WHAT’s IT LIKE? Episode 6: Ms. Roberta Dainotto – A PhD Researcher Specialising in Ancient Greek Philology.

Interviewee: Ms. Roberta Dainotto. Interviewer: Bunny Waring.
Date: 16th July 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: Ms. Roberta Dainotto.

A PhD Researcher Specialising in Ancient Greek Philology.

 

Name: Ms. Roberta Dainotto
Area of Specialism: Classics.
Topics of Interest: Ancient Greek Rhetoric.
Job Title: PhD student in Classics, specializing in ancient Greek Philology.
Job Responsibilities: I am finalising my PhD studies and this is my current -and only- occupation! This means that I am trying to finally put together a few years in what I wish it will be a good output (fingers crossed). In the meantime, I am also trying to face new challenges and open up new possibilities, since doing just one assignment for months is quite weary some days. Moreover, I aim to prepare the ground for my future steps. Recently, I have succeeded in a selection to a pre-doctoral fellowship at the Harvard University’s Centre of Hellenic Studies (CHS), which will allow me to work simultaneously on a new project for the next year. I am extremely glad of this appointment which will allow me to approach a different subject under the supervision of a new team of professors – a priceless opportunity to consolidate my field of study.

Introduction 

 I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Classics at the University of Crete. I have earned BA and MA degrees in Classics at the University of Catania, which is where I come from. I decided to move to another country because I wanted to approach my subject of study from a different perspective, to enhance my knowledge and skills with the guide of Professors from different backgrounds to mine. The desire of facing new challenges has always lead me to achieve the highest scores, and with the same intention, during my doctorate, I have spent a couple of semesters abroad, respectively at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Reading. I would say that these were the best choices for me, both for my study and my personal growth.

What is your daily life really like?

I actually spend most of my days sitting in front of my laptop, working. This answer may sound banal and monotonous to those who do not do research or deal with more dynamic subjects than ancient texts -although in recent times remote working seems to be the constant for everyone! My life is filled with continuous appointments and deadlines that I try to respect by organising and managing my time in detail. In Greece, we generally do not pursue teaching activities during doctoral research, so much of my daily work often focuses on the same set of activities for long periods. During ‘normal periods’ however, I combine my research routine with seminars and lectures in various fields. I really like to attend these because they help me to look at things from different perspectives and most of the time they give me food for thought for my work or other disparate subjects that I would like to scrutinise further. I dedicate a great amount of time to the University. I like being there as I have immediate access to the library and I can share some pleasant conversations with other colleagues of mine to attenuate the anxiety of writing.

In contrast, under pandemic restrictions, I have stayed home every day, using my desk as my workspace, with lots of folders scattered all around the room. In the long term, such a timetable can be demanding. For this reason, I try to vary my days – alternating my study with long walks in the open or exploring my local area, restoring myself and recharging my batteries or dedicating myself to my friends and family, the best balance to start afresh!

What is the best part of your job?

There are so many things I could mention to answer this question. I will try to list them but I am already pretty sure I will forget something. I have always loved the idea of doing research and dedicating my time to my greatest hobby, which is the study of the ancient world. I think I am blessed with the great opportunity I am benefitting from, and I feel that I am doing what I was meant to. I started studying ancient Greek and Latin back in High School, and after many years, I am still fascinated by learning aspects of the Greek culture, which is so relatable to modern times – in the long run, that has shaped me. Thus, I would say that the first positive aspect of doing research is to explore further a subject you are already interested in. The pressure is high and constant in academia, but the task is stimulating and varied, and this is an excellent incentive, especially considering that PhD research requires a lot of time alone, dedicated to your study. Working on something you are really interested in compensates for all the endless nights and busy days.

One more reason for liking the study of the ancient Greek society is that it highlights the ideals which have founded the basis of western culture, such as democracy, ideals of equality, criticism, justice, acceptance or scrutiny of the other, going beyond unambiguous interpretations and offering plural ways to read an event. Indeed, the awesome thing about studying the past, is its feasibility against modern concerns, providing a great contribution to the modern way of thinking. Overall, Classics teaches you to be boundless in thoughts and respectful of others – two of the best qualities for a human being.

I have been, and still am, so lucky to be in contact with people who have open minds. I would say that this is doubtlessly another aspect to include, namely the chance to continuously enlarge your academic network, meeting many encouraging people who unreservedly give more than you ask for. I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of scholars and fellows during the conferences I have attended, the days spent at University or periods spent in offices other than mine, which have definitely changed my approach to my study and have helped me growing up as a student and as an individual.

The last aspect I think worth noting is the chance to travel a lot. The lack of a set routine, allows more flexibility in plans. Particularly, in my department, PhD students are not asked to work on anything but their specific dissertation so everyone can organise their time as conveniently as possible. Moreover, the participation in conferences or activities far from my department or the need to consult other libraries where some exclusive documents are hosted, results in the encouragement of mobility.

