WHAT’S IT LIKE? Episode 3: Dr Claudina Romero Mayorga – A Specialist in Sensorial Archaeology in Museums and Classics.

[Image of an image of Mithratic iconography and Latin inscription in a stone frieze. Lalupa]

Interviewee: Dr. Claudina Romero Mayorga. Interviewer: Bunny Waring.
Date: 16th April 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: Dr Claudina Romero Mayorga

A Specialist in Sensorial Archaeology in Museums and Classics.

Name: Dr Claudina Romero Mayorga
Area of Specialism: Archaeology, Classics and Museums.
Topics of Interest: Ancient Mediterranean civilisations, material culture, education, sensorial archaeology, music, polychromy, 3d printing.
Job Title: Education officer at the Ure Museum and Sessional Lecturer at the Department of Classics.
Job Responsibilities: Develop and deliver educational sessions for primary and secondary schools, organise outreach activities, family events, lead the Young Archaeologists’ Club, research the collection, welcome visitors, manage volunteers and interns, teach Latin or Roman History to undergraduates.

Introduction

I grew up watching old films and documentaries about ancient civilisations: Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome….everything sounded so mysterious and exciting! I wanted to know all about them so I started reading as much as I could. The objects left behind by them felt as if they still had a special power, so my focus was not so much on their languages, but on the material culture produced by these peoples who lived so many years before me. By the time I got to the university, “Gladiator” had already left a mark on me, and well…Romans are my thing now. I love working at the Ure Museum and teaching people about our amazing collection.

 

[A glimpse at some of the fantastic displays in the Ure Museum, including pots to get excited about. Ure Museum.]

What is your daily life really like?

Replying to emails takes most of my time! Before the pandemic, I would get lots of school groups in the Ure Museum and the time would just fly. Talking to kids, teachers, parents, looking at them being amazed by an ancient pot…Best feeling ever!!! Having children tell you that they want to be archaeologists and work in a museum after their visit is priceless…But in 2020 with the arrival of COVID, things changed dramatically. Although online sessions still felt great and children got to engage with 3D models, it wasn’t the same. I’m really looking forward to reopening soon!

[A YAC event (with permission) where young children are taught how to clean and understand ancient artefacts. Mayorga.]

A lot of my time is also spent planning new public events (online or face to face) for families, for older teens: trying to develop new educational resources for everyone, talking to my colleagues and other museums, updating our website, posting on our social media, writing grants applications and planning Young Archaeologist Club (YAC) sessions. If I’m teaching Roman History to undergrads, I need to prepare my classes and then mark their assignments. When I teach I try to make sure that they see that I’m passionate about the subject and that although everything seems to have been researched and discovered already, there’s still plenty to do.

I do love object-based research so whenever I have a bit of time, I would focus on a specific object and learn as much as I can. I also enjoy travelling; I like meeting colleagues in beautiful destinations to discuss our work, visit museums and tasting local food (this activity is also known as attending international congresses and seminars). Getting funds to do this can be very competitive and difficult, but I never give up!

[Dr Mayorga and Assistant Curator of the Ure Museum Jayne Holly on a research trip. Mayorga.]

What is the best part of your job?

· Handling ancient objects is the best part without any doubt! I still feel like a 5-year-old when I hold an old pot.

· Working with the curator and assistant curator at the Ure is great fun, we’re always coming up with new projects and new challenges…I don’t know what a boring day at the office is.

· Learning from other colleagues

· Being mind-blown by kids’ questions

 

Why do you think your specialism is important?

Studying ancient civilisations, in general, makes you aware that some of the problems we face today as a society, already existed in the past (misogyny, elitism, poverty). Looking at the solutions they came up with – or the lack of them – might give us a better perspective of the circumstances we are living in. My interest in sensorial archaeology comes from my focus not on emperors and great characters, but on ordinary people: how they behaved, what they liked, whom they loved, what they ate, if they were happy – and if so, how they expressed that. I believe that trying to know another person (even if that person has been dead for more than 1000 years) generates empathy and there’s nothing more important right now than trying to understand the person who is in front of you.

[The Ure Museum’s Museum in a Box tells the life of Annie Ure, the co-founder of the Ure Museum, whose life studying antiquity highlighted women’s rights issues throughout the ancient and modern eras.]

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

I guess I would be good in general admin, but I would do better in a position that would allow me to support or mentor young people. Teaching is a calling, whether it’s Classics or Economics, but I believe I would be good at working with younger people.

Did you always want to be what you are today?

Yes! Haha, I get to work in a museum and at the Uni, although I took the long and winding road to get here. People usually go for Museum Studies if they want to work with collections or in a heritage site. I started studying History of Art in Madrid and then my PhD in Archaeology offered fieldwork training: I was part of a team that dug up a Roman villa in Spain…and to spread the news among the locals I guided some tours and “played” with the finds to show kids how fun and interesting the Romans were. There I got bitten by the “museum bug” (beware!) and ended up researching lots of museum collections and storage facilities for my final dissertation in every single European country.

[Dr Mayorga teaching a range of students and volunteers about the importance of Museum collections. Mayorga.]

But I had to work and study at the same time, so it took me longer than expected. Volunteering and taking up education modules did the rest. But because I have a PhD in Archaeology people usually don’t understand why I’m the Education officer, as if researching and teaching were two completely different activities, when in the end they’re two sides of the same coin. I can’t conceive one without the other.

Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?

I hope the pandemic is over by then! I would love to see the government showering universities with funds, especially to support Humanities. Would love to have my role as an Education officer as full-time, and to continue teaching at the University of Reading. It would be great to have certain events and activities already cemented in our educational calendar (3D printed resources; Ancient music sessions).

