Category Archives: People

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

 

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.

‘Mighty oaks from little acorns grow’. Personal reminiscences of the early years of Classical Studies in the OU, by Chris Emlyn-Jones

This is the second 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. The first post, written by Professor Lorna Hardwick, gave some fascinating insights into the early days (‘50 years in the OU‘). In this second post, Professor Chris Emlyn-Jones shares some of his memories, picking up the story from 1979 – the year in which he joined the university.

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Lorna Hardwick has given an incisive analytic survey from a broad perspective of the development of Classical Studies in the OU over the last 50 years. She was in it more or less from the beginning, and rather than unnecessarily trying to cover the same ground I would like to consider a limited selection of aspects of the early years from a personal (reminiscing, but I hope not too self-indulgent) point of view.

My entry into the OU was 10 years into the 50, in 1979. I had been teaching conventional Classics for 10 years in the small Welsh University College of St David’s Lampeter, and was keen to expand my horizons (not to mention my wife’s desire to live somewhere with more job opportunities, and less remote than West Wales). Moving from what was probably the smallest to the largest University community in the country was expansion with a vengeance; I knew very little about the OU and unlike Lorna had not previously been an AL (what we then called a tutor). So I was moving from a fairly comfortable rural existence into the unknown. For some reason, and I think surprisingly, my ignorance of the OU at interview didn’t prevent me getting the job, though I now gather from Lorna’s blog post that my redbrick degree might, unknown to me,  even have denied me an interview, since I have been amazed to learn that she had to fight off a move to restrict interviewees to Oxbridge graduates! Like Lorna (see her blog post) I encountered other instances also where this most revolutionary of institutions clearly still thought on traditional lines.

As lecturer in Classical Studies I had the strong feeling of parachuting in medias res into what I discovered was clearly an evolving pattern of study, in which distinct Arts disciplines were combining in new and stimulating ways. I also discovered I was a junior replacement in the Classical Studies area for the retiring Dean of Arts, John Ferguson. Ferguson, the first Dean of the Faculty and Professor, was qualified in Classics and Theology and had obviously been concerned that elements of both should be part of A100, the first Foundation Course (see Lorna’s blog post). Ferguson’s plan that Classical Studies should maintain a 2nd level presence with 30 point Interdisciplinary courses in both the Greek and Roman periods was not everywhere favourably received after his retirement, and shortly after I joined Lorna and I had to fight off an attempt at Arts Faculty Board to reduce this offering. On the assumption of some colleagues that I had been brought in on Ferguson’s retirement simply to ‘mind the shop’, predatory eyes were cast on our little empire, and a colleague from one of the bigger departments, attempting to reassure me that I’d still have a job in a couple of years’ time, kindly consoled me with the thought that Classics would always be useful as a service department to teach Greek Philosophy, Classical Background etc., to aspiring philosophers and students studying Renaissance literature! Not knowing quite what to do with us, the Faculty placed Classical Studies (the core department being simply Lorna and myself) with Religious Studies in a Working Area Group, an arrangement which didn’t ideally suit either party, and least of all the Dean, Arthur Marwick, whose job it was to chair it.

The absence of students on campus took a bit of getting used to. As a Central Academic it was difficult to spend time, face-to-face, with students (very different and from much more varied backgrounds than the 18-21 year olds I had previously taught). And in the early years, no email! Taking a regular tutorial group in a Region was only rarely possible if one was not displacing an existing or potential tutor. The teaching alternative was two weeks of Summer School, which actually turned out to be a very fruitful experience. As there was no Classical Studies element in the new Foundation Course (A101) this meant teaching subjects at the A101 Summer School in which I was not formally, or only partly, qualified. In my case it was modern Philosophy, which involved tutorials on ‘scepticism and sense data’ (not in my opinion the ideal introduction to the subject for OU students, but fashionable in the 1970-80s). One military student obviously felt the whole subject to be highly subversive: N.B his interesting take on Dr Johnson’s ‘I refute you thus’—‘if I were to take this chair and hit you over the head with it you’d bloody well know it was real, wouldn’t you?’ He never actually carried out his threat and Summer School was most enjoyable, a vital link with the variety of actual OU students which, sitting in relative isolation in Milton Keynes, it was only too easy to miss. And one particularly useful period was spent as a stand-in Staff Tutor in Region 6 (West Midlands), allowing Lorna, the actual Staff Tutor, to take study leave. This involved day-to-day contact with students, Regional colleagues and, in particular, organising weekend Day Schools, involving close liaison with tutors. I also had invaluable experiences as a visiting teacher to day schools in various regional centres around the UK, including, memorably, a fascinating tutorial visit to Ulster’s Maze Prison (1980s) which, because of tight security, took longer for a visitor to get in and out of than the actual duration of the tutorial (on Thucydides, I remember); when I went out for my lunch break the students apologised most politely that they were unable to accompany me.

One of Classical Studies great strengths in the numbers game of University politics in the early days, and ensuring our survival, was our success in generating interest in the Ancient World among students moving from first to second level and so attracting substantial enrolment. The two courses which I was first involved with helping to devise, A293 (Rome: the Augustan Age) and A294 (Fifth Century Athens: Democracy and City State) gave us a chance to build on and develop the Foundation level skills of closely studying primary source material, both written and visual, in a new and challenging context. A key resource for this was the development of the recording of extracts from texts (historical, poetic, dramatic performance) on audio cassette with stop/start facility enabling students to engage in detailed interactive analysis (I remember using this to some effect with analysis of Augustan poetry in A293). We were also able to use audio to interact with TV, for example, studio discussion of Tom Paulin’s TV play ‘Seize the Fire’, based on Prometheus Bound (A294 TV Programme—for illustrations see Lorna’s blog post). Use of Video-cassette, allowing the same level of analysis of TV, and making it unnecessary for students to stay up to watch programmes when the Beeb put them on in the small hours, came in a bit later, after considerable University discussion over whether students should be required to go to the expense of buying a VCR, the clinching argument in favour being that many students were getting their beauty sleep by recording the programmes anyway!  (One of my more bizarre experiences: attending a Classical Association conference (late 80’s/early 90’s?) in order to speak on the subject of ‘teaching OU students with video-cassette’ only to discover that their machine wasn’t working. I don’t actually remember how I got through the session; Lorna may—I seem to remember she was there!)

Much of what we did may now seem rather quaint from the perspective of colleagues working in 2019: but remember, this is still the (pre-digital) 1980s!

You might be wondering how Lorna and I working alone managed to cover the  spread of disciplines involved in interdisciplinary courses like A293 and A294, and of course the answer is we didn’t do it alone: we had the valuable assistance in A293 of Jennifer Potter on the later Julio-Claudians, Beryl Bowen on Augustan painting and sculpture and Tony Lentin of the History department, who deployed his acute forensic skills in deconstructing the subtle propaganda of the emperor Augustus’ Res Gestae. Colin Cunningham of the Art History department, an expert in Victorian visual culture, but actually a renegade Classicist, presented material on Architecture and Town planning and was an expert TV performer. We were fortunate in securing other distinguished external consultants to provide provincial case studies, notably E. Mary Smallwood on Judaea. One of the OU’s valuable assets, of which we made considerable use, was the BBC, which had its own branch at Milton Keynes, housed on the site of what is now (or was when I last looked) the Faculty of Arts. This association gave us the enviable opportunity of making programmes in which we were able to bid for quite extensive financial resources (on which envious eyes may now be cast). We were also particularly fortunate in securing the expertise of BBC producers who were able to move with us from course to course and so became integrated members of the Course Team and very familiar with the material on the ground and our key aims and objectives. In both A294 and A295 (Homer: Poetry and Society) on both TV and audio we had the great good fortune to work with Tony Coe and Mags Noble, two outstanding producers who not only became very familiar with the material but also brought a vital media perspective to bear on what we were doing. (One of Tony’s great moments, I remember, was when he was asked by one of our consultants in Athens where he had taken his Classics degree!).

