Studying at the Fondation Hardt

The Hardt Foundation for the Study of Classical Antiquity in Vandoeuvres near Geneva is well-known among classicists for their excellent library, annual research conferences organised by world-leading experts in their fields, and the Entretiens collection of volumes covering particular topics about the ancient world. But perhaps even more important is the peaceful and friendly environment that helps researchers to concentrate on their work. Last year, I was awarded The Hardt Foundation Research Scholarship for young researchers and had the opportunity to spend two weeks in the Foundation estate in Vandoeuvres enjoying the fresh mountain air and the beautiful lake Geneva views, and, of course, working hard.

FH2

In particular, I was writing a chapter of my thesis on the representations of ritual space in Greek comedy. The final stage of work required a lot of attention and concentration to put all the material together and to provide the analysis with the conceptual framework. In that respect, I benefited a lot from my research stay at the Foundation library. I had a chance to consult all necessary commentaries and editions of Greek authors as well as secondary literature on my subject which proved to be – together with a truly productive lifestyle – particularly fruitful for writing up the piece.

I also prepared for publication a research output related to the topic of space in Greek comedy. This was a paper `Performing sacred landscape: worship and praise of land in Greek drama’ for an Oxbow volume of collected papers. In this article I consider direct addresses to land and landscape in Greek tragedies and comedies in the context of the Greek lyric tradition of cultic hymns. I study the function of these addresses within the dramatic plays and I discuss their role in constructing the identity of the audience through investing spaces with religious meanings.

FH1

I found the Hardt Foundation ideal for writing and thinking about my current work. At the same time it was great pleasure to meet other researchers and PhD students from all over Europe, as well as the director of the Foundation, ancient Greek historian and archaeologist Pierre Ducrey, the scientific secretary Gary and the maître dhôtel Heidi who prepared delightful meals that brought everyone together to share and discuss inspiring research ideas.

Elena Chepel

Reading students enjoy the opportunity to teach Minimus Latin

In June Alex Keane, Karim Bhaluani and I attended a Minimus training day. For those who don’t know, Minimus is a book that brings the joy of Latin to the primary classroom. Karim and I have been lucky enough to be given the opportunity of teaching Minimus to a lively home schooled group, whereas Alex will be teaching in a local primary school next academic year.

We were delighted to meet Barbara Bell and the team that created Minimus to learn not just how to teach it, but also the story behind it.  It was truly inspirational to see how Barbara Bell, upon visiting the Roman site at Vindolanda, created the entire story around evidence found there. Listening to this creative process was a fantastic way to learn how to engage the pupils when going through the course and some of the thinking processes involved when attempting to reconstruct the past. We were also treated to an example of a very interactive first lesson, with emphasis on inclusion, pronunciation and drama.

The resources of the Minimus course are simply astounding and we found out about some great ideas such as singing ‘Senex MacDonald’ (Old MacDonald had a farm), as I’m sure the Classics Department heard some days ago in the resources room. The whole day was a great experience on how to teach Minimus, Latin and primary school children in general with a whole plethora of old and new teachers sharing their own experiences.”

Rachael Hopley

Athens 2014 Study Trip

Going to Athens has been one of the highlights of my time so far at University. The trip combined academia and socialising to create a memorable and thoroughly enjoyable experience.

One of the first things we did was dine in a local taverna in the evening. In doing so we experienced a slice of typical Greek life. The food throughout our brief time in Greece was always of a high quality, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Of course not the entire trip was eating and relaxing, hard study and learning had to be done (as well as a fair amount of walking!).

On day two we went to the Acropolis Museum. Being able to view Ancient Greek sculptures in person, after studying them for years, brought the whole thing to life. I was taken aback by the beauty of the caryatids. Later that day we went up Philopappou Hill, this optional climb was a must to see the incredible views of Athens.

On Wednesday, day 3, the stand out activity was visiting the ancient site of the Acropolis. We got to see the Parthenon and the Erechtheion. The main reason I enjoyed this so much was because of my avid interest in Ancient Greek architecture, but I would challenge anyone not to be amazed by the sheer beauty of the temples here.

The following day we went to Thorikos. By now you may be getting the impression that the trip consisted of a lot of climbing. Whilst it is true that we were active for a lot of our time in Greece the gains from these incredible views far surpassed the exhaustion of the excursion its self. The second hill we visited that day, Sounion, was much smaller. More importantly it is the site of Poseidon’s Temple, as well as having incredible views of the sea. This temple for me was the most aesthetically pleasing, and the fact that it was situated close to ground level was appreciated by my tired legs.

