Category Archives: People

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!

More Classical Civilisation in more schools!

This month I have been lucky enough to visit two sixth-form colleges where Classics is thriving, and thriving for the first time. Both colleges have recently begun offering “Classical Civilisation”, which — if you didn’t already know – is a fantastic subject at school level that enables students to learn about the Greeks and Romans through examining their archaeological remains, art and architecture, history and literature (in English translation).

Henry and Paul Found posing in Paul's classroomBoth sets of students had the opportunity to study Classics because their outstanding teachers have — in their own time — trained themselves to deliver the course material. It is a sad truth that if it wasn’t for the extraordinary energy and passion of teachers such as Paul Found (pictured left) and Eddie Barnett, the cultural remains of the Greek and Roman worlds would scarcely feature in the formal education of children in the UK outside of fee-paying schools. I am happy to report that more teachers are already following Eddie and Paul’s pioneering example!

A few of us in the Classics department were involved in a recent event at King’s College London, organised by Edith Hall, designed to celebrate and raise the profile of the subject. At the event, attended by over 40 sixth formers, writer and comic Natalie Haynes, poet and playwright Caroline Bird, and poet and film-maker Caleb Femi all performed, demonstrating how they continue to make the classical new and relevant in their own work. The campaign to get more classics into more British schools is now very much gaining momentum.

But back to the story… Eddie Barnett is primarily a Philosophy teacher. His interest in the Greeks grew from his reading of ancient philosophy at university. At Christ the King Sixth-form College in Lewisham, Eddie has fought for the chance to teach the subject (off timetable) to around a dozen pupils. Those of his after-school Classics club who weren’t away on a university visit when I crashed their class one wet Tuesday afternoon were kind and courageous enough to tell me how they were getting on with Homer’s Odyssey.

Paul Found — Head of Classics at Norton Knatchbull School in Kent — first got into Classics when he was doing an OU degree. But you can read more about that in this earlier post… For now I’d like simply to introduce his wonderful students, who had recently done exams — I quickly gathered — on the Odyssey and Suetonius’ Life of Nero. Paul’s enthusiasm for the subject is clearly infectious!

Avid for Ovid: A Q&A with Malcolm Atkins

This week we chatted to Malcolm Atkins, an Open University Associate Lecturer in Music, who also has a degree in Classics. Malcolm is one of the founders of Avid for Ovid, a group of performers who reinterpret ancient myth through dance and music.

Thank you for talking to us, Malcolm. Where did the idea for Avid for Ovid came from?

Malcolm and Ségolène performing ‘Lycaon’ at Modern Art Oxford, September 2014. Photo credit Pier Corona

Malcolm and Ségolène performing ‘Lycaon’ at Modern Art Oxford, September 2014. Photo credit Pier Corona

Avid for Ovid (A4O) was formed by three Oxford-based artists (dancers Susie Crow and Ségolène Tarte, and musician Malcolm Atkins) after an involvement in the Oxford University research project Ancient Dance in Modern Dancers, where we had brought our practical knowledge as performers to explore the long forgotten form of tragoedia saltata, or ancient Roman pantomime, solo storytelling through dance and music. We formed A4O as a group of performing artists to explore from our perspective as artists the potential of using principles and ideas from ancient dance and music in contemporary performance. We later invited Birmingham-­based dancer Marie-­Louise Crawley to join the group. We found the potential of this solo dance form to be enormous – it can really communicate with an audience of any background and can be performed almost anywhere (and in this we seem to be continuing the Roman tradition).

Susie and Malcolm performing 'Tisiphone' at a Classics Colloquium in Oxford in 2013.

Susie and Malcolm performing ‘Tisiphone’ at a Classics Colloquium in Oxford in 2013.

Can you tell us a little more about the performers? Did any of them, other than you, have any prior knowledge of ancient poetry?

Susie Crow is a ballet dancer and choreographer interested in the expressive and narrative potential of ballet, and how skills and approaches from Roman pantomime may have informed its inception; Ségolène Tarte is an academic as well as a ballet dancer and researches as a Digital Humanist in close collaboration with classicists at the University of Oxford; Marie-Louise Crawley is a choreographer and contemporary dance theatre artist who also studied Classics at Oxford.

What might someone who comes to one of your performances expect to see?