The theatre of Dionysus, Athens

The theatre of Dionysus, Athens, Orchestra and Theatron from A294, TV 2 (‘The Theatre and the State: Archaeological reconstruction’). Presenter Chris Emlyn-Jones, Producer Tony Coe, Production Assistant, Mags Noble. The programme combines evidence from the plays of the 5th century Athenian dramatists with on-site investigation of the extant (largely Roman) remains of the area where they were first performed, in order to reconstruct the probable nature of the original 5th century BCE theatre.

As a result we were able to give students detailed visual experience of important Classical sites, but from unexpected points of view and from unusual perspectives: for example, in a programme supplementing an A294 block on the Greek Theatre, as well as the well-trodden route along well-known sites like the Theatre of Dionysus in Athens and at Epidaurus, students were introduced to an unusual and interesting perspective by an exploration of the (by Epidaurus standards) unusual Greek theatre at Thorikos in Southern Attica, which was linked by Colin Cunningham to a study of the silver mining district of Laurion, a valuable source of wealth for the Athenian polis.

The late sixth century BCE theatre at Thorikos

The late sixth century BCE theatre at Thorikos in Southern Attica, from A294, TV2 (‘The Theatre and the State: Archaeological reconstruction’). Presenter Chris Emlyn-Jones, Producer Tony Coe, Production Assistant, Mags Noble. Besides diverging in shape from the ‘standard’ Epidaurus model, the theatre’s link with silver mining is revealed by the rectangular light structure in the background to the left of the theatre, a restored washery for concentrating silver ore.

Likewise, in our course A295 (Homer: Poetry and Society) John Purkis, a Staff Tutor in the English Department, kicked off the course on the Odyssey by linking a detailed survey of evidence on the ground on the island of Ithaka, legendary home of Odysseus, to traditions developed in Homeric oral poetry and story-telling more widely, in British, European and Indian culture. In this same course, we were also able film in detail the ancient site of Troy, and how its importance as a focus of Homeric legend can be related to its position in the surrounding landscape. This was a project in which I was closely involved, and I much enjoyed interviewing the archaeologist, Donald Easton, and Professor Manfred Korfmann, who inaugurated a multi-disciplinary approach to the site, including Greek archaeologists and pre-historians.

Interview with Donald Easton

Interview with Donald Easton by CE-J from A295, TV, ‘Troy, Reading the Site’. Presenter Chris Emlyn-Jones, Producers, Tony Coe and Mags Noble, Production Assistant, Carole Browne. The programme attempts to relate the complex settlement layers of the citadel of Troy [as the site was in the 1990’s] to the literary evidence for the Trojan conflict. Easton’s significant contribution was a meticulous reconstruction of the evidence in the light the notorious north-south excavation trench, dug in the late 19th Century by Heinrich Schliemann, the discoverer of Çanakkale as the site of the citadel.

This account has had an unashamedly Graeco-centric bias, principally because the Greek world has been my main area of expertise, though I hasten to add that, as someone mainly working on Greek literature and philosophy, it was the peculiar circumstances we were in which gave me exciting, and often scary, opportunities to pontificate on the heights of Troy, in the Athenian Agora, Greek theatres and elsewhere, well outside my comfort zone (and I was never a very confident TV performer—the advice ‘treat the camera as your friend’ never quite worked for me; one of my clear memories is of Colin Cunningham going to sleep behind a wall in the Athenian Theatre of Dionysus while I did my umpteenth take!).

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The 1990’s saw a decisive expansion into a formation present colleagues might recognise: we finally became a department, with Lorna as the first HoD. And we gained a number of new colleagues: in 1993 our first new departmental colleague, Janet Huskinson, was appointed, followed by Paula James and later Val Hope, Lisa Nevett, Phil Perkins, James Robson, Trevor Fear and Naoko Yamagata (apologies for not getting precise order and dates of entry—my memory is not what it was). This meant a radical strengthening of the Roman side especially in social and art history and archaeology and a move into 3rd level with a major Roman course AA309 (Culture, Identity and Power in the Roman Empire). And we were also able, finally, to offer courses in both languages. And the department succeeded in getting top marks in the Teaching Quality Assessment of 2001 (however, as Lorna has made clear, apart from the kudos, much good did it do us in material terms!).

If by this stage (early 2000’s) not a mighty oak, then an extremely vigorous sapling. But this has gone on quite long enough—I hope others will take the story further.

by Chris Emlyn-Jones

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50 years in the OU – by Lorna Hardwick

This is the first in a series of blog posts that will look back at the history of the Department of Classical Studies at the Open University, on the occasion of the OU’s 50th anniversary. 

Lorna Hardwick was a part-time tutor on the very first OU Arts Foundation course in 1971 and was appointed as a Staff Tutor in Arts in the East Anglian Region in 1976. When Classical Studies became a separate department she was its first HoD (‘Head of Department’). She was made Professor of Classical Studies in 2002. Lorna was an author on all the Classical Studies courses as well as on several interdisciplinary ones up until her retirement in 2010 when she was appointed as Professor Emerita. She has supervised many PhD students in the OU and other universities and is the joint series editor of Classical Presences (Oxford University Press). She directed the research project on the Reception of Classical Texts in Drama and Poetry, c.1970-2005, was the founding editor of the Classical Receptions Journal (Oxford) and of the OU online journals Practitioners’ Voices and New Voices. She is currently the Convenor of an international research group Classics And Poetry Now, which works collaboratively to explore the range of relationships between ancient and modern poetry. Here she reflects, not entirely reverently, on some of the key aspects in the history of CS in the OU.

The history of Classical Studies in the Open University has been well documented (Ferguson 1974; Hardwick 2003). There have been highs and lows as well as moments when we might have thought we were in the Theatre of the Absurd. A whole essay could be written about the contributions of students and tutors and the collaborations with the BBC that included the stunning overhead film of Masada (Roman Judaea), the commissioning of Tom Paulin’s play Seize the Fire (a version of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound) and the extensive material on the archaeology of Troy.  However, in my contribution to this 50 Years Blog I’d like to stand back and focus on what is revealed by the social history of Classical Studies and its environment inside and outside the OU.

The founding Dean of the Arts Faculty, John Ferguson was a classicist and insisted that the subject was embedded in early courses (now called modules). The effects, especially when seen from a distance, were paradoxical.  Ferguson was a liberal scholar who in many ways was ahead of his time, especially in his determination that classical study should be open to all and that it had a big part to play in dialogue with other subject areas. He had spent time teaching in Nigeria and had a strongly internationalist outlook, insisting that the Arts Faculty’s inaugural first level course (which started in 1971) included a study of Yoruba history and culture. This was widely ridiculed at the time as an eccentric aspiration (and in hindsight its execution might have reinforced polarities between European traditions and those of the exotic ‘Other’), but the insight that students should be made aware of pluralism was sound. Ferguson’s global perspective also sat paradoxically with his view (set out in his Greece and Rome article of 1974) that classical studies was at the root of what he called ‘our western culture’. There has subsequently been extensive work to analyse the forms and implications of such perspectives (see most recently Mac Sweeney et. al., 2019). The limits of liberal humanism were also revealed in the strongly masculine staff profile of the OU at its inception, especially in senior posts. Ferguson’s Greece and Rome article even managed to refer to a female ancient historian in terms of her husband’s career. Those beginnings offer a salutary warning that even the most prescient can be unwitting prisoners of the norms of their own time, which they then transmit to others. Celebrations of progress are best tempered by a critical look at underlying assumptions and that is as true today as it was then.