On our final full day in the afternoon we got a hands on session in the museum at the British School of Athens. Mr Robert Pitt, the director, allowed us to handle some of the artefacts in their sublime collection. On our last evening we had a group meal where we reflected on the incredible experiences we had shared throughout this trip.

My thoughts on the final day as we travelled home were positive for my whole time in Athens. I made lots of new friends on my course as well as getting closer to those I already had. Whilst my legs do not miss the walking, I certainly miss Athens!

(Text – Rose Lloyd; Photos – Kelly van Doorn)

Fellowship in New York awarded to Doctoral Researcher, Laura Robson

Former Reading doctoral student, Dr. Laura Robson, who obtained her PhD in 2013, has been awarded a prestigious Helfand Fellowship in the History of Medicine and Public Health at the New York Academy of Medicine.

Laura, who was also an undergraduate in Classics at Reading, will spend a month in New York exploring how sixteenth-century medical works used images and texts from Andreas Vesalius’ anatomical treatise, the Fabrica.

She will use Geminus’s Compendiosa (1545) and Raynalde’s translation of The byrth of mankynde (1545) to demonstrate the complex relationship between anatomical image and text and to unite the history of the book with the history of the representation of the body.

Many congratulations to Laura!

Promoting Undergraduate Research in Classics

Many congratulations to Mathew Britten, currently a second-year undergraduate student in our department and president of the Reading University Classics Society, on getting his article ‘Don’t Get the Wrong End of the Stick: Lifting the Lid on Roman Toilet Behaviour‘ published in Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research.

Well done, Mathew!

Mathew’s publication is the outcome of a presentation at the 2013 British Conference of Undergraduate Research.

Our department has a long history in supporting Undergraduate Research – a number of recent news items on this topic can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

 

Travel Award: Our Doctoral Researcher Lee Graña reports from a colloquium held in Madrid

Our Doctoral Researcher Lee Graña obtained a departmental travel award from the Wardman Travel Award fund, enabling him to attend a colloquium in Madrid. Here is his report:

The international colloquium ‘Recursos del mar y productos transformados en la antigüedad’ took place over two days in February at the Casa de Velázquez institute in Madrid, Spain. Attending were French, Spanish and Portuguese professors, archaeologists and chemists, as well as Tonnes Bekker Nielsen from Denmark and Wim Van Neer from Belgium.

Casa de Velazquez, Madrid.

Casa de Velazquez, Madrid.

The subject was the Roman fishing industry via the study of the archaeological remains of fish-processing sites. The aims were to evaluate the current trends in the study of the ichthyofaunal remains of recent archaeological sites across the Mediterranean and Atlantic coast.

The event was open to the public and free of charge. However, due to the nature of the subject and the concentration on the current attitudes of professional research, only a hand full of students attended. This proved beneficial as it allowed more concrete discussions among the leading experts.

3rd of Feb (day one)

An introduction was given by Arturo Morales Muniz who discussed the history of this field of study and highlighted the issues of previous scholars and their legacy on modern interpretations.

Poster advertising entrance to the colloquium. Pictures could not be taken within the lecture theatre.

Poster advertising entrance to the colloquium. Pictures could not be taken within the lecture theatre.

The talks that followed in the morning were given in French and Spanish and discussed our current understanding and interpretations of the available evidence: economic traits of production sites (Enrique Garcia Vargas); growing appreciation for Black Sea industry (Tonnes Bekker Nielsen); tituli picti from amphorae remains (Kevin Quillon); and alternative resources for Baetican production (Dario Bernal Casasola).

I was fortunate that, due to the low attendance of students, I was invited to have lunch with the professors, giving me an opportunity to hear their thoughts on the subject in a more informal setting, as well as discuss my current work with the University of Reading.

The second session saw a concentration on the ichthyofaunal remains from current excavations, with a focus on the Atlantic coast: Brice Ephrem on France; Wim Van Neer on production sites further inland; and Carlos Fabiao, the leading expert in Portugal, and Sonia Gabriel, discussed their approach to the excavation of one of the largest known production sites of the Roman Empire at Troia and current excavations at the Tajo estuary.  This included the environmental sampling of ichthyofaunal remains, often missing in Mediterranean digs. Finally, Eufrasia Rosello Izquierdo and Arturo Morales Muñiz, discussed an overview of such ichthyofaunal remains in the Iberian Peninsula.

