Category Archives: People

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.”

—–

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.

——

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. 

 

Celebrating student success

Congratulations to former Open University Classical Studies student Ian Ramskill, who has had his work published in the first ever edition of NEO: The Classics Students’ Journal. Ian’s piece is entitled ‘Horace Odes 3.14: a pragmatic and welcome acceptance of the early Pax Augusta.’ His paper started life back in 2014 as a prizewinning essay for the John Stephen Kassman Memorial Essay Prize, a competition which is open to all OU Classical Studies undergraduates. You can read Ian’s work, along with the other contributions to NEO, here; and if you’d like to know more about his student experience at the OU, take a look at the blog post he wrote just before he started his final year of study.

The deadline for this year’s Kassman Prize is 29th September 2017. More details about how current OU undergraduates may enter are available on the Classical Studies website here.

Researching Born-Digital Archives Workshop

OU PhD student Sarah Middle reports on the Researching Born-Digital Archives workshop.

On Thursday 16 March 2017 I attended Researching Born-Digital Archives at the British Library, a collaborative workshop with three AHRC consortia – CHASE (who provide my PhD funding), South West and Wales, and WRoCAH. The focus of the day was on managing, curating and using collections of objects that had originated in a digital format (as opposed to digitisation of physical materials), and how the nature of these resources might lead to the study of new research topics.

British Library Initiatives

Several speakers from the British Library presented on the theme of managing the lifecycle of born-digital materials, from initial processing (Jonathan Pledge and Eleanor Dickens) through to long-term preservation (Maureen Pennock) and creative methods of reuse (Stella Wisdom). As a former collections professional, and current data enthusiast, particular points of interest for me included the processes involved in turning the files and directory structure of e.g. a floppy disk into an archive collection of digital objects, as well as the innovative ways in which people have reused the British Library’s publicly available datasets.

One project that stood out for me was the Big Data History of Music, which used library catalogue data to visualise trends relating to music production over time, by geographical location, and in relation to historical events. Stella’s talk was very inspiring, and prompted me to consider whether I might be able to make use of the library’s data as part of my PhD research.

Annual output of printed music for six major cities, 1500–1699. Data from RISM A/I and B/I (Stephen Rose, Sandra Tuppen, Loukia Drosopoulou, ‘Writing a Big Data history of music’, Early Music 43 (2015), 649-60 doi: 10.1093/em/cav071; distributed under a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution licence)

Born-Digital Archives and Creative Writing

Another theme from some of the talks was the impact of born-digital archives on the research and practice of creative writing, presented here from the point of view of an archivist (Justine Mann, University of East Anglia) and a writer (Craig Taylor). Justine spoke about collecting the ongoing work of emerging contemporary authors and preserving it in a born-digital archive, which will allow future researchers to gain an unprecedented insight into their creative processes. Craig is working with the British Library on his current project, Genesis, which involves writing his latest novel on a dedicated laptop with spyware installed. Every keystroke is recorded, documenting his creative process in minute detail.

One particularly interesting question from the audience was whether authors are more self-conscious in the production of their digital materials, in the knowledge that they will be archived, and whether this has an effect on their content (e.g. wanting to present themselves in a certain way). It is not yet possible to answer this question fully; however Craig said that, while he usually forgets that the spyware is there, he becomes very aware of it at points where he is struggling. Perhaps this question might form the basis of a future research topic years from now.

Student Panel

A particularly exciting aspect of the event for me was the opportunity to present my work as part of a student panel, with three other AHRC-funded PhD students. Helen Piel (British Library / University of Leeds) started by talking about her work with the different materials held in the British Library’s John Maynard Smith archive, containing the various works relating to his research interests in the areas of Engineering and Zoology. Kate Walker (University of Sheffield) then spoke about her research, which focuses on social media communities of wadaiko (Japanese drum) players, and involves collecting data from Facebook groups of which Kate herself is an active member. Acatia Finbow (Tate and University of Exeter) is studying documentation of performance art at Tate Modern, which similarly includes a large amount of social media content, but with more focus on image and video, rather than text.

