Report on ‘Towards a More Inclusive Classics II’ International workshop, organised by Professor Barbara Goff and Dr Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis

Authors: Jenny Messenger, Arlene Holmes-Henderson, Barbara Goff and Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis

Date: September2021

At the start of July 2021, the Inclusive Classics Initiative, led by Professor Barbara Goff (University of Reading) and Dr Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis (University of St Andrews), held its second online, international workshop ‘Towards a More Inclusive Classics II’. This event was co-chaired by Professor Barbara Goff (University of Reading) and Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson (King’s College London/University of Oxford), and over two days the workshop covered a range of subjects: barriers to inclusivity, current projects and approaches aimed at making Classics more inclusive, and priorities for future work.

Bringing together multiple perspectives within the discipline, including Classics in higher education and secondary schools, the workshop provided space for discussion about marginalised groups, both during antiquity and as experienced in the subject today.

Themed around ‘Embedding Inclusive Practices’, the first panel, chaired by University of Nottingham doctoral candidate Ashley Chhibber, started with Professor Jennifer Ingleheart (University of Durham) speaking from a Head of Department’s perspective about creating a welcoming space for incoming students. Jennifer mentioned using individual expressions of identity (such as displaying the rainbow flag), the success of a staff race reading group, and the problems faced by departments trying to develop EDI initiatives on a small budget. Dr Naoko Yamagata discussed the Open University’s success of attracting a relatively large proportion of students with a declared disability, along with the challenge of having very low levels of ethnic diversity among the student population, and strategies used to make the curriculum more inclusive, from checklists that challenge assumptions to changing commonly used terms. Dr Marchella Ward (University of Oxford) offered thoughts on the need to take critiques from marginalised students seriously, and to carry out EDI work before publicising it, to avoid appearing to capitalise on the marketing appeal of diversity.

Panel Two featured a series of updates on current projects dealing with diversity and inclusivity, which had first been introduced in last year’s ‘Towards a more Inclusive Classics’ workshop. Dr Fiona Hobden and Serafina Nicolosi shared the results of a student survey carried out at the University of Liverpool, which suggested that while the teaching and learning environment was inclusive, improvements could be made to further diversify the curriculum by, for example, featuring more women outside the domestic sphere. Giving an update on the MAPPOLA project, Professor Peter Kruschwitz (University of Vienna) showed how two stories from the margins of the Roman empire were able to destabilise received narratives, and Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson (King’s College London and University of Oxford) illustrated the sheer range of diversely positioned stakeholders in the UK Classics community, some of the success stories of knowledge exchange projects among these groups to date, and, crucially, identified future strategic actions required to improve collaboration.

Day Two began with a panel on ‘Decentring the Canon’, with talks from teachers in schools and colleges around the UK and Germany, as well as an update on the Christian Cole Society for Classicists of Colour. Anna McOmish (Aldridge School, Walsall) discussed the value of introducing an Ancient Middle East module into the Key Stage 3 History curriculum, while Peter Wright (Blackpool Sixth Form College) spoke about the Blackpool Classics for All hub and the benefits of using Classics as a tool to boost vocabulary, literacy, and oracy. Ray Cheung, an undergraduate at the University of Oxford, talked about the need to build a community of classicists of colour, to re-envision Classics, and to change institutional mindsets. Vijaya-Sharita Baba (Petroc College, Devon) discussed a personal journey from thinking of Classics as an inherently diverse subject to becoming aware of the ways certain curricula can be exclusive, and called for more resources that would be accessible to students with no linguistic background. Sanjay Sharma (Heinz-Brandt-Schule, Berlin) drew attention to the importance of re-framing and contextualising Classics in modern geographies, and of encouraging students to engage with a wide variety of artistic representations of antiquity.

Following this panel, attendees were able to chat in smaller, themed groups (small technical issues aside). Discussion in the PhD and early career researchers group touched on challenges in terms of lack of funding and support structures, and precarious employment, as well as the effect these factors might have on participating in inclusivity work, such as the inability to commit to longer-term initiatives within a department. Suggestions for future plans included sharing resources to help start reading groups and the need to continue online access to events even after in-person events begin again.

The mid-career and professoriate group praised the opportunity to be able to talk to colleagues from other institutions and discussed the networking role Twitter has assumed. Other topics included the need to find time, headspace, and buy-in to implement staff training at a time of increasing overload; embedding diversity in career paths through hiring practices and promotional processes; and which professional bodies had the ability to act and create change.

Colleagues in the teachers in schools and colleges group raised the question of what universities could do to encourage students into Classics, suggesting that talks tailored to the syllabus and virtual visits can be powerful tools. Finally, discussion about future events included plans surrounding a project focused on raising the profile of neurodiversity within Classics.

Our final panel of the workshop was a conversation among Professor Kunbi Olasope, Dr Idowu Alade, and Dr Monica Aneni from the University of Ibadan, whose discussion about lecturers and students in partnership showed how Classics admissions in the university in Nigeria had increased over the last ten years, especially at postgraduate level. Collaboration in various ways, including teaching, publication, and active mentoring, had led to a sense of student belonging. Classics remained a subject of study that could lead to all kinds of careers, ensuring good support from alumni, and a comparative focus on classical reception meant it was clear that Classics remained highly relevant.