Seven Branched Candlestick. Cover for Units 15-16, case study of Judaea for A293: Rome the Augustan Age (1982-1992). The course included case studies of Provinces in the Roman Empire (including Roman Britain) enabling students to compare and contrast the experience of resistance to Rome and incorporation into the Empire. The seven branched candlestick is a symbol of Jewish religion and cultural identity. It was used by the Romans on their coinage to advertise their victory.

Cover for Units 15-16, case study of Judaea for A293: Rome the Augustan Age (1982-1992). The course included case studies of Provinces in the Roman Empire (including Roman Britain) enabling students to compare and contrast the experience of resistance to Rome and incorporation into the Empire. The seven branched candlestick is a symbol of Jewish religion and cultural identity. It was used by the Romans on their coinage to advertise their victory.

I felt the full force of the unreconstructed gender prejudice of the time when I was interviewed in 1976 for a full time post and the bulk of both the interviews I had was spent quizzing me on why I was prepared to move when I was the mother of a small child and whether this meant that ‘the marriage had broken down’ (sic). Astonishingly, perhaps, I was appointed. My euphoric assumption that this must have been because of my intellectual merit was quickly shattered when I discovered soon afterwards that the decisive factor was that it was considered that I might be able to stand up to a troublesome (non-Classicist) colleague. This was a small example of the power of internal politics to open or close doors and I soon found that this was a big factor in the place of CS in the OU as a whole. When Ferguson left the OU there was a big backlash against CS – its dependence on the Dean’s patronage was perhaps summed up in the metaphor used to describe Ferguson’s relationship with senior management elsewhere in the university; ‘the Barons at the court of King John’. Ferguson’s successor as Dean wanted CS abolished and systematically excluded it from the next two Arts Foundation courses. Much had to be done by stealth, including making sure that CS contributed to the high population interdisciplinary courses.

Aerial shots of the fortress of Masada, the site of Jewish resistance in the revolt against Roman rule 66-74CE. Masada had been built by King Herod in the first century CE on a plateau overlooking the Dead Sea and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Roman siege of Masada and the last stand of the Sicarii defenders was described by the Jewish historian Josephus. The course reviewed the written and archaeological evidence relating to his account.

Aerial shots of the fortress of Masada, the site of Jewish resistance in the revolt against Roman rule 66-74CE. Masada had been built by King Herod in the first century CE on a plateau overlooking the Dead Sea and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Roman siege of Masada and the last stand of the Sicarii defenders was described by the Jewish historian Josephus. The A293 course reviewed the written and archaeological evidence relating to his account.

I also discovered in the early days that class prejudice, even in the OU, mirrored the assumptions of its time. For example, I had to fight a hard battle to prevent the faculty from stipulating, when Ferguson retired, that for the relatively junior appointment that was then permitted the short-list should be confined to candidates who had attended Oxford or Cambridge universities. Many part-time tutors were women and, in the light of this and because they were paid on a ‘piece-work’ basis, they were sometimes disparaged by senior management as ‘pin-money tutors’ (although never by Ferguson, who gave impeccably courteous responses to suggestions and criticism sent in by tutors). Classical Studies at that time was not a separate department but with other smaller disciplines was characterized as a ‘working area group’ (this was the first and, I hope, the last time in my career when I have been a WAG).

Changes in the Classical Studies curriculum over the last 50 years have been partly evolutionary, partly achieved through challenging dominant norms and partly responsive to the broadening of its constituency of students. In the 1970s and 1980s the study of Greek and Roman antiquity was largely thought to include two aspects: study of literary and historiographical texts in the original languages and the study of society in terms of politics and war. Social History, as opposed to military and political history, was frequently marginalised as a ‘soft’ option (what might be called ‘ladies’ history without the hoplites’). Nowadays Social History is central to the subject area nationally and internationally. The early OU Classical Studies courses contributed to that development but trod gently. They did include Social History but as separate sections with revealing headings such as ‘Women’ and ‘Slaves’.  This gradualism in acceptance and then mainstreaming of new areas of study is a characteristic of Classics and Ancient History in general, a more recent example being Reception Studies (Brockliss et al., 2012).

Cover of the source book that accompanied the ‘Which was Socrates?’ section of the very first Arts Foundation course, A100 (1971 – 1977). This substantial source book, edited by John Ferguson contained translations of virtually all the ancient sources that referred to Socrates and students were taught how to evaluate and compare these.

Cover of the source book that accompanied the ‘Which was Socrates?’ section of the very first Arts Foundation course, A100 (1971 – 1977). This substantial source book, edited by John Ferguson contained translations of virtually all the ancient sources that referred to Socrates and students were taught how to evaluate and compare these.

Also marginalised in the subject community as a whole (and associated with both gender and class assumptions) was the reading of ancient texts through translations. The attitude of OU course approval committees, both in the Faculty and in the wider university, to the introduction of classical language teaching was a bizarre mixture of incredulity and patronizing contempt for mature students. It was argued that OU students wouldn’t want to learn the languages as these were irrelevant and elitist (note the conjunction) and, even if they did so wish, OU students would not be intellectually capable (at their age and with their lack of access to classical languages at school……). That hot-potch of prejudices was then deployed to argue that since the OU taught CS through translation the discipline would not have the respect of other universities and so should wither away. The outcome of much determination and support from the more enlightened Deans of the 1990s was that after a few years the OU was teaching Greek to more students than the rest of the UK universities put together. However, attitudes in the wider community to adult and life-long learning could still be ignorant and dismissive. One Minister for Higher Education commented when he addressed the Council of University Classical Departments that ‘all adult education is merely remedial’ and that it should therefore be of no interest to universities. He got a rough ride from the CUCD, which I found encouraging.

Gaining the respect of other universities was important for CS in the OU in the 1980s and into the 90s. There were positive sides to this – for example, distinguished classicists and ancient historians agreed to be examiners and course assessors. We and our students benefited enormously from this (although my plagiarism from Swallows and Amazons that ‘if duffers better drowned and if not duffers won’t drown’ was not universally appreciated). Nevertheless, approval from the classics community did not always bring rewards from the OU. When we gained a maximum score in the Teaching Quality Assessment in 2001, the response of the OU leadership was to cancel an additional post that we had already been allocated, on the basis that we clearly didn’t need any additional staff!  It was unfortunate that national teaching assessments did not bring with them any resources – in contrast to research assessment, which (as I found when I was a member of an assessment panel) actually rewarded successful departments.

7.John Ferguson with masked actor. Aristophanes’ comedy The Clouds was one of the sources read by students for their study of Socrates. A BBC TV programme dramatized extracts from the play, including the scene in which Socrates is suspended from a basket. The programme was shown on TV in the early evening and provoked protests from general viewers who objected to the scatalogical language of Aristophanes’ play. Some even wrote to the national press to complain that OU students were getting their degrees by sitting in their armchairs watching obscene drama on TV.

John Ferguson with masked actor. Aristophanes’ comedy The Clouds was one of the sources read by students for their study of Socrates. A BBC TV programme dramatized extracts from the play, including the scene in which Socrates is suspended from a basket. The programme was shown on TV in the early evening and provoked protests from general viewers who objected to the scatalogical language of Aristophanes’ play. Some even wrote to the national press to complain that OU students were getting their degrees by sitting in their armchairs watching obscene drama on TV.

