Category Archives: People

Monarchs, Courtiers and Technocrats – Q&A with Dr Martin Dearne

Photo of Dr Martin DearneDr Martin Dearne has been an Associate Lecturer with The Open University for twenty years, and has taught on many of our Classical Studies modules (AA309, A209, A251, A330, A219, A229, A105, A151, A112). He is the author of six books, the most recent of which is an archaeological study of Elsyng Palace in the London Borough of Enfield. In this blog post, Martin tells us more about Monarchs, Courtiers and Technocrats; Elsyng Palace, Enfield: Place and People: The Documentary and Archaeological Evidence for a Fifteenth to Seventeenth Century Courtier’s House and Tudor and Stuart Royal Palace; and for the Lives of its Owners and House

Book cover of 'Monarchs, Courtiers and Technocrats'. The cover is blue with white writing and has a reconstruction drawing of Elsyng Palace in a panel below the titleHello Martin, and congratulations on your new book! Please could you start by introducing our readers to Enfield and its history?  

Enfield today is a London borough – at the top centre of Greater London just south of the M25 – made up of two or three distinct Medieval villages in the Lea Valley that expanded into towns and eventually got swallowed up in the urban sprawl of the capital. Enfield itself was the most northerly of them, from the Norman conquest on quite a small market town in what was then rural Middlesex, but dominated by the nearby royal hunting forest of Enfield Chase. It still has a market square opposite where a manor house used to stand, but as the town grew in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it became best known for the industries that grew up east of the original town along the River Lea (the largest tributary of the River Thames) such as that making Lee-Enfield rifles.

Your first book on Enfield (First Stop North of Londinium: The Archaeology of Roman Enfield and its Roadline Settlement) dealt with the ancient history of the town. How did you come to write that book? And what did you discover about Enfield’s Roman past?

Book cover of 'First Stop North of Londinium'. The cover is deep red with orange writing, and shows two ceramic vessels below the title.

I was born in the borough and the first archaeological dig I ever went on was with the local archaeological society on a Roman site here. After many years at Sheffield University when I moved back to Enfield I got involved in that society which was active at the time in excavating a Roman settlement that lay on Ermine Street – the main Roman road north out of Londinium which ran ultimately to York and beyond – but a little at a time in people’s back gardens. Nobody had tried to take all these little pieces of a jigsaw and put them together and the book grew out of the process of doing that. The result was a picture of the first roadside settlement along the road once you left Roman London, a settlement that combined farming with providing for travellers, probably had a mansio (official ‘hotel’) and lay in a wider landscape that may have included a tannery site and a large estate farm.

This new book moves the story forward by looking at a later period of Enfield’s history, and at a particular site – the royal palace of Elsyng. How did you come to that topic?

Yes, that’s right. While I was working on the first book I was asked to direct new excavations on the site of this Tudor and Stuart palace. Some very impressive remains of it had been excavated in the 1960s, but nothing had been done on the site for about 40 years and, as it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, English Heritage required a professional archaeologist to lead the local team who wanted to uncover more of it. And that fairly rapidly became an annual excavation taking in student training, community open days and even a TV documentary. But, as the team (which includes two other current or former OU Associate Lecturers) uncovered more and more of the palace, it became more and more important to publish what we had found and link it to the people who had once lived here. Surprisingly royal palaces like this are in fact a very under explored part of the national story and Elsyng was also the most important element in putting Enfield on the map over about 300 years. So once I finished the book on Roman Enfield I decided that I would try and research its history as well as publish the archaeological work I had led.

Can you introduce us to some of the historical figures you study in the book? Maybe you can tell us which figure interested you the most?

I could tell you about a variety of people who I look at, from an Earl of Worcester in the Wars of the Roses who was called ‘the Butcher of England’ to Elizabeth I who lived at Elsyng at times when she was a girl. But one I got particularly interested in was John Carleton. Before it was a royal palace, Elsyng was held by Sir Thomas Lovell – one of the technocrats who ran early Tudor government. He was very rich, had vast estates all over the country, many governmental positions and was constantly being visited here by Henry VII and VIII. But it was Carleton, his own ‘Receiver General’, who ran Lovell’s private affairs and then organised his lavish funeral when he died in 1524 and had to disentangle his complex financial affairs as his executor. And it is through Carleton’s accounts books with their detailed pay records and tradesmen’s bills that we get an insight into how Elsyng functioned as a ‘courtier’s palace’ with a staff of about a hundred. He is the sort of figure who stands just outside the spotlight of history, but without whom those in the spotlight couldn’t have functioned.

How did you go about researching the book? Was it archival research, archaeological fieldwork, or both?

The site of the furnace of the boiling house at Elsyng. Whole sides of meat were boiled in a large vat set over the furnace.

It was very much both. I reassessed the 1960s excavations and synthesised the 16 years of those I had up to that point directed myself, which in some ways was the easy part. The more difficult was writing the history of the site and the people who lived there because it meant getting into late Medieval and early Modern studies which I didn’t have a background in. Fortunately I had colleagues from the excavations, one of whom took on photographing hundreds of documents in the National Archives and elsewhere and another of whom taught himself to read and transcribe them – because often they were written in things like Tudor secretary hand which at first glance is as hard to read to the uninitiated as cursive Latin. Even then though it meant trawling through and cross referencing vast numbers of printed ‘calendars’ (summary publications) of documents. In fact it is only the fact that so many of these can now be read on line that made this side of the research possible.

Did you find many links between the Roman and later periods of Enfield’s history? 

To borrow a phrase, it’s about location, location, location. The Roman settlement in Enfield was here because it was a convenient distance out from Roman London for travellers to break a journey. In the same way the palace was near enough Medieval and Tudor London to easily reach it, but far enough away to escape its plague outbreaks and develop a prestigious house in a large estate. Then where exactly the palace was sited was in part determined by the survival of Ermine Street; in the 1430s, when it was first built, Roman roads like Ermine Street were still the backbone of the road network in Britain.

Which is your own favourite historical spot in the town of Enfield – and why?

Well, it would have to be the site of Elsyng palace, but one specific spot on the site. At that point you can see over 1,600 years of Enfield history in one go. Look in one direction and there is a modern road that follows the line of Ermine Street to an eighteenth century bridge over a brook that stands where a Roman bridge or ford once did. Turn round and across the modern park it edges you can still trace the approach road to the palace that ran off of it. And turn half way back and look uphill and there stands the early seventeenth century Forty Hall, the country home of a Lord Mayor of London (the excavations I have directed around and inside which look dangerously like turning into another publication !)