Student panel discussion, including Helen Piel (left) and Acatia Finbow (right) (unfortunately Kate Walker and I are hidden by the audience) (image via @UEAArchives on Twitter)

I gave a brief overview of my work converting the AHRC project data held in the Research Councils UK’s Gateway to Research (GTR) to Linked Data (of which more in a future post). My focus was on the differences in data structures between the existing GTR and the Linked Data, and how the Linked Data structure allows more complex queries, which will help me identify projects to use as case studies as part of my future research. I was quite nervous, as it was the first time I had presented on my PhD research, but my talk seemed to go well, and I received many positive comments afterwards. Several people said they had not heard of Linked Data previously, but understood my explanation, which indicates I had managed to pitch it at the right level – always an issue when explaining technical concepts to a non-specialist audience.

A simplified example of how Linked Data can be applied to Humanities collections, based on the idea of Pelagios

Final Thoughts

As well as providing the experience of presenting my research in a friendly and supportive environment, I found this event an interesting and stimulating half-day. It provided me with a strong foundation of knowledge in the various stages involved in managing born-digital collections, as well as their potential for opening up new areas of academic research. In particular, I really enjoyed meeting academics, professionals, and other PhD students from all over the country, who are working in areas relating to digital collections. I would like to thank the British Library and the three AHRC consortia for organising the event and for making my attendance possible.

by Sarah Middle

Editor’s note: To find out more about Sarah and her PhD research, take a look at the OU Classical Studies blogpost ‘ Introducing …some of our new PhD students!‘ 

 

Translating Myth: A Q&A with Pietra Palazzolo and Ben Pestell

TM editorsPietra Palazzolo is an Associate Lecturer at the Open University, and has taught a number of OU modules with Classical Studies components. She also serves on the executive committee of the Centre for Myth Studies at the University of Essex, and is a Visiting Fellow there. Along with her Essex colleagues Ben Pestell and Leon Burnett, she is co-editor of a new book, Translating Myth, which was published by Legenda in June 2016. This week we talked to Pietra and Ben to find out more about the volume and their work on myth.

Q: Congratulations on the publication of your book! Could you tell us about where the idea for the volume came from?

Ben: Thank you. We’re very pleased with how the book has turned out and the jobTMCover that Legenda has done with it. The idea for the book developed from discussions between Leon Burnett, the founding director of the Centre for Myth Studies at Essex, and a former colleague, Kopal Gautam. Leon and Kopal share an interest in myth and literary translation, and these two areas seem natural companions in the distinct ways they both evoke the migration of ideas across cultures. The theme ‘translating myth’ informed an international conference in 2013 and an MA module before finding lasting form in the book.

Q: Your title is Translating Myth, but you explain in the book’s introduction that for you and your co‐editors ‘translating’ means something broader than simply the act of rendering a story written in one language into a different language. Can you explain what other kinds of things ‘translation’ might mean in the sense in which the book’s contributors have interpreted it?

Ben: A myth is always translated: whether from a mythologem or an image or idea. Our experience of myth is mediated through tales or pictures which adapt primordial material. While some chapters in the book look very specifically at instances of literary translation (as in Eliza Borkowska’s illuminating investigation of Blake’s Polish reception), we felt it important to state at the outset that we adopt a broad definition – what is sometimes called ‘cultural translation’. For example, Jessica Allen Hanssen examines the repurposing of Greco‐ Roman myth for children in Hawthorne’s Wonder Book; Sheila A. Spector explores the evolution of Blake’s mythopoeia through his reconfiguration of Christian and kabbalistic motifs; Rached Khalifa re-examines Yeats’s assimilation of diverse mythologies; Terence Dawson charts the twentieth‐century renewal of the Faust myth in Pessoa’s poetry and Jung’s Red Book; and Suman Sigroha considers the reception of Indian myth by European writers. The unifying principle is the re‐emergence and translation of mythic material in new contexts.

Pietra: What emerges from all the contributions to the volume and in our own work as editors is that literary translation and cultural translation work in unison. When considering adaptations of myth, it is impossible to talk about literary translation without considering cultural translation.

Q: The British Centre for Literary Translation (BCLT) at the University of East Anglia recently held a launch for Translating Myth. Could you tell us more about the event and the way translation studies and myth studies intersect in your book?