From the point of view of the organisers, the workshop was hugely inspiring and provided lots of ideas for action and further thought. The idea of focusing on themes which had emerged as priorities from last year’s workshop proved very fruitful. Social media users followed updates on Twitter from the @inclusiclassics account and using #InclusiveClassicsII. The programme and presentation materials are available on the Institute of Classical Studies website. Professor Barbara Goff and Dr Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis, would like to thank all attendees and all the speakers for their enthusiasm and collegiality, Dr Jenny Messenger for her fantastic administrative support, and particularly Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson for kindly stepping in to co-chair when Alexia was unwell.

To be added to the Inclusive Classics Initiative mailing list for information about future events, please email lks01beg@reading.ac.uk.

By Jenny Messenger, Arlene Holmes-Henderson, Barbara Goff and Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis

In the screenshot, can you see a Reading professor, and a couple of alumni?

Double International Distinction for our Professor Annalisa Marzano

Author: Dania Kamini
Edits: Prof. Amy Smith and Prof. Annalisa Marzano
Date: 27 August 2021

The British School at Rome has elected our Professor Annalisa Marzano as a Research Fellow. This prestigious non-stipendiary position, which Prof. Marzano will hold for three years, provides another testament for her pioneering research in various areas of Roman studies, including Roman social and economic history, and the ideology, social function, and production of Roman villas as seen in the texts of ancient authors and archaeological remains. Prof. Marzano is an expert on Roman marine aquaculture and large-scale fishing, and her research has brought attention to the importance the exploitation of marine resources had in the ancient economy. Her publications explore and provide an original approach to ancient agriculture and horticulture, marine resources, continuity and disruption in the exploitation of economic resources, settlement patterns, the varied nature of capital investments, and trade. Her research has attracted international recognition, including her election as Member of the Academia Europaea last year, thus highlighting her dedication and crucial contribution to the discipline.  

This accolade quickly follows the publication of an Italian updated edition of Professor Marzano’s ground-breaking Harvesting the Sea: The Exploitation of Marine Resources in the Roman Mediterranean — published by Scienze e Lettere — in early July (http://www.scienzeelettere.it/book/50237.html)!  

Harvesting the Sea offers a fresh approach to a challenging as well as interesting area of research, which has long stood at the centre of scholarly attention. Since its first publication by the OUP in 2013, it has received excellent reviews. Prof. Marzano has been considered ‘the first [scholar] providing a synthesis on the Mediterranean basin in its wider commercial context’ (Botte, E. 2015. Exploiting the Sea. JRA 28: 684). Bringing together her teaching and research skills, Professor Marzano provides both an introduction to the relevant studies for those not familiar with the subject and a guide to the reformation of current research on ancient sources. Find an online version of the book here.

A book launch of Un Mare da Coltivare, the Italian edition of Harvesting the Sea, took place at the Parco Archeologico di Baia in Italy on 28th July 2021 and was livestreamed on the Facebook page of the Parco Archeologico dei Campi Flegrei (https://fb.watch/7jm2eq6VEf/). An international panel of scholars and researchers from Italy and Spain along with the publisher of the Italian version and the director of the Parco Archeologico dei Campi Flegrei presented and discussed the book. The event, which we were glad to share on our social media (https://twitter.com/UniRdg_Classics/status/1419619741346500608), attracted a wide audience including experts in the relevant research area and friends of the study of Classics.  

The location was indeed a great fit for the content of the book. The archaeological site of the Terme Romane of Baiae, in which the event was held, is a complex measuring more than 10,000 sq. metres on four terraces linked by ramps and staircases, which may have been part of the imperial palace of Baiae or, according to some scholars, a valetudinarium, an ancient Roman hospital. Some highlights from recent underwater archaeological investigations at Portus Julius, the first harbour that served as a base for the Roman western naval fleet at the northern end of the Gulf of Naples, were presented to those physically attending the book launch. The ancient waterfront of Baiae, with its magnificent villas, streets, tabernae etc. is today submerged due to the volcanism and bradyseism* that characterise the Phlegrean Fields. The area with the highest concentration of remains is protected as part of the archaeological park. If you look for a destination to add in your post-covid travel list, then Terme Romane of Baiae may certainly be a good choice, especially if you keep in mind that it is possible to see the submerged remains by booking authorised excursions and either snorkel or scuba dives 

Don’t forget to follow Reading Classics on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for the latest news, and to subscribe on our YouTube account for a full list of videos and recorded research seminars.    

* Bradyseism is a technical term describing the gradual movement of the surface caused by underground magma chamber, especially in volcanic calderas. 

 

 

Sparta Storymaps – Using ArcGIS for Classical Studies.

[Image of an oblique profile of an ancient marble bust of a soldier in a plumed helmet,
thought to be Spartan General Leonidas, Sparta Museum].

Author: Dr. James Lloyd-Jones. Edits: Bunny Waring.
Date: 28th May 2021.

Sparta. What image is conjured in your mind? The ancient Spartans are often seen as the venerated, the heroes of Thermopylae. But they are also the villains, the enslavers of the helots, and the supporters of eugenics. In fact, the contemporary view of the ancient Spartans as heroic macho warriors is so widespread, thanks to 300, that when we explore the Spartans in more detail, the image that appears can seem surprisingly complex and uncomfortable.

