Category Archives: Outreach and Engagement

Programme for our ACE event, 12 March

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

2pm            Introduction and welcome

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

2.40pm       In Conversation with Mary Beard

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

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

4.10pm       Keeping in Touch with Classical Studies at the OU

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

Save the date for our live-streamed ACE event!

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

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

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

Advocating Classics Education

Emma Bridges introduces a new project which aims to increase the provision of Classical Studies and Ancient History qualifications in UK schools.

I’m thrilled to be a patron of Advocating Classics Education (ACE), a new AHRC-funded project which aims to extend the provision of qualifications in Classical Civilisation and Ancient History for 14-18 year-olds across the UK. Led by Prof. Edith Hall and Dr. Arlene Holmes-Henderson of King’s College London, the project is also supported by colleagues in sixteen partner universities, one of which is the Open University.

I first encountered the classical world by way of an ‘A’ level in Classical Civilisation at the state sixth-form college I attended in County Durham. An enthusiastic and dedicated teacher sowed the seeds of my lifelong interest in the ancient Greeks and Romans, and I’ve been hooked on Classics ever since. Qualifications in Ancient History and Classical Civilisation, like the course I studied for ‘A’ level, make the classical world accessible through translated texts, which allow teenagers the opportunity to engage with the diverse range of sub-disciplines of which Classics is comprised – whether that’s literature, archaeology, history, politics or philosophy.

Saturday 1st July 2017 saw the official launch event of ACE. Hosted by the project team at King’s College London, it was attended by schoolteachers and representatives from partner universities (I and my colleague Henry Stead were there on behalf of OU Classical Studies) and national bodies like Classics for All (a charity which helps teachers to introduce or expand Classics provision in their schools) and the Institute of Classical Studies. We talked about ACE’s plans for seeding Classical Civilisation and Ancient History in more schools across the UK, and about the challenges and opportunities with which we’re presented, as well as about the events which partner universities will host in order to showcase all that’s great about studying classical subjects (the OU will host such an event in March 2018).

Teachers talk about life at the Classics ‘chalk-face’.

But for me the most inspiring part of the day was hearing from schoolteachers themselves about the work which they’re doing to introduce the next generation to the classical world. I recognise in these teachers the enthusiasm and dedication which my own ‘A’ level teacher brought to the subject. Many of these teachers refer modestly to themselves as ‘non-specialists’ – that is, they initially qualified in another subject, like English, History or Philosophy, and then went on to develop (often independently) their own understanding of ancient Greece and Rome so that they could offer Classical Civilisation or Ancient History at their school. You can read the story of one such teacher, Paul Found – a former OU Classical Studies MA student – in this blog post. These individuals are remarkable both for their commitment to developing their own subject knowledge and the extra time which they devote to increasing access to Classics – from running after-school clubs and arranging events celebrating the ancient world to staging classical drama. The enthusiasm which they generate in their own pupils as a result is truly extraordinary to see; I’m delighted to be part of a project which enables universities to do more to support their work.

Watch this space for more news on the OU’s involvement in the project. For further information about how you can get involved (as a teacher, supporter or volunteer), visit the ACE website. There’s also a survey about Classics education which you’re encouraged to complete – this will help to inform the project’s work over the coming months.

by Emma Bridges

More Classical Civilisation in more schools!

This month I have been lucky enough to visit two sixth-form colleges where Classics is thriving, and thriving for the first time. Both colleges have recently begun offering “Classical Civilisation”, which — if you didn’t already know – is a fantastic subject at school level that enables students to learn about the Greeks and Romans through examining their archaeological remains, art and architecture, history and literature (in English translation).

Henry and Paul Found posing in Paul's classroomBoth sets of students had the opportunity to study Classics because their outstanding teachers have — in their own time — trained themselves to deliver the course material. It is a sad truth that if it wasn’t for the extraordinary energy and passion of teachers such as Paul Found (pictured left) and Eddie Barnett, the cultural remains of the Greek and Roman worlds would scarcely feature in the formal education of children in the UK outside of fee-paying schools. I am happy to report that more teachers are already following Eddie and Paul’s pioneering example!

