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.

Fear in Ancient Culture: A Call For Papers and a Virtual Tour as Classics UoR Hosts the 15th Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient Literature (AMPAL).

Author: Dania Kamini. Edits: Bunny Waring.
Date: 19th March 2021.

Fear in Ancient Culture

The Department of Classics at the University of Reading is delighted to host the 15th Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient Literature (AMPAL) on Thursday 17th – Saturday 19th June 2021. The theme for this year is Fear in Ancient Culture.

Given the current travel restrictions and social distancing rules due to COVID-19, this year’s meeting will be held online on Microsoft Teams. In these strange times, the Organising Team of AMPAL 2021 is determined to preserve the engaging and interactive character of the event. To that purpose, we aim to transform this online environment into a welcoming setup in which postgraduate students in Ancient Literature from across the world can gather again (albeit virtually) and celebrate another year of research on Classics. This event is described as AMPAL 2021 in shorthand, but it also stands as AMPAL 2020-2021 since it aims to bring together already confirmed speakers due to present in AMPAL 2020 and new speakers joining the conference in 2021.

Keynote Speech (18th June 2021, 5pm): Fear of Revenge in Euripidean Tragedy by Professor Fiona McHardy.

It is with great pleasure that we announce this year’s AMPAL Keynote Speech will be delivered by Professor Fiona McHardy (University of Roehampton). Professor McHardy will speak about the fear of revenge in Euripidean tragedy. Through the exploration of contemporary ideas about young children and babies as avengers, underpinned by comparative anthropology and psychology, this lecture unravels the dynamics of fear associated with children within both the plays of Euripides and their literary and social contexts.

Virtual tour of the Ure Museum

This year’s AMPAL also includes a virtual tour of the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology, our departmental museum founded by Percy and Annie Ure. In addition to the museum’s permanent displays, we are proud to host an online presentation of an inaugural student exhibit, Fear Beyond Words designed specifically for AMPAL 2020-2021. To register for this, please visit: https://collections.reading.ac.uk/ure-museum/explore/online-exhibitions/fear

Call for Papers

Fear is a driving force behind human action, capable of pushing people to either exceed their own expectations or to prevent them from acting at all. As a powerful motivator, the emotion of fear had a pervasive presence in ancient life and thought. This is reflected in multiple ways throughout literature, juxtaposed with motivation, social interaction and power dynamics. Furthermore, as early as Aristotle’s Poetics, fear had already been understood as a ruling force and powerful notion for the construction of literary genres, especially tragedy. While evaluating the ancient literature as an integral part of understanding such a concept, the diverse influences of different fields of study, such as literary criticism, political theory, psychoanalysis, and philosophy, can add valuable insights.

In this context, AMPAL 2020-2021 invites presentations on fear from literary or interdisciplinary approaches. Questions as to how fear can be defined, the whos, how and whys of causing fear, how fear is related to other aspects of ancient thought, how the sense of fear grows or fades, how this notion forms the interaction among humans or between mortals and gods, and the role of language in the creation of a fearful or fear-free context, are all considered to be substantial aspects of this year’s theme.

Suggested topics on fear may include, but are not limited to:
– Fear and literary criticism, meta-poetical or reception analysis
– Fear and other emotions; fear disguised as other emotions; fear and the sense of respect; fear and related notions and experiences; fear and the five senses or other body reactions
– Cognitive and behavioural approaches to fear, and emotions in general
– Fear and the manipulation of memory
– Fear and the construction of myth and heroic profiles or/and social or political identity
– Fear and power play; the control of political dynamics; the promotion of political agendas and ideas
– Psychoanalytical approaches to fear; gendered fear; fear as a significant aspect of rites; fear as anxiety
– Fear of the other (Orientalism, Amazons etc.); philosophical approaches to fear; fear and the fundamental existential questions
– Depictions and illustrations of fear in ancient art and material culture
– Aspects, perceptions and depictions of fear in late antique and early Christian literature and thought; reception of the ancient concept of fear in early modern literature

The Department of Classics at Reading invites postgraduates of every level to submit an abstract of 250-300 words for a 20-minute paper followed by 10-minute discussion by the 25th of April 2021. Abstracts should be sent as an anonymous PDF to readingampal2020@reading.ac.uk. Please include your name, university affiliation, programme, and year of study in the body of your email and not in the abstract. AMPAL 2020-2021 is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students in any relevant discipline as well as to the general public. Details on the keynote speech will be announced in due time.