Thank you Martin, and congratulations again on this new book!

Monarchs, Courtiers and Technocrats is available to buy via the website of Enfield Archaeological Society: https://www.enfarchsoc.org/publications/

 

Q & A with Dr Gina May

This week we chatted with OU Classicist Gina May about her new book A Student’s Guide to Online Learning published by the Open University Press, which is due to go on sale on 12 August.

Hello Gina! Before we start talking about your book, could you introduce yourself to our readers? How did you get into Classics?

I have been an associate lecturer with the Open University since 2009 and have taught modules at stages 1, 2 and 3 as well as at postgraduate level.  Over the years I have also contributed to module content and TMA questions for a variety of Classical Studies modules – it is my dream job!  At the same time as teaching for the OU, I also taught in the Classical Studies department at the University of Kent for 10 years but left there 3 years ago to allow time to write and develop my own courses which I teach online as an independent educator.  I also do work as a consultant for universities and schools developing online teaching strategies and training staff to teach online.

I first discovered a love of Classics at school because our drama teacher had us reading Greek tragedies and our French teacher had us reading Racine’s versions of the same Greek tragedies, but in French.  I also did Latin at school which I loved but did not do any other ancient languages until I went to university as a mature student.  Although I had a long gap before starting a degree, I kept reading in the meantime and when my children were in their teens, I did a BA and PhD degree in Classical Studies and loved every single minute!  I am a lifelong learner and look enviously at OU modules wishing I could do them all.

What is your daily routine like, in your job as an OU associate lecturer in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences?

As associate lecturers we work from home and so I spend most of my days in a summer house at the end of my garden which is great!  I teach on 5 modules including A863 and A864 which are the first and second years of the Classical Studies MA.  My work includes writing and delivering tutorials, marking TMAs, talking to students via email and on the phone, as well as other general tasks such as monitoring and moderating forums.  There is a great feel of camaraderie between the members of the department and although ALs do not go onto the physical campus very often, we still feel very much a part of what goes on and have a great rapport with the central academics.

We are all excited about reading your new book A Student’s Guide to Online Learning!  How did you come to write the book?

The book came about because during the pandemic there was such a large shift towards online teaching for both universities and schools.  This made me realise that actually, the OU have been doing this really well for years so were well ahead of the game in terms of teaching.  However, there was nothing on the market that looked closely at the skills needed for learning online.  I started by talking to current and former students asking them what they wished they had known before they started and to tell me about some of the problems they encountered or were encountering along the way.  This, combined with the experience of teaching thousands of students both face to face and online, helped to decide on the content.

Who did you write it for? Is your target readership mainly OU students? Who else do you think will benefit from reading the book?

As an AL I had my own students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels in mind a lot of the time, but the content works equally well for any student of an online course whether that is as part of a degree or for work as part of continuing professional development.  A lot of the issues are the same such as developing the right persona, conversing with tutors and peers and demonstrating employability skills.   The use of social media as a tool for learning and networking is something that is new to many students so this is also covered.

Could you give us a sneak preview of the contents? How is the book structured (and was it difficult to decide how to structure it?)

The chapter headings are: Online Identity and Personas; Learning Online Environments; Accessing Learning and Peer Support; Recognising Strengths and Overcoming Difficulties and Disabilities; Academic Integrity and Employability; Researching Online; Digital Technologies for Online Learning; Using Social Media for Learning Online and Trouble Shooting, Staying Safe Online.

To decide on the structure, I thought about the order in which a student might need to know how to do things and went from there.  The book can be used by starting from the beginning and working through to the end but works equally well for just dipping in and out of.  Each chapter has advice and practical exercises together with quotes from students who have experience of dealing with the particular issue being talked about.

Which chapter was hardest to write, and why?

The hardest chapter to write was ‘Trouble Shooting’.  Current and former students sent me lots of examples of things that had happened to them and how they had resolved the issues.  I then had to combine these together with my own experience as a tutor and online student into a format that worked well.  I wanted to provide clear advice that would be both helpful and reassuring.

Which is your favourite chapter, and why?

I have two favourite chapters.  The first is ‘Recognising Strengths and Overcoming Difficulties and Disabilities’.  This is because students tend to focus on the negative, the things that they have done ‘wrong’, cannot do because of a difficulty or disability, or do not know how to do.  I wanted to turn this completely on its head and look at how to discover what you can do well, how this is being done and how to enhance it going forward.  The chapter also deals with practical issues such as how to use assistive technologies such as screen readers and voice activated software.  For me, the important thing about this chapter is that it empowers all students.

My other favourite is ‘Researching Online’ simply because I love research.  In this chapter I show how to narrow and deepen a search to avoid falling down rabbit holes that might well provide hours of pleasant reading but that may not actually be very useful.  I look at using library catalogues and other data bases as well as what does not form academic content and so should be avoided.

The book is written together with Tim Bentley – could you tell us a bit about this collaborative writing process?

My co-author (and husband) is now a paramedic and paramedic educator but is a former learning technologist who developed and implemented online learning platforms at two large UK universities.   Using this expertise, he contributed towards the explanation of how technologies work and can be best used in order to learn online, and what to do when things go wrong.  Content includes everything from making sure that your internet connection is secure to how to use the tools in FB and Twitter to enhance learning and to become part of the wider learning community in your discipline.

What is your next project after this book?

I am currently working on a number of projects.

The first is a companion book to A Student’s Guide to Online Learning which is aimed at those who teach online.  It looks at the practical skills of online and blended teaching as well as how to write or convert material to do so.  This combines my experience of many years teaching online with the wealth of experience that current and former students, and colleagues, continue to share with me.

My other current projects include:

  • A book which takes all the vocabulary used for GCSE, AS and A Level Latin and sets out all the tenses of the verbs and the cases of the nouns in full. This is almost finished and will be on Amazon by the end of the summer.  I have not quite decided on a final title for this so any suggestions would be gratefully received!
  • Academic Practice for Classical and Archaeological Studies which looks at the specific study skills needed in Classical Studies and includes content on using data bases, archaeological reports, coins and standing culture as well as ancient texts. I also look at how to use online dictionaries as a non-linguist and how to work with fragmentary evidence when writing essays and dissertations.   As well as all this, the book includes study skills such as critical reading, referencing, structuring written work, constructing an argument and much more.
  • A novel for Falcon Books Publishing which is about a little girl who gets lost in the crowds at Epidaurus and grows up in the temple there. I was so inspired by the way that Pat Barker wrote Silence of the Girls and The Women of Troy that I thought I would have a go myself!

