Category Archives: MA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Sian Beavers

MA Schoolteacher Scholarship in Classical Studies

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

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

The MA in Classical Studies at the Open University focuses on the question, ‘How do we know what we know about the ancient world?’ It is designed both to introduce you to key concepts and themes in Classical Studies and to allow you to explore some of these in more depth. Over the course of two years, it gradually builds up your knowledge and the skills you need to explore ancient visual and written material, all the while also training you to become an independent researcher. This is the ideal qualification for anyone who wants to know more about the ancient world and the ways in which we can approach it as researchers, and it offers an excellent starting-point for those wishing to teach classical subjects in secondary school. It is a two-year qualification requiring approximately 16 hours of study time a week, which means that it can be completed alongside employment, and it is taught entirely online. No specific prior knowledge is assumed, and there is no requirement to have studied Latin or Ancient Greek, but an undergraduate degree in a cognate discipline is recommended as a basis. By consultation other arrangements can sometimes be made if you do not hold a degree in such a discipline. This usually involves preparatory reading. Further information about the MA is available here.

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

  • a separate curriculum vitae (CV) of no more than two pages;
  • a copy of your latest degree certificate;
  • a transcript of your degree that makes clear the level of your academic achievement;
  • the name of an academic referee who would be prepared to support your application if you are shortlisted (this should be someone who has taught you or worked with you);
  • a statement from your Headteacher indicating that they are willing to support your plans to introduce or develop the provision of Classical Civilisation in the school where you teach.

Preference will be given to applicants working in the state sector, and the scholarships will not be awarded to students receiving full funding from other funding bodies. It is not necessary to register for the MA degree before making this application.

The Open University promotes diversity in education and we welcome applications from all sections of the community. If it would help to have the application in an alternative format please contact FASS-ClassicalStudies-Enquiries@open.ac.uk.

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

Informal enquiries can be made to Ursula Rothe (ursula.rothe@open.ac.uk).

OU Classical Studies Postgraduate Work in Progress Day 2017

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

10:00-10:25: Coffee available

10:25: Welcome and Introductions

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

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

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

12:30 to 13: 30: Lunch

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

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

14:30-15:00: Break

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

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

16:20: Closing Remarks

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

OU Classical Studies Postgraduate Work in Progress Day 2016

Classical Studies PhD student Sophie Raudnitz reports on this year’s annual postgraduate work-in-progress event, which took place in Milton Keynes on 5th May 2016.

Some of the student speakers at the event

Some of the student speakers at the event

I am writing this as I bask in the aftermath of a fantastic Open University Postgraduate Work in Progress Day at Walton Hall last week. I took part in my first one of these last year, six months into my PhD. It was the first time that I had presented a conference paper and I was very grateful for the opportunity to do so in such a supportive and friendly environment. I also relished the fact that the day made me feel part of a wider community of OU classicists. The day was a real eye-opener in terms of the variety of work going on under the umbrella of Classical Studies at the university.

Because of this positive experience last year, when Emma Bridges said that the department was looking for a PhD student to help with the organisation this year and asked me if I might be interested, I was happy to get involved. You’ll be relieved to hear that I won’t say much about this process but a couple of things stood out. I was amazed by the number of responses to my initial ‘save the date’ email from MA students all over the world. Most of them, understandably, could not come to Milton Keynes for a one day conference but the level of interest and the strength of positive feeling towards the OU were particularly heart-warming. As it was, we had an MA speaker, Silvana Delatte, who came over from Switzerland and a PhD student, Dominic Solly, who joined us on Skype from New York. Many of those from the UK also travelled great distances to be there. My other ‘moment’ came as I was compiling speakers’ biographies for the panel I was chairing: I am in awe of the way in which the OU brings together people from such disparate backgrounds, leading such different lives.