The end of the first day saw a debate spark off among the leading experts on the Latin terminology used in describing the fish-sauce manufactured by the Romans. Sally Grainger, an experimental archaeologist and graduate of the University of Reading, defended her views and experiments as a chef and was allowed to give a talk the following day.

4th of Feb (day two)

The second day was much shorter. Prior to a coffee break the lectures given were conducted by chemists and environmental archaeologists: Sonia Gabriel, Ines Vaz Pinto, Nicolas Garnier and Myriam Sternberg. This provided us with the techniques and results of conducting up to date chemical analyses of ichthyofaunal and mineral remains. The conclusions suggested a more complex industry than previously believed, with the possible dyeing, or flavour enhancing of fish sauces. The reasons suggested by Dario Bernal and Sally Grainger were the possible imitation of more expensive versions of fish sauce.

Sally Grainger then gave us a talk on her experimental research on fish sauce and how her results, in line with the classical record, suggested the names given to fish-sauces were related to their production, stating: “The Greek transliteration by the Romans, rather than translation, along with modern misinterpretations by scholars restricted to a few sources, have confused our understanding of fish sauces”.

The final talk was given by a chemist, Victor Palacios Macias who, along with Dario Bernal Casasola, have also experimented on the reproduction of Roman fish-sauce, as chemically identical as possible to environmental samples recovered at Baelo Claudia in Southern Spain. The results were positive and the sauce a gastronomic success. To our benefit, some samples had been brought to Madrid for us to try. Delicious!

Victor Palacios Macias (right) talks to the Spanish radio TVE about the product.

Victor Palacios Macias (right) talks to the Spanish radio TVE about the product.

Figure 3: Victor Palacios Macias (right) talks to the Spanish radio TVE about the product.

The fish sauce produced by Palacios Macias is a prototype for a product that will hopefully reach the market in a short time. Along with an Italian fish sauce (Colatura) they are the only commercial fish sauces produced in Europe which claim to continue a near three thousand year old tradition of fish sauce production. Regardless the commercial value, the product has also highlighted several aspects previously ignored, though argued by a few scholars (such as Sally Grainger): that the Roman fish sauce is far from “a poisonous fish that burns the stomach” as suggested by the well-known stoic, Seneca (Ep. xcv.xxv), defending the principles of his time. Instead it is a nutritional and delicious product that would have been enjoyed by many. Certainly the result of a successful industry that requires further study.

My experiences at the conference, the contacts made and the novel approaches highlighted to me by some of the leading experts in the field have made this trip an important starting point for my PhD research and for future work in this field. This would not have been possible without the support of my supervisor and the University of Reading.

Lee Graña

Dr Matthew Nicholls Wins Guardian Higher Education Award for Teaching Excellence

It may not quite be the Oscars, but the recent Guardian Higher Education Award ceremony in London was certainly an exciting night out, and I was delighted to come home with the award for Teaching Excellence. The award recognised my work in using digital modelling of ancient cities in my University teaching – both my large model of Rome, now nearing completion, and my course on Digital Silchester. Those projects have been the subject of various other posts and articles, by me and others, so I thought I’d post some thoughts here about the evening and the award itself.

The call for entries was circulated in mid-October, just as the academic year was getting underway. The University collected nominations and decided which ones to enter; my suggestion for the HEA-sponsored Teaching Excellence category was selected and I was asked to write a series of 300-word paragraphs outlining my work, describing how it was delivered, stating its outcomes with relevant evidence, and listing any funding received. At this stage I was not particularly hopeful about the outcome; the entry process did not allow for any pictures to be added to the strict word count, and as mine is such a visual project I thought that this would limit how well I could convey it to the judges.

In early December, however, I was excited to learn that I had been shortlisted (alongside the University of Nottingham’s 5-year pharmacy degree programme). To be one of two shortlisted entries was extremely gratifying, given the level of competition. I was pretty sure that I would not go on to win: all the other entries in the awards scheme, including Nottingham’s, seemed to be big projects run by groups of people, whereas mine is essentially an individual piece of work – albeit one strongly and consistently supported by my department and by the wider University. But to find out, I would be going to the awards ceremony in London in the new year.