I am on twitter @DrGinaMay and have a website: ginamay.co.uk which has details of all the courses that I teach as an Independent Course Provider outside of my work with the OU.

Congratulations, Gina – we can’t wait to read the book! 

 

Asterion: Neurodiverse Classics

Over the last few months, several OU Classical Studies students and graduates have been involved in setting up a new organisation called Asterion, which aims to represent neurodiversity in Classics.

Asterion logo

For the OU Classical Studies Blog, Asterion Director and OU tutor Cora Beth Fraser caught up with two neurodivergent members of the Asterion Editorial Board, Hilary Forbes and Tony Potter, to talk about neurodiversity, OU study and Asterion.

Cora Beth: In setting up Asterion, I’ve been hearing a lot of late-diagnosis stories from people who’ve only found out in adulthood that they are neurodivergent. For many people the diagnosis explains traits and problems that go back a long way. It certainly has done for me. After I was diagnosed as autistic in my 30s, I could look back at my childhood and see all the quirks and difficulties that would have added up to an obviously autistic profile, if I hadn’t been trying so hard to hide them, and if autism hadn’t been so little understood in those days! How about you: when did you first realise that you experienced the world a little differently? 

Tony: I think I’ve always known I was different and that I experienced the world more sensitively than others from my early childhood. Even in primary school I was called a ‘quirky’ child. I remember being told off for having a sort of nervous tick when I got stressed out. I also remember it being referred to as a habit that I’d grow out of. Now however, I see it for what it was, it was a physical manifestation of a condition that at the time I knew nothing about and it was brought on by factors outside of my control. Plus, we’re talking about the late eighties and early nineties here and neurodiversity wasn’t really something that got loads of attention back then. This is the bizarre bit though; in my later teenage years I seemed to do exactly what had been predicted and grew out of it – well, at least that’s what I thought. I sailed through my early twenties with ease. I think this was because I lived in another country and was essentially a different person. I’d escaped my upbringing, so to speak. I worked as a holiday rep for five years and didn’t seem to experience one bit of OCD or anxiety. On the contrary, I would stand up in front of hundreds of people to conduct welcome meetings, I was outgoing, confident and very adventurous and I partied really hard (perhaps too hard if truth be told), but none of this bothered me one bit and any suggestion that I suffered from a mental condition would have had me rolling on the floor in fits of laughter.

It wasn’t until my late twenties to early thirties that I started to experience the world differently again. I could feel myself becoming more and more conscious of my surroundings and how I felt I was being perceived by other people. I think what triggered my OCD and anxiety after all those years was my working environment which at best could be described as stressful and at worst, toxic. There was a very unpleasant culture where I worked at the time, and day in day out people feared for their jobs because the company turned over staff like it was a competition. I personally think that spending three years in that environment sort of broke me. It wasn’t until I bit the bullet and left the business that I felt more secure, but unfortunately the damage had been done and the anxiety and OCD were back to stay. 

Hilary: I think I’ve always known this for as long as I can remember… but I couldn’t express it as a child. I used to think that all the other children at school were in on some secret which I didn’t know, and that’s why they all seemed to be able to communicate with one another, when I didn’t know how.

I have always wanted to know how things worked – from the time when I undid all the nuts on my pram (it nearly collapsed while I was being pushed in it because I did it so quietly and without being seen… but I was fine – it was saved just in time!), to taking radios to pieces. Everything that could come apart, I took apart to see how it worked, so science was a big draw to me. But so was English Literature because I enjoyed learning about how novels and plays were constructed and the context of them, so I was a big Shakespeare fan… so for me delving deep into the possible influences of the ancient world on current science was and is part of the same path. I tend to see history, science, theology etc as one thing rather than chop them up into different disciplines.

Cora Beth: I know you’ve both been studying for a long time. My own path through education has been a winding one: I’ve completed a bunch of degrees in different subjects – and gotten part-way through several more – because when I take an interest in something, I find myself needing to know everything about it! What have your education journeys been like, and how did you end up in Classical Studies?

Hilary: I came to Classical Studies as a natural (to me) progression from Astrophysics and Theology… I know it seems strange, but it makes sense to me! I have had a love of all things astronomy and the night sky since I was four years old and that developed into a BSc in it, and I followed this by a BD (specialising in Old Testament Lit and Lang). However I did these degrees many years ago back in the early 80s and so I have come to Classical Studies quite late in life after a career as a secondary school and then FE maths teacher and after thirteen years of also teaching Astronomy GCSE in FE. Then around fourteen years ago, I found Aristarchus of Samos, who lived around the end of the 3rd and throughout most of the 4th century BC. He was the first person who has been referred to as proposing that the Sun was at the centre of the then known Universe, and that he did this 1800 years before Copernicus did fascinated me.

After reading as much as I could for many years and considering various MA s, I came across the Classical Studies MA at the OU. I love context, and so it satisfied two aspects of study for me, studying the context of ancient cosmologies – and by context I mean, what was everyday life like for the ancient Greeks and Romans? It also gave me a way in to study more of the context of the Roman world in the time of Christ, and the events referred to in the New Testament. Of course, having come now to the end of this MA, I feel I have only just begun to dip my toe in the water…

Tony: I enrolled with the Open University in 2009 and at the time it wasn’t possible to do a degree in Classical Studies alone, so I registered for the BA (Hons) in History. Luckily for me there was a good range of modules available so I was able to tailor my degree pathway to my interests and ended up making up almost 50% of my degree with Classical Studies related modules. Starting in 2009 I studied one 60 credit module per year. I started with AA100: The Arts Past & Present, followed by A219: Exploring the Classical World. I then completed A200: Exploring History: Medieval to Modern followed by A330: Myth in the Greek & Roman World. In my final two years I studied A330: Empire, and finished my degree with A223: Early Modern Europe. So, as you can see, my degree was very varied – but I enjoyed every part of it! I caught the OU bug very shortly after enrolling on my first module so continuing with an MA in Classical Studies after my undergrad degree was finished was a no-brainer for me. Although it has taken me longer than I would’ve liked to complete my MA, owing mainly to a rather inconvenient flare-up in my OCD and anxiety, I’m very pleased to be at the stage I am now.

