Category Archives: Outreach and Engagement

Travels with a toga: Roman dress in the classroom

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 09.59.33OU Classical Studies Lecturer Ursula Rothe has been visiting school pupils to talk about her research on Roman dress.

On 2nd March I went to Redborne Upper School in Ampthill, Bedfordshire to give a talk to senior school pupils on the topic of Roman dress. It was the first time I had done something like this with props – I had spent a weekend sewing together Roman garments like male and female tunicae, an exomis, a palla and a toga complete with detachable purple stripe! In all, 65 students turned up to learn about how dress not only reflected but was actively used to enact specific roles in Roman society, such as

  • Gender: how men and women were meant to look and behave in public
  • Class: what social rank your occupation belonged to (clue: the lessUR toga 2 clothing you wore, the lower down the social scale you were!)
  • Age: the way elite Roman children wore the toga praetexta (toga with purple stripe) as symbolic protection from harm and inappropriate language and actions, and how clothing symbolised their coming-of-age: boys adopting a toga virilis (plain white toga) at a special ceremony and girls adopting matron’s dress on the day after their wedding
  • Religious observance: how both men and women covered their heads when performing religious ceremonies

The enthusiasm of the students was overwhelming and I was only sorry that not everyone got to dress up!

by Ursula Rothe

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

Classical Studies at The Student Hub Live 2015

Earlier this week I participated in The Student Hub Live 2015 (no login required!). This was a three day event streamed live online from Walton Hall in which different people from across the OU, including both staff and students, were invited to talk about what they do, conduct live experiments, engage in lively debate on everything from serial killers to language and literacy, and even have a go at this year’s quiz show: Wheel of Ologies.

This sort of online event is a great opportunity for students (and potential students!) to get a better sense of what we all do and to understand what makes the OU tick. Students who perhaps wouldn’t normally come to the campus in Milton Keynes can hear from a whole host of people who have a variety of roles in the university and can even interact with them via a chat stream or Twitter. This time around participants ranged from the new Vice Chancellor Peter Horrocks and the senior leadership team of the university, to those who run Library Services and the Careers Advisory Service, as well as central academic staff and other students.

The theme of this event was interdisciplinary study and it was tied closely to the BA/BSc(Hons) Open Degree. If you sign up to study for this degree you can tailor your studies to suit your own needs and interests. Not many other universities will let their students range quite so broadly across subjects as diverse as English literature, biology, Spanish, statistics, retail management, child psychology and of course Classical Studies! Effectively, then, the Open Degree lets you put together an entire degree programme that matches exactly what you want to study, even if these are subjects that might not normally be studied in parallel. For me, the Open Degree represents what the OU is all about: letting people who want to study do so in a way that works for them.


On the sofa for some chat with colleagues from Social Sciences and Health and Social Care

As part of the event, I was asked to contribute to a short ‘chat show’ on Tuesday evening, sharing a sofa with colleagues from the Faculties of Social Sciences and Health and Social Care who were talking about their research on subjects as wide-ranging as Scottish Independence, the recent General Election and the upcoming EU referendum, EU citizenship and identity, as well as the practical needs of an ageing population in Britain. It was a bit daunting being amongst people who work on issues that are so very ‘now’ but as I talked a bit about identity in the Roman empire and about how my work on anatomical votive offerings helps us to understanding how ancient people thought about their identities in relation to their ever changing (i.e. ageing) bodies, I realised that we had more in common than I first thought. Our methodologies are very different, the evidence and data that we work with is also very different, but we are all interested in people, how they think and how they understand and experience the cultural contexts in which they live.


Team ‘Ologies for Dummies’ getting quizzical.

On Wednesday I took part in the Wheel of Ologies quiz which involved two teams with buzzers trying to outdo each other on general knowledge questions linked to different ‘ologies’ (e.g. zoology, epistemology, pantology, and the wildcard bonus category of ‘ninjology’ or the study of ninjas!). My team didn’t exactly romp to victory. In fact, we lost fairly dismally, although I was relieved to get a question about Caligula’s horse correct! It was great fun to mix in with current students, heads of other faculties and people based ‘behind the scenes’ at the Library, whilst the audience played along online (possibly with some help from Google!). For me, and I think for many students, this was one of the highlights of the whole event, reminding everyone that regardless of our roles in the university we are all just ordinary people who like to have a bit of a laugh, even if general knowledge quizzes are not everyone’s strong point!

Some catch up versions of the different Hub Live sessions should be available to watch on the website before too long and you might want to keep an eye out for the next Student Hub Live and even take part!

Emma-Jayne Graham

OU Classical Studies on Twitter

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The department now has a Twitter account!

Follow us at @OU_Classics – and do tweet us with your Classics-related news!

Several members of the OU Classical Studies community also have their own personal Twitter accounts. Here’s a list, which we’ll keep updating over the coming months.

@eltonteb  Elton Barker (Reader in Classical Studies, tweeting about Digital Humanities and more)

@emmabridges  Emma Bridges (Lecturer in Classical Studies, ‘mostly tweets with a classical theme’)

@fluff35  Helen King (Professor and Head of Classical Studies department)

@jash147  James Hutchinson (Associate Lecturer in Classical Studies, tweeting about classical languages and (mainly Greek) culture)

@joannapaul  Joanna Paul (Lecturer in Classical Studies, tweets about classical reception and more) 

@ClassicalJG  Juliette Harrisson (Associate Lecturer in Classical Studies, ‘tweeting about whatever takes her fancy’)

@LASwiftClassics  Laura Swift (Lecturer in Classical Studies)

@mairlloyd  Mair Lloyd (PhD student in Classical Studies, tweets about Classics, e-learning and more)

@MariaRelaki  Maria Relaki (Associate Lecturer in Classical Studies, tweets about Archaeology, Classics and Heritage)

@TonyKeen46  Tony Keen (Associate Lecturer in Classical Studies,  ‘tweets irregularly in a personal capacity on a variety of subjects close to his heart’)

Other Twitter feeds with an OU connection include:

@CRSN_UK  Classical Reception Studies Network (tweeting upcoming cultural and academic events)

@pvcrs  Practitioners’ Voices in Classical Reception Studies (OU Open Access journal – interviews with actors, directors, artists, writers and other practitioners who work with classical material)

@classicsconfide  Classics Confidential (‘Vodcasting Classicists, Sharing Research’)

Welcome to the OU Classical Studies blog

Helen King photo

by Helen King

As the current head of department, it’s great to welcome you to our blog. Whatever brings you here – whether you are a current or prospective student, or just someone interested in all things classical – I hope you enjoy hearing more about what we’re doing and that it inspires you to find out even more about the classical world!

At the Open University we cover a wide range of aspects of the classical world, from texts to images to material culture. Many of us also think about the reception of the classical past, from the ancient world itself – Romans thinking about the Greek world – to the present. So there should be something here to interest pretty well everyone.

I’m spending part of today speaking to a Classical Association branch in Southampton. Maybe some readers of this blog will be there…?