We attempt to create narrative through movement and sound. The choice of movement and sound is eclectic and represents the diverse practices and genres we have all worked in. I use a range of instruments (in the spirit of this dance practice which seems to have used all available resources) and create soundscapes as well as direct motivic and thematic interactions, word setting and word painting. The dancers often choreograph a setting of a myth and as with the Roman practice shift from one character to another in unfolding a narrative. They are informed by a range of practices including ballet, mime, kathak [1] and butoh [2] – all of which have a unique relation to narrative. In fact this is also similar to the way musically I use traditions of leitmotif, thematic transformation, rhythmic pattern and power and dissonance as appropriate. Much of this is inevitably informed by our cinematic and visual culture.

What you will see is something exciting and engaging in a way that is far more accessible than much contemporary dance because the focus on narrative allows communication with all – just as the Roman practice did.

What is it about Ovid’s poetry in particular which lends itself to this kind of performative storytelling?

Within the Metamorphoses there is an incredible range of narrative and characterisation and perhaps this is why this was such a favourite of Shakespeare. We have the opportunity to select from so many different styles of story and presentation of character through the music and dance we create. The poetry as a compendium of myths also seems to have an incredibly challenging and subversive meta-narrative. Unlike the overt challenge of the radical exploration of myth in Euripides, Ovid is far more subtle in the way he relentlessly punctures male patriarchal pomposity although more often through flawed divinities than mortals.  This ambivalence towards authority and emphasis on its malign side lends to the possibilities of exploration in dance and musical interpretation as does the breezy tone of Ovid as he skips from one scene of abject and unjustified misery to another often juxtaposing farce and tragedy.

Do you personally have any favourite episodes from Ovid? Could you tell us why you are drawn to certain parts of his poetry over others?

One of those awkward lycanthrope moments. Ségolène  performing ‘Lycaon’ at Modern Art Oxford, September 2014. Photo credit Pier Corona

One of those awkward lycanthrope moments. Ségolène performing ‘Lycaon’ at Modern Art Oxford, September 2014. Photo credit Pier Corona

I have become particularly attached to passages that we have performed because my engagement with the text has deepened (often as I recite or sing it in Latin). The visceral power of the description of Lycaon’s transformation to a wolf was captured through a recording suggested by Ségolène where the text was recited like ‘maggots in the brain’. When Ségolène performed her interpretation a child had to be led out crying from a performance that had no graphic violence. The pathos of Aurora’s grief at the death of her son – particularly relevant in a time of so much desolation that we see daily on the news – was so well expressed by Susie’s exploration of archetypes of grieving. Marie-Louise’s exploration of Myrrha and the desperation that leads to her transformation to a tree (and the very powerful subtext of the girl as a victim of patriarchal desire that resonates with our time) was particularly unsettling (as was the subject) and to me lent to an expressionist theme and the solipsistic musical misery of fin de siècle Vienna. On top of this the subversive story of Arachne who studiously reports the misdemeanours of our betters against the strident defence of Athene was brought home to me by Ségolène’s inspired interpretation. Ovid’s lack of a decisive judgement is all the more powerful in highlighting the abuse of power – something else that strikes a chord with contemporary politics and conflicting media narratives sponsored by corporate power.

Marie-Louise performing ‘Myrrha’ at the MAC Birmingham, October 2015. Photo credit Christian Hunt

Marie-Louise performing ‘Myrrha’ at the MAC Birmingham, October 2015. Photo credit Christian Hunt

For readers of our blog who are interested in seeing Avid for Ovid perform, could you tell us when and where your next performance is taking place?

We are next performing at the opening of a recreation of Ovid’s Garden in Winterbourne Gardens at the University of Birmingham (58 Edgbaston Park Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham) on the 18th June at 3pm. This is a free performance to celebrate the opening of the garden. More details are available here.

Where can our readers find out more about the project?

They can visit our blog and Facebook page, find us on Twitter (@Avid4Ovid) or contact me via email: Malcolm.Atkins1@ntlworld.com.

 

[1] Butoh is an expressive dance theatre form which arose in Japan in the late 1950s; often incorporating playful and grotesque imagery, extreme or absurd situations and slowly evolving movement, performed in white body make-up.

[2] Kathak is one of eight Indian classical dance forms; originating in North India, it combines the telling of stories through codified gestural movement with a more formal vocabulary incorporating virtuosic and percussive footwork, rhythmic complexity and spins. (With thanks to Susie Crow for providing definitions.)

Introducing…Adam Parker, PhD student

We asked our newest PhD student, Adam Parker, to tell us about his research project and the path that brought him to postgraduate study at the Open University.