When I started with the OU in 2009 I wanted to get into secondary teaching. Although teaching in some form or other is still my long-term goal I now know that I’d be better suited to the type of teaching that takes place in further and/or higher education environments. Now that I’ve completed my MA, though, I’m planning a PhD, so hopefully I’ll be a student of the OU for bit a longer! I can’t honestly say with any certainty where I’ll end up after my OU journey, but I know whatever happens I’d love to be involved with Classics and Ancient History and I certainly want to continue researching. Perhaps I’ll apply to become an OU tutor!

Cora Beth: I know that in my own career as a student, and later as a teacher, I’ve had to put a lot of strategies in place to help me, because my autistic brain struggles with certain things. I’ve learned, for instance, that emails tend to overwhelm me – it can take me an hour to compose an answer to a simple query, because I find it so difficult to get my meaning across without misunderstanding. So for me, emails have to be tackled at the right time of day, and in short bursts. Do you find that you’ve had to make adjustments or invent ways of approaching your work differently, because of your neurodivergence?

Hilary: I much prefer learning in my own time and space at my own pace. I enjoy not having to engage with many other students in groups and I have enjoyed especially not having to have my webcam on during tutorials – thanks, Cora Beth, for not asking us to do this…!

This all makes me sound horribly unsociable! I am quite sociable really – but in particular ways when I have the energy to be so, and not in groups or crowds. I did attend one OU conference and it was really lovely to meet people but it also wiped me out for a week or two afterwards so there is a cost to being social around more than three people. The flexibility of the OU also allows study to fit in around work, which is the other major reason it works so well for me.

Tony: I suppose I’ve subconsciously adapted my study methods to appease my OCD and anxiety. For example, one problem I have resulting from my OCD is that I seek perfection in anything I do, or in this case, anything I write which is both physically and mentally exhausting. I’ve tried hard to accept that there’s a point when a piece of work is as good as it needs to be but this just doesn’t work for me so I still strive for perfection. Because my writing style (not sure if ‘style’ is the best word to describe this though!), is a relentless cycle of write, review, delete and repeat, it takes me much longer to get a polished piece of work across the finish line ready for submission. For this reason, over the years I’ve had to be very pro-active in my approach to TMAs. I would start early and work on the little but often approach. I tended to write my TMAs as I worked through the module readings, ending up with a conglomeration of ideas which I could then mould into a coherent piece of work. This approach was exhausting and time consuming, but it was the only workable method I could use.

Luckily for me, I developed a better approach throughout my MA. I still massively over complicated things and made my life very hard, but it worked better for me. I’m still striving for the elusive ‘perfect’ approach (I’m not even sure that exists), and hopefully if I do get on a PhD programme, I’ll have the time to work on that. Despite my convoluted processes though, I always seemed to produce very good work which was at least a reward for the hours I spent polishing my essays. 

Cora Beth: You’re both serving on the Editorial Board of Asterion, alongside neurodivergent classicists from schools and universities around the UK and overseas. Why do you think an organisation representing neurodiversity is needed in Classics?

Tony: Despite a great deal of hard work and tireless effort by a lot of very committed people in our field, the word ‘Classics’ still carries lots of negative connotations, and the perception of it being an ‘exclusive club’ of sorts still persists. Although our field is no longer dominated by elite white males with old-fashioned opinions, it remains difficult to shake off these historic biases. In a world where more and more people are coming to terms with their own mental health and neurodivergencies it’s never been more important to embrace this diversity in our field, particularly if it’s to survive well into the future and become an ‘all-inclusive’ discipline. Classics is a multifaceted and enormously varied area of study and researchers in our field are now regularly exploring the links between neurodiversity and the Classical World, which makes our presence as neurodivergent individuals more and more essential to the future of the discipline.

Hilary: There is a great need generally to raise awareness of neurodivergent people and how we view the world. In the world of Classical Studies – at any level of enjoyment – it is great to have a place which welcomes those who have had experiences of not fitting in anywhere. To be accepted and valued is the one thing we all need.

If you’d like to find out more about the work Asterion is doing, visit our website at https://asterion.uk/ and read our blog. We welcome enquiries and new members – so if you’d like to get in touch, do send us an email at enquiries@asterion.uk, or pitch us an article at content@asterion.uk!

Another Letter from Paul Jackson in Provence

Two years ago we published a ‘Letter from Provence‘, sent by our recent PhD graduate, Paul Jackson. Since then, Paul has been busy  working on his Alexandre Dumas translations (and much more), and it’s a pleasure to receive this second letter updating us on his progress. We love keeping in touch with our graduates, and would welcome other letters like this from our OU Classical Studies alumni. You can email us on FASS-ClassicalStudies-Enquiries@open.ac.uk

Greetings, or should I say salut, from over here in Provence again, from Pont-du-Loup to be precise, which was apparently once one of Queen Victoria’s favourite haunts! Given the travel restrictions, I find myself working my way through Depardieu’s filmography and Pagnol’s bibliography as well as hunting down Romanesque chapels and local cheeses and wines, all of which are as numerous as the chickens, pheasants, quails, pigeons, tortoises, cats, and rabbits our garden seems to be accumulating, wannabee Cincinnatus I seem to be. Well, I haven’t completely dedicated myself to the plough yet, trying to maintain the philosophy of Émile Zola – and Pliny the Elder before him – “Nulla dies sine linea”, whether that be reading or writing, difficult as that is in these uniquely trying times…

Still collecting recipes and writing poems and penning travel diaries and delving into the legends of Roland, as well as recently providing consultancy for the development of a rather wonderful Italian pedagogical tool, Alatin, work on my Classical Dumas Series is also progressing, with Isaac Laquedem: A Tale of the Wandering Jew finally due for publication later this year, the first part of which was teased as an eBook last Christmas (https://gum.co/aGlOA). Unfortunately, circumstances prevented me from speaking on the project at last year’s Classical Association Annual Conference in Swansea as planned, but the paper I was to read, The Other Dumas: Alexandre Dumas and the Classics, was subsequently published in Classics for All’s online Ad Familiares journal (https://classicsforall.org.uk/reading-room/ad-familiares/alexandre-dumas-and-classics), and hot off the press, coming next in the series will be Acte of Corinth, The Convert of Saint Paul: A Tale of Greece and Rome, with several other exciting ones to come thereafter!

Again, further details and updates can as always be found on my website, https://paultmjackson.com

Valete,

Paul.

Leventis MA Studentships for Teachers

We are delighted to be able to offer three fully-funded scholarships for teachers in state schools wishing to study our MA in Classical Studies. These scholarships, generously funded by the A.G. Leventis Foundation, will be awarded to UK schoolteachers who intend to introduce or develop the provision of Classical Civilisation in the curriculum of the school where they work.

