writing. OU courses in ‘Reading Classical Latin’ and ‘Heritage? Whose Heritage?’ filled in bits of that. (A quick piece of advice here: conjugating verbs and declining nouns on the bus to Darlington at 6:45am daily is not the best way to learn Latin.)

After 5 or 6 years of part-time study I want to end up with a database of a few thousand objects. Jet pendants, phallic carvings, and inscribed gold tablets might seem to be a disparate group of objects but they are all joined by a modern appreciation of them having served some sort of protective, beneficial, or lucky function in the Roman world. It is this supposed supernatural function that links these, and numerous other objects, together. My intention is to actually test this hypothesis through a broad artifactual study where I will start by deconstructing the semantics and implications of the word ‘magic’ and establish how this can be applied to material culture. Contextual, material and spatial studies will (hopefully!) establish themes, links and patterns within this dataset that can be used to build on our current understanding on how these things work. There are already some excellent material culture studies into Roman magic (most recently several papers in two entirely different 2015 publications with the same name, The Materiality of Magic) but these each focus on a specific object type, literary or iconographic element. My aim is to be the first to actually draw all of this together into one place and look it as a single group. It requires first negotiating some hugely problematic conceptual issues about what magic is, what religion is, and how we can differentiate enough to allow a useful programme of data collection.

It needs to go on record that I am sincerely grateful for being able to undertake PhD research with the Open University and with a scholarship to boot. My initial approach to the OU for PhD purposes is entirely due to a chat I had with Stuart McKie (fellow OU post-grad) after meeting at the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference in 2014. I gave a paper talking about magical things, he came and chatted to me afterwards about his own research on magic, and a series of Facebook conversations afterwards pointed me towards his supervisory team – Ursula Rothe and E-J Graham. And now they are my supervisors too, joined by Helen King. Under the tutelage of my OU triumvirate the past five months have focused on this attempt to try and establish what magic actually is… I’m not sure I’ve managed it yet it, but it’s been great fun so far trying to find out!

I am very happy to be a research student in the Classical Studies department – thanks for having me, OU.

by Adam Parker

Editor’s note: Adam has his own blog, where you can read more of his thoughts on Roman magic: https://romanmagic.wordpress.com/ You can also find him on Twitter @adamarchaeology.

My MA experience, by Sam Spencer

In December 2015 our first holder of the Baron Thyssen MA Scholarship in Classical Studies completed her studies, achieving a Merit in our MA in Classical Studies. To celebrate this achievement we asked Sam to share her experiences of being an MA student at the OU. Here’s what she wrote … 

I started with the OU in 2006, a level 1 Spanish module for pleasure, which quickly developed into a BA (Hons) Humanities with Classical Studies. I had always regretted not taking Latin and Roman history further than ‘O’ level at school, so this was the fulfilment of a personal ambition. Three months after finishing my degree, I realised that I missed the studying (the OU is addictive!), and looked into an MA in Classics. There was a taught MA at the University in my home city, but I felt that the OU continued to meet my personal needs better: I am a single mum, who works school hours, and I needed the flexibility that studying with the OU gave me. The fact that it was mainly assignment-based was an important part of my choice, as I don’t do as well in exams. And I knew that I would have the same tutor from my Classics degree modules for the first two years of the MA (who then became my dissertation supervisor), and that continuity was a bonus.

The first year was busy, four different blocks, giving a good grounding for what was to come, and although the TMAs were challenging, I could see my progress through the year as I became more analytical, critical, and more concise in my writing, and was beginning to get an idea for what I really enjoyed and would like to do for my dissertation. I even passed the exam at the end of the year, which gave me confidence for the second year, which I was not looking forward to: Greek Theatre. I didn’t think I would enjoy this, but threw myself into it in my normal way, and discovered that it really wasn’t too bad. I think that having done the Myth module as part of my degree helped with the background, and a few of us from across the country met in Cambridge just before the module started to watch the Greek plays that year, which brought them alive, and showed us that Aristophanes was still relevant (and very funny) today.

And finally, my favourite part: the dissertation. I am quite motivated and focussed in my studies, and really enjoyed all of the reading and researching. I knew that historiography was the area that interested me the most, and wanted to investigate Marcus Agrippa and his contribution to Augustus’ rise to power. Having discussed this with my tutor, this was expanded to ‘How important were Augustus’ networks and alliances in gaining and maintaining power?’. It was a really vibrant time in Rome’s history: there is still a lot of extant literature and even more modern scholarship. My research led me through some well-known names: Julius Caesar, Marcus Antonius, Cicero, but also the development of the army, and of patronage, the changing political situation, and relationships with client kings. But most of all, to find evidence of the many skilled men who worked in the background and supported Augustus.