PhD student Mair Lloyd presenting her work on Latin language pedagogy

PhD student Mair Lloyd presenting her work on Latin language pedagogy

Luckily, a good number of people offered papers without my having to coax at all. We decided to take a relatively formal approach to this year’s conference in asking speakers to submit abstracts, really for the practice that this affords rather than because of any competitive or exclusive element. Emma and I both felt strongly that everyone who wanted to speak should have the opportunity to do so but that the rigour of writing and submitting abstracts and of sticking to word and time limits was worth encouraging too. Again, this process was made very easy by the cooperation of all involved. The final programme consisted of one MA student and eight PhD students, at various points into their studies – from 4 months in to near completion. Taking various factors into account, like travel plans and East Coast Time, I tried to organise the programme in such a way that there was some kind of thematic connection within each of the three panels and I think the day showed the success of this. I certainly found that ideas from previous papers fed very naturally into the way I thought about subsequent ones.

PhD student Catherine Hoggarth speaking about 'A multisensory exploration of movement across Rome's urban bridges'

PhD student Catherine Hoggarth speaking about ‘A multisensory exploration of movement across Rome’s urban bridges’

Like last year’s Work in Progress Day, this year’s was almost unadulteratedly great, aside from the inevitable IT stress at the start. Everyone listened, commented and questioned generously and positively and I think that we all appreciated the opportunity to take part. We heard papers on a wide variety of subjects and it was great to see the range of approaches used and to hear the genuine enthusiasm with which people discussed their work. Suffice it to say that Stuart McKie kicked off thinking about gestures of binding and unbinding and shared with us his experiments in sitting at his desk and holding his thumbs, while the day ended with Claire Greenhalgh inviting us to think about ideas of slavery and liberty in Starz’s Spartacus, with adventures in chicken catching and, frankly, many more votive penises than I was expecting, on the way. As a result of Stuart’s paper on body language and magic, I for one, found myself acutely conscious of the way I was crossing my legs or clasping my hands for the rest of the day. After listening to Catherine Hoggarth speaking about on the sensory experience associated with crossing Roman bridges, I became very contemplative about the bridge over the river into my town as I drove home that evening.

Several of us live tweeted furiously, fingers flying, under the hashtag #OUCSWiP – for a flavour of the topics discussed you can read a Storify of the event here. This was my first foray into live tweeting; I have previously held back as I’m not good at multi-tasking at the best of times. Actually it really added to the experience, allowing me to focus better, and seeing the bank of tweets mounting up from other tweeters was genuinely exciting!

I hope that everyone found the day as rewarding and enjoyable as I did and would really like to thank all those who came along. As you can tell, I’m still on a bit of a high. I’d also like to thank the department for laying on this day for us (and to so many staff members for giving up their time to come along). I hope that the PG WiP Day remains an institution and I’m already very much looking forward to next year’s!

Editor’s note: You can also find Sophie on Twitter @seraudnitz

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

Of scholarship and superheroes

OU Classical Studies MA student Suzanne Slapper shares her experiences of bringing the joys of the ancient world to schoolchildren.

As is so often the case, my obsession with Classics started when I was a child. I remember a man coming to our junior school to talk about Greek myths; I was captivated. So, when ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ later came on TV, I watched it in awe and spent a whole summer fighting imaginary skeletons grown from teeth.

Graduating with my BA in Classical Studies

Graduating with my BA

Unfortunately, I could not pursue this interest at school, but the seed had been sown and so, as soon as I was able, I opted to take a little course in Latin. Well, we all know that Latin is a gateway drug and it wasn’t long before I was onto the hard stuff – yes, ‘Continuing Classical Greek’. The years sped by and before I knew it I had my BA. I am now in the second year of the fantastic MA in Classical Studies, all thanks to the Open University and its mission to educate anybody and everybody who comes knocking. I really love the interdisciplinary approach of the MA course, and have found all the varied aspects of it stimulating. The structure of the material interweaves the development of the students’ research skills with the imparting of scholastic knowledge in a way that is seamless. So I am now looking forward to writing my dissertation in the summer, rather than dreading it, as I have been able to practise all of the necessary steps in a carefully gradated way.