The Open University’s MA in Classical Studies:

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 the two modules that make up the qualification, it gradually builds up your knowledge and the skills you need to explore ancient visual and written material, 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. It also 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 on the OU website, and on our departmental website.

The Leventis scholarships consist of a grant of £8000 to cover the full cost of the tuition fees for the MA with the balance available to assist with the cost of book purchases related to the study of the MA modules and the acquisition and development of resources for teaching Classical Studies, or related subjects, in the scholarship holder’s school.

Developing Classical Studies in Schools:

Applicants may be interested in the panel discussion at the Open University’s Advocating Classics Education event in 2019, in which representatives of the ACE projectClassics for All, and a teacher with recent experience of developing Classical Studies provision in a state secondary school shared their experiences and offered guidance and advice. The full discussion is available online here.

How to apply:

To apply for the scholarship, please complete the application form (available at this link: MA-scholarship-application-form-2021) and send it to FASS-ClassicalStudies-Enquiries@open.ac.uk. With the form 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;
  • a statement from your headteacher indicating that they are willing to support your plans to develop Classical Civilisation.

The application form includes a section for a personal statement. You should use this section to outline you 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 their school. The successful applicant will be selected on the basis of this statement, and on academic excellence in their studies to date.

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 Friday 4th June and we intend to inform all applicants by late June.

Informal enquiries can be made to Trevor Fear (trevor.fear@open.ac.uk).

Kassman Essay Prize 2020 – winners announced!

The John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay prize is an annual award based on the income from a donation given by the late Alec Kassman in memory of his son. Alec was an Arts Faculty Staff Tutor in the London Region and a contributor to Classical Studies modules. The prize is open to all current Open University undergraduates, who are invited to submit a 3,000 word essay on any aspect of Greek and Roman antiquity.

We’re delighted to announce that the winners of the 2020 John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay prize and the titles of their essays are as follows:

First prize: Steven Vitale‘The Case of the Missing Toponym: A Reinterpretation of the Archaeological Evidence at Iron Age Lefkandi’

Second prize: Patrick Bell, ‘Plague and pandemic; echoes down the ages’

Third prize: Lisa Fortescue-Poole, The Metamorphosis of Pygmalion – scientists and sex-robots: the re-creation of Ovid’s myth in contemporary science fiction’

We asked each of our prize-winners to tell us a bit about their essays and about their OU study journey so far:

Steven: ‘I am in the second year of my studies with the Open University, on track toward a BA in Classical Studies. Though I have a university education in science, this is my first formal opportunity to study the Arts and Humanities, my first time studying through a distance learning program, and my first time studying with a British University. I grew up, and still live, in the United States where distance learning is not popular (present pandemic circumstances excluded) and there is no real alternative to a traditional, residential learning experience for a field such as Classical Studies. The program offered by the Open University is ideal as I can perform my studies interleaved between the responsibilities of work and parenting. I hope in the future to be able to combine my background in science with my study of the classical world to be able to answer archaeological and art historical questions through advancements in forensic technologies.

My Kassman essay addresses a problem I find personally vexing. Lefkandi is an Iron Age settlement on Euboea, Greece, which has been the subject of excavation from the 1960’s through the present day. The archaeological evidence at Lefkandi is extraordinary for its period, including gold jewelry, valuable foreign imports, and monumental architecture. It is not an overstatement that Lefkandi has re-written the previous understanding of a depopulated and impoverished Greek “Dark Ages.” The problem is: this apparently important settlement is no where attested in ancient sources. Lefkandi is a modern name. How can it be that the wealthiest city of the Greek Iron Age has completely disappeared from ancient texts? In my essay I suggest this apparent mystery is due to a misinterpretation of the archaeology. One can show that essentially all of the extraordinary finds are concentrated in one location on the edge of the excavated area, which likely represents a cemetery and ritual centre for wealthy landholders whose estates were distributed throughout the Lelantine Plain. The remainder of the settlement is actually not so remarkable and could plausibly have been ignored by history.’

Lefkandi centaur, from Lefkandi I. The Iron Age. Text. The Settlement

Patrick: ‘My OU studies in classics represent longstanding unfinished business. At school in the 1960s opting for science subjects meant dropping Latin and much else. My interest in classics was kept alive as I encountered all sorts of connections whilst studying and later practising medicine. When retirement came 4 years ago, embarking on a BA in Classical Studies was an easy choice. It turned out to be a great experience, not least because of uniformly excellent tuition and support. I completed my degree earlier this year and, when the final assessment was cancelled, had time to enter the Kassman Essay Prize.

In the year of coronavirus I used the benefit of a medical background to examine how ancient Greek literary sources dealt with plague. It soon became clear from the chosen sources, Homer’s Iliad, Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Thucydides’ History, that the attitudes and responses of the ancients are still relevant today. Specifically we see the same mistakes being made: explaining events in entirely irrational ways, indulging in a toxic blame culture and avoiding difficult political decisions.

I have taken a break from OU studies since the summer, but have been recruited by my old medical school in Belfast to deliver a talk on ‘The Legacy of the Classics in Medicine’ in one of our undergraduate special study modules. I hope there may be other opportunities to demonstrate the importance of classics to the next generation of doctors.’

Plague in an Ancient City, Michiel Sweerts, c. 1652–1654

Lisa: ‘I am currently in my final year of a Classical Studies degree with the Open University, pursuing a lifelong passion. In my first careers interview at school, I said I wanted to be an archaeologist and despite being an English teacher for twenty-five years, I still think there’s time!

I began the course very much focused on ancient Greece, having lived and worked in Greece as a teacher many years ago. I found, however, that the course introduced me to the wonders of Rome, which I am now equally passionate about in terms of Ancient History. My personal area of interest are the constructions of narratives: whether Homer, Ovid or Augustus, the inclusions and omissions, the focus and purpose of each construction. Fascinating too, and connected to this, is the use of myth and its modification in everyday contemporary society.

Inspired by Paula James’ discussion of Pygmalion in Buffy the Vampire Slayer in A330 and being an avid fan of contemporary science fiction film, it occurred to me I had seen this myth rendered more darkly and this provided the basis for my essay. I have recently seen another area: video games, which also explores classical history and myth, namely Assassin’s Creed. Time allowing, I will pursue this; it does involve playing video games, too, another hobby! It’s fascinating how strikingly relevant classic is.’