Pietra: We were very pleased with the Book Launch Symposium organised by Duncan Large at the British Centre for Literary Translation. The event offered the opportunity to explore the links between myth and translation through a series of contributions by Ben Pestell and myself, by Giuseppe Sofo, who contributed the final chapter to the book, and Tom Rutledge of UEA. The event ended with a lively round table debate led by Leon Burnett, where we were joined by another of our contributors, Sharihan Al-Akhras (whose chapter is an impressive study of the Middle Eastern influences on Paradise Lost).

If myth is an act of communication, an experiential act, it is also an act of translation, to use George Steiner’s useful formulation that ‘to hear significance is to translate’. Myth studies and translation studies are cognate disciplines, as they both deal with ways in which translation can be carried out. In applying the concept of ‘cultural translation’ to myth we follow some of the key approaches to translation studies. One, offered by our co-editor, Leon Burnett, proposes the concept of translation as accommodation and reflux. The concept of accommodation takes the focus away from the dichotomy of source text and target text to encompass, instead, a more dynamic understanding of the process involved in translation. In this sense, we can view translations as ‘conduits for cross-currents between native and foreign traditions, whose influence and interaction shape, renew, re-focus and refresh the literary traditions that receive them.’

The concept of accommodation can be aptly applied to myth, since the work of myth entails a transfer of meaning from one spatiotemporal context to another. Our volume reflects myth’s versatility and malleability, its capacity to retain a constant core while showing a high margin of variation, as Hans Blumenberg observed in Work on Myth. The stories of myth relate to specific groups but also travel across periods and cultures.

Q: The book looks at myths from a whole range of different societies, including those from ancient Greece and Rome. Why do you think it is important or interesting to compare the ways in which different cultures use myth?

Ben: Although the word ‘myth’ derives from Greek, the religious or social characteristics of mythology are essentially universal. Yet, as Harish Trivedi shows in his opening chapter on Indian myth, the pre-eminent ‘classical’ status which is conferred on the Greco-Roman tradition has not historically been attributed to myths from other sources. Even now, non‐Greco‐Roman myths tend to be ironically exoticised. Trivedi’s chapter pithily describes a world of myth and religion – and its secular reception – which is as rich and wondrous as the Greek and Roman worlds. Moreover, his reading of the comparative responses to Indian and Classical myths allows us to see the more familiar mythologies in a new light.

Q: For the benefit of our readers who are interested particularly in classical mythology, could you give us a taster of the Greek and Roman themes or stories which are discussed in the volume?

Ben: The book combines an international outlook with a focus on transactions with English or European literature. As such, it is suffused with the Greek and Roman heritage of Western culture. Thus, in addition to Jessica Allan Hanssen’s chapter which I mentioned earlier, we have Leon Burnett’s survey of nineteenth‐century depictions of the Sphinx (of both Greek and Egyptian varieties), which emphasises the pictorial primacy of myth over the narrative element. Similarly, Michaela Keck applies Warburg’s pathos formula to echoes of Pygmalion in Alcott’s A Modern Mephistopheles, while elsewhere Christina Dokou considers structural echoes of classical epic in the poetry of the early years of the United States. Three chapters will be of particular interest to classical reception studies. Emanuela Zirzotti’s discussion of Seamus Heaney’s appropriation of Virgilian katabasis finds Aeneas returning in the guise of ‘Pius Seamus’; Barbara Goff analyses the structural and political implications of Jacqueline Leloup’s Guéidô, which relocates Oedipus to Cameroon; and Giuseppe Sofo’s concluding chapter follows Derek Walcott’s stage Odyssey as it undertakes a further voyage into Italian, illuminating Walcott’s revivification of Homeric dialect techniques.

Q: What else have you got planned at the Centre for Myth Studies, and where can our readers find out more about the Centre’s work?