[Image showing a scenic view of the Spartan theatre as stone remains with the Taygetos mountain range in the background].

Not only do we have to deal with the complications of modern interpretations of Sparta (some of them appropriated by political extremists), but we need to tackle the complications of ancient interpretations too. With the lack of any meaningful historical narratives written by a Spartan, the evidence from Sparta itself can be bitty and difficult to interpret. For example, the Classical agora remains unexcavated, and many inscriptions are still untranslated.

The major accounts about the Spartans that do survive are written by non-Spartans such as Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Aristotle, Pausanias, and Plutarch. They come with their own interpretative issues too. Thucydides fought, and lost, against the Spartans. Xenophon was buddies with a Spartan king. Plutarch wrote nearly half a millennium after the period of Spartan hegemony and dealt in writing engaging biographies. And this is all before we get to the historiographical phenomenon known as the ‘Spartan Mirage’. We are not the only generation for whom the image of the Spartans could be decidedly one-dimensional, over-exaggerated, or dowsed in political and philosophical motives. These are all some of the juicy topics that we sink our teeth into in the third-year module “Ancient Sparta” (CL3SP for those who want to look it up).

[Image of Caitlin’s map showing the Mediterranean with marked estimated trade routes from Port Gytheion].

Studying the Spartans can be an interesting exercise in a world with increasingly complicated sources of opinions, facts, and fictions dressed as facts. So, for one of our assessments, I decided that students might benefit from a digital project that would allow them to explore a facet of Sparta that might appeal to, and be surprising for, a general audience. It also presented an opportunity to think about how we present evidence, and the importance of geography in understanding Sparta, in the form of networks, findspots, and battle sites.

 

[Image showing a scatter map produced by student Alfie to show patterns of spartan military defeats at land and sea between 659 – 371 BCE].

The software that we used is ArcGIS StoryMaps, and you can view some of the work that the students created in the links provided. I was really impressed across the board with the work that was turned in, especially under the trying circumstances of COVID. The examples given here represent the broad spread of topics that everyone covered. The topics range from analyses of Spartan military capabilities to helot revolts, Spartan festivals, votives, trade, colonies, and more. Each of the stories presents a compelling case for taking a more nuanced approach when we ask the question “Who were the Spartans?” and I hope that you will find something of interest in each, I know I did!

Lydia’s “The Karneia: Festival or training camp?
Robert’s “The Best Soldiers in the World.”
Eleanor’s “An Insight into Spartan Religious Cults and Sanctuaries.”
Alfie’s “Just How Invincible Was Sparta?
Katie’s “Motives Behind the Votives.”
Daniel’s “The impact of the Helot Revolts on Sparta.”
Katy’s “Revels and Raves: Religious festivals and celebrations in Ancient Sparta.
Jack’s “Sparta the colonizer: Was Taras really her only colony?
Caitlin’s “A Crack in the Spartan Trade: The Journey of Laconian Pottery.

The “Ancient Sparta” module focused on a series of lectures and seminars, as well as some practical sessions on how to use ArcGIS StoryMaps. There was a lively movie night where we got together to watch 300 (meme competition included), as well as an introduction to some of the archaeological material from Sparta in the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology at Reading. Finally, we were very grateful to have additional video introductions from colleagues, providing the students with some alternative viewpoints and expertise. Many thanks once again to Paul Chirstesen, Stephen Hodkinson, Tyler-Jo Smith, and Paul Cartledge for their generosity of time and knowledge.

All being well, the module is due to run next year too, when, hopefully, we might be able to do some object-handling in the Ure Museum too. There’s something quite special about being up close to an object that a Spartan dedicated in a sanctuary over 2500 years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Image of three, small metal objects thought to be cult votives made by Spartans].

WHAT’S IT LIKE? Episode 4: Prof. Barbara Goff – A Specialist in Ancient Greek Literature, Language, Tragedy and their Later Reception.

Interviewee: Prof. Barbara Goff. Interviewer: Bunny Waring.
Date: 21st May 2021

Welcome to the Classic Department’s series What’s it Like? During these episodes staff, volunteers and students who specialise in all fields of Classics, Archaeology and Museums, will share with you the realities of their jobs. What to be a Linguist? Museum Curator? Archaeologist? Lecturer? Well Travelled Researcher? A Barrier-Breaker? Have No Idea? Then read on!

This week: Prof. Barbara Goff

A Specialist in Ancient Greek Literature, Language, Tragedy and their later reception.

 

[Portrait of Prf. Barbara Goff in colour]

Name: Prof. Barbara Goff.
Area of Specialism:
Classics, Literature & Reception Studies.
Topics of Interest: Euripides! How subsequent societies rework Greek tragedy, especially in postcolonial contexts.
Job Title: Co-Head of the Department of Classics and Departmental Director of Teaching and Learning.
Job Responsibilities: Right now I am joint Head of Department with Prof. Amy Smith with responsibility, in the final analysis, for everything that goes on in the Dept; but I mainly oversee the workings of teaching and other inward-facing activities, while Amy oversees research and outreach/publicity, the outward-facing activities. I’m also Departmental Director of Teaching and Learning, which currently means that I am planning what modules the Dept will offer next academic year.