All Welcome!

Please note that although our website and email address will maintain 2020 in their titles, they will remain the main communication paths for AMPAL 2020-2021 as well.
Further information on AMPAL 2020-2021 and all relevant events can be found at its website: https://ampal2020.wordpress.com/. Please keep an eye on AMPAL 2020-2021 website for further announcements. Feel free to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and spread the word!

Inclusive Classics and Pedagogy: Teachers, Academics and Students in Conversation Towards a More Inclusive Classics.

Author: Bunny Waring
Date: 12th March 2021.

11am 6th April 2021 – 3:30pm 8th April 2021 (GMT)

Join Prof. Harloe, Prof. Goff and Joe Watson as they discuss how to make Classics more inclusive as part of The Classical Association’s Annual Conference. Alongside a host of students and specialists from across the UK this workshop will kick off the two-day, free, online conference event with a workshop entitled- Inclusive Classics and Pedagogy: Teachers, Academics and Students in Conversation Towards a More Inclusive Classics.

To register for the conference, please fill in our online form here.

PROGRAMME
Tuesday 6 April

11am – 12.30pm: Inclusive Classics and pedagogy: teachers, academics and students in conversation A follow up to the Towards a More Inclusive Classics Workshop held 25-26 June 2020.

Panel co-chairs: Professor Barbara Goff, University of Reading and Dr Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis, University of St Andrews

OUTLINE

Spotlight 3-minute talks: ‘visions of inclusive classics’

· Lauren Canham, Trainee Teacher at Jane Austen College, Norwich: ‘Ancient Paradigms of Disability on the Curriculum’

· Hardeep Dhindsa, PhD candidate, Department of Classics, King’s College London: ‘Chromophobia: Recolouring the Classics’

· Dr Victoria Leonard, Research Fellow at the Centre for Arts, Memory and Communities, Coventry University: ‘Caring in Classics Network’

· Joe Watson, PhD candidate, Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Durham: ‘Queer Classics and Classics for Queers; or, Beyond Gay Men Reading Plato’

· Dr Bobby Xinyue, British Academy Early Career Fellow, Department of Classics and Ancient History & Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, University of Warwick: ‘Race, Inclusivity, and the Future of Classics’

Opening remarks:

· Dr Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis, University of St Andrews

· Professor Barbara Goff, University of Reading

Panel discussion on inclusive classics in teaching and learning

· Tristan Craig, Undergraduate Representative for History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh

· Florence, a Classical Civilisation student, Runshaw College, Lancashire

· Dr Justine McConnell, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Literature, King’s College London

· Claude McNaughton, Teacher, Pimlico Academy, London

· Rosie Tootell, Teacher, Runshaw College, Lancashire

· Aaron, a Latin student, Pimlico Academy, London

Break out rooms: ‘turn to your neighbour’, 10-minute exchange of responses to the panel

Closing remarks:

· Dr Amy Coker, Cheltenham Ladies’ College and University of Bristol

· Professor Katherine Harloe, University of Reading

· Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson, University of Oxford

· Professor Neville Morley, University of Bristol

· Professor Isabel Ruffell, University of Glasgow

· Professor Tim Whitmarsh, University of Cambridge

2.00pm – 3.30pm: Accessing Classical Civilisation and Ancient History in Britain, past and present perspectives (under the auspices of ACE)
Professor Edith Hall, Dr Henry Stead, Dr Arlene Holmes-Henderson and Peter Wright

Wednesday 7 April

2:00pm – 2.45pm: Presidential Address by Mari Williams, winner of the Daniel Owen Memorial Prize at the National Eisteddfod of Wales in 2018, for her novel Ysbryd yr Oes (‘Spirit of the Age’)

2.45pm – 3.30pm: Presentation of the CA Prize for 2021 and the inaugural CA Teaching Awards by Natalie Haynes