Emphasis on gaining the approval of our colleagues elsewhere in the HE system had its drawbacks as well as its advantages.  I think we were too slow, and perhaps too timid, to push ahead with a fully integrated pedagogy of language learning and translation. This can work effectively in both directions by including ‘language awareness’ strands in courses taught through translation and by teaching students how to compare different translations of key passages. I wish now that we had grasped the nettle earlier and challenged the entrenched belief (which still persists in some quarters) that reading through translation was essentially inferior, rather than different. Reading through translation is now an accepted strand in CS in all universities, although it is not systematically taught everywhere. Eventually, OU second level modules did explore this but we should have done it sooner. We could have used our courses more adventurously to transform perceptions by enabling students, and tutors, to experience how translation and text can inform one another. This is just one example of how research and pedagogy can work together. Translation Studies research has brought forward new models of how source languages, epistemology and translation interact. The nexus between classical languages and translation has played a significant part in this (Bassnett 2014).

The other area in which I wish we could have made swifter progress is in helping our students to explore and understand how study of antiquity is not the preserve of any one cultural tradition.  The cultures of antiquity are pre-Christian (to a large extent) and pre-Islamic but are transmitted by and important for both traditions. They provide not only critical distance from the present but also a field where different perspectives and world-views can be studied in a non-polarized way. The OU course Homer: Poetry and Society included a ground-breaking section that compared performance of story-telling in Indian and Homeric oral poetry. The performance of Greek plays around the world has provided excellent primary material that has been included in OU courses at Honours and Masters level (Mee and Foley, 2011). Taking Classics out of its nervously ‘niche’ closet and re-engaging with the study of cultures and their interactions provides a substantial challenge but also an opportunity for developing the lines of enquiry and working methods that are imperative in the modern world. After all, the plural and diverse threads in ‘European culture’ are rapidly transforming it and there are radical questions to be asked about the extent to which classically derived traditions have been at worst instrumental and at best complicit in racialising and marginalising others.

I realise that emphasising the substantial potential of Classics for deepening critical analysis and comparison does run the risk of collapsing into a claim of ‘exceptionalism’, an approach associated with the imposition of special authority. So I prefer to use the word ‘distinctive’. There are indeed distinctive ways in which the study of Greek and Roman antiquity and its reception can not only ensure that future generations get to experience these exciting texts and material culture, it can also provide critical comparisons for other times, places and languages right up to the present. It has become a mantra to say that the ancient texts are ‘good to think with’. I think this is true, provided that we do not suppress the darker sides. They also make us think! Given the current public debates about suppressing or erasing the unacceptable aspects of the relatively recent past and its texts and monuments, the study of antiquity and of how its various aspects have been eulogised and repressed provides a critical field for addressing contentious questions, without either sanitizing or demonising the past.

Looking ahead to the next few years of teaching and research in CS, I can see that the study of ancient religion and its material and social manifestations would be a growth area.  There is also a pressing need to analyse more critically the history of scholarship and to explore how, throughout the history of the subject, the often unexamined assumptions and norms of the most influential scholars have shaped not only the interpretations of the texts but also the values that have accreted around them and which have seeped across disciplines and into society at large. Perhaps as it embarks on the next 50 years, CS in the OU can push that agenda too?

Opening scene from Seize the Fire, an adaptation by Tom Paulin of the fifth-century BCE tragedy Prometheus Bound, attributed to Aeschylus. John Franklyn-Robbins is shown as Prometheus, chained to a rock (set design by George Wisner). In the myth, Prometheus had offended the gods who retaliated by chaining him to a rock where an eagle pecked out his liver, which regenerated overnight so that the torture could continue the next day. The adaptation was commissioned by the BBC for the course A209 Fifth-century Athens: Democracy and City State (dates). The staging was directed by Tony Coe (BBC producer for the course). Published text: Tom Paulin, 1989, Seize the Fire, London: Faber and Faber. The production is documented on the database of productions of Greek drama, www.open.ac.uk//arts/research/greekplays/drama (data base number 217)

Opening scene from Seize the Fire, an adaptation by Tom Paulin of the fifth-century BCE tragedy Prometheus Bound, attributed to Aeschylus. John Franklyn-Robbins is shown as Prometheus, chained to a rock (set design by George Wisner). In the myth, Prometheus had offended the gods who retaliated by chaining him to a rock where an eagle pecked out his liver, which regenerated overnight so that the torture could continue the next day. The adaptation was commissioned by the BBC for the course A209 Fifth-century Athens: Democracy and City State (1995-2005). The staging was directed by Tony Coe (BBC producer for the course). Published text: Tom Paulin, 1989, Seize the Fire, London: Faber and Faber. The production is documented on the database of productions of Greek drama, www.open.ac.uk//arts/research/greekplays/drama (data base number 217)

The gods’ messenger Hermes visits the chained Prometheus. Stephen Earle played Hermes as a spiv, dressed in leather jacket. His role was to try to persuade Prometheus to compromise with the gods and secure his release.

The gods’ messenger Hermes visits the chained Prometheus. Stephen Earle played Hermes as a spiv, dressed in leather jacket. His role was to try to persuade Prometheus to compromise with the gods and secure his release.

Io is shown visiting Prometheus and telling the story of her torment by Zeus who sent gadflies to pursue her round the world. Played by Julia Hills, Io was costumed as a Marilyn Monroe look-alike. Ancillary material to the course included a video clip of Marilyn Monroe singing ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ at a birthday party held for President John F Kennedy.

Io is shown visiting Prometheus and telling the story of her torment by Zeus who sent gadflies to pursue her round the world. Played by Julia Hills, Io was costumed as a Marilyn Monroe look-alike. Ancillary material to the course included a video clip of Marilyn Monroe singing ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ at a birthday party held for President John F Kennedy.

References:

Bassnett, S., 2014, Translation, London and New York: Routledge.

Brockliss, W., Chauduri, P., Lushkov, A.H. and Wasdin, K., eds., 2012, Reception and the Classics: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Classical Tradition,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ferguson, J., 1974, ‘Classics in the Open University’, Greece and Rome, 21.1 (April), 1-10.

Hardwick, L, 2003, ‘For ‘Anyone who wishes’: classical studies in the Open University, 1971-2002’, in J. Morwood, ed., The Teaching of Classics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 149-158.

Mac Sweeney, N., et al, 2019, ‘Claiming the Classical: the Greco-Roman World in Contemporary Political Discourse’, CUCD Bulletin 48, https://cucd.blogs.sas.ac.uk/bulletin)

Mee, E. and Foley, H.P., eds., 2011, Antigone on the Contemporary World Stage, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Womens Classical Committee campaigns and organises workshops on all aspects of gender and equality in teaching, research and university employment practices.

Celebrating a new article by MA student Ben Cassell

We’re delighted to share this post by one of our current MA students – Ben Cassell – who has just published his first article on The Monumental Configuration of Athenian Temporality: Space, Identity and Mnemonic Trajectories of the Periklean Building Programme (full text available online, open access). In this post, Ben writes about his study journey with the Open University, and his particular interest in the academic field of Memory Studies. Congratulations on the publication of your article, Ben! 

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Ben Cassell writes…

“Entering my fifth year of studying Classics with the Open University has, for me, found an appropriate celebration in my having been published for the first time. This is something I consider an important personal achievement, that I know would never have been possible without my time at the University.