Introduction

[Black and white photograph of an ancient marble sculpture of the ancient Greek playwright, Euripides, holding a mask used by actors in his left hand and a scroll in his right].

I went to a single-sex grammar school where Latin was compulsory if you were any good at French. This was, obviously, hundreds of years ago, when the state-sector still taught Latin, and even Ancient Greek. I was good at Latin but hated it, and wanted to revolutionise how it was taught. Therefore, I continued with Latin, and suddenly found myself doing Ancient Greek too. Needless to say, I fell in love with Greek, and that was that. Sadly, no revolutions at all took place.

What is your daily life really like?

[Ancient inscribed stone showing Latin (upper section) and Greek (lower section) epigraphy – CIL3.7539]

Currently, my daily life is a bit demoralising, like everyone else’s. People who teach and who like to learn, enjoy each other’s company, and often strike sparks from one another; this is harder to do at an online distance. This term I am teaching Ancient Drama, and Latin [Level] 1, and I enjoy them both, (especially the number of emojis that pop up in our chat boxes), but I would love to be back in the classroom. Other than teaching, I keep busy filling in the many forms that the University sends my way and trying to help keep both staff and students happy and productive.
At home I have a husband who is also a University lecturer, so we have the odd tussle over teaching space and whether I am making tea too loudly, and I have a teenage son who helps me out with musical choices, and with learning new names for mind-altering substances. I have another son at University in Swansea, allegedly doing Maths, but a lot of guitar too.

[Portrait in colour of Prof. Alexander Adum Kwapong in Ghanan Academic robes and hat]

When I get a moment I research and I am currently writing about Alexander Kwapong, a Ghanaian classicist who became the first African principal of the University of Ghana, in the 1960s. He later moved into University administration working in Japan and Canada. He seems to have been a charming person, and I am fascinated to read in his various writings how he saw Classics as important to the newly-independent states of post-colonial Africa. He remarks that if Classics does not have all the answers, it certainly poses the important questions; and he stresses the importance of all the humanities, from West, East, and everywhere else, in a world increasingly divided by inequalities of wealth and access to technology. I can get access to much of what he wrote via the internet, and when the British Library is open, I can read much else there.

I see my work as very much part of the decolonising movement in the humanities, both opening Classics up to demographics that might have been excluded, and revisiting Classics with tools that derive from previously excluded demographics.

What is the best part of your job?

The best parts of my job are twofold: the students and my colleagues. It is so encouraging to see new cohorts of young people who are fascinated by the ancient world, and who want to learn more about it, and even put their own stamp on it if they go on to teaching, museums, publishing or further study. My colleagues are an amazing bunch of hard-working and humorous people. It’s great to see them on the small screen (of my laptop) but I like them much better in the corridor of the Edith Morley building, carrying their coffee cups, sandwiches, bits of ancient pottery, or bits of Ancient Schoolroom, and complaining about the university administration.

 

Why do you think your specialism is important?

[The front cover of a book written by Prof. Goff, entitled Classics & Colonialism]

It delights me that our students can go forward into so many fields. It also delights me that so many of them want to teach – they clearly are not put off by their experiences at Reading, but encouraged by them! Many are keen on the heritage sector and they often develop experience in our very own on-site Ure Museum, but in no way do our students feel confined to the ancient world. Most recently we have an alumnus who is a digital marketer, and we have plenty of alumni in IT. Many continue to exercise their communication skills in publishing or other kinds of writing such as journalism or PR. One of my favourite alumni stories is of a student who wanted to get into advertising. When asked the inevitable ‘Why Classics?’, she was able to answer with such passion and enthusiasm that they could see she was the one for them. Others exercise their organisational skills in University administration, school administration, local government or, in one stand-out case, working for the Premier League in Football. Some continue their languages, in positions at the Foreign Office, for instance. Some of our alumni start their own businesses too – I can think of an events organiser and a scuba-diving school – and in so doing, are exercising the skills of the independence and initiative that University study fosters. Of course, some want to do their MA, then their PhD, and eventually become lecturers themselves. I shan’t discourage them…

 If you didn’t have your current job, what else could you apply your skills to?

[A bright orange and yellow sun sets over an ancient Greecian theatre which is filled with specatatores watching a modern performance]

If I had not become a professional Classicist at a university, I rather expect I would have become a teacher, or possibly a civil servant. However, my childhood dream was to be a marine biologist, in order to spend my days watching the corals. I also wondered at one point about being a long-distance lorry driver, but I think that was so that I could sit down a lot and eat fast food. Actually now I remember that when I was much littler, I wanted to be an actress (we said actress in those days) – but a lot of teaching is performance, so I think I am still getting some of that out of my system.

Did you always want to be what you are today?

I did not really have many hiccups along the way, except that as a graduate student I, (and all my fellow students), assumed that we would be unemployable. I spent some time thinking of back-up jobs (see above). The major hiccup I had, was that for many years I taught in the USA, at the University of Texas at Austin, and I assumed I would remain in the States. I had done much of my graduate work in California, so I was very used to the American system of higher education and I enjoyed being part of it. I loved that I had lived in the two most colourful states of all. Coming back to the UK, initially for personal reasons, was a big shock, and the UK university system took quite a lot of getting used to. I landed on my feet here at Reading.

Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?

My research life has changed a lot in the past couple of decades because I write much less on Greek tragedy and much more on classical reception topics. I am very interested in how subaltern populations use material from classical antiquity, so I have a long-term project about classics and the British Labour Party. I am also committed, currently, to the various debates about inclusive Classics.

 What 3 tips would you give to someone who wants to follow a similar path?

  1. If you want to pursue a career that connects up to Classics, don’t be discouraged by people’s stereotypical notion of your discipline; take heart from the people in all walks of life who share your enthusiasm.
  2. At university, take all the opportunities that the Department offers, and throw yourself into your education, and your other activities.
  3. Think of yourself as a work in progress and make that work the best it can be. And remember to seek extra support when you need it, since there are plenty of people around who can help.

What to know more?

If you’re interested in Ancient Greece, or any of the topics above have a look at Prof. Goff’s publications here and here (bottom of the page).

Inclusive Classics

Authors: Dr. Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis & Prof. Barbara Goff. Edits: Bunny Waring.
Date: 7th May 2021.

 

 

In April 2021, the Classical Association opened its annual conference – held online this year due to the pandemic – with a panel on Inclusive Classics. Inspired in part by the ‘Towards a more inclusive Classics’ workshop held in June 2020, the panel was convened and run by the Inclusive Classics Initiative, headed by Professor Barbara Goff (University of Reading) and Dr Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis (University of St Andrews). The aim of this Initiative is to open discussions within the discipline about marginalised groups, both in terms of their experiences during antiquity and their interactions with the subject today. The Initiative also works to bridge the gap between Classics in higher education and Classics at secondary schools, thus bringing together more perspectives within the discipline.

The panel, entitled ‘Inclusive Classics and pedagogy: teachers, academics and students in conversation’, opened with a series of spotlight talks. These covered a wide range of topics, including disability in the Classics curriculum, examining the influence of race on Classical art, applying queer theory to Classics, equality of access to classical languages and highlighting the launch of Classics Caring Network. A binding theme shared by the various speakers was the idea that inequalities in the wider world are reflected within the discipline. These spotlight talks, by early-career classicists, will be available on the Classical Association website.

Following on from the spotlight talks, the panel moved onto considering the teaching and learning experience of Classics in relation to inclusivity, both at undergraduate level and in the context of secondary education. Participants were wowed by the eloquence of two school students (from Runshaw College in Lancashire and Pimlico Academy in London), who spoke about the perception of Classics as the subject of the privileged elite, with limited real-world application. Equally interesting was the insight from teachers from the same schools, who explained how they are reforming traditional approaches to Classics, such as by deemphasising the importance of masters and slaves and examining issues of gender in the ancient world.

Break-out rooms gave participants the opportunity to ‘meet’ and exchange responses about what they had heard. The final ‘closing remarks’ of the panel saw many other intriguing presentations – on topics like the initiative to find new unseen Latin passages representing a wider variety of perspectives and backgrounds, how institutions can make Classics more inclusive in terms of race and social class, the new EDI officers at the Classical Association, the weaponization of debates surrounding Classics in an increasingly polarised public forum, the ways in which academia could do more to support those with disabilities (particularly visual impairments), the contemporary social and political context within which the Inclusive Classics Initiative is operating and the need for a free and pluralistic discourse for academic inquiry to flourish.

The Inclusive Classics Initiative has organised a second workshop for the 1st and 2nd of July 2021, hosted online by the Institute of Classical Studies and supported by the CUCD teaching committee. Issues discussed will include ‘Planting the seeds of Inclusive Classics in school contexts’, ‘Embedding inclusive practices in institutions’, ‘Decentring Athens, Rome and the canon’ and ‘Lecturers and students in collaboration’. Until then, the Initiative’s heads would like to thank all those who (virtually) attended the panel and, above all, the speakers: Lauren Canham, Amy Coker, Tristan Craig, Hardeep Dhindsa, Katherine Harloe, Arlene Holmes-Henderson, Victoria Leonard, Claude MacNaughton, Justine McConnell, Neville Morley, Isabel Ruffell, Rosie Tootell, Joe Watson, Tim Whitmarsh, Bobby Xinyue and the two school students.

What Can a Dog Called Margarita Teach us About Ancient Rome? – Education in the Making.

Interviewees: Prof. Peter Kruschwitz, Dr. María Limón & Prof Xavier Espluga. Interviewer: Bunny Waring

Date: 30th April 2021.

Today the Classics Department of Reading is delighted to announce the release of a special video called What Can a Dog Called Margarita Teach us About Ancient Rome? In this video Prof. Peter Kruschwitz (University of Vienna), Prof. Xavier Espluga (University of Barcelona) and Dr. María Limón (University of Seville) discuss the lettered world of ancient Rome and how ancient peoples interacted with the world around them. The video was filmed, directed and edited by James Rattee (https://vimeo.com/jamesrattee/videos) and includes digital footage from Prof. Matthew Nicholls’ Virtual Rome model.

Today we invited Peter, María and Xavier to discuss with us the motivations and methods of making this video and what is next for this interesting project on ancient inscriptions.