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

  1. Go for whatever you love: languages, physics, computers. That will always stay with you, money won’t. Studying something that you don’t like is torture.
  2. Don’t believe everything you read: even if it is printed in a book by a famous author, it’s opened to discussion.
  3. Travel as much as you can.

What to know more?

If you’re interested in staying up-to-date with what events the Ure Museum has to offer head over to the Museum’s webpage here.

WHAT’S IT LIKE? Episode 2: Dr James Lloyd-Jones – A Specialist in Ancient Music and Song.

 

[Lyre players Eturia, 560-550 BCE_Lewandowski2021]

Interviewee: Dr. James Lloyd-Jones, Interviewer: Bunny Waring.
Date: 5th March 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: Dr James Lloyd-Jones

A Specialist in Ancient Music and Song. 

Name: Dr James Lloyd-Jones.
Area of Specialism: A mix of Archaeology, Ancient history, and Museums.
Topics of Interest: Ancient music and musical instruments; the archaeology and history of Sparta.
Job Title: Sessional Lecturer.
Job Responsibilities: I teach lectures, seminars for a range of modules, as well as some ancient Greek language classes.

Introduction

I got my BA and MA from the University of Exeter and came to Reading in 2015 to do my PhD, supervised by Ian Rutherford. At the moment, I’m at a point where I’m finishing off research directly connected to my PhD and starting down new research avenues. This means looking at getting my first book published and applying for postdoctoral positions.

  [Dr. Lloyd Jones with research in hand, 2019.]

 

What is your daily life really like?

On Monday mornings I print off a weekly timetable and start blocking out time. As an hourly-paid member of staff, my days a pretty flexible and they benefit from being as clearly structured as possible. This means some days will be focused on planning and preparing lectures and classes, and replying to student messages, and others will be focused on research, or writing job and research applications (postdoctoral applications normally range from 10-20 pages, so they need to be planned out well in advance of any deadlines). A typical day’s research might include reading scholarship, analysis of ancient evidence, or writing, editing, and revising articles for submission. There’s also normally a fair about of tea or coffee.

[Attic vase with Symposium scene from 490 BCE, Louvre 2021.]

For me, research can be really varied. One day I might be looking at an archaic Greek song, and figuring out how it should be translated, or how to interpret its performative context. I might also spend time collating lists of pottery with specific iconographies and seeing if there are any trends over time, location, or artist that appear. Other days might bring study visits to museums. The museum I’m most often in is of course the university’s own Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology. There’s a host of material relevant to my research interests in its collections. A few months before the first lockdown I spent some time in the Museum of London photographing and measuring Romano-British musical instruments in their collection, which was very exciting. That was really the beginning of a now somewhat halted project on music in Roman Britain. I’m also making my way through an MIT OpenCourseWare module on Music Perception and Cognition since I’m keen to learn more about the science of music.

 

[Musical fragment on papyri from the play Orestes by Euripides.]

What is the best part of your job?

In my current position, there is a great deal of flexibility. I research what I want to research, and I get to teach modules that feed into my research interests too. It is pretty great. It also helps to have a brilliant group of colleagues in the department too.

Why do you think your specialism is important?

The last two years I’ve been getting more interested in ancient music, so I’ll focus on that. There’s a lot that we don’t know about music. For Darwin, human musicality was one of the biggest mysteries of evolution. The earliest discovered musical instruments date to around 43,000 years before present. There’s this huge history of humans creating music, yet, until the last few decades, the importance of music throughout history has been largely overlooked. For Classics, it wasn’t until around the 80s that academics began to seriously turn to music as a subject of interest. Yet the Iliad and Odyssey of Homer were originally sung as songs, so too the surviving tragedies and comedies of Classical Athens. Studying ancient Greek and Roman music enriches our understanding of the past and allows us to interpret key moments of ancient Greek and Roman life more fully and correctly.

[2nd Century CE fresco of Roman woman playing the kithara, Boscoreale.]

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

As an hourly member of staff, there’s already a few other things that I do freelance when time allows. One of those is learning design (I spent a fair bit of time in the summer helping converting modules to be delivered remotely). The other is writing about the past for non-academic audiences. A job that involved a mix of those things, and some kind of research, would be quite rewarding, I think.

Did you always want to be what you are today?

My defining memory of being interested in the past is a Year 3 school trip to an exhibition on ancient Egypt at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. I think I even put that in my UCAS application, and while it sounds somewhat made up, I entered an associated art competition and came runner-up, winning a (largely unused) skateboard. To enter my felt-tip penned self-portrait of me peering into a display that housed a section from a book of the dead, I dragged my mum back into the museum (this was the 90s, so no digital entries) and we got a jacket potato and can of pop in the museum café. I’m still fascinated with how we look at the past, and how the past can influence and inspire us today.

[The Cylix of Apollo with the chelys (tortoise-shell) lyre, on a 5th century BCE drinking kylix cup, Fingalo 2021]

Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?

I’d like to be either near the end of a postdoctoral position, or starting something a bit more permanent. In terms of research and teaching, I’d like to be starting a project that looked at the archaeology of music on a global scale, and perhaps doing more teaching about the archaeology of music. But the academic job market is pretty brutal. As long as I was doing something that allowed me have a garden where I could grow some herbs, chillies, and sunflowers, I’d be quite content.

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

1) Do the research that you find most interesting (you’ll be up at night reading pages of densely written academic prose, the only way to get through that is if you’re genuinely interested in the topic)

2) Someone recently told me that you should always look at your research and ask “So what? Why does this matter?”. As brutal as that question can sometimes appear, you need to be able to answer it.

3) Collaboration, discussion, and networking are where you can find some of the most interesting and inspiring ideas.

What to know more?

If you’re interested in staying up-to-date with what I’m up to, I keep a semiregular blog at https://jameslloydclassics.wordpress.com/ .

 

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.