Beyond LGBT+ History Month: Broken Futures Project

Author: Amy Hitchings and George Stokes. Edits & Introduction: Bunny Waring.
Date: 9th April 2021.

Introduction: As LGBT+ History Month comes to an end it is important to continue the educational progress made, during this focused push for better dialogues across communities. The Classics Department at Reading has long advocated and implemented important conversations about gender and sexual identity, through a variety of research projects, educational events and student-led initiatives (see here and here). Read on to hear what the team at Broken Futures has been developing recently and how Classics at Reading are working collaboratively with other institutions and organisations towards a brighter tomorrow.

The Broken Futures Project (2021)

LGBT+ History Month is a time to look back through history and to highlight queer identities. This often brings with it a sense of belonging that many queer people believe is not only desirable but essential for their own sense of identity and place within society. But what if the lives of people who defied heteronormative society have been hidden, either by those people themselves or by a state that didn’t record their existence?

Volunteer researchers at the Broken Futures project have been working to reconstruct the lives of men who encountered the local criminal justice system as a result of their sex with other men. This is no easy task; state archives were not designed to be used in this way and are not organised in neat categories for present-day researchers. So-called ‘homosexual’ offences are lumped together with sex with animals, as well as with women. It can be difficult to work out exactly what happened in any given instance from the court records alone, so Broken Futures volunteers have been scouring newspaper archives (over 163 hours over the past year) for any snippet of information that can give us a clue.

We’ve also been working to humanise the individuals recorded in our sources, and volunteers have trawled census, military, and education records to get some understanding of the individuals behind the offence. We’ve found heart-wrenching tales of same-sex desire, family unity, and stories of people trying to simply live an ordinary life in the face of huge societal condemnation.

We’ve found evidence of sex between men throughout the county of Berkshire, from the poorest agricultural labourer to the landed gentry, but what does this really mean for the LGBT+ community today? The next stage of our project will be to grapple with the issue of whether we can view these men as homosexual or as a precursor to our modern notion of homosexual identity at a time before these concepts became mainstream. We also want to confront the issue of whether it is appropriate to claim these men as part of our community, given that they would probably never have publicly admitted to engaging in this behaviour in their own time and may have even been horrified at the idea.

The project will conclude with a podcast seminar series throughout April with community volunteers, the Berkshire County Archivist, and a number of Reading academics including: Amy Austin (History), Dr Oliver Baldwin (Classics), and Prof. Katherine Harloe and Aleardo Zanghellini (Classics and Law respectively). From 19 April, there will also be a virtual display at the Museum of English Rural Life and an online exhibition on the Broken Futures project page, as well as an updated version of Support U’s existing queer history tour around Reading. We also have a toolkit that will be available, should you be interested in reading more about the research process, the sources used to recover these stories, or how to go about finding lives in archives around the country.

This is all just the start of uncovering Berkshire’s queer history, as the criminal sources utilised only record instances of sex between men. Also, criminal documents did not directly discuss ethnicity and, of course, individuals whose same-sex sex went undetected were not prosecuted and cannot be found in criminal archives. More work needs to be done to uncover the lives of unrepresented communities in Berkshire, and this is something that Support U is endeavouring to work towards in the near future.

The Broken Futures Project was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2019 and seeks to explore the history of ordinary men in Berkshire who were charged with buggery/indecent assault/gross indecency between 1861 to 1967 by training community volunteers in archival and genealogical research. The project is managed and delivered by Support U, the LGBT+ support and wellbeing charity in the Thames Valley. Find out more by visiting www.brokenfutures.co.uk.

The Pilot project for this work was funded by the University of Reading’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme in 2018, supervised by Professor Katherine Harloe, University of Reading and Mark Stevens, the Berkshire County Archivist with student researchers Amy Hitchings and George Stokes.

George and Amy now make up the Broken Futures team. The Broken Futures project team has some fantastic project partners, to whom we are so grateful for support and guidance since the project’s conception: The University of Reading; The Museum of English Rural Life; Reading Museum; and the vital resources, archival access and training spaces provided by the Berkshire Record Office. This work will also feature in the Queer Rural Connections, a theatrical project led by Timothy Allsop and Dr Kira Allmann of the University of Oxford, exploring queer rural lives.

Diversifying and Decolonising.

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

WHAT’S IT LIKE? Episode 1: Professor Eleanor Dickey – A Specialist in Ancient Languages and Education.

Interviewee: Prof. Eleanor Dickey, Interviewer: Bunny Waring.
Date: 19th February 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: Professor Eleanor Dickey

A Specialist in Ancient Languages and Education. 

Name: Professor Eleanor Dickey, FBA
Area of Specialism: Classics
Topics of Interest: Education in antiquity; language teaching; linguistics; papyrology; ancient languages
Job Title: Professor of Classics
Job Responsibilities: Teaching (all levels from first-year undergraduates to PhD supervision), research, research impact (Reading Ancient Schoolroom), Study Abroad coordinator, academic tutor, a union rep for Classics and a union caseworker.