A few of us in the Classics department were involved in a recent event at King’s College London, organised by Edith Hall, designed to celebrate and raise the profile of the subject. At the event, attended by over 40 sixth formers, writer and comic Natalie Haynes, poet and playwright Caroline Bird, and poet and film-maker Caleb Femi all performed, demonstrating how they continue to make the classical new and relevant in their own work. The campaign to get more classics into more British schools is now very much gaining momentum.

But back to the story… Eddie Barnett is primarily a Philosophy teacher. His interest in the Greeks grew from his reading of ancient philosophy at university. At Christ the King Sixth-form College in Lewisham, Eddie has fought for the chance to teach the subject (off timetable) to around a dozen pupils. Those of his after-school Classics club who weren’t away on a university visit when I crashed their class one wet Tuesday afternoon were kind and courageous enough to tell me how they were getting on with Homer’s Odyssey.

Paul Found — Head of Classics at Norton Knatchbull School in Kent — first got into Classics when he was doing an OU degree. But you can read more about that in this earlier post… For now I’d like simply to introduce his wonderful students, who had recently done exams — I quickly gathered — on the Odyssey and Suetonius’ Life of Nero. Paul’s enthusiasm for the subject is clearly infectious!

ICONS: giving life to the Amazons via the modern female gaze

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We are delighted to invite you to a free public event taking place at The Open University in London (1-11 Hawley Crescent, Camden, London NW1 8NP) at 5.45pm on 7th July 2016.

Laura Martin-Simpson and Rachel Bagshaw of Blazon Theatre will be presenting readings from ICONS, a new play about the Amazons by Paula B. Stanic. All are welcome and attendance is free. To reserve a space please contact Emma Bridges: e.e.bridges@open.ac.uk.

Travels with a toga: Roman dress in the classroom

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 09.59.33OU Classical Studies Lecturer Ursula Rothe has been visiting school pupils to talk about her research on Roman dress.

On 2nd March I went to Redborne Upper School in Ampthill, Bedfordshire to give a talk to senior school pupils on the topic of Roman dress. It was the first time I had done something like this with props – I had spent a weekend sewing together Roman garments like male and female tunicae, an exomis, a palla and a toga complete with detachable purple stripe! In all, 65 students turned up to learn about how dress not only reflected but was actively used to enact specific roles in Roman society, such as

  • Gender: how men and women were meant to look and behave in public
  • Class: what social rank your occupation belonged to (clue: the lessUR toga 2 clothing you wore, the lower down the social scale you were!)
  • Age: the way elite Roman children wore the toga praetexta (toga with purple stripe) as symbolic protection from harm and inappropriate language and actions, and how clothing symbolised their coming-of-age: boys adopting a toga virilis (plain white toga) at a special ceremony and girls adopting matron’s dress on the day after their wedding
  • Religious observance: how both men and women covered their heads when performing religious ceremonies

The enthusiasm of the students was overwhelming and I was only sorry that not everyone got to dress up!

by Ursula Rothe

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

Classical Studies at The Student Hub Live 2015

Earlier this week I participated in The Student Hub Live 2015 (no login required!). This was a three day event streamed live online from Walton Hall in which different people from across the OU, including both staff and students, were invited to talk about what they do, conduct live experiments, engage in lively debate on everything from serial killers to language and literacy, and even have a go at this year’s quiz show: Wheel of Ologies.

This sort of online event is a great opportunity for students (and potential students!) to get a better sense of what we all do and to understand what makes the OU tick. Students who perhaps wouldn’t normally come to the campus in Milton Keynes can hear from a whole host of people who have a variety of roles in the university and can even interact with them via a chat stream or Twitter. This time around participants ranged from the new Vice Chancellor Peter Horrocks and the senior leadership team of the university, to those who run Library Services and the Careers Advisory Service, as well as central academic staff and other students.

The theme of this event was interdisciplinary study and it was tied closely to the BA/BSc(Hons) Open Degree. If you sign up to study for this degree you can tailor your studies to suit your own needs and interests. Not many other universities will let their students range quite so broadly across subjects as diverse as English literature, biology, Spanish, statistics, retail management, child psychology and of course Classical Studies! Effectively, then, the Open Degree lets you put together an entire degree programme that matches exactly what you want to study, even if these are subjects that might not normally be studied in parallel. For me, the Open Degree represents what the OU is all about: letting people who want to study do so in a way that works for them.