The 26th of February eventually rolled round, and I headed down to London in a very smart chauffeured car with Gavin Brooks, the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Teaching and Learning), and David Carter, one of my Faculty’s Associate Deans. The Guardian was hosting the awards in style at 8 Northumberland Avenue, a distinguished Victorian hotel building off Trafalgar Square now restored (after a period as offices for the Ministry of Defence) as a very grand conference venue. There were between two and three hundred people there, representing the shortlisted universities and the sponsors of the various awards.

I had been shortlisted for a BUFAVC award for Learning on Screen in 2013, so the format of the evening, including the long and increasingly tense wait for one’s own award category to come round, was familiar. After an hour or so of high-decibel mingling over some very nice canapés and Champagne, we moved into the large ballroom, set out with tables (bearing yet more canapés) facing the stage. The evening’s host was Victoria Coren, who writes the poker column for the Observer. She moved fairly briskly through the award categories, keeping the evening moving along with good humour.

The announcement of each category’s winner was preceded by a little video in which the chairman of the judging panel made some remarks about the field of entries – a high standard, difficult to choose, and so forth – and then a sentence or two about why they had chosen the winner (without revealing who it might be). The first intimation that I might have won came when the judges for the Teaching Excellence award said that they had chosen to reward a scheme that was about teaching, rather than about organising teaching – David and I had time to exchange a could-it-be? sort of glance, and then ‘University of Reading’ was announced as the winner – a really exciting moment. A burst of rather loud and lively music and some flashing lights gave me time to walk up to collect my trophy and pose for pictures, with Victoria Coren and Stephanie Marshall, the Chief Executive of the Higher Education Academy.

David had prudently brought his iPad along and hooked up to the venue’s wifi to Tweet a series of images and messages. Like most events of this type now there was an official Twitter hashtag and a live video feed of messages, so we enjoyed seeing ours scroll past, and then seeing nice emails, FB posts, and Tweets pouring in.

The excitement of winning a trophy at a big national ceremony was wonderful, and the sort of thing that does not come often in a career. The trophy is on my desk, my mother has a copy of the photos, and the whole thing left a warm glow that will, I should think, last a while. That apart, though, I was particularly glad about two things.

One was the recognition for the support I’ve enjoyed from my departmental colleagues and students, and from the wider University. They have all consistently supported me through allowing me to try unusual new modules, through TLDF, Digitally Ready, and UROP grants and a University Teaching Fellowship, and more broadly through an environment that genuinely encourages innovation and the use of technology in teaching practice. Reading is very supportive to those willing to try something new, or adapt a practice or technology to their own subject.

The second, connected to this, is that the HEA in judging the award chose to recognise a project that is essentially the creation of me as a single academic, which links my research straight into my teaching. The other award categories on the night reflected the nature of modern universities as large, diverse businesses run largely by committees and teams: there were honours for business partnerships, communications and PR campaigns, community engagement, facilities projects, HR initiatives, and so on. These are all important, but it does seem to me that research and teaching are really our ‘core business’, and in my own humanities discipline, the individual researcher/teacher model is still at the heart of a lot of what we do – though we work well as a team, my colleagues and I all enjoy pursuing our own specialised work and conveying it to our students.  I was very pleased that this way of working was able to hold its own on the night.

Matthew Nicholls

Posters in Parliament

There are few things more gratifying for any academic teacher than seeing one’s students succeed. The following is such a success story:

Abi Cousins, a current finalist in our department, recently won at the 2013 Reading Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (UROP) showcase event with a poster that displayed the main findings of her UROP project ‘Communication Disorders in the Ancient World: Lack of Language, Lack of Power?’. The project was carried out under the supervision of Prof. Peter Kruschwitz, and since then it has resulted in a preliminary publication of their findings in the JACT journal Omnibus.

In recognition of Abi’s excellent achievements, the University of Reading gave her the opportunity to present her research at the 2014 Posters in Parliament event in London on 25 February, organised by the University of Central Lancashire and the British Conference of Undergraduate Research.

In an overall heavily science-dominated setting, Abi’s poster – the only submission in the area of Classics from the entire UK and one of the very few posters based on Arts-and-Humanities-related projects – attracted significant attention: even after an hour and a half of answering questions (in what was planned to be a one-hour slot), Abi still found herself answering questions and offering offprints of her co-authored article.

Abi said: ‘It was an excellent opportunity and a great chance to meet people genuinely interested in my work as an undergraduate and talk to them about something I was passionate about. A long day but so much fun and so rewarding.’