Introduction

I’ve wanted to be a scholar since I was a little girl; it seemed like it must be so much fun to discover new things about the past. And you know what? It is so much fun! It is also hard work, but I love being a Classicist, and that’s why I do it. Of course, I also want to transform my students’ abilities by brilliant teaching, to bring the ancient world to life for people who might never have understood it, to make discoveries that advance scholarship, and to write books that people will want to read and use long after I’m gone. Little things like that. And I work very hard at these goals — but the heart of it all is simply a love of the ancient world.

A favourite papyri

What is your daily life really like?

You’re sure you want to know? Absolutely sure? You wouldn’t rather keep your illusions about the luxurious life of the full professor? Okay, so here goes…

I work pretty much all the time, from long before dawn until late at night. I’m married to another Classical linguist (Philomen Probert of Wolfson College Oxford), whom I’ve known since we were students together; we live in a little house crammed full of books, with a cat inherited from another Classical linguist. Both our lives are completely focussed on Classics — it’s a passion that we share. And that’s good because life with Philomen can be demanding. For example, lately, she’s been teaching Hieroglyphic Luwian in Swiss German over Zoom from our dining room table before dawn, every single day, even on Christmas.

On teaching days I normally spend about 12 hours on campus and eat all meals in my office. I have a lot of teaching hours (up to 6 per day), but I prefer it that way because it means that my classes are all small and interactive, rather than big, passive groups. I enjoy the kind of teaching where you find out what the students are thinking because that allows you to help them learn effectively; I’ve never been convinced that lectures do much of anything towards learning. My own student days were mostly wonderful, exciting periods of challenge, stretching, and constant discovery; although the discoveries about the subject matter were good, the best were the discoveries about the extent to which one can develop new abilities. University transformed me from someone hampered by endless limitations into someone who could do pretty much whatever she set her mind to — and now that I’m a teacher I want to give my students something similar. They don’t all want that, of course (many are just as attached to their limitations as I once was to mine, because limitations are an important part of one’s identity), but some do.

On days in between teaching days I spend most of my time reading student work; of course, that’s entirely my own fault for assigning so much of it, which I do because I’m convinced that that’s the best way to give students the experience I’m aiming for. I enjoy reading the work when it goes well, and tear my hair when it goes badly.

Out of term, and in terms when I’m not teaching (such as this one), I concentrate on research. I’m currently finishing a book on Latin loanwords in ancient Greek; I’ve been working on it for over a decade, and the book is enormous, so I’m very keen to send it to the publisher soon. But I don’t want to ruin my reputation as a scholar by making mistakes, so I have to double-check it very carefully, which is taking forever. My main workspace is the bed; I sit on it with the cat and the laptop sharing my lap and books and papers all around. It would be a bit easier if the cat wanted to sleep somewhere else, but then I’d miss her.

One reason this book has taken so long to finish is that I’ve also been working on other research projects. One of those is editing 35 papyri (scraps of ancient paper dug up by archaeologists) as part of a project at the University of Naples (https://platinum-erc.it/) that is producing a re-edition of all known Latin papyri (there are thousands). I really enjoy editing ancient texts, because you’ve got a good chance to discover something completely new. For example, I recently discovered that one of my papyri was a copy of a text that is supposed to have been composed in the sixth century AD, except that this papyrus had been written at least 300 years before then. So suddenly our whole understanding of that text has to change (Read more). The other reason I enjoy editing texts is that it’s a great excuse to travel: you need to inspect the original papyri or manuscripts, and those inspections result in delightful visits to libraries, museums, and even beautiful monasteries where women aren’t allowed in at all, unless they need to see a manuscript.

Most years I also run an event called the Reading Ancient Schoolroom (www.readingancientschoolroom.com), in which we re-create a Roman school for a few days and invite local children to come to experience it. This is a research-impact project based on my work on ancient education , so we focus particularly on what children actually did in ancient schools, from interrupting the teacher and saying hello as they came into reciting poetry from memory. But in order to make it feel authentic, we also have Roman costumes, wax tablets, reed pens, papyrus rolls, etc. We also have a slave, because slavery was an important aspect of ancient life that can’t be ignored, but as the director of the event, I feel uncomfortable about asking anyone else to play a slave. So I always take that role myself.

Prof. Dickey ready to teach at the ancient schoolroom.

What is the best part of your job?

1) The subject matter: Classics is endlessly fun.

2) I get to do a lot of travel and practice foreign languages because I’m frequently invited to give lectures in interesting places (although sometimes I bite off more than I can chew and end up wishing I hadn’t accepted quite so many invitations). I also travel to look at manuscripts and papyri when editing texts, sometimes for weeks at a time.

