REF 2014 Confirms: Reading’s Classics Department is World-Leading

Eagerly awaited, results of the Research Excellence Framework 2014 were published today.

Reading’s Classics Department is proud to feature in the Top 3 Classics Departments in the UK for research outputs (otherwise known as publications): we achieved a GPA of 3.16, and only the Universities of Cambridge (3.19) and St. Andrews (3.17) scored higher.


Over 37% of our research outputs were rated 4* (for quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour), and an additional 45% were rated 3* (for quality that is internationally excellent in terms of originality, significance and rigour). This puts over 82% of our research outputs in the highest categories of excellence.

Considering further indicators such as research environment (with 80% of our indicators rated as of 4* and 3* quality) and impact (100% of our activities rated as of 4* and 3* quality), the department managed to achieve an outstanding sixth position overall in the rankings for our unit of assessment (otherwise known as Classics).

This is a substantial improvement from our position of 2008, where the department achieved a respectable 13th position (out of 24 departments).

The cutting-edge research of the Reading Classics department covers many different areas within Classics: linguistics, literature, multiculturalism, historiography, ancient religion, ancient economic history, Classical tradition, and digital humanities.

This terrific result in the REF 2014 exercise recognizes the hard work of all academic staff, their enthusiasm for the discipline, and their international standing.


Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill presented with the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters at the December graduation ceremony

The Department of Classics at Reading was delighted to welcome back one of its most distinguished former members at our recent graduation ceremony. Alongside several of our own BA and MA graduates, the University of Reading celebrated the disciplines of Classics and Archaeology by conferring an Honorary Degree on Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, OBE, FBA, FSA. Professor Wallace-Hadrill, former Master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, is currently Honorary Professor of Roman Studies at the University of Cambridge and is the Director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project.

AWH Honorary

Professor Wallace-Hadrill is very well known to students of Classics, Ancient History and Classical Archaeology because of his seminal books Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum (1994) and Rome’s Cultural Revolution (2008). Those who enjoy TV documentaries on the ancient world will have seen him often, including in his programme ‘The Other Pompeii: Life and Death in Herculaneum’

They might, however, not know that Professor Wallace-Hadrill’s contributions to the discipline of Classics are even more wide-ranging and far-reaching, and that he has a special connection with Reading Classics Department.

Wallace-Hadrill was appointed to the Chair in Classics at Reading in 1987. With his arrival, Reading’s Classics Department began to explore new avenues of Classical scholarship and also began to grow steadily in size, transforming itself into the strong department it now is. In 1995 he was appointed as Director of the British School at Rome, the base for British archaeology, ancient history, and fine arts work in Rome and Italy. He held that post until 2009, on secondment from Reading. Under his leadership the BSR underwent a considerable transformation, acquiring new and improved facilities, which made it an enviable centre for research and scholarship. Thanks to his Reading connection, it was possible to develop our unique and still-thriving MA programme, the MA in the City of Rome, which included a two-month study period at the BSR. His legacy here is also visible in our Department’s close links with the BSR and its continued interest in Roman history, archaeology, and architecture.

His understanding that proper conservation for large archaeological sites is a considerable challenge made him a champion in promoting the importance of conservation and regular maintenance, particularly in the case of Pompeii’s less well-known ‘sister’ town, Herculaneum. Here exposure to the elements had led to severe degradation, and The Herculaneum Conservation Project, led by Wallace-Hadrill, sought to arrest and reverse that decline. Generous funding from the Packard Institute for the Humanities and support from the local Soprintendenza Archeologica and the British School at Rome enabled major progress to be made at the site, with new archaeological discoveries emerging alongside the vital preservation work.

The honorary degree presented to him on Friday December 12th is thus a fitting recognition of his contribution to many key areas of our discipline, and to the University of Reading’s long and distinguished history of excellence in Classical research and teaching. The occasion was duly celebrated afterwards at the Acacias Senior Common Room with drinks and lunch hosted by the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor.