In relative terms I recognize my coming to Classics late. This is not to say that I ever had a disinterest in antiquity, rather it was the medieval period that always held my most fervent attention. Yet come to Classics I did, as many of us can claim I’m sure, through Homer, Euripides and Plato, and my decision to study Classics with the Open University was born out of a genuine desire to know the contexts and audiences that produced and consumed these great literary works. I studied for the BA in Classical Studies full time, with two modules in tandem, and moved straight into the MA in October 2017. I’ve done this while running my own business, and though of course both life and study have produced challenges, the time I have thus far spent studying Classics with the Open University has been the most genuinely rewarding of my life. I have made friends I know I will keep for life, and developed a genuine passion for academia.

Over this time, I have developed a keen interest in the application of Memory Studies to ancient contexts, in order to study aspects of social history, identity and power relations. I am fascinated by the methods and actions that facilitated the identities and self-perceptions that made up the cultures of Classical antiquity, and the role of memory is central to all my research. This also, naturally, includes an interest in the manner in which time itself was both constructed and experienced by differing cultural groups in antiquity. Major inspiration for me has come from the works of Aleida and Jan Assmann, especially in in their illustrating the applicability of Memory Studies to the study of ancient contexts, whilst Archaic and Classical Athens have become the focus of my research. It is on this subject that I decided to compose an entry into the Kassman Memorial Essay Prize run by the Open University in 2017, looking at the mnemonic potential exhibited in the Periklean building programme. This in turn underwent drastic expansion, including the consideration of spatial relationships and phenomenological experience, to become the first draft of my now published article last September.

The article was itself motivated by what I perceive as being an underdeveloped approach to the socio-cultural context of Athens: an analysis of the modes, means and arenas of cultural remembering, the essential mechanism for cultivating group identities, in this period. The process of writing was itself a genuine learning curve, with the first round of peer reviews being both exhilarating and imposing. I also enjoyed maintaining a working relationship with the editorial staff over the course of what became several months. Being published marks a truly significant turning point for me both as a person and a Classicist, and has solidified a theoretical direction for my future research. Indeed, for me any study of antiquity is now framed by memory. After completing my MA with the Open University I aim to complete my PhD thesis on the mnemonic trajectories afforded by Athenian ritual and space, and my proposal is presently under consideration.

While I may have come late to field, my future is in Classics. My time with the Open University has cultivated what was an interest into a passion, a lifestyle even, and my intention is use my MA and future PhD qualifications in pursuing a career in academia. My future research will include an examination of the role of Theseus in the cultural memory and temporality of Classical Athens, including his overt presence in the ritualistic landscape. I shall be discussing the general content of the research that became my article at University of the City of London’s Lyceum event in March, and the article itself can be found at http://helenskestudije.me/ojs/index.php/jhs/issue/view/2

I would like to thank all the members of the Department of Classics at the Open University for generating course material, events and an atmosphere that has truly engendered my love of Classics, and also, every one of my past and present tutors, without whose support this small achievement of mine would not have been possible.”

 

A letter from Provence – Alexandre Dumas and the Classics

Paul Jackson – one of our recent Open University PhD graduates – writes from Provence with exciting news of his forthcoming translations of Alexandre Dumas’ work. Thanks for keeping in touch, Paul! 

For the best part of five years I was juggling my day job as head of classics, a second master’s degree in teaching and learning in which I was investigating active learning in the Latin classroom, and a PhD on the theology of the Epicureans under the supervision of Dr Naoko Yamagata and Professor Sophie-Grace Chappell. With the master’s degree completed, my thesis was then examined by Professor Tim Whitmarsh and Dr Carolyn Price on 21 May 2015 and was passed without any corrections. The day after I handed in my notice at work, and when the term ended I followed my heart and took myself off to Provence, and there have been ever since.

Here I have been teaching literature, stuff like Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, and I am also an associate member of Le Centre Transdisciplinaire d’Épistémologie de la Littérature et des Arts vivants at the Université Nice-Sofia-Antipolis. Alongside this I have been publishing parts of my thesis, travel diaries, and translations of French poetry, and in 2018 a little collection of some of my own pastoral poetry was launched over here in Valbonne. However throughout all of this I have been engaged in a much bigger project, a project that first occurred to me during my PhD.

The project, I suppose, is one of classical reception, and more specifically the reception of the classical world in French literature, in particular in the works of that great feuilletoniste Alexandre Dumas, père. Now I have been an aficionado of his since reading his stories of high adventure like Captain Pamphile and The Corsican Brothers as a child, but especially so when, as a classics scholar, I learnt of his historical writings and his novels set in antiquity, works which have yet to be rendered into English despite the enduring popularity of the author beyond the borders of France, being one of the most widely read of French authors whose books have been translated into many languages and adapted for film, television, theatre, and opera on numerous occasions.

So it is then that I am engaged in producing a new series of English editions of these works through Noumena Press, in the hope of revealing a perhaps hitherto unknown side of Dumas to the English-speaking world, a perhaps more erudite side, and of showcasing the enormous range and sheer genius of Alexandre Dumas, père, who wrote some 650 books and 100,000 pages but who is of course associated more with those swashbuckling Napoleonic epics like The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers than anything else.

The first of these editions will be published this year in 2019, namely Isaac Laquedem: A Tale of the Wandering Jew. This sweeping, sprawling epic remains largely unknown beyond the borders of France, and curiously so, because the author himself, having spent over two decades on it, claimed that this, not The Count of Monte Cristo or The Three Musketeers, was his magnum opus, and he truly thought that it would one day be recognised as a classic alongside the likes of the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid! And it was indeed a hugely ambitious, and it must also be said controversial, undertaking, for in it Dumas attempts to tell, through the eyes of his Wandering Jew, the whole history of the world! It is then an epic on the grandest of scales, with Odyssean voyages and Virgilean descents down into the Underworld thrown in there and with huge philosophical and theological questions being posed throughout. It is deeply rooted in antiquity and the author draws from an unusually large pool of sources even for him, from Apuleius’ Golden Ass, Pausanias’ Description of Greece, Herodotus’ Histories, Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, and Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana, for instance. I should perhaps also add that, unlike The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, both of which Dumas’ chief collaborator Auguste Maquet had a big hand in, it can be safely said that Isaac Laquedem represents Dumas unassisted, for the manuscript, all in Dumas’ own handwriting, was later presented by his son to the town of his birth, Villers-Cotterêts. Isaac Laquedem, this historical work set in antiquity, is then perhaps a better example of the ‘real’ Dumas than those other two.

Further information about this edition and indeed the series will be published on my website, http://paultmjackson.com, as well as on my social media pages, links to which can also be found on the website.

I hope that you enjoy discovering the classical Dumas as much as I have!

All the best for now,

Paul.

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

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

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

Introducing….Christine Plastow, Lecturer in Classical Studies

Christine Plastow

I’m really happy to be joining Classical Studies at the Open University, in my first post since finishing my PhD. I’d like to thank publicly all of my colleagues for already having made me feel so welcome! Having discovered Classics by accident when I was persuaded to sign up for a Classical Civilisation A level instead of one in History, I began my Classics career in earnest as an undergraduate at Royal Holloway, University of London in English Literature and Classical Studies. While there, I began work on the Athenian forensic speeches in a dissertation on legal language and rhetoric in [Demosthenes] 59 Against Neaira; the forensic speeches would come to be my primary research focus. I then moved to the University of Bristol, where I gained a Masters in Classics and Ancient History and continued my interest in forensic rhetoric with a dissertation on invective in the courts. Finally, I ended up at University College London to study for my PhD under the supervision of Professor Chris Carey. This project, entitled ‘Athenian Homicide Law in Context’, explored the distinctive nature of homicide in Athenian law and culture, and the ways in which the legal system set homicide apart from other crimes. My primary focus was exploring how this distinctiveness played out in rhetoric, by examining several prominent features of forensic speeches on homicide: Athenian ideology, religious pollution, relevance, and the twin issues of motivation and intent. The project illustrated that although the Athenians would regularly speak about homicide in a way that implied it was always subject to especially solemn and rigorous treatment, in practice speeches in trials for homicide or where homicide was a secondary issue were just as commonly exploited for personal and political gain as any other. A secondary goal of the project was to explore the courtroom context of delivery and the effects this may have had on rhetoric; I noted several significant differences between homicide rhetoric delivered in the homicide courts and that delivered in the popular courts. I am currently in the process of turning my thesis into a book, provisionally titled Homicide in the Attic Orators: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Context.

