Category Archives: MA

My MA experience, by Sam Spencer

In December 2015 our first holder of the Baron Thyssen MA Scholarship in Classical Studies completed her studies, achieving a Merit in our MA in Classical Studies. To celebrate this achievement we asked Sam to share her experiences of being an MA student at the OU. Here’s what she wrote … 

I started with the OU in 2006, a level 1 Spanish module for pleasure, which quickly developed into a BA (Hons) Humanities with Classical Studies. I had always regretted not taking Latin and Roman history further than ‘O’ level at school, so this was the fulfilment of a personal ambition. Three months after finishing my degree, I realised that I missed the studying (the OU is addictive!), and looked into an MA in Classics. There was a taught MA at the University in my home city, but I felt that the OU continued to meet my personal needs better: I am a single mum, who works school hours, and I needed the flexibility that studying with the OU gave me. The fact that it was mainly assignment-based was an important part of my choice, as I don’t do as well in exams. And I knew that I would have the same tutor from my Classics degree modules for the first two years of the MA (who then became my dissertation supervisor), and that continuity was a bonus.

The first year was busy, four different blocks, giving a good grounding for what was to come, and although the TMAs were challenging, I could see my progress through the year as I became more analytical, critical, and more concise in my writing, and was beginning to get an idea for what I really enjoyed and would like to do for my dissertation. I even passed the exam at the end of the year, which gave me confidence for the second year, which I was not looking forward to: Greek Theatre. I didn’t think I would enjoy this, but threw myself into it in my normal way, and discovered that it really wasn’t too bad. I think that having done the Myth module as part of my degree helped with the background, and a few of us from across the country met in Cambridge just before the module started to watch the Greek plays that year, which brought them alive, and showed us that Aristophanes was still relevant (and very funny) today.

And finally, my favourite part: the dissertation. I am quite motivated and focussed in my studies, and really enjoyed all of the reading and researching. I knew that historiography was the area that interested me the most, and wanted to investigate Marcus Agrippa and his contribution to Augustus’ rise to power. Having discussed this with my tutor, this was expanded to ‘How important were Augustus’ networks and alliances in gaining and maintaining power?’. It was a really vibrant time in Rome’s history: there is still a lot of extant literature and even more modern scholarship. My research led me through some well-known names: Julius Caesar, Marcus Antonius, Cicero, but also the development of the army, and of patronage, the changing political situation, and relationships with client kings. But most of all, to find evidence of the many skilled men who worked in the background and supported Augustus.

How did I develop? Key to it all were my time management skills, and being flexible in my studies (as my children moved from primary to secondary school, it became increasingly difficult to put them to bed at 8 pm so that I could study, so l adapted to shorter sessions at night and early morning, and whenever the opportunity arose!). I developed the ability to speed read and quickly pick out what I needed from a text. Now I am definitely more critical when reading modern scholarship and finally better at argument and balance, thanks to my supervisor who constantly challenged me. I also benefitted from SCONUL access to Manchester University Library, and the OU’s own online resources and the JSTOR database. I have a small library of my own now too.

I hope that I have shown my children that it is never too late to achieve something you really want, and that you can do well if you work hard at it. Achieving the MA was good, but more than that, I met some wonderful people along the way who kept me going (we were lucky enough to have face-to-face tutorials then, but still used forums to keep in touch). I now enjoy Greek theatre, which seems to be enjoying a revival, and I discovered a love of Homer. I’m not sure of my next steps – after a few months off, I am definitely missing the studying, and want to brush up my Latin, while I keep my eyes open for opportunities where I can use my administrative skills combined with something in the Classical world. I would really recommend the OU MA: as University teaching becomes more digital and online, they have a wealth of experience in providing distance-learning modules, and excellent tutors to support you.

by Sam Spencer

Of scholarship and superheroes

OU Classical Studies MA student Suzanne Slapper shares her experiences of bringing the joys of the ancient world to schoolchildren.