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself! Let’s rewind a bit. I was a couple of years into the BA when I was thinking about how fantastic it is that the OU brings Classics to all and wishing that I’d had the same opportunity at school. I guess that’s what led me to contact The Iris Project. This educational charity was founded by Lorna Robinson with the idea of bringing Classics to children who would not normally have access to it. I was welcomed on board and soon found myself editing the online version of the Iris Magazine. This was great fun and afforded me opportunities to see behind the scenes at the Fitzwilliam and Ashmolean museums and even handle some of their artefacts.

Selling 'Roman herbs' at the East Oxford Classics Centre

Selling ‘Roman herbs’ at the East Oxford Classics Centre

As my MA has progressed, I have less time to spend on the magazine, but I am still involved with the project’s Classics days at the East Oxford Classics Centre. Yes, people flock from miles around to see my Roman herb stall – oh, and to listen to the speakers, I guess! On one occasion, a certain Helen King came to speak. If I remember correctly, it was an ‘eye-opening’ account of being a Roman soldier with conjunctivitis – if that’s not an oxymoron.

So this year I decided to set myself a further goal and take some direct action in the area where I live. I plucked up the courage to email the local junior school to ask whether they would be interested in my giving some enrichment classes for their pupils. An email popped back with a ‘yes please’ within five minutes! I ran a class on ‘superheroes’ ancient and modern just before Christmas and it really was the best experience. Just like me, the children all seemed to have a natural interest in the subject and soon we were discussing the underlying structures of superhero plots. I was very impressed by the level of understanding; in fact, at one point it got pretty philosophical about the difference between a superhero and a god. In the end the children decided that Dr Who was indeed godlike, but that Harry Potter was ‘just’ a superhero. I then read a version of the myth of Perseus as a way of thinking about the same issues, and the children went on to write some wonderfully imaginative stories of their own using a similar structure. I had super… -men, -women, -boys, -girls, -plants, -dogs, -cats, -robots, and even -hair. I’m not sure what the class teacher thought about it all, but they have asked me back to run some classes about the Olympics in the summer, and the class seemed delighted!

Even if I have managed to plant a seed of interest in just one of them, that would be a matter of huge excitement for me. Who knows where it might lead to – maybe one of them might be a future OU MA student?

So now for my next challenge…big school!

by Suzanne Slapper

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.

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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.

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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.

CHASE Studentships – 2016 Round Now Open!

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Calling all motivated, independent-minded enthusiasts of Classical Studies: Are you interested in doing a PhD with us, but don’t have the finances to fund yourself? All is not lost!

The Open University is a member of the CHASE Consortium (alongside the Courtauld Institute of Art and Goldsmith’s College at the University of London and the Universities of East Anglia, Essex, Kent and Sussex) which offers fully funded PhD studentships for UK students. (For EU students the award covers fees only.)

The new round for entry in October 2016 has just been opened.

CHASE studentships offer generous funding for skills training programmes and allow you to network with students and scholars in the other CHASE institutions via workshops and an annual conference.

Please note that in order to qualify for a CHASE studentship you need first to have applied to do a PhD in Classical Studies at the OU in the usual way by the deadline of 13th January 2016.

The CHASE selection forms a second tier and candidates will be informed whether or not they have been sucessful in April 2016.

If you are interested, please get in touch with the Classical Studies department’s Postgraduate Coordinator, Dr Ursula Rothe (ursula.rothe@open.ac.uk) as soon as possible to discuss your research proposal.

To find out more about applying to do a PhD in Classical Studies at the OU, visit our Postgraduate webpage at http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/classical-studies/postgrad.shtml

To find out more about the CHASE studentships at the OU, go to http://www.open.ac.uk/Arts/classical-studies/chase-studentships.shtml

And to find out more about CHASE, visit the consortium website at http://www.chase.ac.uk/