The evolution of Pygmalion in Blade Runner 2049

Congratulations to the winners, and thank you to everyone who entered the competition – we really enjoyed reading all your essays!

Kassman Essay Prize 2019 – winner announced!

The John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay prize is an annual award based on the income from a donation given by the late Alec Kassman in memory of his son. Alec was an Arts Faculty Staff Tutor in the London Region and a contributor to Classical Studies modules. The prize is open to all current Open University undergraduates, who are invited to submit a 3,000 word essay on any aspect of Greek and Roman antiquity. 

We’re delighted to announce that the winner of the John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay prize is Sandy Buckel, who wrote an essay entitled “Investigating Constantine the Great: Can Material Evidence Help?”

We asked Sandy to tell us a bit about her OU study journey so far, and her plans for the future:

“I am 71 and live with my husband in Croatia, on the north Adriatic coast just opposite Venice. We farm our own field of olives and make our own olive oil. I have no intention of stopping learning (or working) in retirement and so the OU has been a real blessing to me. I started with the intention of doing a general humanities degree – the standard year 1 modules followed by A207: From Enlightenment to Romanticism, and A226: Exploring art and visual culture. Then I did A340: The Roman Empire, and it changed my life (well, a slight exaggeration perhaps, but it certainly had an impact). I loved it so much that I then went back a year, ditched A207 (although I am still glad I did it) and did A229: Exploring the classical world, so that I could aim at a Classical Studies degree. I am now doing A330: Myth in the Greek and Roman Worlds, and hope to graduate next summer. If all goes well I intend to take a Latin course next year and then try for an MA.

I have been lucky enough to do a lot of travelling all over the world, including the Middle East in the 1980s, where I was able to visit places such as Byblos, Palmyra, Jerash, Madaba, Petra, and many others, and enjoy them in a way which is no longer possible. This may be why A340 had such an impact on me. (Oh, and I live just off the Via Flavia, and the Pula amphitheatre is just down the road!)

My essay came about through the study of Constantine which occupies the last part of A340. Whist reading Timothy D. Barnes’ book Constantine: Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire I was struck by his comment that non-literary evidence was inarticulate, and would always be inferior to literary evidence when exploring Constantine’s personal beliefs (2011, p.17). Even with my limited experience I have seen that this is all too often the scholar’s view, and I do think it rather unfair. So I set out to investigate one material source: the Arch of Constantine in Rome, and see whether it gave a better (and more unbiased) picture of Constantine than our main primary literary sources. I didn’t succeed completely, but I certainly learnt a lot. And it was great to be able to pick my own topic!”

Many congratulations to Sandy from all of us in the Department of Classical Studies!

 

OU Classics at 50: a view from the hill country – by Judith George

Judith George was appointed as a Classics tutor in 1973, teaching Classics courses steadily thereafter till the present, with A229: Exploring the Classical World. She became an Assistant Staff Tutor in Arts in 1975, Senior Counsellor in 1978, and Deputy Scottish Director in 1984. As well as teaching on OU Classics courses, acting as critical reader for a number, and writing Learning Guide 4 (Creating your own TMA) for A295: Homer, Poetry and Society, she took her Doctorate at Edinburgh University (part-time of course, as a typical OU single parent mum), with practical support from the OU’s Regional Academic Services, and from David Sewart in particular, a Director of that unit who was himself a classicist. The PhD was on the subject of Venantius Fortunatus, a sixth-century Italian poet who established himself in the developing courts of Merovingian Gaul, and proceeded to embed Latin literature and culture in that culturally aspirational society – Romanitas was the watchword of both secular and religious authorities (George, 1992).

Her time in the Scottish Directorate came at the exciting period of expansion of open and distant learning on all sides. She was heavily involved in many innovations for the country as a whole, including the piloting of new technologies for the support of OU students, and for education, business and industry in general, and the development of community education, Open Learning projects, a new Scottish Prison Scheme, and the creation of the University of the Highlands and Islands. She also acted as an international educational consultant, to disseminate OU experience and expertise in Scandinavia and in Europe. In all these activities, continuing as a Classics tutor and academic, and taking OU courses herself, was an essential element in keeping a vivid awareness of the experience of being a learner, which contributed to her developmental work and action research. She has published widely on Late Antiquity and educational topics. She was awarded a personal Chair in Educational Research and Development in 2001, an Honorary Fellowship in the University of the Highlands and Islands, and in 2004 an OBE in recognition of her services to higher and lifelong learning.

Transformation is the motif running through my experience as a classicist within the OU – personal, social, cultural, institutional. On the personal front, having read Greats at Oxford, it was naturally out of the question for me to teach in the Classics Department of the ancient university to which my husband was appointed – husbands and wives could not work together.  The only work forthcoming was a teaching post in the Moral Philosophy Department – a post which, as Saki has it, was of ‘nomadic but punctual disposition’, consisting usually of my being phoned late on a Sunday evening in late September to be told that I was required to give classes on some aspect of Moral Philosophy from the following morning onwards. The pay was less than that of the departmental cleaners, and exam marking was onerous and unpaid. This did mean that my husband’s colleagues felt that they could now broach conversational topics with me on issues other than domestic trivia; but what was very frustrating was their total disinterest in what was actually happening in learning for their students. You could discuss their finances or their sex lives more readily than what was happening for their students. An apparently enthusiastic student, for example, kept on submitting work which I felt was seriously below her capacity. I eventually found out by chance that she had diabetes, was struggling to adjust her insulin levels, and had assumed that I was aware but just not willing to give help. The Head of Department, when I raised the matter, seemed quite shocked that I should be so intrusive and intimated that such interest in students, and especially in the circumstances of a student’s learning, was totally improper.

Appointment to the OU was a revelation. I had colleagues who were passionately interested in students’ learning; the focus of the Foundation courses was on creating a level baseline for students coming from unimaginably diverse backgrounds, so that they then had the capacity and the skills to move on to higher level courses. We spent our time devising support systems, ways of giving advice and guidance, strategies for compensating for life circumstances – it was wonderful. I remember vividly the first month of the first Classics course I taught, being contacted by a student on the Scottish Borders, who apologised profusely for his work being late, but explained that the lambing had started early this year. Such passion for Classics, interwoven with the classical shepherd’s calendar, had a vivid reality and weight rarely found in the conveyor-belt teenagers of privilege. So teaching Classics in the OU was a transformation to an institute where students not only mattered, they were the be-all-and-end-all of our professional work; and where studying Classics was a matter of passionate commitment.