As is so often the case, my obsession with Classics started when I was a child. I remember a man coming to our junior school to talk about Greek myths; I was captivated. So, when ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ later came on TV, I watched it in awe and spent a whole summer fighting imaginary skeletons grown from teeth.

Graduating with my BA in Classical Studies

Graduating with my BA

Unfortunately, I could not pursue this interest at school, but the seed had been sown and so, as soon as I was able, I opted to take a little course in Latin. Well, we all know that Latin is a gateway drug and it wasn’t long before I was onto the hard stuff – yes, ‘Continuing Classical Greek’. The years sped by and before I knew it I had my BA. I am now in the second year of the fantastic MA in Classical Studies, all thanks to the Open University and its mission to educate anybody and everybody who comes knocking. I really love the interdisciplinary approach of the MA course, and have found all the varied aspects of it stimulating. The structure of the material interweaves the development of the students’ research skills with the imparting of scholastic knowledge in a way that is seamless. So I am now looking forward to writing my dissertation in the summer, rather than dreading it, as I have been able to practise all of the necessary steps in a carefully gradated way.

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself! Let’s rewind a bit. I was a couple of years into the BA when I was thinking about how fantastic it is that the OU brings Classics to all and wishing that I’d had the same opportunity at school. I guess that’s what led me to contact The Iris Project. This educational charity was founded by Lorna Robinson with the idea of bringing Classics to children who would not normally have access to it. I was welcomed on board and soon found myself editing the online version of the Iris Magazine. This was great fun and afforded me opportunities to see behind the scenes at the Fitzwilliam and Ashmolean museums and even handle some of their artefacts.

Selling 'Roman herbs' at the East Oxford Classics Centre

Selling ‘Roman herbs’ at the East Oxford Classics Centre

As my MA has progressed, I have less time to spend on the magazine, but I am still involved with the project’s Classics days at the East Oxford Classics Centre. Yes, people flock from miles around to see my Roman herb stall – oh, and to listen to the speakers, I guess! On one occasion, a certain Helen King came to speak. If I remember correctly, it was an ‘eye-opening’ account of being a Roman soldier with conjunctivitis – if that’s not an oxymoron.

So this year I decided to set myself a further goal and take some direct action in the area where I live. I plucked up the courage to email the local junior school to ask whether they would be interested in my giving some enrichment classes for their pupils. An email popped back with a ‘yes please’ within five minutes! I ran a class on ‘superheroes’ ancient and modern just before Christmas and it really was the best experience. Just like me, the children all seemed to have a natural interest in the subject and soon we were discussing the underlying structures of superhero plots. I was very impressed by the level of understanding; in fact, at one point it got pretty philosophical about the difference between a superhero and a god. In the end the children decided that Dr Who was indeed godlike, but that Harry Potter was ‘just’ a superhero. I then read a version of the myth of Perseus as a way of thinking about the same issues, and the children went on to write some wonderfully imaginative stories of their own using a similar structure. I had super… -men, -women, -boys, -girls, -plants, -dogs, -cats, -robots, and even -hair. I’m not sure what the class teacher thought about it all, but they have asked me back to run some classes about the Olympics in the summer, and the class seemed delighted!

Even if I have managed to plant a seed of interest in just one of them, that would be a matter of huge excitement for me. Who knows where it might lead to – maybe one of them might be a future OU MA student?

So now for my next challenge…big school!

by Suzanne Slapper

My experience as an MA student, by Flora Stagg

I never intended to go on to do an MA, let alone an MA in Classical Studies, after my undergrad degree – BA (Hons) in Humanities with Music – but for the last module of that degree I chose a completely different subject ‘Myth in the Greek and Roman World’ and I became hooked on the classics. I was at a considerable disadvantage as I did not have a classical background, only a little Latin, but no Greek. My tutor gave me a list of books which helped increase my knowledge of the classical world before the first module began. Although the first year of the MA was a steep learning curve, it was very enjoyable, if tough. During the year I learned to improve my argument in my essays, and became more critical of academic writing. I developed a passion for the Etruscans after writing a TMA on the stork vase discovered at the Mola di Monte Gelato site in South Etruria. An essay followed on ‘Who were the Etruscans’ – a difficult subject to choose, as I soon found out! The Etruscans believed that there was a limit to the length a civilization would survive and it would indeed appear that after 800 years much of their own civilization was swallowed up by Rome. It was suggested I should consider archaeology for my dissertation topic, but I felt that was a learning curve too far.