AP blog picThe life changing time for me, when I first started to get really excited about the ancient world, was at Durham 6th Form Centre, while doing an A-level in Classical Civilisation. It was over a decade ago now, but reading the Iliad, the Odyssey, and Sophocles’ Theban plays alongside Tacitus, Suetonius and doing a bit of Greek and Roman architecture still looms large in my head as the time when my eyes were opened to the complexity, importance and sheer murderous humanity of the ancient world. Fast-forward to May 2016 and I am five months into my part-time PhD research in Classical Studies at the Open University. My project aims to investigate the artifactual nature of ‘magic’ in Roman Britain and to try to establish chronological, spatial, material and contextual relationships within this huge, amorphous dataset in order to try and understand what magic is and what function it served.

The wonderful thing I’ve found about postgraduate studies with the OU is that the students here have usually gone off and done a bit of living before getting into the PhD research; I’m no different. Undergraduate studies in Ancient History and Archaeology at Leicester cemented my love of archaeology and the Roman world. This was the first time I ever encountered ‘magic’ as something that can be studied. A second year essay for a module on ‘the Roman Principate’ required students to sign up to a seminar group: 25 people, 5 seminar topics, and 5 places per slot. Getting a place on the ‘Magic and Imperial Politics’ seminar required sprinting from the lecture theatre where this announcement was made to the sign up board on the other side of the campus to ensure I got the place I wanted. Staying on at Leicester for a fourth year MA in Rome & its Neighbours allowed me to pick up Magic as a research topic for my dissertation.

Since that point I have never really left the topic alone. Having a consuming and unfaltering passion for history, heritage and archaeology is certainly a benefit in getting from undergraduate to PhD studies. Entering the world of museums in 2010 did mean that I got to play with loads of really cool material culture, but it also meant that I spent a lot of time driving vans and fork-lift trucks (for more of an insight into my day job take a look at this article). Since discovering the phrase ‘Independent researcher’ in 2011 I’ve gone out of my way to try and push my research agenda outside of my professional life. Commuting daily from Crook, Co. Durham to York – where I am currently Assistant Curator of Archaeology at the Yorkshire Museum – meant that I had 4-5 hours per day of bus and train time to kill reading and writing. OU courses in ‘Reading Classical Latin’ and ‘Heritage? Whose Heritage?’ filled in bits of that. (A quick piece of advice here: conjugating verbs and declining nouns on the bus to Darlington at 6:45am daily is not the best way to learn Latin.)

After 5 or 6 years of part-time study I want to end up with a database of a few thousand objects. Jet pendants, phallic carvings, and inscribed gold tablets might seem to be a disparate group of objects but they are all joined by a modern appreciation of them having served some sort of protective, beneficial, or lucky function in the Roman world. It is this supposed supernatural function that links these, and numerous other objects, together. My intention is to actually test this hypothesis through a broad artifactual study where I will start by deconstructing the semantics and implications of the word ‘magic’ and establish how this can be applied to material culture. Contextual, material and spatial studies will (hopefully!) establish themes, links and patterns within this dataset that can be used to build on our current understanding on how these things work. There are already some excellent material culture studies into Roman magic (most recently several papers in two entirely different 2015 publications with the same name, The Materiality of Magic) but these each focus on a specific object type, literary or iconographic element. My aim is to be the first to actually draw all of this together into one place and look it as a single group. It requires first negotiating some hugely problematic conceptual issues about what magic is, what religion is, and how we can differentiate enough to allow a useful programme of data collection.

It needs to go on record that I am sincerely grateful for being able to undertake PhD research with the Open University and with a scholarship to boot. My initial approach to the OU for PhD purposes is entirely due to a chat I had with Stuart McKie (fellow OU post-grad) after meeting at the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference in 2014. I gave a paper talking about magical things, he came and chatted to me afterwards about his own research on magic, and a series of Facebook conversations afterwards pointed me towards his supervisory team – Ursula Rothe and E-J Graham. And now they are my supervisors too, joined by Helen King. Under the tutelage of my OU triumvirate the past five months have focused on this attempt to try and establish what magic actually is… I’m not sure I’ve managed it yet it, but it’s been great fun so far trying to find out!

I am very happy to be a research student in the Classical Studies department – thanks for having me, OU.

by Adam Parker

Editor’s note: Adam has his own blog, where you can read more of his thoughts on Roman magic: https://romanmagic.wordpress.com/ You can also find him on Twitter @adamarchaeology.