7.00pm – 8.30pm: Greek theatre online: An evening of classics-inspired theatre, featuring new material from three UK-based groups, Out of Chaos and By Jove theatre companies, and film company Barefaced Greek, followed by a Q&A chaired by Professor James Robson

Thursday 8 April

11am – 12 noon: Developing Classics in the local community: CA Branches in 2021
Katrina Kelly (CA Branches Officer and Chair of Lytham St Annes CA) and colleagues from around the regions

2.00pm – 3.30pm: Classics in the marketplace: being a Classicist in public
Dr Liz Gloyn, Dr Jane Draycott, Dr Mai Musié and Professor Neville Morley

FAQs
When is the Conference taking place?
6-8 April 2021

Will there be any face-to-face events? –
No, everything will take place online.

Is there a fee? – No, all events are free. You can attend as many or as few as you wish.
Do I need to be a member of the Classical Association to attend? – No, you may attend regardless of your membership status.

Can I submit a paper/panel to be presented? – Unfortunately not, this year’s conference focuses on key issues facing classicists, including inclusivity, employability and the performance of classical texts in the online world, and we will have a limited number of invited speakers/panels.

How do I attend? – All delegates will be contacted closer to the event via email with links and instructions about how to join the sessions.

How do I get in touch with you for more information? – Please email CA2021@classicalassociation.org

You can view full details of the provisional programme here.
Abstracts are available here.

Seminar Series Programme -Autumn 2020

The Department of Classics’ Autumn 2020 seminar series will take place on Wednesdays at 4pm, via MS TEAMS. To request a link to attend one or all of the following sessions, please email a.c.smith@reading.ac.uk

7 October: Prof. Thorsten Fögen (Durham), Rival or ally? Competition, controversy and polemics in ancient technical discourse

14 October: Dr Maria Pretzler (Swansea), The Beginning of the Peloponnesian League – not quite as Herodotus tells it?

21 October: Dr Chris Stray (Swansea), Uncovering Kenneth Dover: A scandalous eminence.

28 October: Dr Jennifer Cromwell (Manchester Metropolitan), The use of indigenous languages in conquest societies: the case of Coptic in early Islamic Egypt

11 November: Prof. Fiona Macintosh (University of Oxford), Archiving and Interpreting Performance

18 November: Dr Jack Hanson (Reading), Cities, temples, and scale: A comparative approach

25 November: Dr Julia Hamilton (Leiden), Secondary epigraphy in Old Kingdom Saqqara

Reading Ancient Schoolroom 2017

Photo: Alex Wickenden

This year’s edition of the Reading Ancient Schoolroom ran for two weeks and welcomed several hundred schoolchildren to campus. Led by a team of specially-trained volunteers, some of them Reading students and others coming from as far away as Edinburgh to participate, the children experienced first hand what life was like in a Roman school. This year there was a focus on Roman mathematics (pictured above: maths teacher Dom O’Reilly with children from Dolphin School), but children also practiced reading from papyri, writing on ostraca and tablets, using quill pens, memorizing poetry, and studying Latin and Greek the way ancient children would have studied them. They also had the opportunity to sample Roman food made by our magnificent Roman cook, Reading undergraduate Charlotte Edwards, and special object handling sessions in the Ure Museum. For more information (and lots more pictures) see https://readingancientschoolroom.com/2017-schoolroom/. Schoolroom director Professor Eleanor Dickey was interviewed about the event on UKEd chat; you can listen to the interview at https://ukedchat.com/2017/07/17/ukedpodcast-episode-12/.

Learning Latin the Ancient Way – Reading research in the Guardian

Learning Latin the Ancient Way, Reading Classics professor Eleanor Dickey’s latest book published this week by Cambridge University Press, has been reviewed in the Guardian. The review can be seen at http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/10/ancient-greek-manuscripts-reveal-life-lessons-from-the-roman-empire The book explores how Greek-speaking students in the Roman empire learned Latin, using the fragments of their Latin textbooks preserved on papyri from Egypt and in medieval manuscripts. In some ways these ancient Latin learners had an experience strikingly similar to that of modern students: they used grammars, dictionaries, and commentaries; they read Cicero’s Catilinarian orations and Virgil’s Aeneid; they memorized vocabulary; they looked up the hard words and wrote translations into their Latin texts.