fox and stork et alIn the second year I had reached the module that had sparked my interest in the MA in the first place – The Greek Theatre. The role of powerful women in the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides proved a fascinating area of research. After the tragedians, Aristophanes took over my life. For the EMA I spent an absorbing period comparing the text of Wasps prepared in 1897 by the classics scholar and barrister Benjamin Bickley Rogers, which Vaughan Williams set to music for the 1907 Greek Play at Cambridge, with its English adaptation by David Pountney to fit the original music of Vaughan Williams.  Bickley Rogers’ expurgated version was appropriate to the sensibilities of the time, but Pountney reinstated most of the obscenities, taking a fair amount of liberty in his interpretation of the text and structure of the play. He was faced with the difficult task of finding lyrics to fit the metre of the original Greek text which Vaughan Williams had set to music. It was intended as a concert version in which one actor would play the roles of Philocleon and Bdelycleon, renamed Procleon and Anticleon in the Pountney version, which the Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Trust had commissioned to make the whole work (rather than just the Wasps’ overture) more widely known. I would argue that Vaughan Williams came out of it better than poor Aristophanes.

My dissertation was on the last two extant plays of Aristophanes – The Assembly-Women and Wealth – which involved a considerable amount of research on the politics and social changes of the time. The evolution of Aristophanes’ style from Old towards New Comedy played an important part in my argument: I compared these plays with the New Comedy style of The Old Cantankerous of Menander, a playwright of whom I had not heard before the MA. A month into the dissertation I had a crisis of confidence and requested to change the topic to a music-related one, but still remaining faithful to Aristophanes. I nearly gave my supervisor a heart attack, but after thinking about it for a nano-second, and much to my supervisor’s relief, I realised what a foolish idea it was, since all my research up to that point had been on the last two plays. I was assured that it would not be the only crisis of confidence I would go through during that year.

I have always enjoyed the research aspect of studying and I am now suffering severe withdrawal symptoms, as I have no present plans to go on to do a Ph.D, but Aristophanes is my constant companion and who knows where he will lead me next. Learning ancient Greek would be a good start….

by Flora Stagg

Introducing…Paul Found, Classical Studies teacher and former OU student

Paul Found is a former Open University student who now teaches at Norton Knatchbull School in Kent. Here he tells us how his Open University MA in Classical Studies has enabled him to introduce the subject to his school’s curriculum.

We experience very few truly life-defining moments, but clicking on the ‘apply now’ button for my first Open University course is undoubtedly the one that put me on the path to the most rewarding career move I have undertaken.

It was 2005, and after working on the Channel Tunnel construction and for several years in the diving industry, I decided I was fed up with getting cold, wet and dirty for a living and it was time for a change. I decided on a career in teaching and I needed a degree, despite the fact I hadn’t written an essay since I left school in 1978. I also had a family and a mortgage, so there was no way I could give up working and this was where the Open University presented itself as the only viable option.

My decision to study for a masters in Classical Studies was itself driven by the presentation of the classical units in the old A103 module ‘An Introduction to the Humanities’ – and while I enjoyed every aspect of study, the units on the Colosseum and classical architecture, gladiators, and Euripides’ Medea had me hooked. Switching to a Classics undergraduate degree would have been simple, but I needed a job, and felt that the combination of English and History would give me more schools to choose from. Along with a mixture of luck and pure stubbornness on my part, however, the OU Classical Studies MA has allowed me to introduce Classical Studies to my school curriculum and to forge for myself the position of leading the subject alongside my role as a Teacher of English.