How did I develop? Key to it all were my time management skills, and being flexible in my studies (as my children moved from primary to secondary school, it became increasingly difficult to put them to bed at 8 pm so that I could study, so l adapted to shorter sessions at night and early morning, and whenever the opportunity arose!). I developed the ability to speed read and quickly pick out what I needed from a text. Now I am definitely more critical when reading modern scholarship and finally better at argument and balance, thanks to my supervisor who constantly challenged me. I also benefitted from SCONUL access to Manchester University Library, and the OU’s own online resources and the JSTOR database. I have a small library of my own now too.

I hope that I have shown my children that it is never too late to achieve something you really want, and that you can do well if you work hard at it. Achieving the MA was good, but more than that, I met some wonderful people along the way who kept me going (we were lucky enough to have face-to-face tutorials then, but still used forums to keep in touch). I now enjoy Greek theatre, which seems to be enjoying a revival, and I discovered a love of Homer. I’m not sure of my next steps – after a few months off, I am definitely missing the studying, and want to brush up my Latin, while I keep my eyes open for opportunities where I can use my administrative skills combined with something in the Classical world. I would really recommend the OU MA: as University teaching becomes more digital and online, they have a wealth of experience in providing distance-learning modules, and excellent tutors to support you.

by Sam Spencer

My experience as an MA student, by Flora Stagg

I never intended to go on to do an MA, let alone an MA in Classical Studies, after my undergrad degree – BA (Hons) in Humanities with Music – but for the last module of that degree I chose a completely different subject ‘Myth in the Greek and Roman World’ and I became hooked on the classics. I was at a considerable disadvantage as I did not have a classical background, only a little Latin, but no Greek. My tutor gave me a list of books which helped increase my knowledge of the classical world before the first module began. Although the first year of the MA was a steep learning curve, it was very enjoyable, if tough. During the year I learned to improve my argument in my essays, and became more critical of academic writing. I developed a passion for the Etruscans after writing a TMA on the stork vase discovered at the Mola di Monte Gelato site in South Etruria. An essay followed on ‘Who were the Etruscans’ – a difficult subject to choose, as I soon found out! The Etruscans believed that there was a limit to the length a civilization would survive and it would indeed appear that after 800 years much of their own civilization was swallowed up by Rome. It was suggested I should consider archaeology for my dissertation topic, but I felt that was a learning curve too far.

fox and stork et alIn the second year I had reached the module that had sparked my interest in the MA in the first place – The Greek Theatre. The role of powerful women in the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides proved a fascinating area of research. After the tragedians, Aristophanes took over my life. For the EMA I spent an absorbing period comparing the text of Wasps prepared in 1897 by the classics scholar and barrister Benjamin Bickley Rogers, which Vaughan Williams set to music for the 1907 Greek Play at Cambridge, with its English adaptation by David Pountney to fit the original music of Vaughan Williams.  Bickley Rogers’ expurgated version was appropriate to the sensibilities of the time, but Pountney reinstated most of the obscenities, taking a fair amount of liberty in his interpretation of the text and structure of the play. He was faced with the difficult task of finding lyrics to fit the metre of the original Greek text which Vaughan Williams had set to music. It was intended as a concert version in which one actor would play the roles of Philocleon and Bdelycleon, renamed Procleon and Anticleon in the Pountney version, which the Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Trust had commissioned to make the whole work (rather than just the Wasps’ overture) more widely known. I would argue that Vaughan Williams came out of it better than poor Aristophanes.

My dissertation was on the last two extant plays of Aristophanes – The Assembly-Women and Wealth – which involved a considerable amount of research on the politics and social changes of the time. The evolution of Aristophanes’ style from Old towards New Comedy played an important part in my argument: I compared these plays with the New Comedy style of The Old Cantankerous of Menander, a playwright of whom I had not heard before the MA. A month into the dissertation I had a crisis of confidence and requested to change the topic to a music-related one, but still remaining faithful to Aristophanes. I nearly gave my supervisor a heart attack, but after thinking about it for a nano-second, and much to my supervisor’s relief, I realised what a foolish idea it was, since all my research up to that point had been on the last two plays. I was assured that it would not be the only crisis of confidence I would go through during that year.