Prof. Dickey's most recent book: Learning Latin the Ancient Way (Cambridge, 2016)

Prof. Dickey’s most recent book: Learning Latin the Ancient Way (Cambridge, 2016)

But in other ways the ancient Latin learners had a very different experience from that of their modern counterparts. Some of these differences come from the fact that ancient learners came to Latin knowing ancient Greek rather than English. So they struggled to learn the Roman alphabet, but they had no problems with the distinction between nominative and accusative cases. Other differences come from ancient educational conventions: ancient beginners started off with bilingual texts, easy Latin accompanied by a running translation. Of course the students could not translate the Latin for themselves as a modern learner might do, since a translation was provided; instead they memorized the Latin, rather the way a student studying French today might memorize a dialogue about ordering croissants in a café in Paris.

Indeed the texts read by ancient beginners have much more in common with material read by modern French learners than with that read by modern Latin learners. Ancient students studied short dialogues and narratives about daily life: buying clothes, buying food, having lunch, borrowing money, and visiting sick friends. Of course, ancient daily life was not quite like modern daily life, so the dialogues also cover going to the public baths, winning court cases, making excuses, getting into fights, taking oaths in temples, and coming home drunk after a Roman orgy. Just like their modern counterparts, these dialogues were written to teach students about culture as well as language; therefore they offer us priceless insight into life in the Roman empire as Romans saw it.

Learning Latin the Ancient Way provides extracts from all types of ancient Latin-learning texts: bilingual dialogues, alphabets, grammars, dictionaries, annotated copies of Sallust, word-lists to Virgil, prose composition exercises, Aesop’s fables, stories about the Trojan war, letters of congratulation for sending to successful legacy hunters, an explanation of the Roman law on manumission, etc. Portions originally written in Greek have normally been translated into English, but the Latin remains in Latin; this means that modern students can experience and use these texts as their ancient counterparts would have done (or ignore the English and treat the passages like any other translation exercise). A few passages lack word division and punctuation, to make it clear what reading was really like in antiquity.

Professor Dickey hopes that her book will be used by modern Latin teachers and students (it is suitable for learners who have already done at least one year of Latin) and that it will enable modern learners to enjoy the ancient Latin-learning materials, which are now able to be used once more for their original purpose.

Copies can be purchased from Cambridge University Press (to whom Professor Dickey is very grateful for pricing the book at an affordable £18, a sharp contrast to most of her previous books): http://www.cambridge.org/gb/academic/subjects/classical-studies/classical-languages/learning-latin-ancient-way-latin-textbooks-ancient-world?format=PB.

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.

The Department of Classics showcases the Third-Year Module ‘Digital Silchester’ (CL3SIL). Interview held by Dr Rebecca Rist (School Director of Teaching and Learning) with Dr Matthew Nicholls (Department of Classics)

Dr Matthew Nicholls reflects on the use of digital modelling in the Classics Curriculum on the University’s Teaching and Learning blog:

1.  Dr Nicholls, you are particularly interested in the digital modelling of ancient buildings and places, especially the city of Rome, and you are currently talking to Cambridge University Press about a book and related digital / app publications as well as showcasing your work at the up-coming Higher Education Academy Storyville Conference.  Why did you and the Department of Classics decide to launch the new Part Three module ‘Digital Silchester’ (CL3SIL) this academic year?

There were a number of reasons that we decided to do this.  When I first arrived at the University of Reading I began to interest students in the results of my own digital modelling work through undergraduate and postgraduate modules on the city of Rome.  It soon became apparent that students really wanted to engage with digital modelling and once they knew about my research interests I was frequently asked if I needed any help with projects.  I have found that digital modelling is something that undergraduate students can pick up quickly and I really wanted to get them to participate in seminars, not just as consumers but as producers of their own material.  I have also over the years had a number of UROP students working on digital modelling.  When I saw that these students were able to pick up the necessary software and research skills well, I decided to run ‘Digital Silchester’.  Students are increasingly comfortable with digital technology and virtual worlds, and they enjoy the idea of engaging with something visual, which means the module has attracted a large amount of interest.  ‘Digital Silchester’ has been funded by CDoTL as part of my University Teaching and Learning Fellowship, and I am very grateful to them for awarding me a University of Reading Teaching and Learning Development Fund grant.

