by Liz Webb
My name is Liz Webb and I have recently completed the Open University’s MA in Classical Studies. It has been a wonderful, enriching experience, the highlight of which was the module requiring a dissertation on a subject of our choosing. For me, this led to a rewarding year exploring vision and hearing in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.
During the year, I responded to an email inviting postgraduate students to present at the 2015 Postgraduate Work in Progress Day but I had little idea how many different perspectives on the Classical world would be revealed. I had started my research in February and, having had my proposal signed off and submitted my introduction and first chapter, I condensed my ideas into a 15 minute presentation. After a trial run with a willing, if small, audience at home, I was ready to go. One huge benefit of the process was thought clarification. Having explained my topic to non-Classicists, I had distilled it down to the essentials.
On the day of the seminar our welcome by the Classical Studies team couldn’t have been warmer. Over coffee we made our introductions and got to know each other before the main business of the day started. We enjoyed a wide range of presentations including topics such as movements in cursing rituals, cultural memory in Plato’s Theaetetus, choral utterances in Sophocles, the impact of immersion on learning ancient languages, and obesity in the Hippocratic corpus. It was a thought provoking reminder of the diversity of the department. The breadth of topics also revealed the interdisciplinary nature of research being carried out. Issues of material and textual evidence were discussed alongside questions of ancient and modern reception. The theme of the individual in classical society, both in a physical and intellectual sense, seemed to be a common thread running through many of the presentations.
When it was my turn to present, the presentation flew by and in no time at all we had reached audience’s questions. This really was the most helpful part of the day for me. The questions, which were challenging, raised subjects for me to research more widely. Other attendees recommended books they had used which they thought might be helpful and, indeed, some of these recommendations are proving invaluable. The seminar was also interesting for those who wanted to find out more about pursuing Classical Studies further. It was fascinating to hear the perspective of a presenter who has started the new Masters course. Also, for anyone thinking of studying for a PhD, it was a terrific opportunity to find out more about research methods and how other students have chosen to develop their themes over time.
Further benefits of attending the seminar emerged afterwards for me on a more personal level. It gave food for thought as to how more varied approaches might support my dissertation or future presentations. Some presenters shared handouts with quotations and translations, others used site plans, while some had a more data driven approach. It provided an interesting challenge to think how some of these methods might be relevant to researching Thucydides. Additionally, reflecting on which areas of my presentation had provoked wider discussion provided further focus for my work subsequently.
The Postgraduate Work in Progress Day provided a kaleidoscope of perspectives on the world of Classical Studies. I’d recommend the experience to anyone involved in postgraduate research at the OU. It’s such a friendly environment for testing out ideas while they are genuinely “in progress” and stimulates consideration of further directions, emphases and perspectives for taking research to its next level.
Editor’s note: If you’d like to find out more about pursuing a postgraduate qualification in Classical Studies at the Open University have a look at the information on postgraduate research here.