Enthusiasm for ‘Experiencing Ancient Education’ pours in from participants


Participants in Reading’s ‘Experiencing Ancient Education’ event, at which we re-created a Roman schoolroom and invited local children to experience the type of exercises done in ancient schools, have expressed gratitude and enthusiasm for the event, along with hopes that we will repeat it. (Participants have also sent us photographs, which can be seen along with our own at Their reflections on the value of the experience and how much could be learned from it are illuminating not only about the ancient world but also about our own. Here is a selection of comments from both the department’s own volunteers and the parents and teachers who brought children to our schoolroom:

“The whole day in all its aspects provided an interesting and enjoyable experience for both the public and the staff members involved, but certain things struck me particularly forcibly. The first was how easy it is, in fact, to exclude the outward signs of modernity: a few bolts of painted cloth and paper, and some straw, created a real sense of separation from the rest of the HumSS building and from the campus outside. As a result of this, and of their own enthusiasm, the ‘pupils’ in the ancient schoolroom behaved quite differently as they stepped through the door-curtain, leaving behind them the usual twenty-first century mannerisms and showing an amazing willingness to embrace the new experience of writing and learning in a different environment. It was eye-opening to have to grapple with the technical challenges of ancient writing materials, though – at risk of sounding patronising towards the ancients – it was immediately apparent that these had advantages quite as strong as their restrictiveness, especially in terms of sustainability, a quality pertinent to our present-day concerns: the re-use of ostraka and the smoothing out of wax tablets to receive the next set of text showed how in antiquity scarce and pricey resources were husbanded with inspiring care.” — Emma Aston, head teacher.

“Being a late antique headteacher was great fun and not much like any teaching I’ve done in any other context. We were all transported, through the smells (straw & sandals & later sweat) into another world in which you could barely tell the difference between boys/girls and children/adults … since we were all dressed identically (only we teachers were set apart by our majesterial chairs) and pupils & their usual teachers were crouched on the haystacks & ground together, sharing inkwells, all talking out loud! I particularly enjoyed the one-on-one aspect of the teaching, so that we could take each person on his or her own terms, helping her or him with whatever s/he wanted to do and whatever previous knowledge s/he may or may not have brought into the room.” — Amy Smith, head teacher.

“What terrific fun it was!” — Rachel Mairs, head teacher.

“The ancient school room was a fantastic experience to be a part of. I appreciate it was a great experience for the children – sitting in straw writing on all sorts of ancient materials. However, I can’t help but marvel at what I’ve been able to do and learn from the experience. In preparing the materials I was able to indulge in, what it is for us, an unusual and poetic translation of the start of the Iliad as well as some really interesting poems from our own British poets. Also, it is often difficult to visualise the things you are told in lectures. Being told they wrote on wax tablets, you think ‘but how does that work?’ Well, I enjoyed playing with the materials as much as the children did (especially the wax tablets). Of course it was also lovely to engage with the wider community and bring them into our marvellous world of Classics. It challenged my skills to teach as I had to adapt to the varying abilities of the students and varying knowledge that they had. Indeed ancient teachers would have clearly had to deal with this also! I would thoroughly recommend, if the Classics department do such an activity again, that any student get involved in any way they can.” — Rachael Hopley, student volunteer.

“Being involved in the ‘Ancient Schoolroom’ event was just as much of an education for me as it was for our visitors. In immersing myself through role-playing a teacher in an ancient schoolroom, I learnt a great deal about methods of ancient education. Our visitors also clearly enjoyed their time in the schoolroom, likely due to their fascination with the activities that are so far removed from any modern experience of school; indeed all the visitors that I spoke with were very quick to offer praise to both Eleanor and the department as a whole (I heard no criticism all day!). The schoolroom itself was unrecognisably transformed into an ancient schoolroom and the costumes were impressive. I believe that Eleanor’s attention to detail in the pursuit of authenticity was the primary reason for the success of the event.” — Chris Pritchard, student volunteer.

“It was such a great experience, and the atmosphere in the classroom was just magical!” — Bethan White, student volunteer.

“This opportunity to experience ancient life is one I wish I had as a child, especially as the schoolroom was impressively put together with amazing attention to detail. My favourite part was speaking to people of all ages about the objects and the Ure Museum during the handling sessions- it was lovely to see both the students and parents enjoying them.” — Rebecca MacRae, Ure Museum.

“You could see that the children that took part in the event enjoyed dressing up as Roman children and made excellent pupils in the classroom – I’ve never seen children more engaged – concentrating hard on the exercises they were given and queuing up to ask the teachers for more work! It became difficult to get the children to leave the class so that others could have their turn. I personally enjoyed checking whether the children knew that they should greet the teacher and other children when they entered the classroom, and was blown away when some children very naturally told me the greetings in Latin! An enjoyable day and wonderful opportunity for children to step back in time.” — Katie Mitchell, staff volunteer.

