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

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

Date: September2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inclusive Classics

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

 

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