Pietra: The Centre for Myth Studies promotes the study of myth with weekly sessions of the Myth Reading Group, together with open seminars, international conferences and publications. We would be very happy to hear from people and institutions interested in myth and mythology from an interdisciplinary perspective. We would especially welcome suggestions for topics to discuss at our reading group. The format we use in these sessions is quite informal, with a short presentation (up to 30 minutes) addressing the theme we have each term, followed by group discussion. Our theme for the Spring term is ‘Journeys’, understood as journeys within myth and in mythical tales as well as in relation to the way texts or mythical objects—such as the image of the Golden Fleece used in our call for proposals—travel across cultures and historical periods. Our next theme, for the Summer term sessions, will be ‘Myth and Magic’, and we would be delighted to have proposals from anyone who is interested either in the intersection between these two dimensions or in interrogating the possibilities of such a connection.

In addition to weekly meetings at the Myth Reading Group, we also organise open seminars and special events. Our latest event was a performance of ‘Babayaga’s Daughter’ by storyteller Sally Pomme Clayton followed by discussion about the forest in Russian fairytales. This year we are planning a one-day symposium entitled ‘Translating Eurydice’ to be held at the University of East London (Stratford campus) in the autumn.

Our centre has an active presence on social media with Twitter and Facebook accounts, and a dedicated WordPress website. If you wish to keep track of our events, I recommend that you subscribe to our website, and send us an email to be included in the mailing list (mythic@essex.ac.uk). We are also very interested in networking with scholars and institutions working on myth and mythology across disciplines, cultures, and periods.

Bibliography

Blumenberg, Hans, Work on Myth, trans. by Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985)

Burnett, Leon, and Emily Lygo (eds), The Art of Accommodation: Literary Translation in Russia (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2013)

Steiner, George, After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975)

Farewell to Helen King

Earlier this month the Classical Studies team met up to bid farewell to Professor Helen King, who retired from the Open University at the end of January; she remains affiliated to the university as Professor Emerita. James Robson reflects on her involvement in OU Classical Studies over the last six years.

HK lunchHelen joined the department as Professor of Classical Studies back in 2011, moving to the OU from the University of Reading. She came to us with a formidable reputation as a scholar of ancient medicine and its reception, her particular focus being on women both as patients and medical practitioners.  But what Helen also brought with her was a genuine enthusiasm to understand how the Open University and distance learning work in practice and to find new and effective ways to engage with students.

Helen certainly threw herself into Departmental, Faculty and OU life during her sixHK lunch 2 years with us. Her list of commitments and achievements during this time is ludicrously long, including a stint as Head of Department (2014-16), the chairing of our gateway module, A219 Exploring the Classical World, and also the key role she played in the production of our brilliant new MA in Classical Studies.  But however busy she has been, both with internal and external commitments, one quality that has characterized Helen is just the sheer fun she has been to work with.  OK, other qualities readily suggest themselves, too: her extraordinary energy; her supportiveness towards colleagues; her enthusiasm for engaging with both students and the public at large; the high standards she demands of herself and others; and the time she is prepared to dedicate to projects and people she believes in.  But for me, it is the fun that steals the show.

HK lunch 3Helen is certainly going to be missed by her colleagues, but, as her must-read blog, The Retiring Academic, reveals, her retirement promises to be full of a similar level of busyness as before (albeit on her terms).  Research, engaging with students on her MOOC on Health and Wellbeing in the Ancient World, various community projects are just some of the things in store.  Plus just a touch of taking it easy.

by James Robson

Introducing … Jan Haywood, Lecturer in Classical Studies

This month we welcomed Dr Jan Haywood to the OU Classical Studies team. In this post, he tells us a bit about his academic background and research projects.

IMG_1121I am delighted to be joining the Classical Studies team at the Open University, having previously held teaching positions in Classics/Ancient History at the University of Liverpool and the University of Leicester. I began my academic studies reading for a BA in History, followed by an MA in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Manchester. I then read for a PhD on the topic of Herodotean intertextuality with Professor Thomas Harrison at the University of Liverpool. Intertext and Allusion in Herodotus’ Histories: Authority, Proof, Polemic identifies substantial connections between Herodotus’ work and other textual sources (oracles, prose writers, epic poetry, etc.). By highlighting his extensive engagement with a wide range of texts, my research reopens the debate on Herodotus’ source materials, since the majority of scholars accentuate his use of oral traditions. I am now putting the finishing touches to a revised version of the PhD, which will soon be published as a monograph.