I had always wanted to do a PhD, but had been unable to up to that point. Occasional translation work for the Professor of the History of Fine Art at Manchester had got me hooked on the question of what people hung on to and why as the so-called Dark Ages rolled over them. So I enrolled to do my doctoral work at Edinburgh, with the warm support of Regional Academic Services, on Venantius Fortunatus and his part in the transmission of Romanitas in sixth-century Gaul. Teaching for the OU had moved me substantially away from the narrowly compartmentalised traditions of Classics to the interdisciplinary approach of Ferguson (see Lorna Hardwick’s blog), and teaching A100 had also highlighted the vivid impact of poetry on people new to its world. All this fed into my approach to Fortunatus, in a field, the then-called Dark Ages, at a time when there was little interest and even less current scholarship, creating the space to expand and experiment with approaches. So Classics in the OU gave me the chance to move to doctoral level, and also the scholarly framework within which to innovate and be creative.

And being a Classicist member of the Scottish directorate enabled a distinctive OU contribution to the continued existence and vitality of scholarship in Late Classical Antiquity in Scotland.  In the mid-80s, these departments were on the brink of extinction. A couple of friends and I created EMERGE (the Early Medieval Europe Research Group), which brought together Insular and European scholars from across Scotland at least twice a term, for a convivial and supportive supper in the OU’s splendid Edinburgh centre, followed by an excellent paper, usually from an internationally recognised scholar. This raised morale, fostered interdisciplinary thinking, strengthened people to resist erosion and cuts, and encouraged younger students.

Being a ‘country member’ of the Classics Department and involved as a critical reader was also a great privilege. Apart from the fascination of crafting learning material across various media, it kept me in touch with a range of scholarly disciplines and gave me colleagues who have become lifelong friends. And it also gave me the chance to experiment with reflective learning. I designed Learning Guide Four of A295: Homer, Poetry and Society, to talk students through the process of choosing a topic which had one foot in Homer and the other in any topic of interest to them, formulating a question and answering it. This was a loosely formulated remit, deliberately so to give them the chance to be experimental and creative – so the Learning Guide talked them through the process of reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses as learners, on choosing appropriate formats of question, and then constructing a solid and sound argument. The results were fascinating.  We inevitably had a solid cluster on women’s role in the poems and the society, but also ones which were totally unpredictable.  A surgeon produced a vividly illustrated assessment of the wounds described in the Iliad, demonstrating that the accounts reflected a sound practical knowledge of the impact on human anatomy of a spear striking from this angle or an arrow penetrating from that. Quite gruesome, but quite clearly these descriptions were not purple passages. We had thoughts on birds in Homer from someone in Shetland, and many other idiosyncratic but valid topics. So working through Block 5 of A229 (Exploring the classical world: End-of-module assessment preparation) with my current students these past weeks has being revisiting that territory with pride that this has become embedded in our Classical teaching!

Classics has always also reflected the wider culture of society, and there has been transformation here too. In the first year of teaching students on the Isle of Lewis, I had fundamentalist Wee Free Presbyterian students who were enthusiastic, but totally paralysed by being expected to look at and even discuss representations of nude figures, especially female ones. And there was the audio conference call, drawing eight or so students across Scotland together for a discussion of Euripides. All was going smoothly, until I heard a strong intake of breath on one of the lines, and a stressed voice launched into the charge that we were discussing FAKE TEXTS – everyone knew that the Greeks were fine, upstanding folk, but this play was filthy and debased, so it could not be a true Greek text. That tutorial took quite a bit of handling! But times have changed. Naomi Mitchison, the author, receiving an Honorary OU Doctorate at a ceremony in Glasgow, spoke of the OU having lit candles in every little community the length and breadth of the Highlands and Islands, which illuminated and transformed them. She was right – the OU, and Classics playing above its weight, has broken barriers and brought people together in understanding and acceptance. Or has it? Inga Mantle, another OU classicist, is producing Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazusae in June this year. She has been banned from her usual venue by a church minister outraged by a frisky new translation, no longer clad in the decent obscurity of a learned language or more bland English!

So, a very Happy 50th anniversary to this remarkable institution, in which we have all been so lucky and privileged to be caught up.

 

Bibliography

George, J.W. (1992), Venantius Fortunatus: a poet in Merovingian Gaul (Clarendon Press, Oxford).

Happy birthday, OU! – by Janet Huskinson

This is the third in a series of blog posts looking back at the history of the Department of Classical Studies at the Open University, on the occasion of the OU’s 50th anniversary. Janet Huskinson arrived at the OU in 1993, joining Lorna Hardwick and Chris Emlyn-Jones in the Department of Classical Studies.

Happy birthday, OU!

Many congratulations on being 50, which – I think it’s true to say – in human experience is a time for a big gulp, and a fair amount of self-reflection!

In fact, I was nearly 50 when the OU gave me my first, full-time permanent job, after many years of juggling various part-time jobs teaching Roman art in Cambridge (where I continued to live with my daughters).

So I know that a 50th anniversary is a good time for moving forward into a new future, while being aware of what’s been achieved in, and shaped by, the past. Many students speak from their heart about how their OU studies have led them to a new life. Well, I am an academic, a teacher, who can proudly say the same! It was a wonderful opportunity in so many ways.

Lorna Hardwick and Chris Emlyn-Jones have described in their blogs the early days of our Department of Classical Studies, and the many challenges and opportunities which it involved. Many years after it began, I joined them as a third colleague in 1993 – very soon to be followed by Paula James, another Romanist.  As was the case then for colleagues in many university Classics departments, I found myself the only person whose specialism was not in textual but in material sources (in my case, visual).  But here too, as the department expanded, I was soon joined by colleagues – Phil Perkins, Lisa Nevett, Val Hope, and Dominic Montserrat –  with their own particular interests in the material culture of antiquity. (And now, one of the few things that just might make me regret retirement are the exciting new research opportunities offered by The Baron Thyssen Centre for the Study of Ancient Material Religion.)

Working with a variety of scholarly disciplines makes Classics such a good subject to study. But I think that the particular inter-disciplinary approach of our courses is a great strength – and not just for our students. Through teaching on OU course teams I’ve learned some lasting lessons , e.g. about working with various types of source material, and how to frame discussions at different levels, in terms that are informative, challenging and accessible. I’ve been able to apply them in my own research (on the visual imagery on Roman sarcophagi), but their impact was stronger on my teaching  – perhaps because at the OU this also involved  a variety of modern teaching media, rather than conventional lecturing.