INTERVIEW

Bunny Waring (BW): Good Morning All. Thank you for joining us this morning to talk about your collaborative piece What Can a Dog Called Margarita Teach us About Ancient Rome? The Classics Department are very excited to share this work and we wondered if you could explain a little bit about your motivations for this project?

Thank you so much for this – it’s great for us to be back for a little while, albeit virtually. All three of us share the same passion: our enthusiasm for Roman inscriptions, especially inscriptions composed in verse. To us, those inscriptions are not just stones or pieces of metal that happen to have some poetry inscribed on them. They are carriers of art. They are visible, tangible manifestations of a universal artistic practice of Roman times, spanning the empire across time and space, with thousands of examples surviving to the present day.

This art was produced by individuals from all runs of life, and it was produced in the city of Rome just as much as it can be found at Hadrian’s Wall, the shores of the Black Sea, or in the Roman settlement of North Africa. We can relate to these individuals very easily because they’re not just some remote elite: they are people with everyday occupations, everyday hopes and worries, everyday problems. Like (most of) us – the other 99%, so to speak, far away from the palaces and lives of the elite. What is more, these individuals inhabited the very spaces, geographically and socially, that we still inhabit today, along with all their challenges.

It’s neighbourhood poetry, it’s communal art. And it gives us the most direct, emotionally moving, and instructive access to the world(s) of ancient Rome.

Of course, we know how we ourselves, especially in an academic context, interact and engage with Roman inscribed material remains. But how did they do it? We were curious to find out! And then we got very lucky: the British Academy gave María the opportunity to get our joint research going, first through its visiting fellowship scheme, then through additional funding for this video. We are so grateful for their support, and we hope that this video will both repay them for their trust in our research and appeal and communicate to wide audiences just what incredible, valuable material we study in our desire better to understand the Roman world and its diverse cultures.

BW: How exciting to work on such an interesting topic! So I’m eager to know: why did you choose this particular inscription?

We wanted to make a number of strong, important points. About the way in which we perceive, in which we encounter the Roman world. About the way the ancient world is presented to us in museums, archives, exhibitions, and books. And we want to do so while racing a wide audience because what we have to say and offer is relevant to so many different audiences.

 

We want to enthuse new generations with our passion for Roman history, for poetry, for epigraphy. We want to give teachers the opportunity to expand the canon of teaching through the inclusion of poetry that students can easily relate to. We want to invite museums, collections, and policymakers to rethink their approach to the way in which these incredibly exciting, talking objects from the ancient world are displayed. What better way to achieve this than to choose a text that expresses, in such beautiful words, the grief of pet owners – whose faithful companion had died. We feel we all can relate to that, and we feel that this text alone opens up so many new ways of thinking about the Roman world and the people who “were” the Romans, than the ever-same repertoire of classical authors.

BW: There must be a lot of interesting stories out there?

There are several thousand inscribed poems surviving from across the Roman world. You find anything, from obscene graffiti on the walls of Pompeii, to epitaphs on funerary monuments, 110-lines long and erected in the desert of Roman North Africa. You find beautiful, outrageous, hilarious, thought-provoking pieces, but, of course, also the banal and uninspired. How else could it be: writing short(ish) poems was a shared pastime across the ancient world, and the pieces are just as varied as their authors – men, women, children. If you would like to see further examples, you may explore them in an easily accessible format here and here. The material truly is a hidden treasure waiting for its discovery.

BW: What was it like recording this piece? Would you recommend the process to others?

Haha, oh dear! Well… none of us are natural-born entertainers. We all were terrified and at first, we hated to see our faces and hear our recorded voices. But James Rattee, the producer and creative mind behind our video, did an incredible job to make us feel at ease, to make us look smart (within the limitations that we were painfully aware of), and make the video appealing to such a wide range of audiences. We hope that putting this video out there will make it available for generations to come – for pupils, teachers, academics, cultural managers, policy makers: it should entertain and be useful at the same time! It’s genuinely a piece of art.

 

BW: Well we all certainly agree with that, here in Classics at Reading University! Excellent work! Finally then, what is in store next for your project?

We want to do more. We want to reach out to schools, to those who design curricula, design teaching in schools and at university, to show them the potential and possibilities. And we want to transform the way in which inscriptions are presented and utilised in museums – there is so much potential wasted.

We are making first steps. But there’s much more work to be done. So, if you are interested, please do get in touch with us, and we will explore the potential for collaboration with you! And as we are still thinking about reaching larger audiences and improving educational materials we would be deeply grateful if viewers, students and teachers, from all over the world would send us their feedback, even in an informal way. And by all means do feel free to send us any kind of questions regarding how Roman communicate their feelings, emotions, fears, and concerns through their inscriptions.

 

WHAT’S IT LIKE? Episode 3: Dr Claudina Romero Mayorga – A Specialist in Sensorial Archaeology in Museums and Classics.

[Image of an image of Mithratic iconography and Latin inscription in a stone frieze. Lalupa]

Interviewee: Dr. Claudina Romero Mayorga. Interviewer: Bunny Waring.
Date: 16th April 2021

Welcome to the Classic Department’s series What’s it Like? During these episodes staff, volunteers and students who specialise in all fields of Classics, Archaeology and Museums, will share with you the realities of their jobs. What to be a Linguist? Museum Curator? Archaeologist? Lecturer? Well Travelled Researcher? A Barrier-Breaker? Have No Idea? Then read on!