Studying for an MA in Classical Studies without a prior qualification in the subject was both challenging and rewarding in equal measure. The academic level of the course materials, coupled with the elevated academic requirement for the marked assignments, very quickly made me realise I was going to have to ‘up my game’. My tutor’s level of knowledge and expertise meant there would be no taking short-cuts and for me ‘near enough’ was never going to be ‘good enough’. The feedback for the first submission of my final dissertation began with ‘Oh dear Paul…’, and for the revised submission with ‘We need an urgent meeting!’ I started again, spending my entire summer holidays locked away working on the dissertation. The final result narrowly missed out on a distinction, but the experience of that year equipped me for the rigours of a teaching career more than anything the classroom or teacher training could throw at me.


Some of the GCSE and A level classicists at Norton Knatchbull School

The final year of the MA coincided with my first year at the Norton Knatchbull Grammar School in Ashford, Kent, which followed three years working in a somewhat challenging secondary school. Employed as a Teacher of English, I was delighted to be allocated an A level English Literature class and even more delighted that one of the set texts was Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, a novel that draws many parallels with Homer’s Odyssey. This, along with the classical references in the Shakespearean texts, presented the only real opportunities to present my classical knowledge in any meaningful way, until the school decided to drop its International Baccalaureate provision and offer a wider range of A levels. Seizing the opportunity, I offered a proposal for Classical Civilisation A level, waved my MA at the right people, and an agreement was reached to include the subject on the curriculum.

Meeting Peter Stothard, Edith Hall and Tom Holland with some of my sixth-formers.

Meeting Peter Stothard, Edith Hall and Tom Holland with some of my sixth-formers.

I had arguably the most eclectic bunch of students you could imagine in that first intake, ranging from a student who has subsequently gone on to study English Literature at Cambridge to another whose main interest was in computers and who hardly knew which way up to hold a pen! The one thing they all had in common was that none really knew what Classics was all about when they signed up. Those who stayed on to continue at A2 had really caught ‘the Classics bug’, and their enthusiasm did much to raise the profile of the subject. I’m delighted to report that Classical Civilisation is now the fastest-growing academic subject in the school, with five of this year’s Y13 having applied to study Classics degrees at various universities.


With Mary Beard at the British Museum in 2014

The subject has now expanded to a lunchtime Latin club and a well-attended extra-curricular GCSE Classical Civilisation class. Much of this is driven by the 6th form students; some even assist with the GCSE teaching and help to deliver a new initiative to take after-school Latin into a local primary school. The now annual Classics drama production has become one of the most anticipated events on the school calendar and we have a schedule of trips, events and lectures which mean we are always looking forward to something outside of the classroom, including an annual trip to Rome.

While studying with the OU taught me a great deal about the importance of time-management, it also ignited an insatiable (if time-consuming!) hunger for knowledge which went far beyond the scope of my OU assignments. It was always satisfying gaining that knowledge through totally independent study and being able to meet the assessment deadlines despite the pressures of work and life in general. How does this help me in my work? I don’t need to ‘teach’ my students what they can read in a book – they can do that themselves. In addition to ‘how to pass the exam’, I teach them what the OU taught me – how to take ownership of the subject, personalise their studies and use them as a foundation to go off and explore independently some of the many wonderful aspects of ancient life and culture.

How far we can expand Classical Studies at my school, I don’t yet know. I am currently the only teacher of the subject there, and there is only so much one person can do, but it is the enthusiasm and dedication of my students which will determine how far we can develop each year. On current form, we are going a long, long way!

Paul Found MA (Class. Stud.), Norton Knatchbull School (

Editor’s note: If you’ve been inspired by Paul’s story and would like to find out more about postgraduate qualifications in Classical Studies at the Open University you can do so by visiting our departmental web pages here. The undergraduate humanities foundation module which Paul mentions in his post has been replaced by a newer version, The Arts Past and Present, which still includes lots of classical material: see here for more information and taster materials from that module.

CHASE Studentships – 2016 Round Now Open!