Seventh Conference of Italian Archaeology

Phil Perkins and Eleanor Betts represented the OU Classical Studies department at the Seventh Conference of Italian Archaeology, which was held at the National University of Ireland, Galway on 16th-19th April 2016. Scholars from 15 countries presented papers and posters on the archaeology and cultural history of Italy from prehistory to the modern period. Whilst the primary theme of the Conference was the archaeology of death, our papers considered some recent developments in Italian archaeology.

Phil Perkins presenting on the exciting recent finds from Poggio Colla

Phil Perkins presenting on exciting recent finds from Poggio Colla

Phil spoke about the final excavation seasons at Poggio Colla and their context in Northern Etruria, focusing in particular on the remarkable stele which was discovered in Summer 2015. The stele was built into the wall of the earliest temple and bears one of the longest inscriptions known in Etruria. Phil will be presenting on this, and more, in the Accordia Lecture Series on 3rd May.

You can also find out more about the stele and the initial reading of the inscription, here (at 08:54 to 15:16 minutes in the Italian news programme).

Susanna Harris presenting her Etruscan cloak experiment in Galway

Susanna Harris presenting her Etruscan cloak experiment

Eleanor organised and presented in the panel ‘Moving Bodies: Multisensory Approaches to the Ancient Mediterranean’, which was in many ways part of the homage to the work of Ruth Whitehouse which marked the conference. The papers were wide-ranging in their chronological spread, and what they had in common was their application of phenomenology to ancient sites and fieldwork methods in Italy and Malta. The five papers presented were by Sue Hamilton and Ruth Whitehouse, Reuben Grima, Claudia Lambrugo, Susanna Harris and Eleanor Betts. Robin Skeates wrapped up the session, drawing out the main themes of the presentations, and giving much food for thought for the future of sensory archaeologies. You can read more on these papers and the discussion at Sensory Studies in Antiquity.

Teaching ancient myth through cinema, by Tony Keen

TK1Tony Keen is a long-time Associate Lecturer for the OU, and an Honorary Associate. This post is based on a talk he gave at the Classical Studies Associate Lecturer Training and Development Day in November 2015.

In the sixteen years I’ve taught for the Open University, I’ve often used movies and television as part of my teaching strategies, and this is just as true for the current module I teach, A330 Myth in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Some of these approaches are obvious – if one wants to talk, for instance, about the Gorgon Medusa, it makes sense to show how the cinema has represented her, in movies such as the 1981 and 2010 versions of Clash of the Titans. Such clips can show students that they actually know something about changing depictions ofTK2 mythological characters. But it’s also possible to be a bit more imaginative.

In the collection of Fables attributed to the Greek slave Aesop, there is found an early version of the tale of the town mouse and the country mouse, probably most famous to classicists in the version found in Horace’s Satires 2.6, lines 79-117. The story is simple. A country mouse is invited to dine with his cousin in the town. The town mouse lays out a splendid table, full of gourmet delights that the country mouse simply can never experience at home. But then the party is disrupted by dogs, and the country mouse decides that, for all its simplicity, his home offers security not to be found in the town.

In 1945, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced the nineteenth cartoon in their cat-and-mouse series Tom and Jerry, ‘Mouse in Manhattan’, directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. It’s an unusual entry in the run. Instead of the usual mayhem caused by Tom’s unsuccessful attempts to catch Jerry, the premise is that Jerry, bored with life in the TK3country, sets off for the bright lights of Manhattan, leaving a note for Tom (who is otherwise barely present). The rest is taken up with Jerry’s adventures in New York, and the dangers he faces. There is no town mouse to equate with Jerry’s country mouse, and the existential threat that drives Jerry back to the country is feral cats, rather than dogs. But the fundamentals of the fable are here, and whilst I am not suggesting that Hanna or Barbera had necessarily read Horace or Aesop (they may have, or they may not), they almost certainly had encountered the story in some form. It has, after all, been much repeated through history; Beatrix Potter retold it in The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse, and in 1936 Walt Disney had overseen a Silly Symphonies short called ‘The Country Cousin’, which adapted the fable more faithfully than ‘Mouse in Manhattan’. One effect of showing this to students is to put them in a good frame of mind – who doesn’t enjoy a good Tom and Jerry cartoon? But it also demonstrates how stories are transformed as they are repurposed, and also makes the original fable seem less remote to students.