Why do you think your specialism is important?

I have always believed that any individual should spend a bit of their time learning about past cultures. This comes from the strong belief that understanding ancient societies (and more widely, other societies) helps greatly to develop an awareness of what we are surrounded by in contemporary times. Understanding other people’s reactions to specific concerns, serves as an example to our own and can offer solutions. Particularly, my field of study is extremely useful for this. I study the dicastic trials and how the methods of argument employed by individual speakers interfaced, evaluating the ways in which storytelling contributed to the shaping of each case. The importance of competing stories in Athenian courtroom practice, is directly relevant to the idiosyncrasies of Athenian cultural practices and helps to understand the society and its members, by transcending the limits of purely factual and legal questions. I focus specific attention on issues of citizenship, inheritance trials, liturgies and the perception of the self. The broadness of these topics ensures a detailed investigation on themes which are very close to the contemporary us, and it is fascinating to understand what has changed between the ancient ways of thinking and what still remains today.

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

If I had not had the chance to start a PhD, I rather think I would have become a teacher or, maybe, a publisher. Since I was a child my greatest desire was to write books, especially for use in schools. I had always loved the processes behind publishing, experiencing it as I grew up via my parents working in that field. This is one of the reasons for my choosing Philology as a topic. At some point, I had also wondered about studying either chemistry or engineering. I was very enthusiastic about the idea of producing and contributing to a tactile subject (if I may use this definition), through a more practical approach. In any case, I think that an analytical and critical spirit is also strongly required in the sphere of classical studies – the ingredients of these sciences and humanities are common, although differently applied, and I do not regret my choice!

Did you always want to be what you are today?

This is the toughest question of the form. I still wonder what I am today! A PhD is not an especially defining commitment in your career. You feel part of the University but you are no more a proper ‘student’ than you are a full member of the staff! It is such a liquid position! Overall, this is twofold. On the one side, it gives you all the possibilities at hand, an exciting platform of opportunities on which to build. On the other, the lack of definition and concerns for the future are worrying. This means that throughout the years you alternate stages of comfort and discouragement. But this is part of the game, so in the end you learn to live with this feeling.

However, to answer the question, I would say yes – I have always loved doing research, and I still feel the same enthusiasm as my first day as an undergraduate student.

Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?

I would like to withdraw what I said before. This is the most challenging question! I have really no idea of what is next. I am full of dreams but I need to stay focused on the immediate achievements. Within 5 years I hope my doctoral thesis will be published,  then I could focus on other aspects which really interest me. I hope I would have a position in one of my top universities as a postdoc or a lecturer (may I include the University of Reading, too?!). I assume these would be my next achievements, however, I know how difficult these are to procure, so I try to remain confident but with my feet on the ground. Whatever will happens as long as I am happy, then its convenient. Moreover, I have many other personal goals that I wish to pursue, but I would rather not say them out loud for superstition’s sake!

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

  • Work hard to gain your goals. It does not matter how long your path takes, how difficult the road would be. All efforts are worthy of the energy spent in the end!
  • Do not think that a success lasts forever. Of course, a good result carries joy and satisfaction, but the fact that you have reached it should incentivise you to go further!
  • Focus on the big picture. Do not be discouraged if something goes wrong and you have not been able to achieve what you have aimed for in one month. Take all opportunities you can, meet as many people possible, do not close your door to extra activities and stay open to academic life and chances. All these things are part of your Ph.D – Do not limit yourself.

A Final Note

I have spent only a short period at the University of Reading- which was meant to last longer, but the pandemic forced the city’s closure. Nevertheless, those months were significant to me. I have experienced many things, from the volunteering activities with the Ancient Schoolroom, to participating in some enlightening seminars. I met the members of a remarkable department and long chats with Professors and colleagues have helped me to produce considerable pieces of my thesis, developing some theories which are now under peer review for publication. I feel lucky to have been part of this great department, and I wish this experience could be followed with other opportunities in future.

A part of the work I have done during my studies at the University of Reading is now published in an article which you can read here and I have recently been awarded a fellowship in Hellenic Studies! 

MA Colloquim 2021: Current Research Including Identity, Irrigation and Infliction!

Author: Katherine Harloe. Edits: Bunny Waring
Date: 16th June 2021.

 

The Department of Classics welcomes all to the 2021 MA Colloquim, where current researching students give papers on their work in progress.

Join us for some fascinating seminars and discussions online via Microsoft Teams on

Tuesday 29 June 2021 between 10:00am – 5pm

 

ALL ARE WELCOME TO THIS FREE EVENT.