2.  The module ‘Digital Silchester’ is taught using a mixture of fortnightly master-class sessions as well as more academic lectures/ seminars on the history of Roman Silchester and its excavations.  Tell me about the academic content of the module.  What are the aims of the module and what are students expected to do to fulfil its requirements? 

The academic content consists of lectures about Roman Britain and Roman urbanisation in order to locate the archaeological remains at Silchester within a wider historical context.  We also look at the history and the excavation of the site itself.  To help with this the University of Reading library kindly digitised the entire series of excavation reports from the Society of Antiquaries dating back to the nineteenth century.  Since digital reconstruction is such a new area of expertise there is a rapidly expanding bibliography on the subject.  Students are asked to think about the reasons for making digital models, why different approaches are possible, and what are the principles, aims and methods of archaeological re-construction.  In order to fulfil the requirements of the module students have to complete two assessments.  At the end of the Autumn Term the students are asked to make a small digital model of a building from ancient Silchester.  I choose the building for this model – this year it was a possible early church – and they produce a written commentary justifying all the choices they have made in constructing their model in terms of structure, use of materials, etc.  This task also allows them to get up to speed with using the appropriate software and is worth twenty percent of the module mark.  Then in the Spring Term the students can choose any building from Silchester to work on.  Again they make a model and write a commentary on it and this part of the course is worth eighty percent of their final mark.  When I assess their work I don’t necessarily look for photo-realism but also for understanding of how re-construction can highlight important points about a building’s history and use.  Unlike some undergraduate modules, ‘Digital Silchester’ allows students to be creative rather than just learning to synthesise information, while the written component of the module encourages students to be really reflective.  I have found that this combination works well and allows students with visual or creative flair to put that to work in an academic context.

3.  ‘Digital Silchester’ is current and up-and-running from this academic year.  Tell me about student interest in the module, what the uptake has been like and how you aim to ensure student interest in the future.  

I have had a full quota of around 25 students for ‘Digital Silchester’ this year and I am expecting a full uptake next year.  Students like the module because it is new and different and I have had very good feedback, not just from Student Evaluation Forms but just generally from talking to them about the course.  In fact they have now started chatting about it on the Department of Classics’ Facebook page!  Students have also identified to me where aspects of the module might be improved in the future.  A lot of students who are interested in Archaeology take the module – currently about half of the students are from the Classics department and half are doing a joint Ancient History and Archaeology degree.  ‘Digital Silchester’ is also starting to have the knock-on effect of encouraging students to use digital modelling in other contexts, like their third-year dissertations.  The Department of Classics is keen to promote it at Open Days, at module briefings and at the annual Module Fair, although it is a module that really sells itself!

4.  ‘Digital Silchester’ is studied over two terms (Autumn and Spring) so that students can take full advantage of the (free) technology which ITS services at the University have installed and offer.  Can any students in the Department of Classics take this module or is a level of technological know-how required?  What sorts of students do you think are best suited to taking it? 

There are no formal pre-requisites for taking the module ‘Digital Silchester’.  The course is open to all students and although I would try to steer complete Luddites away! I think that any Reading student would be capable of understanding the software.  In any case I have found that by the third-year students are self-selecting and know whether they would be suited to the module.  I have also found that the creative element of the course really appeals to students while the visual element goes down well with a lot of different types of learners – so it is accessible to other types of students besides the very academic or intellectual ones.  Also, the world of digital heritage in an increasingly important component in Museum Studies and something that any student needs to know about if he or she is intending to make a career in the world of museums.  Our own Ure Museum already runs all sorts of digital projects including animation, iPad apps, and 3D scanning, so Digital Silchester fits in well with innovations elsewhere in Classics, and I am currently discussing the possibility of further collaboration with the Museum Studies degrees now offered through MERL and in close collaboration with Classics.