Fable is not often dealt with in myth courses. What can TK4using cinema bring to wider understanding of what is more traditionally understood as ‘mythology’? One issue that can confuse students is that various different versions of myths proliferate through antiquity and beyond. Does Hippolytus die at Troezen, or is he reborn as Virbius in Italy? Who kills Medea’s children, the Corinthians or their mother? I explain this through the modern phenomenon of rebooting screen franchises. There are several screen versions of the superhero Superman, with different versions of when and how Kal-El arrived on Earth from Krypton, and his early life. Similarly, the James Bond movies were rebooted in 2006 with Casino Royale, showing Bond’s first mission as a 00 agent. All previous movies were disregarded, and elements from those, such as the terrorist organization SPECTRE, could later be reintroduced. Cinema audiences cope with this perfectly well, so what is the problem with Euripides’ three incompatible versions of Helen of Troy?

TK6My most unusual use of cinema to teach myth is when I show students two versions of the 1881 Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, in 1946’s My Darling Clementine, and 1957’s Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. I ask the students to note significant differences between the two (for instance, Doc Holliday dies in the gunfight in the former, and survives it in the latter). I then show how the  two versions relate to what actually happened, and explain that while the later movie is a little more true toTK5 the events of 1881, nevertheless both fictionalize extensively. My point is to show how fictionalized and mythologized versions of historical events can depart from what actually happened, in different ways in different versions. So it’s almost impossible to use a fictionalized account to reconstruct a putative historical event when historical records don’t exist, and students should be suspicious when that is attempted, as it often is with Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War.

Hopefully this will spark further ideas of how to use cinema in teaching. Let us know in the comments what you do.

by Tony Keen

Editor’s note: Tony has also produced various Open University learning resources which you can access for free via OpenLearn here.

Introducing… Cathy Mercer, Associate Lecturer (AL) in Classical Studies

This week we asked one of our Associate Lecturers, Cathy Mercer, to tell us about life as an OU Classical Studies tutor

Cathy posing as a centurion

“Like most ALs, I’ve had a varied career, as entertainments manager, city accountant, teacher, examiner, editor, online shop manager and European tour guide but, without doubt, my most fulfilling and interesting work has been (and still is!) working as an OU AL. I have wonderful tutor groups full of keen, committed students from varied backgrounds and we study fantastic OU materials. Both these materials and the students’ responses to them are stimulating and enlightening.

As a tutor in the London Region, I get to meet a good proportion of my students face-to-face, which is always exciting. However, as for all ALs, my main work is guiding the students through their studies and keeping them on-track by marking their assignments (TMAs = tutor-marked assignments) and here I have a slightly embarrassing confession to make: I have always enjoyed marking my students’ work and actually look forward to each batch of TMAs. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the more obviously attractive aspects of teaching such as face-to-face tutorials, but I have always liked seeing students’ own work and believe that prompt, positive responses to this is what helps them most. Even as a school teacher I used to mark students’ work as they were actually producing it in the classroom, keeping them on appropriate paths. Each student responds individually to their studies and respecting and acknowledging this through feed-back on their work is what benefits them.

In many ways my editing work in publishing was a type of marking and inevitably this affects my marking of students’ TMAs, making me perhaps a tad over-keen to add apostrophes and colons etc. It’s the Lynne Truss in me trying to steer students clear of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, though I warmly remember one pupil’s account of ‘red hot saliva’ rolling down Mount Vesuvius and I always smile at mentions of ‘Media dominating the agenda’ in Euripides’ tragedy.

The OU offers tutors many opportunities and treats and I make good use of these, offering language taster sessions in R01 in Greek and Latin and working as forum moderator, TMA setter, exam/ETMA marker and TMA monitor. This means I get to look at other tutors’ marking of TMA assignments and learn from their approaches. It is always striking how important the tutor’s personal touch is, and how the PT3 form can be used to acknowledge a student’s individual strengths and issues.

One of the great advantages of living in London is that there are loads of great theatres on the doorstep. Last summer we were treated to a cavalcade of Greek tragedy and this Christmas it was the turn of the Romans, with Ben Hur at the Tricycle.

This pantomime for grown-ups has now finished at the Tricycle but it will surely move on to the West End, as their previous small scale epic, 39 Steps, did so successfully. If so, do try to see it. It may owe more to Michael Frayn’s Noises Off farce than to Plautus or Terence but it is a wonderful pastiche of General Wallace’s epic novel, with its slightly lumpen conversation style, and the epic film, complete with chariot race powered by lawn mowers.

Ben Hur reviews were excellent but the proof of the pudding is always in the tasting and my friends and I loved it, even more than marking.”

by Cathy Mercer

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.

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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.

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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 (http://www.nks.kent.sch.uk/)

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.