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.

 

 

Interaction in Imperial Greek Literature Workshop

Brief

Postgraduate workshop on the theme of interaction in imperial Greek literature, to be held at the University of Reading on Friday September 16, 2016.

Abstract

When we think of imperial Greek literature, we tend to think of creative and innovative authors, like Plutarch, Lucian, and Aelius Aristides, whose works draw deeply and (self-)consciously from the existing literary tradition, but also frequently subvert and play with readers’ expectations.  Many of the works produced in Greek during the imperial period are difficult to categorise, at first glance seeming to participate in one genre, but upon closer examination engaged in a more intricate interplay of genres, styles, and allusions.  The theme of interaction is here interpreted broadly; we may think of interaction as encompassing processes of innovation, enrichment, influence, adaptation, or repurposing.  In imperial Greek literature, in particular, we may observe the interaction that occurs between genres, between fiction and non-fiction, prose and poetry, past and present, and between what is and is not considered ‘Greek’.

While recent scholarship has emphasised the great variety and intensity of interaction that characterises imperial literature, much work is required to move away from pursuing authors and their works in isolation, towards a more universal approach.  The aim of this workshop is, therefore, to foster dialogue between the different fields of imperial Greek literature (the novel, rhetoric, biography, historiography, etc.), in order to reach new and more nuanced conclusions.

Speakers will address wider issues concerning imperial authors’ engagement with earlier established genres and texts, from archaic and classical lyric poetry to later Latin works.  They will consider how authors viewed their own work and its place in the literary tradition, and the ways in which readers interpreted the fusions and tensions these works embody.  Exploring these complex processes of (re-)invention and (re-)interpretation can open up new ways of understanding the literary polyphony of imperial culture.

One of the anticipated outcomes of the workshop is the creation of an imperial Greek literature network for those working in the area, to be organised in the final group discussion of the day.

The titles of the papers are included in the programme outlined below.

The organisers gratefully acknowledge the support of the Department of Classics at the University of Reading, the Graduate School at the University of Reading, the Jowett Copyright Trust, and the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies

Programme

9:30 – 9:45: Registration
9:45 – 10:00: Introduction (Caitlin Prouatt, Claire Jackson)

10:00 – 11:10, Session 1

(chair: Caitlin Prouatt)

Chrysanthos Chrysanthou (Heidelberg): ‘Generic hybridity in the prologues to Plutarch’s Lives’
Francesca Modini (King’s College London): ‘Playing with Terpander & Co.: lyric interactions in imperial rhetoric’

11:10 – 11:30: Tea break

11:30 – 12:40, Session 2
(chair: Chris Mallan)
Nick Wilshere (Nottingham): ‘Homer among the Celts: Lucian’s Hercules’
Nicolò d’Alconzo (Exeter): ‘Mapping Greek novels with Lucian’

12:40 – 1:30: Lunch

1:30 – 2:40, Session 3
(chair: Claire Jackson)
Chris Mallan (Oxford): ‘Further thoughts on the Parthica of Pseudo-Appian’
Dan Jolowicz (Cambridge): ‘Greek imperial authors reading Latin literature for pleasure’

2:40 – 3:00: Tea break

3:00 – 4:30, Session 4
Ian Rutherford (Reading): keynote address
Group discussion

5:00: End of conference

Revolutions and Classics:

We are delighted to publish the programme of the previously announced one-day workshop ‘Revolutions and Classics’, co-organised by our very own Prof. Barbara Goff and Dr Rosa Andújar (UCL):

Friday 22 July 2016

IAS Common Ground, University College London

1000-1010 coffee and welcome

Chair: Rosa Andújar, UCL

1010-1040 Rachel Foxley , University of Reading, Innovation and revolution in seventeenth-century England

1040-1110 Nicholas Cole, Pembroke College Oxford, The Classics and the American Revolution — two centuries of controversy

1110-1120 break

Chair: Phiroze Vasunia, UCL

1120-1150 Sanja Perovic and Rosa Mucignat, King’s College London, The Legend of Pythagoras:  Narrating Revolutionary Failure in Sylvain Maréchal and Vincenzo Cuoco

1150-1220 Sebastian Robins, Independent, Ancient Greek Texts in the Age of Revolution: John Gillies Orations of Lysias and Isocrates 1778 and Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics 1797

1220-1315 lunch

1315-1400 early career teaching roundtable:

Chair: Katherine Harloe, University of Reading

Emma Cole, University of Bristol, Classical Reception Pedagogy in Liberal Arts Education

Luke Richardson, University College London, Teaching the Classical Reception “Revolution”. 