5.  In this difficult economic climate it is really important that students develop skills in computing and digital technology which they can then transfer to the workplace.  What particular set of skills does the module ‘Digital Silchester’ train our students in and help them develop? 

There are three particular sets of skills which I think ‘Digital Silchester’ helps students to develop.  The first is digital visualisation – i.e. utilising specific bits of 3D modelling software that are relevant to the module.  So ‘Digital Silchester’ has application in the real-world and develops directly transferable skills – I even designed my own house extension recently using digital modelling methods!  The second is that the module increases fluency in computing more generally because it involves image manipulation and the management of large and complicated files – in other words it encourages computer literacy.  Thirdly, although Classics trains students in a whole host of skills, the fact that digital models of ancient buildings are so unusual, means that students who take this module find that their interest in innovative technology goes down very well at interviews – it sets them apart and gives them an extra string to their bow.  Employers really like the fact that the module requires students to design their own assignment and set their aims and objectives.  So the module is very good for employability.

6. Two students from the Department of Classics have recently been highly successful in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme.  How did their studies contribute to the launch of ‘Digital Silchester’? 

Yes, I had two UROP students who were employed on summer placements to aid me with my digital modelling of ancient Rome.  The idea was to employ raw recruits with aptitude but no previous knowledge of the software within a limited timeframe (six weeks) and to help them during that period to produce a meaningful piece of digital reconstruction.  One student produced a digital model of parts of northern Rome.  The other worked on Roman Scotland and in particular on a model of a Roman marching camp based around the site of St Leonard’s.  This student’s work recently featured on a BBC Scotland TV documentary in which I was also interviewed about digital modelling.  The fact that the software proved so successful for this Roman digital modelling encouraged me to transfer its use to my new undergraduate module ‘Digital Silchester’.

7.  Having Silchester so close to Reading is a wonderful bonus for our Classics and Archaeology students.  How have you been able to use easy access to this dig both to enhance your teaching and to inspire your students?  

The fact that I have been able to go to Silchester with my camera and take lots of reference photos has really enhanced my teaching.  Silchester’s closeness to the University of Reading is also invaluable to students because, thanks to money from my recent Teaching and Learning Development Fund grant, I was able to take the whole class to the site right during the course of the module.  I hired a coach and drove them in the freezing cold to the site, firstly to see the physical remains and secondly to take photographs.  I also encourage students to visit the Silchester gallery in the Reading town museum in their own time and I am considering in the future making this a compulsory component of the module.

8.  In setting up ‘Digital Silchester’ you have been in consultation with the Department of Archaeology.  It is really excellent to see these collaborations across the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.  Tell me in what ways has Archaeology been particularly helpful in providing advice and material for the module?

The Department of Archaeology has provided lots of advice and I have had a number of meetings with colleagues who are involved in the Silchester excavations.  At these meetings I worked out with them what they would find useful in terms of dates – in other words what date to set the models at – as well as discussing what should be included in student bibliographies, what were the likely paedagogic difficulties students might encounter on the module etc.  Eventually we hope to construct a model of parts of Silchester for display online, perhaps through the Department of Classics and/or Archaeology website.  In terms of material colleagues from Archaeology very helpfully provided me with a series of images from display boards from the Silchester site with reconstructive paintings made by English Heritage – with whom they also put me in touch.  They also gave me pointers on how and where to secure excavation reports from the site.  And as a number of the students on the module are theirs, I have enjoyed chatting to colleagues from Archaeology as the module has developed.

9.  In an increasingly competitive environment ‘Outreach’ has become more important than ever in academia.  How, for example, has English Heritage in particular been supportive of your launch of ‘Digital Silchester’?