This week: Dr Claudina Romero Mayorga

A Specialist in Sensorial Archaeology in Museums and Classics.

Name: Dr Claudina Romero Mayorga
Area of Specialism: Archaeology, Classics and Museums.
Topics of Interest: Ancient Mediterranean civilisations, material culture, education, sensorial archaeology, music, polychromy, 3d printing.
Job Title: Education officer at the Ure Museum and Sessional Lecturer at the Department of Classics.
Job Responsibilities: Develop and deliver educational sessions for primary and secondary schools, organise outreach activities, family events, lead the Young Archaeologists’ Club, research the collection, welcome visitors, manage volunteers and interns, teach Latin or Roman History to undergraduates.

Introduction

I grew up watching old films and documentaries about ancient civilisations: Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome….everything sounded so mysterious and exciting! I wanted to know all about them so I started reading as much as I could. The objects left behind by them felt as if they still had a special power, so my focus was not so much on their languages, but on the material culture produced by these peoples who lived so many years before me. By the time I got to the university, “Gladiator” had already left a mark on me, and well…Romans are my thing now. I love working at the Ure Museum and teaching people about our amazing collection.

 

[A glimpse at some of the fantastic displays in the Ure Museum, including pots to get excited about. Ure Museum.]

What is your daily life really like?

Replying to emails takes most of my time! Before the pandemic, I would get lots of school groups in the Ure Museum and the time would just fly. Talking to kids, teachers, parents, looking at them being amazed by an ancient pot…Best feeling ever!!! Having children tell you that they want to be archaeologists and work in a museum after their visit is priceless…But in 2020 with the arrival of COVID, things changed dramatically. Although online sessions still felt great and children got to engage with 3D models, it wasn’t the same. I’m really looking forward to reopening soon!

[A YAC event (with permission) where young children are taught how to clean and understand ancient artefacts. Mayorga.]

A lot of my time is also spent planning new public events (online or face to face) for families, for older teens: trying to develop new educational resources for everyone, talking to my colleagues and other museums, updating our website, posting on our social media, writing grants applications and planning Young Archaeologist Club (YAC) sessions. If I’m teaching Roman History to undergrads, I need to prepare my classes and then mark their assignments. When I teach I try to make sure that they see that I’m passionate about the subject and that although everything seems to have been researched and discovered already, there’s still plenty to do.

I do love object-based research so whenever I have a bit of time, I would focus on a specific object and learn as much as I can. I also enjoy travelling; I like meeting colleagues in beautiful destinations to discuss our work, visit museums and tasting local food (this activity is also known as attending international congresses and seminars). Getting funds to do this can be very competitive and difficult, but I never give up!

[Dr Mayorga and Assistant Curator of the Ure Museum Jayne Holly on a research trip. Mayorga.]

What is the best part of your job?

· Handling ancient objects is the best part without any doubt! I still feel like a 5-year-old when I hold an old pot.

· Working with the curator and assistant curator at the Ure is great fun, we’re always coming up with new projects and new challenges…I don’t know what a boring day at the office is.

· Learning from other colleagues

· Being mind-blown by kids’ questions

 

Why do you think your specialism is important?

Studying ancient civilisations, in general, makes you aware that some of the problems we face today as a society, already existed in the past (misogyny, elitism, poverty). Looking at the solutions they came up with – or the lack of them – might give us a better perspective of the circumstances we are living in. My interest in sensorial archaeology comes from my focus not on emperors and great characters, but on ordinary people: how they behaved, what they liked, whom they loved, what they ate, if they were happy – and if so, how they expressed that. I believe that trying to know another person (even if that person has been dead for more than 1000 years) generates empathy and there’s nothing more important right now than trying to understand the person who is in front of you.

[The Ure Museum’s Museum in a Box tells the life of Annie Ure, the co-founder of the Ure Museum, whose life studying antiquity highlighted women’s rights issues throughout the ancient and modern eras.]

 If you didn’t have your current job, what else could you apply your skills to?

I guess I would be good in general admin, but I would do better in a position that would allow me to support or mentor young people. Teaching is a calling, whether it’s Classics or Economics, but I believe I would be good at working with younger people.

Did you always want to be what you are today?

Yes! Haha, I get to work in a museum and at the Uni, although I took the long and winding road to get here. People usually go for Museum Studies if they want to work with collections or in a heritage site. I started studying History of Art in Madrid and then my PhD in Archaeology offered fieldwork training: I was part of a team that dug up a Roman villa in Spain…and to spread the news among the locals I guided some tours and “played” with the finds to show kids how fun and interesting the Romans were. There I got bitten by the “museum bug” (beware!) and ended up researching lots of museum collections and storage facilities for my final dissertation in every single European country.

[Dr Mayorga teaching a range of students and volunteers about the importance of Museum collections. Mayorga.]

But I had to work and study at the same time, so it took me longer than expected. Volunteering and taking up education modules did the rest. But because I have a PhD in Archaeology people usually don’t understand why I’m the Education officer, as if researching and teaching were two completely different activities, when in the end they’re two sides of the same coin. I can’t conceive one without the other.

Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?

I hope the pandemic is over by then! I would love to see the government showering universities with funds, especially to support Humanities. Would love to have my role as an Education officer as full-time, and to continue teaching at the University of Reading. It would be great to have certain events and activities already cemented in our educational calendar (3D printed resources; Ancient music sessions).

 What 3 tips would you give to someone who wants to follow a similar path?

  1. Go for whatever you love: languages, physics, computers. That will always stay with you, money won’t. Studying something that you don’t like is torture.
  2. Don’t believe everything you read: even if it is printed in a book by a famous author, it’s opened to discussion.
  3. Travel as much as you can.

What to know more?

If you’re interested in staying up-to-date with what events the Ure Museum has to offer head over to the Museum’s webpage here.

Diversifying and Decolonising.

Author: Prof. Barbara Goff. Edits: Bunny Waring.
Date: 26th March 2021.

 

Like much of the world, the University of Reading has recently been having important conversations about race. The death of George Floyd and the effects of the pandemic have enabled a togetherness that scrutinises racial inequalities in this society (and others) with renewed intensity. Many institutions are responding positively, including the University of Reading both as a whole and on Departmental levels. Soon, the University’s Race Equality Review will be published, and last week the Centre for Quality Support and Development ran a webinar on ‘Addressing Discrimination – Diversifying and Decolonising Higher Education’. The Department of Classics was there in force.

Ian Rutherford, Rachel Mairs and Barbara Goff presented on how their teaching addresses issue of diversity and decolonisation. While the term ‘diversity’ can point towards including the varied perspectives of groups who may have been excluded in earlier times, such as women, BAME people, people with disabilities, or with varied sexual orientation, ‘decolonisation’ invites us to focus more closely on questions of race and the long history of European colonial dominance and oppression over peoples of Africa, Asia and the Americas. Such questions include thinking about the history of our disciplines and how knowledge may have been affected by discriminatory attitudes; they also include thinking about how to make disciplines welcoming to students and scholars of varied backgrounds. Our Department includes Prof. Katherine Harloe, one of the few Black professors in the UK, but like many humanities departments, we do not include many BAME students. This is a situation which we would like to redress. It is important that the Department is a place where everyone feels they can flourish.

Classics as a discipline comes with a lot of racialised baggage. The cultures of Greece and Rome have historically been used sometimes to promote the idea of white western supremacy, and some groups nowadays who are still wedded to that idea use imagery of ancient Greece and Rome to serve their discriminatory agendas. In fact, the idea of ‘race’ is alien to the ancient world, which made many discriminations among people, but was not very interested in skin colour. Ian, Rachel and Barbara together showed how the ancient world offers paradigms for thinking about difference, and stressed that the modern discipline rejects simplistic claims about cultural superiority. Instead, classicists nowadays are intent on sharing the resources of the ancient world with all who might be interested.

Ian’s contribution reminded us that the Department of Classics has taught other cultures, as well as Greece and Rome, for many years. He teaches about ancient Anatolia, and about relations between Greece and Rome and ancient Egypt; in the past we have had modules on intersections with Jewish history and culture, and on ancient Carthage. The Ure Museum has an Egyptian collection alongside its Greek materials. Ian’s teaching and research shows how the ancient world was a place of endless movement and mingling of cultures, foreshadowing our own concerns with globalisation.

 

Rachel showed how her teaching addresses notions of decolonisation via her interest in how ancient Egypt has been perceived in western traditions. In her module on ‘Cleopatras’ she discusses Afrocentric scholarship, and how it contributes to reassessing assumptions about racial difference. The historical character of Cleopatra is claimed as both white and black, and the various arguments about her identity shed light on perceptions about history and race. Meanwhile her module on ‘Pioneers of Classical Archaeology’ examines how the discipline of archaeology has relied on the unacknowledged labour of people like the Egyptian labourers on digs, or the women who supported the ‘heroic’ male explorers.

 

Barbara drew attention to the Department’s work with groups who promote classics in state schools, such as’ Classics for All’ (https://classicsforall.org.uk/) and ‘Advocating Classics Education’ (http://aceclassics.org.uk/ ). She also talked about how teaching in the core modules on Ancient Drama and Ancient Epic includes discussion of African rewritings of classical literature, such as Derek Walcott’s Omeros or Wole Soyinka’s The Bacchae. Authors of African descent have frequently engaged with classical literature, in Africa, the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe, so that some such rewritings have become part of the classical ‘canon’ themselves. Classical drama is not only performed throughout the world, but also reused and adapted by different societies to their own ends; this reuse is one of the major ways in which the discipline of classics stays vibrant and relevant in the modern world.

 

Together, the contributions made it clear that ‘decolonising’ is not about rewriting history, or about removing Homer from syllabi. It is instead about teaching and research that is rooted in the diversity of the ancient world and of modern responses to it. The Department’s work on this topic continues next term with a seminar series on inclusivity. Next term too, Katherine Harloe and Rachel Mairs will run a roundtable where students will be invited to talk about issues facing BAME students, students with disabilities, and students who identify as LGBTQI+, in the Department and the University. We look forward to some fruitful, if challenging, conversations.