The next research project that I’m looking to undertake grows out of the secondary conclusions from my thesis. I’m interested in how space and place played various roles in Athenian oratory – of all genres, not just forensic. In this project, I’ll be following two major strands of enquiry. Firstly, I’ll look at how the physical space of delivery could affect the rhetoric used in a speech, by way of both visual impact and ideology. In the case of the homicide courts, the visual and ideological markers of religious solemnity – the location of all of the homicide courts at religious sites, the proximity of shrines to the Areopagus, the performance of distinctive sacrifices and the swearing of particularly weighty oaths – must have made the religious danger of homicide causing pollution particularly clear to those present at the trial, and therefore may have decreased the need for or effectiveness of pollution rhetoric. This might partly explain the apparent dearth of references to pollution in the forensic speeches for homicide. I’ll examine how this pattern extends across the courts, the assembly, and locations for public funerals, by looking at the physical features of the delivery spaces, as well as the psychological associations that they would have for those present. My second strand of enquiry looks at how spaces and places are constructed, invoked, and used rhetorically in the speeches, particularly in addressing issues of identity and ideology. The very existence of places – in my framework, locations with a particular meaning to a particular individual or group – implies identity, both for the place and for the people for whom it is meaningful. Spaces – locations defined more physically – often have effects on individuals’ behaviours and identities. Both spaces and places can invoke strong ideological associations, an effect that was no different in Athens. Thus, these themes could be deployed in rhetoric to particular effect in front of Athenian audiences. I am currently preparing a chapter on an initial case study for this project, entitled ‘Space, Place, and Identity in Antiphon 5’.

Besides my primary research interests, I’m particularly keen on 20th and 21st century receptions of Greek drama. While at UCL, I helped to organise a series of events called Conversations with Iphigenia, which presented discussions between the playwrights of the Gate Theatre Notting Hill’s Iphigenia Quartet, other theatre practitioners, and academics from Classics, Theatre Studies, and Translation Studies. A transcript of the roundtable discussions from these events will appear in the OU’s Practitioners’ Voices in Classical Reception Studies journal in 2018. I also work regularly with the London-based By Jove Theatre Company, where I am their research and education co-ordinator and blog editor. By Jove focus on new writing, particularly women’s writing, that presents old stories for a new audience, and has staged new versions of Greek tragedies, Shakespeare plays, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice over the last 5 years. For more on the company, or to read the blog, see www.byjovetheatre.org. I’m also really interested in applications of feminist theory and translation studies to Classics.

When I’m not doing research, teaching is my passion. Though I enjoy teaching all aspects of Classics – particularly themes on Classical Athenian history, society, and culture, as well as Greek law – I’m an especially keen teacher of Ancient Greek. My favourite classes are students of Greek who are coming to the language as undergraduates or later, as I myself never had an opportunity to study ancient languages at school, and only started study as an undergraduate. Such courses tend to be fast-paced and high intensity, and thus require a lot of dedication and persistence – from the teacher as well as the student! Nevertheless, some of my most rewarding teaching experiences have been in Greek classes, where students have finally grasped a difficult grammatical concept after a long struggle. I think there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in learning Greek, not only because of its extensive and poetic vocabulary and far more precise grammar than in English, but also because translating a complicated passage often feels like trying to break a code – with the same sense of achievement (and access to hidden information!) when you’re done.

I’m really looking forward to my next two years at the Open University, and I hope to meet many new faces along the way! If you’d like to find out more about me, follow me through the next couple of years, or just say hi, you can find me on Twitter @chrissieplastow or on my personal website and blog at christineplastow.com.

 

 

Classics in the Open University – The Early Days

In this post, we share with you the text of an article that was published in the Classics journal ‘Greece and Rome’ in 1974, just five years after The Open University received its Royal Charter. It was penned by John Ferguson, the first Dean of the OU Arts Faculty; prior to this appointment, Ferguson had been teaching Classics at the University of Ibadan.

The article introduces the OU to an audience of fellow classicists who were teaching at ‘conventional’ institutions: hence Ferguson starts by explaining the OU’s mission, before moving on to discuss, with great frankness, some of the practical and academic considerations that shaped the new Faculty and the earliest Classical Studies curriculum.

We are very grateful to Cambridge University Press and the editors of ‘Greece and Rome’ for allowing us to reproduce the full  text of this article on our blog – a fascinating insight into the early history of our subject area!

Pioneers of the OU: showing (from left to right) Mike Pentz, first Dean of Science; Geoffrey Holister, first Dean of Technology; Maxim Bruckheimer, first Dean of Mathematics; John Ferguson, first Dean of Arts; Walter Perry, first Vice-Chancellor; and Anastasias Christodoulou, first University Secretary.

Pioneers of the OU: showing (from left to right) Mike Pentz, first Dean of Science; Geoffrey Holister, first Dean of Technology; Maxim Bruckheimer, first Dean of Mathematics; John Ferguson, first Dean of Arts; Walter Perry, first Vice-Chancellor; and Anastasias Christodoulou, first University Secretary.

Article title: Classics in the Open University
Author: J. Ferguson
Source: Greece & Rome, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Apr., 1974), pp. 1-10
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association

“The Open University received its charter in July 1969, offered its first courses in January 1971, and produced its first graduates (with some ‘credit exemptions’) by the end of 1972. Those who originally planned it saw that many people who for various reasons missed their opportunity of university education at the usual stage of their lives could profit from it, provided that what was offered was home-based study in spare time. They saw too that radio and television offered an excellent opportunity for helping such study to be direct and personal. Students then are admitted with no entry qualification except the age of 21. We have built a few parameters into our selection procedure; we can control the proportion admitted to any one foundation course or from any one region of the country for example; but basically it is ‘First come, first served’. Typical students are the boy who has been to a poor school, has never been turned on, has left at the age of 15 and gone into industry, and in his twenties has suddenly become excited by what he is doing and at the same time has revealed a keen mind; the girl who with decent A levels has got married at 18, sees her family growing up, is aware that she has time for some study while they are at school, and will be able to take a full-time job in three or four years; the long-term prisoner needing a constructive occupation in prison and qualification for when he comes out; the working-class lad who has entered the police force and, by ability and application, has worked his way up from the beat; the retired industrial worker or bank manager who wants a positive purpose in his retirement; the teacher who has no degree, perhaps because the family could not afford more than a two-year course, and seeks more knowledge in his subject, as well as the increment applicable to a degree; the person well settled in one profession who would like to qualify for a second career before giving up the first; the taxi-driver who is interested in people and ideas, and wants to know what it is all about. We have them all, and many others.