English Heritage gave me the permission to use high-res reproductions of previous reconstructions.  This means that we can discuss with students the complexities of approaching re-construction and how previous professional artists have tackled Silchester in particular as a site.  As for ‘Outreach’ more widely – this has the potential to be considerable.  I have already been on television several times to discuss digital modelling and I have recently attended a national HEA Conference where I discussed the paedagogy of digital modelling further with colleagues from across the sector.  That the Silchester dig attracts huge public interest also gives us a fantastic potential opportunity to showcase ‘Digital Silchester’, while the fact that it is a unique module in UK undergraduate circles means it is also a very useful recruitment tool for encouraging admissions to both Classics and Archaeology.  There is also the potential for international collaboration, particularly in the United States.  For example, I am currently in conversation with Duke University who are working on developing a student modelling programme for Venice.  And there is the possibility of future public engagement for the University of Reading through the new technology of MOOCS.

10.  It is great to see the Department of Classics at the forefront of digital technology.  Obviously the nature of the module ‘Digital Silchester’ means that it is particularly suited to such expertise.  How would you encourage other colleagues in the School of Humanities to think about using digital technology in their seminars and lectures, particularly those who teach perhaps more ‘traditional’, less practically-based modules?      

I blog about ‘Digital Silchester’ on the University of Reading T and L blog and I have spoken at and chaired recent CSTD events at the University, including lunchtime T and L seminar colloquiums.  Colleagues from the departments of English and Archaeology have also sat in on ‘Digital Silchester’ seminars in order to learn about the software and there has also been a lot of student interest from the departments of Typography and Systems Engineering.  The software to construct a digital modelling course is free – so there is no cost barrier.  You can easily teach yourself with the aid of free tutorials on the web and I would really encourage colleagues to have a go!  I would recommend colleagues to approach digital modelling in stages.  So start with just downloading the software (http://www.sketchup.com) and playing with it, make shapes, models of houses etc.  Then you can progress to making an actual model yourself to illustrate research and/or show students before moving on to constructing a whole module based around digital modelling.  There are lots of free web tutorials and videos available. The beauty of digital modelling is that you can apply it to any module you teach –whether that is a module which requires a model of the papal court at Avignon or the palace of Versailles – the possibilities are endless!

Bringing the past to life on screen

modelDr Matthew Nicholls of the Classics Department uses digital technology to create reconstructions of the ancient past. He’s been working for some time on a huge digital model of ancient Rome, which he uses a lot for teaching and research. Students find these dramatic visualisations of the past engaging and useful, so Matthew has now developed a new module, CL3SIL Digital Silchester in which Reading undergraduates research and create their own virtual reconstructions of our local Roman town.

Matthew’s work lends itself well to television programmes on ancient Rome, and he has been in demand for programmes on Rome and its colourful history. Over the summer of 2012 the BBC contacted him to ask whether he could help with a documentary programme on Roman Scotland. The problem that programme makers faced was that while the story of the Romans in Scotland is fascinating, the archaeological remains they left behind often don’t show up well on the screen – utf-8''DSC03128the forts and towns of the area, which never developed into settlements permanently occupied over centuries, often survive as bumpy fields rather than dramatic, easily-filmed standing ruins. The BBC decided they needed to create some computer graphics to represent these Romano-Scottish sites to the viewers, and asked Matthew to help.

After an initial research trip at the start of the summer, Matthew returned to Reading and began work in the library, reading up on the history and archaeology of the sites chosen – the legionary fortress at Inchtuthil in Perth and Kinross, a fort with civilian settlement or vicus at Inveresk in East Lothian, a village of roundhouses at Birnie near Elgin, and a huge temporary marching camp at St Leonard’s.

utf-8''IMG_0287For the last of these only the outer earthwork survives, so Matthew turned to an ancient literary source, Pseudo-Hyginus, whose work on how to lay out the ideal Roman camp within those ramparts turns out to work pretty well for a camp of this size – an interesting combination of literary and archaeological evidence. For this part of the work Matthew was able to employ a second year undergraduate assistant as part of the University’s UROP scheme  offering the student a fantastic chance to earn some money and CV points and to get his name on the credits of the finished documentary.

Matthew returned to Scotland at the end of the summer to film the use of these models on site, and then continued work on them to produce and render animations of the finished versions that were used in the finished documentary, Rome’s Final Frontier, broadcast in December 2012 The BBC kindly agreed to host some of the reconstructions online, providing a permanent resource for those interested in these fascinating sites.