My interest in antiquity is omnivorous, and I am increasingly concerned with exploring the impact of later receptions on our understanding of the ancient world. With this in mind, I am currently collaborating with Dr Naoíse Mac Sweeney (University of Leicester) on a research project that explores multiple receptions of the Trojan War/Iliadic tradition, looking synchronically across a variety of media and geographic contexts. The research examines a diverse suite of responses to the Iliad, whilst isolating particular motifs that recur in different reception contexts. For example, our research illustrates the way that various individuals across space and time have attempted to verify the historicity of the events related in the Iliad. The fifth century BC historian Herodotus, for instance, underscores the essential truth of Homer’s account in his rationalising version of the Trojan War. Similarly, Heinrich Schliemann interpreted his archaeological excavations at Troy in the 1870s as demonstrable proof of Homer’s Trojan War.

220px-Troy2004PosterThe most recent research that I have conducted for this project centres on Wolfgang Petersen’s 2004 film Troy, a film that claims to be ‘inspired’ by Homer’s Iliad. As others have already shown (including our very own Joanna Paul), the film focuses pointedly on the Homeric motif of kleos (everlasting fame)—an essential Homeric concept that denotes the illustrious glory which awaits the Trojan War’s central heroes. While many reviewers at the time criticised the filmmakers’ ostensibly ham-fisted application of this motif (see, e.g., Tim Robey’s blistering review for The Telegraph), it is worth bearing in mind that the heroes of the Iliad and the Odyssey (Achilles, Helen, Odysseus, Telemachus) are no less hell-bent on speaking of their desire to achieve kleos. Indeed, when we first meet Helen in Book Three of the Iliad, she is depicted weaving a great tapestry, on which is embroidered the conflict between Trojans and Achaeans (i.e. Greeks). Helen’s tapestry helps to reify the very heroic deeds that are the fabric of Homer’s Iliad.

In thinking about Troy’s Homeric connections, it is essential, of course, to observe the film through this prism of its own political-cultural context. In doing so, we might well be surprised to discover a decidedly nihilistic presentation of the Greeks’ central leadership. To be sure, Agamemnon and Menelaus are far from the most celebrated warriors in the Iliad (albeit note that Agamemnon is afforded his own heroic moment in battle or aristeia in Book Eleven), but neither are they imagined as morally bankrupt leaders. In contrast, Troy presents Menelaus as a lecherous, ineffectual brute, while Agamemnon is characterised as a (somewhat camp) evil sociopath, obsessed with achieving world domination. Even the other Greeks leaders (aside from the individualist Achilles) are presented as impotent, unable to constrain Agamemnon’s untrammelled desire to control the Aegean.

This contrast between the Greeks of the Iliad and Troy naturally led me to question why it should be the case that the film should offer such an insalubrious portrait of the Greek heroes. As I peered further into the background of the film, its production history, and other paratextual material (e.g. media interviews with the film’s director Wolfgang Petersen), it has become increasingly apparent that the film forges an uncomfortable parallel between the imperial actions of Agamemnon with the contemporary political manoeuvrings of George Bush. In one interview with Westdeutsche Zeitung, for instance, Petersen teases out the monochromatic worldview of Agamemnon and Bush alike, concluding that ‘projects driven by belief and fanaticism often end in disasters’—perhaps a reference not only to the fall of Troy, but also the filmic deaths of Menelaus, Agamemnon and Achilles. My research demonstrates that through the cartoonish villainy of the Greeks’ chief leader, Troy engages in a wider historical dialogue on the reasons for, and validity of the Trojan War.  The film ultimately refracts the Homeric account of the war, reorientating audience sympathies away from the Achaeans towards the beleaguered Trojans, whose citadel is destroyed by an outrageous warmonger.

I hope that this brief introduction illustrates my wide-ranging interests in the classical world and its receptions. I am very much looking forward to engaging with students and colleagues alike in the months and years ahead.

by Jan Haywood

Introducing…some of our new PhD students!

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

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

Sarah Middle

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

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

Paula Granados

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

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

Liz Webb

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

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

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

A celebration of Mair Lloyd’s ‘Living Latin’

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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