I’ll just mention two courses, in which I was heavily involved during production (and for several years after in presentation).

The first was ‘ A428 The Roman Family’,  which I wrote with Paula. It was the departmental offering in a suite of short, low cost, low population  third level courses which had a dissertation rather than an exam. as the final assessment.  This was a fairly hot topic in Roman social history in the 1990s, and had inspired a number of books ideal as texts for our third level students (some of whom would have no prior knowledge of Roman society). I’d worked on it myself in the course of researching the imagery Romans used on children’s sarcophagi.  So – for once! – I felt generally confident in my knowledge of the topic and ability to produce the teaching material required.

Sadly for me, the cost constraints in producing the material for these courses meant that I could not include many enticing illustrations of Roman art  ( but by then I had already learned that I had unfortunately chosen an academic specialism that could prove expensive to write about, in teaching and research!)  But the sources that were included, and introduced to students, were wide-ranging – as indeed were the subjects chosen by students for their dissertation.

This business of choosing subjects, and advising students on how to follow them through in writing up , helped make A428 a friendly and enjoyable course to teach. Students, tutors, and course team could get to know each other quite well in the process, which for me was great ( as I never quite reconciled to the OU’s lack of opportunity to watch students develop by teaching them face to face over a period of time).  I was sorry when A428 ended –  and I’ll now confess it was my favourite course to work on!

The second course , ‘AA309: Culture, identity and power in the Roman empire’,  was in all respects, very heavy duty – certainly in comparison with A428, and my role as course chair there. This was to be the department’s principal Roman offering, and a successor to the much-loved course ‘Rome in the Augustan Age’. No pressure, then!

But we began with an excellent subject (chosen by Lorna, I believe), which linked into topical concerns in questions of identity, and in the ‘cultural turn’ of classical scholarship; and on the course team we had a strong range of talents and specialisms which would mean that we could teach interestingly about it for our students.

And we did, I think. The course attracted good numbers, and its book, Experiencing Rome (another good title, this time thanks to Paula), co-published with Routledge, was a great success on the open market and used as a textbook elsewhere.

En route to that happy ending I learned a lot – much about the opportunities of interdisciplinarity, but even more perhaps of the ‘keep calm and carry on’ type!

As for every OU course produced, I guess, there was the early problem of  how best to structure the course so that it would deliver appropriate academic content  (i.e. appropriate to the range of the Roman empire itself, to the range of historical sources to be taught, and to the range of students, some of whom may not have done a  Classical Studies course before, and certainly not at third level) AND at the same time fit it with the expertise and personal timetables ( scheduled leave, end of contracts etc etc)  of the course team members best suited to teach the various components.  In the end many of us ended up writing about topics which wouldn’t have been our first choice, as I personally recalled rather bitterly when walking around forts on Hadrian’s Wall in a very wet July for a video on Roman Britain !

Interviewing Lindsay Allason-Jones at the the site of the Roman fort at Benwell, for the course AA309: Culture, identity and power in the Roman empire

At this time audio-visual material was still produced by the BBC unit at Walton Hall, rather than being contracted out to independent production companies. Picture research and the editing of our draft texts were done by specialists in the Faculty – so we got to know these colleagues well, for their support as well as for their regular issuing of deadlines. Looking back, I feel that we worked with a lot of paperwork, of which some items – usually some complex list of illustrations/captions – regularly went AWOL and had to be re-done in a hurry! But perhaps that’s just a fake memory. I do, however, have a lasting souvenir of some of our best (?) AA309 experiences – a ‘Candid Camera’ video sneakily made by Mags Noble our BBC producer of various course team presenters caught at unsuspecting moments. Not available for this blog, though!

Janet Huskinson  ( OU 1993-2008)

April 2019

Special cake made to commemorate the final exam meeting for the module A428 ('The Roman Family'), which ran from 1997 - 2004

Special cake made to commemorate the final exam meeting for the module A428 (‘The Roman Family’), which ran from 1997 – 2004

Book launch event in honour of John K. Davies

This Monday saw the festive gathering of UK and international colleagues at the Victoria Gallery & Museum, University of Liverpool. This event heralded the publication of a book I recently co-edited with Dr. Zosia Archibald in honour of the Ancient Historian John K. Davies (Emeritus Rathbone Professor of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology at the University of Liverpool), The Power of Individual and Community in Ancient Athens and Beyond.

The event was officially launched by the current Rathbone chair, Professor Lin Foxhall, who reflected on the major influence that John had made at the beginning of her own career. Following this, Dame Janet Beer, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, addressed all those present, congratulating John on his significant achievements in the field, and thanking him for the important contributions that he made to the institutional environment at the University of Liverpool.

Dame Janet Beer addresses John and all those gathered

Following this, John spoke for some twenty minutes on growing up in Cardiff, his early encounters with the ancient world (for example, at the old Corbridge museum at Hadrian’s Wall when he was 15 years old), and his various undertakings since his retirement in 2003. Indeed, John has remained an active member of the scholarly community, delivering the opening or closing address at a number of major conferences, as well as taking up myriad fellowships and residencies in various European institutions. John ended his reflections by issuing a warm encouragement to all those in the field that have ‘so stimulating a challenge’ in front of them.

John K. Davies delivering his speech of thanks

Following lengthy applause for John, all involved proceeded to the Leggate Lecture Theatre, where we were treated to a very special guest lecture by the Wykeham Professor of Ancient History at Oxford University, Nino Luraghi, who spoke on ‘The Peloponnesian Peace: Thucydides and the Ideology of the Peace of Nikias’. Professor Luraghi delivered a highly engaging paper that took in many passages from Thucydides’ History, several of the comic playwright Aristophanes’ plays, as well as certain edifying passages from the Life of Aristeides, written by the first-second century CE biographer Plutarch. The evening closed with a series of more informal celebrations, including a drinks reception.

Guests gather to celebrate John’s career at the Victoria Gallery & Museum, University of Liverpool

But things did not end there, however; on the following day, John, Zosia and I reconvened to discuss in more depth John’s intellectual approach as an historian of the ancient world, Zosia and John’s shared research interests in Hellenistic economies, and our thoughts on the future direction of the discipline. A special video recording of our discussion will soon be made available on the website Classics Confidential.

In sum, this event was a marvellous celebration of a scholar who has inspired countless students, and who as a researcher has continued to play a leading role in the field for more than four decades.