3) The job is highly varied, so you don’t get sick of doing any one thing (except perhaps e-mail).

4) You’re always learning and overcoming new challenges, so you continue to grow and improve.

5) Academia is a very tolerant place, which is great if you have characteristics that some people don’t like. I’m an immigrant, married to another woman, with prosopagnosia (face blindness: I can’t normally identify people by looking at them). In some settings, I might have a very difficult time, but universities are very tolerant in these respects.

Why do you think your specialism is important?

Understanding other societies and cultures is important because it helps us understand our own world better and appreciate something of the range of cultural possibilities within which our own ways of doing things fall. In order to decide whether you want to continue doing things as usual or try something different, you need to know what other options exist. Of course, you can get those benefits from studying any other cultures, but understanding ones from the past is particularly useful, because that allows you to know what happened on previous occasions when various other options were tested out.

More specifically, take my research specialism of education in antiquity. Ancient education was fundamentally different from its modern equivalent, because instead of grouping children by age and expecting them all to master particular skills at particular points in their lives, it was highly individualised with each child learning at his or her own pace. That has some obvious advantages over our own system in terms of reduced stress, anxiety and boredom for students whose brains work faster or slower than average, but also obvious disadvantages in terms of efficiency: the modern system allows more students to share one teacher. Are there elements of the ancient education system that we could adopt into our own without losing too much efficiency? In fact, if you look, you see that there are. For example, does everyone always have to have the same deadlines? Inspired by the ancients, for several years now I have been letting my first-year students choose their own essay deadlines, and that is a classic win-win solution: not only do they each get the deadline that suits them best, but I get my marking spread out over a month, which makes the essays much easier to hand back quickly.

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

With some reorientation I could do pretty much all ‘graduate jobs’ that don’t require degrees in specific fields: charity work, financial services, consulting, advertising, publishing, etc. Most such jobs require skills that any good Classicist has: how to think analytically, write well, argue persuasively, work hard, learn fast, take responsibility, be creative, not let your colleagues down, etc. By this time I’m also very good at studying, so if I wanted to do something that requires further study, like being a lawyer or engineer, the retraining wouldn’t be too difficult. I could even branch out into careers that require non-academic learning, such as farming or plumbing: once you really understand how to learn fast and efficiently, you can apply those learning skills in different ways.

Did you always want to be what you are today?

Not really. I had a tough childhood and wasn’t very ambitious about what I could achieve. I wanted to be a scholar, but without fully understanding what a scholar is; it wasn’t until I got to university that I started to realise what my options really could be. If someone had said to me when I was young that eventually I would be a professor of Classics, publish ten books, travel all over giving lectures and workshops in different languages, and live in a house Oxford with a wife and a cat, I’d have been thrilled (especially about the cat), but I probably wouldn’t have entirely believed it.

Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?

I hope my current book will be finished and published, and that I’ll be in the middle of another project that’s just as good. Apart from that I’d like to be just where I am now, because this is a lovely department.

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

Work really, really hard: that’s the only way to get here.

Never give up on a goal just because you haven’t got the right abilities: most abilities can be acquired if one is determined enough.

Pay close attention to reality and see things as they really are: self-deception, even if temporarily soothing, is limiting in the long run.

What to know more? Click the book for more details or visit the ancient school room website here.

 

 

The Ure Museum: The Nine Lives of A Mummified Cat’s Head

By Dr. Claudina Romero Mayorga, November 2020.

This year’s edition of Heritage Open Days (11-20 September) at the Ure Museum was a bit different. For the annual HOD we would normally host a talk and open the museum on a Saturday with free activities for families, but the pandemic forced us to step up and go virtual. What could we offer to attract people back to their computer screens during a time when families had already been online for 6 months!?

Since the theme for this year was “hidden nature” we chose to focus on the mummified cat’s head that is spending its afterlife in one of our cases. Our staff and some colleagues in the Department of Classics created a series of short videos under the title “The 9 lives of the Ure Museum’s cat’s head”. Each life of the cat – and each day of the festival – would be devoted to discovering a specific aspect of our feline. After all, the internet loves cats.

Dr Hana Navratilova started with Bastet and the wide range of powers that this Egyptian goddess displayed. Prof. Ian Rutherford then offered a refreshing and honest point of view: what we know–and don’t—about the ancient Egyptian custom of sacrificing cats. Dr Claudina Romero Mayorga gave us a gory insight into the mummification process and a step by step guide to mummifying a sardine (and to keep our cat well fed in the afterlife). Prof. Rachel Mairs provided us with an eco-friendly vision of ancient Egypt by focusing on how papyri were recycled into cartonnage.