Prof. Kruschwitz, who also attended, said: ‘It is excellent to see that University of Reading shows its ongoing, substantial support for, and belief in, Undergraduate Research, which gives due credit to all academic disciplines, including those of the Arts and Humanities. Abi has done herself proud – again! –, and she was a wonderful, enthusiastic ambassador both for the excellent things we do here at Reading and for her academic discipline. Our department has a long track record in successful engagement with undergraduate research (including a number of publications derived from such projects), and today has added an exciting new chapter to this lasting success story.’

Classics Department’s ‘Night at the Oscars’

Addressing assembled staff and students at the Undergraduate Research Showcase event on Wednesday 20th November, the Vice-Chancellor likened the event to the Oscars ceremony … and, well, to continue the metaphor, Classics came away holding a golden statuette!

Josh Kerr and Emma Aston toasting his poster on the Thessalian cavalry in ancient warfare.

Josh Kerr and Emma Aston toasting his poster on the Thessalian cavalry in ancient warfare.

At the event, every student who undertook a UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Placement) in 2013 presented a poster on his/her research.  Posters were grouped by category, and in the group labelled ‘The Past’, antiquity was strongly represented in the form of Classics Department students Abi cousins, Josh Kerr and Will Burks.  Between them, their three projects covered a wide and fascinating range of ancient life and culture, showcasing the flexibility of the discipline.  Will’s project involved collaboration with University Teaching Fellow Dr Matthew Nicholls on the ongoing development of the latter’s digital reconstruction of ancient Rome.  Josh’s poster presented one aspect of his joint research with Dr Emma Aston on the role of the famous Thessalian horse in ancient society, and reflected his particular interest in military history and ambition to continue on to postgraduate study.  Abi Cousins had, with Professor Peter Kruschwitz, produced a ground-breaking study of speech-impediments in ancient culture, a neglected aspect of the ancient world with far-reaching implications for our understanding of language and communication.  What all three had in common was the process of painstaking reconstruction: reconstruction of lost buildings, reconstruction of beliefs and of ways of life now imbued with that hair-raising mixture of strangeness and familiarity which makes the ancient world so unceasingly fascinating to all who work on it.

Abi Cousins with her two pieces of shiny stationery

Abi Cousins with her two pieces of shiny stationery

For those of us who managed to tear ourselves away from ‘The Past’ (and it’s never easy), the other categories of research on display also provided interesting viewing, ranging from environmental science to cognitive processes in primary-school children.  Deciding which projects should be judged best in their categories can’t have been easy, and the hard work of all participants was recognised in the presentation of certificates and VC handshakes.  But when it came to the presentation of the awards, it was hard not to wait with baited breath.  And Classics gained an amazing double prize: Abi Cousins received not only the award for the best project in her category, but also the prize for best project overall.

Actually, there was no statuette … but she did receive golden envelopes (a classic HE equivalent, and very appropriate to these straitened times).  Not to mention, to use Homer’s phrase, a hefty dose of κλέος ἄφθιτον (‘undying glory’)!

Emma Aston

Forthcoming Workshop: Words, Numbers, Rationality

Words, Numbers, Rationality: The effect of accounting systems and language on economic and business decision-making

Friday 8 November 2013: Thet Win Aung Boardroom, RU Student Union

This interdisciplinary workshop, sponsored by the Centre for Economic History and the Economic History Society, will explore how, through the ages, language and recording systems employed at the time influenced concepts of economic rationality.

9.00 Coffee and registration
09:30 Mr M. Stringer (Reading) Sales, Costs and … Confusion? : Linguistic and accounting constraints on decision-making in Roman agriculture.
10:20 Dr A. Dobie (Stirling) Medieval Man, Accounting and Economic Rationalism.
11.00  Coffee break
11:30 Prof. R. Macve (LSE) A genealogy of myths about the rationality of accounting in the West and in the East.
12:10 Dr O. Gelderblom (Utrecht) The public support of private accounting as the key to understanding the commercial expansion of Europe before the Industrial Revolution.
13.00: Lunch break
14:15  Prof. G. Waymire (Emory) The Impact of hard information on self-dealing, soft communication, and social gains in an investment-trust game.
15:00 Prof. S. Basu (Temple) Knowledge, mental memory and accounting transaction records.
16:15 Round Table Discussion with M. Casson (Reading), K. Verboven (Ghent), D. Mullins (Oxford), and A. Marzano (Reading)

There are still places available for this workshop and there is no registration fee. If interested in attending, for catering purposes, please register by emailing Mr Stringer.