Carol Atack, University of Warwick, Precarity and protest: performing politics in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata

1400-1430 discussion

1430-1500 teaching presentations:

Chair: Barbara Goff, University of Reading

Susan Deacy, University of Roehampton, Black Athena in the classical classroom

Joanna Paul, Open University, tbc

1500-1545 discussion, followed by tea

Chair: John Bloxham, Nottingham and OU

1545-1615 Rosa Andújar, University College London, Plato and Pater’s Greeks in the Mexican Revolution

1615-1645 Benjamin Gray, University of Edinburgh, Studying the modern German Left as Ancient History: from Jean Jaurès to Alexander Kluge

1645-1715 Michael Simpson, Goldsmiths, University of London, Of Minotaurs and Macroeconomics: Greek Myth and Common Currency 

1715-1800 reception

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/classics/events/revolutionsandclassics

 

Workshop: The Economic Importance of Coastal Lagoons

Prof. Annalisa Marzano reflects on our most recent workshop:

On Monday May 23rd the Centre for Economic History, in collaboration with Reading Classics, ran a successful workshop entitled ‘The economic importance of coastal lagoons in antiquity and the Middle Ages’.

This workshop idea has developed from Professor Annalisa Marzano’s recent research, which has highlighted how coastal lagoonal environments and the natural resources they offered (eg, fisheries), have been neglected in research work on the ancient economy. This event brought together ancient and medieval historians and archaeologists not only to learn about recent research in these different disciplines and current approaches being used, but also to use information from the medieval period, when documentary data is more abundant and complete than for classical antiquity, as a proxy in studying the exploitation of lagoons in antiquity.

Two guest speakers came to Reading from Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, an institution with which the Classics Department has good research and teaching links, most notably with the collaborative masters’ course in ‘Ancient Maritime Trade and Navigation’. Professor Marzano opened the workshop with a paper on ‘Costal lagoons and large-scale fishing in the Roman Mediterranean: an underestimated resource’, arguing for the integration in the same fish-salting cycle of marine and lagoonal fisheries.

Dr Alessandro Rucco spoke on ‘Fisheries in the early medieval landscape of Comacchio (Ferrara, Italy)’, presenting some interesting data on the scale of human interaction in this very unique natural environment. Dr Cecilia Moine concluded the afternoon with a presentation on ‘Water exploitation in a changing lagoon: The Venetian area in the late Middle Ages’, which focused on fascinating archival material from various nunneries and monasteries. Among other things, we learnt that in the case of rent paid in kind to these religious institutions, the two most common items listed in the documents were wine and fish; this surely reveals something about life and diet in these religious houses!

It was a very fruitful afternoon, and the speakers and attendees enjoyed chatting over a cup of tea or coffee (after some struggle with an uncooperative pump in the coffee thermos!)

Materialising Poetry

A one day workshop to be held on Tuesday 8th September 2015 at the Department of Classics, University of Reading

Organisers: Prof. Peter Kruschwitz  and Dr Rachel Mairs

Outline

Recent years have seen increasing levels of interest in the material dimension(s) of poetry. Just as there appears to be defining spatial and societal contexts for poems, whose study is essential for a thorough appreciation of a poem’s meaning(s), its materiality is increasingly understood as a defining, perhaps even vital, feature of verbal art. The investigation of textual materiality (or, in fact, materialities) thus becomes an important step towards a more adequate and complex understanding of poetic artifice.

From the sounds and images that begin to take shape in a writer’s head to the impact that poetry has on the human brain, from the choice of writing material and the deliberate, careful design of a poem’s layout to the multidimensional sensual stimulus that comes with an encounter of poetry: during its life-cycle, poetry undergoes multiple material transformations. In fact, it seems as though each and every material transformation, often occurring in conjunction with a change of ‘ownership’, has its own, often significant impact on the nature of the artefact itself.

This international and interdisciplinary workshop will, in an informal and communicative setting, explore the materialities of poetry as well as the poets’ playful and intellectual interactions with this dimension. While the main focus will lie on the verbal artistry of the ancient Mediterranean (broadly conceived), specialist contributions will also elucidate creative processes, craftsmanship, and the cognitive science that underpin the ways in which poetry materialises.

Participants will include –

Discussions will start at 10.00 am and finish by 4.15 pm, and lunch will be provided. The workshop will take place in room G25 of the Humanities and Social Sciences (HumSS) Building [click here for a campus map].

Booking

There is no booking fee, but as space is limited, and in order to help the organisers arrange catering, it would be helpful if those intending to come could contact Prof. Peter Kruschwitz at p.kruschwitz [at] reading.ac.uk by 1 September at the very latest.

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.