I have always enjoyed the research aspect of studying and I am now suffering severe withdrawal symptoms, as I have no present plans to go on to do a Ph.D, but Aristophanes is my constant companion and who knows where he will lead me next. Learning ancient Greek would be a good start….

by Flora Stagg

Introducing…Paul Found, Classical Studies teacher and former OU student

Paul Found is a former Open University student who now teaches at Norton Knatchbull School in Kent. Here he tells us how his Open University MA in Classical Studies has enabled him to introduce the subject to his school’s curriculum.

We experience very few truly life-defining moments, but clicking on the ‘apply now’ button for my first Open University course is undoubtedly the one that put me on the path to the most rewarding career move I have undertaken.

It was 2005, and after working on the Channel Tunnel construction and for several years in the diving industry, I decided I was fed up with getting cold, wet and dirty for a living and it was time for a change. I decided on a career in teaching and I needed a degree, despite the fact I hadn’t written an essay since I left school in 1978. I also had a family and a mortgage, so there was no way I could give up working and this was where the Open University presented itself as the only viable option.

My decision to study for a masters in Classical Studies was itself driven by the presentation of the classical units in the old A103 module ‘An Introduction to the Humanities’ – and while I enjoyed every aspect of study, the units on the Colosseum and classical architecture, gladiators, and Euripides’ Medea had me hooked. Switching to a Classics undergraduate degree would have been simple, but I needed a job, and felt that the combination of English and History would give me more schools to choose from. Along with a mixture of luck and pure stubbornness on my part, however, the OU Classical Studies MA has allowed me to introduce Classical Studies to my school curriculum and to forge for myself the position of leading the subject alongside my role as a Teacher of English.

Studying for an MA in Classical Studies without a prior qualification in the subject was both challenging and rewarding in equal measure. The academic level of the course materials, coupled with the elevated academic requirement for the marked assignments, very quickly made me realise I was going to have to ‘up my game’. My tutor’s level of knowledge and expertise meant there would be no taking short-cuts and for me ‘near enough’ was never going to be ‘good enough’. The feedback for the first submission of my final dissertation began with ‘Oh dear Paul…’, and for the revised submission with ‘We need an urgent meeting!’ I started again, spending my entire summer holidays locked away working on the dissertation. The final result narrowly missed out on a distinction, but the experience of that year equipped me for the rigours of a teaching career more than anything the classroom or teacher training could throw at me.

PF2

Some of the GCSE and A level classicists at Norton Knatchbull School

The final year of the MA coincided with my first year at the Norton Knatchbull Grammar School in Ashford, Kent, which followed three years working in a somewhat challenging secondary school. Employed as a Teacher of English, I was delighted to be allocated an A level English Literature class and even more delighted that one of the set texts was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, a novel that draws many parallels with Homer’s Odyssey. This, along with the classical references in the Shakespearean texts, presented the only real opportunities to present my classical knowledge in any meaningful way, until the school decided to drop its International Baccalaureate provision and offer a wider range of A levels. Seizing the opportunity, I offered a proposal for Classical Civilisation A level, waved my MA at the right people, and an agreement was reached to include the subject on the curriculum.

Meeting Peter Stothard, Edith Hall and Tom Holland with some of my sixth-formers.

Meeting Peter Stothard, Edith Hall and Tom Holland with some of my sixth-formers.

I had arguably the most eclectic bunch of students you could imagine in that first intake, ranging from a student who has subsequently gone on to study English Literature at Cambridge to another whose main interest was in computers and who hardly knew which way up to hold a pen! The one thing they all had in common was that none really knew what Classics was all about when they signed up. Those who stayed on to continue at A2 had really caught ‘the Classics bug’, and their enthusiasm did much to raise the profile of the subject. I’m delighted to report that Classical Civilisation is now the fastest-growing academic subject in the school, with five of this year’s Y13 having applied to study Classics degrees at various universities.

PF3

With Mary Beard at the British Museum in 2014

The subject has now expanded to a lunchtime Latin club and a well-attended extra-curricular GCSE Classical Civilisation class. Much of this is driven by the 6th form students; some even assist with the GCSE teaching and help to deliver a new initiative to take after-school Latin into a local primary school. The now annual Classics drama production has become one of the most anticipated events on the school calendar and we have a schedule of trips, events and lectures which mean we are always looking forward to something outside of the classroom, including an annual trip to Rome.

While studying with the OU taught me a great deal about the importance of time-management, it also ignited an insatiable (if time-consuming!) hunger for knowledge which went far beyond the scope of my OU assignments. It was always satisfying gaining that knowledge through totally independent study and being able to meet the assessment deadlines despite the pressures of work and life in general. How does this help me in my work? I don’t need to ‘teach’ my students what they can read in a book – they can do that themselves. In addition to ‘how to pass the exam’, I teach them what the OU taught me – how to take ownership of the subject, personalise their studies and use them as a foundation to go off and explore independently some of the many wonderful aspects of ancient life and culture.

