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.