The Planning Committee, a body which included most of the country’s leading educationalists and no politicians, decided for three reasons that the basic courses should be of a new kind, and should be an attempt at an integrated or inter-disciplinary approach. For, first, they thought that the seamless web of learning had become too tattered, and that we were not even seeing the shreds in context. Secondly, they thought that if we were attracting the sort of students we should attract, there would be many who would have a general sense that they wanted to work in the humanities, but might not know exactly which aspect of the humanities interested them. Even more they might (for instance) think that they wanted to study history or literature, and might never dream of trying philosophy or art history unless they had had the opportunity of an earlier sample. Thirdly, operational constraints conspired to make our basic courses large in numbers. The main constraints here were the limited amount of air time available, which meant that it would not be possible to have basic courses in all the familiar university disciplines, and money, for the Open University had to establish itself on a ‘cost-effective’ basis. The pessimistic prophecies of an 80 per cent drop out have not been fulfilled; in fact in the first year we had an 80 per cent pass rate in Arts. But when we started no one knew what the results would be, and we had to be cost-effective even on the most pessimistic prognostication.

When I was appointed Dean of Arts in 1968 I was asked to name four areas in which professors should be appointed. I named history, literature, the whole area of thought (philosophy and religion), and the fine arts. It is important to see that these are not departments, and we have resisted any tendency towards a departmental organization. We did not seek at this stage to develop languages, dead or alive. There were a variety of reasons for this. First, the problems of teaching languages at a distance were quite different from any of the other problems we were facing, and we had enough problems as it was. Secondly, those who wanted courses in languages were reasonably well catered for, by the BBC, by Linguaphone, and, in the main centres of population, by evening classes. Thirdly, languages did not fit easily into the emergent pattern of basic courses, which were strongly integrated, and the amount of any one language one could have mastered as a fraction of the foundation course would not have been worth while. Fourthly, while there was general agreement that language courses should be geared in to communication, i.e. reading and writing, there was controversy whether such courses were properly part of a University degree. Languages remain one competitor for University expansion, but it is unlikely that the classical languages will have any high priority. In the meantime work on classical and foreign texts is done in translation.

Originally there were four faculties, Arts, Social Science, Science, and Mathematics. Since then we have added Technology, and Education (which does not offer a Foundation Course). Graduation is on six credits, a credit representing the successful completion of a course which runs for the whole of an academic year. Students are not permitted to take more than two credits in one year. Since the first year we have added some half-credit courses, but do not intend to have any of lower denomination. This system has the flexibility of the American system without its fragmentation, the structure of the English system without its rigidity. Students are required (unless they are accorded a ‘credit-exemption’ in acknowledgement of study already achieved at a University level) to take two Foundation Courses. They must therefore do some work in more than one faculty. But we have not bridged Sir Charles Snow’s two cultures. The majority of our original 20,000 students, and of the 48,000 we have since admitted, have tended to combine the science-based subjects or the arts-based subjects, though the figure of perhaps 200 a year who combine science and arts, small in proportion, is not absolutely negligible. The Planning Committee assumed that faculties would extend the integrated approach to the ‘second level’, and that the majority of students would graduate without going beyond second level. Specialist courses would begin at third level, and students would convert ‘general’ degrees to ‘honours’ degrees by the addition of two such specialist courses. The Arts Faculty has in fact continued integrated courses into the second level, but it is already clear that some students will take specialist courses at third level as part of their original six credits, and it is a strength of the system that they can do so. At the same time the specialist courses continue the element of integration: the literature course on The Nineteenth Century Novel looks at the historical and social background and parallel developments in the other arts, the history course on War and Society looks at the impact of war upon literature, music, the arts, and religion.

The first courses ran for 36 teaching weeks. This was reduced first to 34, and later to 32. In addition, for all science courses, for all foundation courses, and for most other courses there is a week’s intensive summer school. There is also a revision period and an examination. Students are expected to put in about twelve hours a week on a course, though some put in appreciably more. Students are assumed to be home-based. There are study-centres in the main centres of population, where they can meet with other students and with tutors (academic) and counsellors (general advisers). The basic course-material is centrally prepared and sent to them at regular intervals. It consists of beautifully printed, well-illustrated booklets. We have tried to design them so that they are strongly personal and conversational, and form a kind of dialogue between reader and writer. We invite a student to make responses, and then read on as if we were commenting on his response. Students are required to purchase some books, and these are negotiated with publishers, so that they are kept in print, and are as cheap as possible. Some of these are specially published for the course (which has a guaranteed life of four years). At foundation level there is a weekly television and weekly radio programme; at later levels these may be less frequent. They form an important bridge for some students between the familiar means of comunication and the less familiar involvement with the written word. They enable students to see what we look like and to hear our voices. They enable us to introduce eminent specialists from all over the world. They are essential to visual and auditory experience, as in drama and music. And they have a variety of other uses. Written work is corrected by part-time tutors. Students are assessed on their written work, with one three-hour exam at the end of each course to add confirmation.

The Foundation Course in Arts is entitled ‘Humanities: An Introduction’. It is frankly a compromise, one worked out through many months of patient negotiation, between a variety of sometimes conflicting opinions and interests. Sometimes it achieves an integrated approach; sometimes it is interdisciplinary; sometimes it is merely multidisciplinary. After an introduction (originally 4 weeks, now 2) each of the disciplines, history, literature, art history, music, exposes its wares. Then follows a series of case-studies (one of which, on Descartes, is effectively an introduction to philosophy), each lasting two weeks, and an extended eight-week-long case-study on ‘Industrialization and Culture’. An introduction to logic runs concurrently with the first half of the course.

Part of the introduction is an attempt to raise some questions about the relation between technology, society, and the arts. In raising these questions I take off from two famous passages in Greek tragedy, the long speech in which Prometheus outlines man’s indebtedness to him for the gift of fire, and the chorus in Antigone which sings of man’s achievements and his limitations. So that at the outset students become aware of classical literature. When we discussed the case-studies, we felt that they should enable students to apply the techniques of critical analysis which they were beginning to learn; they should where possible be inter-disciplinary; and they should open up aspects of our inheritance of which students should be aware. I was therefore insistent that one case-study should link with our classical heritage and one with our Christian heritage. For the first we chose Socrates. C. F. Angus used to describe him as one of the three most fascinating personalities who ever lived, and the only one who was not worshipped as divine (the others being Jesus and Gautama the Buddha). It was this aspect we decided to concentrate on. We did not treat Socrates primarily philosophically, partly because I do not believe that the Theory of Forms pertains to Socrates (what a lot of Vlastos’s recent collection of essays on Socrates is really about Plato!), partly because this would in any case form part of a third-level philosophy course, partly because they had not yet had their philosophical grounding. But of course there are inescapable links with philosophy. What there is also is a fascinating problem in source-criticism.

To this end I compiled a source-book on Socrates. I had often needed one for teaching in the past, and was glad to compile one. As it has met with criticism from the reviewers, a comment or two may not come amiss. It is an attempt to present all the evidence (Plato and Xenophon being represented by key-passages only) about Socrates. Many of the criticisms I accept. It had to be done in an extreme hurry, and we had, with one exception, to use out-of-copyright translations because there was no time to negotiate copyright. I missed one important passage in pseudo-Lysias (though no reviewer has in fact mentioned this), and am now persuaded that I mistranslated one Aristotle passage. But this was a source-book for students, and I do not agree that it should have had the sort of index which does students’ work for them. Of course in the later passages about Socrates there is a lot of dead wood, Stoic or Cynic moralizing, trivial anecdotes, and the like. But these late writers still had access to Aeschines of Sphettus, and perhaps other contemporary writers. No one has really asked what information they may yield, and it was not the book’s purpose to anticipate such conclusions. We were able, because of the magnitude of the O.U. operation, to put out nearly 400 double-column pages, including the first-ever translation into English of Libanius’s Defence of Socrates, for 42p.