The Ure Museum curator, Prof. Amy Smith and the assistant curator, Jayne Holly, then reminded us of their important “behind the scenes” work. By tracing back the cat’s provenance—where it comes from, when was it added to our collection, who gave it to us–we discovered bits of our own history. Lending our feline to another museum and running some tests in the lab to become part of the ancient Egyptian Animal Biobank also expanded our knowledge of this spooky artefact.

All videos were posted on our website and advertised on social media, enabling us to engage with people around the world. Our number of followers on Twitter and Facebook rocketed; international institutions liked our posts and we created a series of colour-in pages that accompanied each video for younger kids. In the end, our Heritage Open Days were more accessible than ever. If you missed the videos, you can still watch them at: https://collections.reading.ac.uk/ure-museum/whats-on/cat/.

New Artwork to be Inspired by University Classics and Archaeology Collections

     

A creative take on artefacts in the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology at the University of Reading will be produced thanks to Meeting Point, a scheme putting art in unexpected places.

The Ure Museum, in the Classics Department, located in the Classics Department in the Edith Morley building on the Whiteknights campus, has been chosen as one of six museums and heritage sites to work in partnership with artists to commission a new work of art inspired by each venue.

The Meeting Point programme is led by contemporary arts agency Arts&Heritage, which supports small and medium scale museums to put art at the heart of their programmes and to forge new relationships between the contemporary arts and heritage sectors.

Professor Amy Smith, Curator of the Ure Museum and Head of the Classics Department at University of Reading, said: “Meeting Point is a great way to keep museums at the forefront of cultural activity, that is, to help ever wider audiences see the connection between contemporary creative arts and the collections of historical, archaeological and sociological information encapsulated in our museums.

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We are really looking forward to discovering how artists might respond to different aspects of our collection, perhaps even our archives which themselves tell great stories about those who collected and curated the collections in the 19th-20th centuries. We are also hoping to recruit an artist who is interested to share their creative process with the students.”

The Meeting Point programme has previously worked with venues in the North East, North West and the midlands, partnering more than 20 museums with artists from across the UK.

As well as commissioning a new artwork which responds to their collection, each venue also receives training in best practice for working with artists.

Steph Allen, Executive Director at Arts&Heritage, said: “Arts&Heritage works with museums and heritage sites which have little previous experience of commissioning contemporary art.

We’ll be working with these six venues to pair each with an artist who will create a brand new piece of work – which could be anything from sculpture to a sound installation – created especially for the venue and inspired by its history and collections.”

Arts&Heritage is funded as a Sector Support Organisation by Arts Council England through its National Portfolio Organisation funding.

The other museums selected to take part in the Meeting Point Programme are Didcot Railway Centre; the National Paralympic Heritage Centre in Aylesbury; Furzey Gardens in the New Forest National Park; and‘a space’ arts; and The Brickworks Museum in Southampton.

 

-The Meeting Point Team

Ure researchers show Cyprus in 3D

Through the “Cyprus: 3D” project Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology researchers are highlighting the Ure’s Cypriot holdings and investigation their research and pedagogical value. From among its 100+ artefacts from this Mediterranean island, 19 terracotta figurines of the Kamelarga style from Kition have been chosen for this project. The figurines, which date from the Cypro-Archaic period (750-480 BC), represent worshipers holding food, animals, shields and musical instruments. Such figurines have been interpretedTraditionally as ex-votos, but the loss of their archaeological context leaves many questions yet to be answered.

We captured these figurines through photogrammetry to get virtual 3D models, which we later edited and 3D printed. We printed them in different textures, sizes and colours, as some of the original terracottas were found fragmented, with and without traces of paint, etc. Our goal was to encourage the handling of these replicas and to analyse our audience’s reactions. Cyprus: 3D was the common thread throughout our calendar of educational activities for 2018-2019: we have incorporated our figurines in many events to promote the collection as part of our outreach programme and audience development, in which older teenagers and families had the chance to play with our prints as a way to have a better understanding of Cypriot ancient culture. We encouraged responses from the participants with questions about what the figures looked like, who they might represent, what genders they might reflect, what each figure was carrying, with follow-on questions such as why they might be carrying these attributes.

Claudina Romero Mayorga

Learners from different backgrounds, ages and learning abilities engaged with our resources in similar ways: they overlooked the printing quality in some of the replicas and embraced the opportunity to touch and “play” with copies of fragile artefacts that are usually safeguarded inside our cases. The sense of touch provide us with a “tactile reality”, sensations capable of generating mental images that are important for communication, aesthetics and concept formation. Audience interpretations of the artefacts —in terms of gender, status, attributes, etc.—largely matching the theories of the excavators and scholars that have been studying Cypriot material for decades. Learners “played” with the replicas, allowing us to create different slow-motion animations that tried to evoke ancient rituals and behavioural patterns from a civilisation now long gone. With these animations #TheVotives, our team of Cypriote musicians, has developed quite a following on twitter.

 

[i] Calendar of activities in a slide