Calling all motivated, independent-minded enthusiasts of Classical Studies: Are you interested in doing a PhD with us, but don’t have the finances to fund yourself? All is not lost!

The Open University is a member of the CHASE Consortium (alongside the Courtauld Institute of Art and Goldsmith’s College at the University of London and the Universities of East Anglia, Essex, Kent and Sussex) which offers fully funded PhD studentships for UK students. (For EU students the award covers fees only.)

The new round for entry in October 2016 has just been opened.

CHASE studentships offer generous funding for skills training programmes and allow you to network with students and scholars in the other CHASE institutions via workshops and an annual conference.

Please note that in order to qualify for a CHASE studentship you need first to have applied to do a PhD in Classical Studies at the OU in the usual way by the deadline of 13th January 2016.

The CHASE selection forms a second tier and candidates will be informed whether or not they have been sucessful in April 2016.

If you are interested, please get in touch with the Classical Studies department’s Postgraduate Coordinator, Dr Ursula Rothe ( as soon as possible to discuss your research proposal.

To find out more about applying to do a PhD in Classical Studies at the OU, visit our Postgraduate webpage at

To find out more about the CHASE studentships at the OU, go to

And to find out more about CHASE, visit the consortium website at

Perspectives: the Classical Studies Postgraduate Work in Progress Day 2015

by Liz Webb

Liz WebbMy 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.

Behind the Scenes: Creating the New MA Part 2 (A864)

I’m the chair of the team currently putting the finishing touches on the brand-new module for Part 2 of the MA in Classical Studies, and I think I speak for the whole team when I say it has been quite a journey! When we started out, we knew we had to follow up the more thematically broad-based and skills-oriented MA Part 1 with a more specific subject-based module; we settled on the topic of the human body in the ancient world, as it seemed broad enough to be able to cover a variety of themes and types of evidence, but specific enough for students to feel that they have an in-depth knowledge of the subject. It also happens to be one of the most dynamic and fast-growing areas of classics right now, with several of the field’s key scholars amongst our staff at the OU. Because of this, of course, we have all been very excited to work on this module in particular, and many of us have been able to bring our own research expertise into the teaching material, which is always fun!

In Block 3 of A864 we look at religious healing in the ancient world. This votive stele shows the healing hero Amphiaraos treating the shoulder of Archinos, who is also shown being bitten on the same shoulder by a snake whilst sleeping. Sanctuary of Amphiaros, Oropus, Attica. Marble, c.400-380 BCE.

In Block 3 of A864 we look at religious healing in the ancient world. This votive stele shows the healing hero Amphiaraos treating the shoulder of Archinos, who is also shown being bitten on the same shoulder by a snake whilst sleeping. Sanctuary of Amphiaros, Oropus, Attica. Marble, c.400-380 BCE. (This file comes from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom)

Once the initial excitement subsided, however, it was clear that it wasn’t going to be the easiest module in the world to put together. What exactly did we want to get across to students? How could we choose topics that would teach students not just about the ins and outs of that topic, but what they tell us about different types of evidence, or investigation techniques, or periods of scholarship? And how were we going to manage the fact that much of our material would inevitably go very close to the bone for many of our students? Topics like disability, sexuality, birth and death can be difficult to teach because they lie at the very heart of some of the central concerns – and taboos – of human society. Rather than seeing this as a disadvantage, however, we have embraced this fact, because it means that students will be thinking about, discussing and formulating thoughts on matters that have profound significance for the way we live our lives. We think that by learning about how Greeks and Romans used and regarded their bodies, we can go some way to understanding not just the interesting things that make our societies very different, but also the commonalities that make us all human.

As the start date (3rd Oct.) looms, we are now putting together the final items of teaching material and starting to populate the module VLE. We are very much looking forward to seeing how the first year of presentation goes, and to those of you registered on the module, we hope very much that you enjoy it!

To find out more information and the latest news on the module, visit the MA in Classical Studies Facebook page at .

Ursula Rothe on behalf of the Module Team for Part 2 of the MA in Classical Studies