How far we can expand Classical Studies at my school, I don’t yet know. I am currently the only teacher of the subject there, and there is only so much one person can do, but it is the enthusiasm and dedication of my students which will determine how far we can develop each year. On current form, we are going a long, long way!

Paul Found MA (Class. Stud.), Norton Knatchbull School (http://www.nks.kent.sch.uk/)

Editor’s note: If you’ve been inspired by Paul’s story and would like to find out more about postgraduate qualifications in Classical Studies at the Open University you can do so by visiting our departmental web pages here. The undergraduate humanities foundation module which Paul mentions in his post has been replaced by a newer version, The Arts Past and Present, which still includes lots of classical material: see here for more information and taster materials from that module.

Introducing…Sophie Raudnitz, PhD student

sophieJust over 23 years ago, I received the advance reading list for my undergraduate degree in English. At the top of the list was the Odyssey. I remember reading it during the lazy summer holiday between ‘A’ Levels and university, dutifully at first but soon sucked in to the twists and turns of the story. As my degree progressed, I began to realise the extent to which it underlies our literary tradition and my interest in cultural, or ‘literary’, memory began to take root.

Now, I am coming to the end of the first year of my PhD with the OU and my project has memory at its centre. The title is ‘Tracing the Establishment of Political Society: Remembering and Forgetting in Ancient Greek Literature’ and it starts with the premise that memory is a political process, taking place in a political environment, one which memory itself helps to engender. I was fortunate enough to get funding for this project from the OU and have two fantastic supervisors from the Classical Studies Department (Elton Barker and Helen King) and a third supervisor – a specialist in Memory Studies – from the English Department at Goldsmiths (Rick Crownshaw).

My topic evolved out of an essay on Justice in the Odyssey which I wrote at the end of the first year of my MA in Classical Studies, also with the Open University. (At that time, my three children were very small and I little thought that I would do more than that one module of the MA, let alone go on to do a PhD.) I began to notice that an analysis of the different memory groups inside and outside the poem – suitors, suitors’ families, Odysseus, the audience – might offer a more interesting and nuanced interpretation of Homeric justice than I had yet come across. After this, I knew that I wanted to be the one to do that work.

I have spent this year adventuring on the high seas of memory theory, trying to navigate a path through research in Social Studies, Psychology, History and Literary Studies around terms such as social memory, cultural memory, myth and tradition. Some ideas have called me with the song of the Sirens, luring me onto the academic rocks, while others have sped me on with power of the West Wind to make new connections and to give me the feeling that progress is being made. I have developed an interpretive process based on my reading which involves: i) looking at literary representations of remembering and forgetting and considering the ways in which they contribute to the formation of political identities within texts; ii) examining the ways in which the audience’s or reader’s memories of other texts or of historical events might affect their interpretations of texts and, by extension, how this might make them reflect on and, even, seek to change their own political environments; and iii) analysing the ways in which texts themselves were remembered, for example in quotations or allusions in other texts and what this might tell us about the changing political climate in which they were created and received.

I have also been testing out this interpretive process on a range of primary texts, developing my analysis into papers for presentation at postgraduate conferences. At the OU Classical Studies Postgraduate Conference in April I spoke about Plato’s Theaetetus and the image of the wax tablet as a metaphor for memory – one which recalls memories of tragedy in its language and is itself remembered in Aristotle and Freud. Here I also reflected on the potential offered by memory for thinking through the seeming paradox presented by Plato’s written philosophy and the Socratic dialectic his writings espouse. I also delivered a paper at a postgraduate conference based around the topic of ‘Looking Back and Looking Forward’ at King’s College, London. This paper focused on Euripides’ Trojan Women and, in particular on his depiction of a present in which time is suspended, from which characters remember their pasts and reflect on their futures, prompting the audience to do likewise. In both cases, remembering is more than simply recalling. It is a process of recreation in a specific political situation which demands reflection and debate: a political process which re-members society. Both experiences were hugely beneficial (if incredibly daunting in the anticipation) not only for drawing my ideas together but for getting a sense of the work in which others in the field are engaged.

At present, I am still forecasting with blithe confidence that this will be a cross-generic study, encompassing Homeric epic, drama, historiography and philosophy, though perhaps I’ll be forced to abandon some aspects of the study by the wayside. Cross your fingers for me that, even if trouble may lie ahead, I may find my way ‘home’!

by Sophie Raudnitz