Towards a more inclusive Classics – update on the June workshop

[Update: a nice external writeup of this event has now been published by ‘Mixed up in Classics’ at mixedupinclassics.wordpress.com/2020/07/22/inclusive-classics-conference/]

(Posted on behalf of Professor Barbara Goff)

Well, the event exceeded all our expectations.  150 participants registered, including about 30 students and 30 school teachers, and also including colleagues from New Zealand, China, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France, Austria, Spain, Greece and Belgium.  It was a remarkable meeting, and my co-organiser and I are so pleased we went the online route – without that, we would never have met so many inspiring classicists.

The Zoom format was a bit daunting at first to manage, but we had excellent technical support from Reading’s very own Dr James Lloyd, and our confidence did grow over the two days.  We adopted a new format for this workshop which we can highly recommend.  Speakers’ materials were precirculated online, and then speakers’ actual presentations were very short – only 5 minutes.  Subsequent to that, questions were posted in the chat and moderated by one of the hosts, after which the workshop went into breakout rooms of about 7 people each, for smaller group discussions.

The chat was astonishingly rich, as people did not only post questions but also numerous suggestions for each other, with links and recommendations of books and websites.  All the chat was saved so it can form part of our final report to the Council of University Classics Departments (CUCD) who will publish it in their Bulletin.  I loved reading all the exchanges, although it was hard work to winnow them when it was my turn to moderate and feed pertinent questions to speakers.  I also loved being in the breakout rooms, where I met a huge range of people interested both in the ancient world and in how to promote new ideas about its diversity.

All the papers were stimulating and many dove-tailed with each other in very rewarding ways.  Highlights of discussion included: how to decolonise the teaching of classics in schools as well as at universities; what role reception studies can play in reconceptualising our relations to the ancient world; how to factor a greater range of texts into teaching in order to understand the diversity of antiquity; how the move of teaching online has enhanced some opportunities, and encouraged people to rethink resources; whether we can rethink Classics without rethinking other aspects of the university and higher education generally; and whether we should consider renaming our discipline.  This was all in addition to more specific discussion generated by the variety of papers.  We closed with a panel that included a teacher, two students, and two academics from South America, who debated specific suggestions towards more inclusive teaching, which will also form part of our report.

Work is now afoot to convene a steering committee who will make the workshop an annual event.  Meanwhile, one of our participants has come up with an ‘Inclusive Unseens’ project, which is crowdsourcing new passages for the Latin GCSE unseen.  Teachers and academics are collaborating to provide passages from a greater variety of places, cultures and social classes across the Roman world. 

It is great to know that there is so much energy for the project of making our discipline more welcoming and better suited to our multicultural world.  If you would like to be part of a new Working Group which links the Department of Classics at Reading with the Department of Archaeology, to investigate the inclusivity of our courses and scholarship, please do get in touch.

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