“The children clearly enjoyed every moment of it and it was so good to hear them come out saying ‘that was really fun’ or ‘that was fantastic’ which I heard more than once. The fact that they remained in the classroom for at least an hour despite it being really so hot in the morning indicates how much they were enjoying it. It was interesting that some of the younger ones were particularly taken with learning by heart and became quite competitive. So often we hear of learning by heart being dismissed by teachers and competition being thought of as a really bad thing! Maybe not….” — Jackie Baines, staff volunteer.

“I really enjoyed learning to calculate using Roman numerals. It isn’t as difficult as one might think: some calculations are actually easier than they are with our own numerals. What was much more challenging than I expected was writing on an ostracon with a reed pen. I’m looking forward to using an abacus next time!” — Philomen Probert, maths teacher.

“Thank you for letting me participate in such a brilliant event!” — from an outside volunteer.

“I totally loved the whole experience.” — from an outside volunteer.

“Just wanted to thank you for a superb time yesterday. … The girls absolutely loved the morning and were also raving about the handling session given to them in the Museum.” — from a teacher who brought her class.

“Thank you so much for organising a wonderful event. The girls and I thoroughly enjoyed it and they certainly took a lot away which will inform their learning once we study the topic later in the year. … The school room itself was wonderfully prepared and I loved the rushes on the floor … Please please do it again next year!” — from a teacher who brought her class.

“It was a big success and the students loved the whole experience.” — from a teacher who brought her class.

“Would just like to extend our thanks for the University making us feel so welcome and included in the project. I have received lots of positive feedback of how much they all enjoyed the day. Thank you again – they are already looking forward to next year.” — from the organizer of a group of homeschooling parents who brought their children to the event.

“I just wanted to thank you for being so helpful and accommodating regarding [child’s name] yesterday. She really enjoyed the event and didn’t want to leave! Bethan was really lovely with her – I wish that everybody [child’s name] comes across was so good with her! I have to say both [child’s name] and I preferred the Roman style of education to the modern “everyone learning the same” model! Setting up the schoolroom clearly involved an awful lot of work so many thanks for all of your efforts putting on such a great event.” — from a parent who brought a child with special needs.

“My two children really enjoyed the Roman school yesterday and both felt it was fun and educational. We would definitely recommend the day to others.” — from a parent.

“It was a fantastic experience for my daughter. The Roman alphabets copied by her on a piece of pottery was used by classmates to write their names. She also took a loaf a spelt bread to share with her class. A big thank you to all involved. Look forward to more events like this.” — from a parent.

“I really enjoyed the trip to Reading university, as I had a lot of fun and learnt lots about ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. My favourite part of the trip was learning about the genuine artefacts and handling them. It was amazing to see the miniature pots and jugs, that were used as toys. I was a bit nervous before I went into the ancient classroom but everyone was so relaxed and nice, that I had a great time. I particularly liked reading the extract from Homer’s Iliad, and writing on the wax tablets, which was actually quite hard to rub out. Overall I had a brilliant time and would recommend it to anyone interested in Classics, Latin or Greek.” — from a pupil named Emily.

“It was a really fun experience because we got to learn about the Romans first hand, in a way we’ve never been able to before.” — from pupils named Imogen and Josie.

“I really enjoyed the ancient classroom as it was fascinating to see how we would have been taught if we had been alive all those years ago.” — from a pupil named Ellie.

“I found it a highly enjoyable experience and realistic! I really liked the Classics kitchen! The exercises were really interesting and the schoolroom experience was a complete change to what we are used to. I am extremely lucky that I was able to go on this trip – and I am so glad that I did!” — from a pupil named Kim.

“The children were so full of enthusiasm and so careful and considerate (not a single prop was lost at the end of the day, and no one even spilled any ink!) that it was a great pleasure to welcome them to our department. Having spent years researching ancient education in the abstract, I found it tremendously exciting to try out in practice the teaching methods I have painstakingly reconstructed from the ancient sources — and it was wonderful to see how well those methods work! Since whipping recalcitrant children is a well-known feature of ancient education (though not one found in the materials I have been editing, since those materials were written by teachers and it is normally former students who mention whippings), we had many discussions beforehand about how to handle misbehaviour and whether to have any sham whippings. We decided it would be better not to risk frightening anyone by even an obviously fake whipping, but the really striking thing was that on the day itself it would have made no difference what we decided, since there was no misbehaviour at all. What a lovely set of participants!” — Eleanor Dickey, main organizer (for relevant publications see and

We post below the report about the event in Reading’s Midweek Chronicle; see also the descriptions written by students from Farnborough Hill School, and by the Classics Kitchen.

Newspaper ED