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On the sofa for some chat with colleagues from Social Sciences and Health and Social Care

As part of the event, I was asked to contribute to a short ‘chat show’ on Tuesday evening, sharing a sofa with colleagues from the Faculties of Social Sciences and Health and Social Care who were talking about their research on subjects as wide-ranging as Scottish Independence, the recent General Election and the upcoming EU referendum, EU citizenship and identity, as well as the practical needs of an ageing population in Britain. It was a bit daunting being amongst people who work on issues that are so very ‘now’ but as I talked a bit about identity in the Roman empire and about how my work on anatomical votive offerings helps us to understanding how ancient people thought about their identities in relation to their ever changing (i.e. ageing) bodies, I realised that we had more in common than I first thought. Our methodologies are very different, the evidence and data that we work with is also very different, but we are all interested in people, how they think and how they understand and experience the cultural contexts in which they live.

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Team ‘Ologies for Dummies’ getting quizzical.

On Wednesday I took part in the Wheel of Ologies quiz which involved two teams with buzzers trying to outdo each other on general knowledge questions linked to different ‘ologies’ (e.g. zoology, epistemology, pantology, and the wildcard bonus category of ‘ninjology’ or the study of ninjas!). My team didn’t exactly romp to victory. In fact, we lost fairly dismally, although I was relieved to get a question about Caligula’s horse correct! It was great fun to mix in with current students, heads of other faculties and people based ‘behind the scenes’ at the Library, whilst the audience played along online (possibly with some help from Google!). For me, and I think for many students, this was one of the highlights of the whole event, reminding everyone that regardless of our roles in the university we are all just ordinary people who like to have a bit of a laugh, even if general knowledge quizzes are not everyone’s strong point!

Some catch up versions of the different Hub Live sessions should be available to watch on the website before too long and you might want to keep an eye out for the next Student Hub Live and even take part!

Emma-Jayne Graham

OU Classical Studies on Twitter

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The department now has a Twitter account!

Follow us at @OU_Classics – and do tweet us with your Classics-related news!

Several members of the OU Classical Studies community also have their own personal Twitter accounts. Here’s a list, which we’ll keep updating over the coming months.

@eltonteb  Elton Barker (Reader in Classical Studies, tweeting about Digital Humanities and more)

@emmabridges  Emma Bridges (Lecturer in Classical Studies, ‘mostly tweets with a classical theme’)

@fluff35  Helen King (Professor and Head of Classical Studies department)

@jash147  James Hutchinson (Associate Lecturer in Classical Studies, tweeting about classical languages and (mainly Greek) culture)

@jesshughes61 Jessica Hughes (Lecturer in Classical Studies, tweeting mainly about classical art and its reception, especially votive offerings and souvenirs)

@joannapaul  Joanna Paul (Lecturer in Classical Studies, tweets about classical reception and more) 

@johncpc  John Harrison (PhD student in Classical Studies, tweets about classical reception, cognition, Alzheimer’s research and more)

@ClassicalJG  Juliette Harrisson (Associate Lecturer in Classical Studies, ‘tweeting about whatever takes her fancy’)

@KJSoar  Katy Soar (Associate Lecturer in Classical Studies, ‘interested in performance, authenticity and the past.’)

@LASwiftClassics  Laura Swift (Lecturer in Classical Studies)

@mairlloyd  Mair Lloyd (PhD student in Classical Studies, tweets about Classics, e-learning and more)

@MariaRelaki  Maria Relaki (Associate Lecturer in Classical Studies, tweets about Archaeology, Classics and Heritage)

@seraudnitz  Sophie Raudnitz (PhD student in Classical Studies, ‘tweets about her PhD (in memory and ancient Greek literature) and the minutiae of life’)

@bigfridge224  Stuart McKie (PhD student working on Roman Religion. Also blogs here)

@suzanne_slapper  Suzanne Slapper, MA student in Classical Studies

@TonyKeen46  Tony Keen (Associate Lecturer in Classical Studies,  ‘tweets irregularly in a personal capacity on a variety of subjects close to his heart’)

Other Twitter feeds with an OU connection include:

@CRSN_UK  Classical Reception Studies Network (tweeting upcoming cultural and academic events)

@pvcrs  Practitioners’ Voices in Classical Reception Studies (OU Open Access journal – interviews with actors, directors, artists, writers and other practitioners who work with classical material)

@classicsconfide  Classics Confidential (‘Vodcasting Classicists, Sharing Research’)