The course-units (entitled Which was Socrates?) then are an invitation to evaluate the source-material, with a sketch of the historical background. The first radio programme is a talk with illustrative excerpts showing the problem of the principal sources. The second is a philosophical discussion between Renford Bambrough and Godfrey Vesey of the significance of the Socratic ‘universals’ for modern philosophy. The first TV programme is a presentation of the key-passages of The Clouds in conditions as near to the original as we can get in the studio. This is after all our only primary source for that period of Socrates’s life, and it is important to see it as drama, comic drama, and low comic drama. The masks incidentally, brilliantly designed, formed a problem in the heat of the studio. A second programme discusses the point of the first. Altogether we wanted students to feel the impact of Socrates the man. One of the more moving letters I have received came from a tutor in the Isle of Wight to say what a therapeutic effect the Socrates units had had on long-time prisoners in Parkhurst gaol!

After Socrates come two units entitled What is a Gospel? It is a study of the compilation, writing, nature, and tradition of The Gospel according to Mark, again with a sketch of the historical background. It seemed a good idea to expose students to two of Angus’s three seminal personalities in swift succession. It has made possible an interesting assignment, ‘Compare the reasons for executing Socrates with those for executing Jesus’. The exposition is naturally open, historical and philosophical, not dogmatic.

At the second level we apply the integrated approach to period studies. Our two main courses are Renaissance and Reformation and The Age of Revolutions. Included in the first are a couple of units on the classical and mediaeval inheritance, and in them I discuss Renaissance humanism against its classical background. The associated radio programmes are a portrait of Petrarch as a humanist, and an exposition of Platonism as an essential backcloth to Renaissance art and thought. There is one television programme, made in colour, an exploration of the neo-Platonism underlying some of Botticelli’s paintings. Obviously also the account of Florentine art and architecture includes their indebtedness to classical principles and classical originals. The Age of Revolutions naturally has less classical involvement, but Jefferson’s architecture is deeply rooted in the ancient world, as are many of the ideas of the French and American revolutions, and the High Art of the period (not least that of David) has important classical references. In addition to these we have begun to develop courses in the history of science; I suspect that I am the only Dean of Arts in the country with four chemists on his staff. One of the first two half-credits, Science and Belief from Copernicus to Darwin, includes a certain amount of material on the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic world-pictures, and on Renaissance neo-Platonism; I have contributed a radio programme on the Cambridge Platonists. A projected course on The History of Mathematics will contain a considerable body of material on Greek mathematics.

We have recently taken the decision to augment our second-level courses with two half-credits on classical civilization. The first of these, The Early Roman Empire and the Rise of Christianity, will be available in 1974. We have taken as notional dates A.D. 14-138, not without considerable heart-searching. But the reign of Augustus has two serious disadvantages for our purposes: the primary sources are too limited, scattered, and varied, and the literature is too bulky for a half- credit course; and the late Republic really does need more of Cicero’s speeches than are readily available in translation outside the too ex- pensive Loeb. The more we looked, the more the early Empire had to commend it, the emergence of the pax Romana, the rise of Christianity, Tacitus as a primary source, the climax of satire, moral philosophy represented by Seneca, the first serious invasion of Britain, plenty of material on social life, Pompeii and Herculaneum, portrait busts. So we shaped the course. We were fortunate in persuading J. P. V. D. Balsdon to join us as a consultant to write the basic history units; he quickly fell in with our unfamiliar approach to presentation without losing his own pungent style. These units are associated with television programmes on ‘The Roman Army’ by Michael Jarrett, and on ‘Image of Empire’ (a study in imperial propaganda) by myself, and radio programmes from Michael Grant and A. N. Sherwin-White. Then come two units on moral philosophy, using Seneca’s letters as a basis; the radio programmes are a dramatic presentation, entertainingly acted, of Lucian’s Philosophies for Sale, and a talk, with dramatic illustrations, on the Stoicism in Seneca’s tragedies. Next come two units on satire, Petronius and Juvenal unexpurgated. (When these are put together with our somewhat phallic version of The Clouds I shall have acquired a high reputation for immoralism!) The radio programmes are a dramatization of the Ludus de morte Claudii, and a talk on Martial, illustrated by ample quotation. Then two learned units on Roman art by Catherine King, one of our History of Art lecturers. This has associated with it television programmes on Roman domestic architecture and Roman portraits, and radio programmes on urbanism and Roman building. Then two units on social life, which Balsdon and I have shared. The television programme treats the Romans at work and the radio programmes the imperial elites, and the School of Rhetoric. Peter Salway has a single unit on Roman Britain with a television programme in which he looks at Fishbourne and Bath with Barry Cunliffe, and a radio programme on the Britons under Rome. Finally, a block of four units treats the rise of Christianity. Dr. Francis Clark together with the staff tutor, Revd. D. A. T. Thomas, is responsible for these. The first television programme shows Christianity among other religions; I have done this; the other is the first television film shot under St. Peter’s.

Set books for the course include Penguin or Mentor translations of Tacitus’s Annals, Seneca (Letters from a Stoic), Petronius and Juvenal, the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, as well as the appropriate volume of Lewis and Reinhold for primary sources. A very proper limit of essential expenditure to £9 for a half-course constricts our secondary sources. Salmon and Filson between them cover the history, and Wheeler the art and architecture. At the time I write it looks as if there will be an initial registration of slightly under I,000 for this course.

We hope to complement this with a half-course on Greece 450-350 B.C., though this may not be available before 1978. The present plan, which may be modified, is that the course will contain, interspersed with each other, four units on history, four on literature, four on philosophy, and four on art. The dates are notional, and may be stretched slightly in either direction. The literature is likely to concentrate on drama. We hope to take The Oresteia, and perhaps the two Electra plays, and an Aristophanes, perhaps (as Douglass Parker calls it) The Congresswomen, which fits in pleasantly with the philosophy and the political history, and is beginning to point forward to New Comedy. For the philosophy we shall probably do a double-unit on The Republic and another on The Ethics (to end the course). The art units are not yet planned, but Peter Salway will probably treat the Acropolis, and we shall surely need units on vase-painting and sculpture. Professor Gerald Fowler, who held a university post in ancient history, before entering first practical and then theoretical politics, will be a member of the course team; three regional staff with classical interests, Peter Salway, David Sewart, and Ian Howarth, have expressed a readiness to be involved, as has Mrs. Jennie Potter, the former Newnham scholar, whose husband holds an O.U. post; we hope that one of our art historians will contribute, and perhaps also one of our philosophers. The two together should form an attractive introduction to classical civilization.

Meantime, there is an important classical contribution to the gradually emerging third-level specialist courses. Indeed, I have a strong conviction that one of the most important things for classical scholars to do is to make their contribution to a fresh synthesis in this way. Thus I have written a unit on Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War for the history course War and Society; a unit on Plato’s Theory of Forms for Problems of Philosophy; and am in process of contributing study material on Alcestis, The Bacchae, Oedipus the King, and Oedipus at Colonus to The Basis of Modern European Drama, and on Greek and Roman religion to Man’s Religious Quest.

This then is the picture. It is worth remembering that something like 5,000 students a year take the Foundation Course, about 2,000 take Renaissance and Reformation, 1,200 the history of science courses, and (at present) about 700 War and Society and 400 Problems of Philosophy; as indicated, the expected figures for The Early Roman Empire are not far off 1,000. It is a not negligible contribution to interest in and understanding of classical civilization.”

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Nb. the original article contains an appendix containing the times of transmission for 1974 of the programmes referred to above. All television programmes were on BBC2 and all radio programmes on Radio 3 VHF.

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Introducing: Carlos Sánchez Pérez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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