 

Please register by midday, 25 June at https://forms.office.com/r/a3vHf1wPTr
or by emailing execsupporthumanities@reading.ac.uk

 

PROGRAMME

10:00 am: Welcome (Katherine Harloe)
10:15 – 11:15: Session 1

Chairs: Rebecca Lightfoot, Aidan Richardson and Elliot Zadurian

Massimo Rossetti: To what extent did the Romans develop a state centralised water
policy in the late Republic and early Imperial eras?

Curtis Hill: The wealth of the Roman senatorial elite: a source of control or a catalyst for
conflict?
Klara Hegedus: The Catilinarian conspiracy of 63 BCE. The act of a degenerate individual,
or an almost inevitable by-product of the changing political order?

11:15 – 11:30: Break
11:30 – 12:30 pm: Session 2

Chairs: Sue Vincent, Dulcimer Thompson and Jess Wragg

Louis Hope: To what extent did a Panhellenic identity exist during the period from the
beginning of the Persian Wars to the invasion of Persia by Alexander the Great?

Aaron Cox: All roads lead to Rhodes? A brief look into the politics of the Hellenistic
Mediterranean.

Charles Stewart: Demos, aristocracy, and empire: power relations and political
institutions in the Greek cities of Asia Minor under Roman rule.

12:30 – 1:30pm: Lunch
1:30 – 2:30pm: Session 3

Chairs: Aaron Cox, Charles Stewart and Louis Hope

Dulcimer Thompson: Examining the presence and effect of internalised misogyny in the
female characters of Classical literature.

Jess Wragg: Breaking the boundaries: gender nonconformity in Ancient Greece.

Sue Vincent: Hecabe – from magnificent matriarch to murderous mother?

3:30 – 3:45pm: Break
3:45 – 4:45pm: Session 4

Chairs:tbc.

Elliot Zadurian: Unjust deliveries of justice: the implications of the agon and law-court
scenes in ancient Greek Drama.

Rebecca Lightfoot: ‘The Bad Place.’ an exploration of punishment and the afterlife in
Egypt, Greece and the Near East.

Aidan Richardson: Is Plutarch’s claim to be writing “not Histories but Lives” true?
4:45pm: Wrap up/closing remarks

AMPAL 2020-2021 is COMING! Registration is still open! Don’t miss our Keynote speech!

Author: Dania Kamini. Edits: Bunny Waring.
Date: 4th June 2021.

Only two weeks until AMPAL 2020-2021! The event will be held online on MS TEAMS from 17th -19th June 2021. This year’s theme is ‘Fear in Ancient Culture’. We are excited to invite you to this year’s keynote speech, which will be delivered by Professor Fiona McHardy of the University of Roehampton on 18th June at 5pm. 

Please note: Everyone is welcome to this free, online event, but you must register to receive access codes. To do so head to the AMPAL site here: https://ampal2020.wordpress.com/registration/

BEFORE 11th June 2021. 

Fear of Revenge in Euripidean Tragedy (abstract)

Young children in Greek literature are frequently shown as fearful, cowering in the arms of their mothers or nurses. Yet tiny infants such as these can strike fear into the hearts of even the most battle-weary and experienced warriors, and as yet unborn babies can make even mighty kings fearful. Within both political conflicts and wartime disputes, young children are perceived to pose a threat as the heirs of their fathers’ and grandfathers’ enmities. Though small and weak, young boys are the cause of such fear in grown men because of the expectation they will grow up to exact lethal revenge on the enemies of their families in the future. This expectation leaves the children vulnerable to murderous attacks in tragic plotlines. Consideration of extant and fragmentary plays reveals that this unsettling theme was one that Euripides returned to often suggesting that this concept of fear resonated with the fifth-century audience. Through exploration of contemporary ideas about young children and babies as avengers, underpinned by comparative anthropology and psychology, this lecture unravels the dynamics of fear associated with children within the plays of Euripides set within their literary and social context.

All welcome!  We look forward to welcoming you to AMPAL 2020-2021!

Registration for the AMPAL Conference is now open! (Until 10th June 2021)

Author: Doukissa Kamini. Edits: Bunny Waring.
Date: 2nd June 2021.

 

You are warmly invited to register to attend the Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in Ancient Literature (AMPAL) 2020-2021 to be held online at MS Teams from 17th to 19th June 2021! Registration will remain open until 10th June 2021.

The theme of AMPAL 2020-2021 is ‘Fear in Ancient Culture’, about which, Postgraduates from both the UK and abroad will provide a series of presentations on literary, interdisciplinary, and historical approaches. The event will be accompanied by a virtual tour of the Ure Museum, a presentation of a student-curated online exhibition entitled ‘Fear Beyond Words’, and a Keynote Speech by Professor Fiona McHardy (University of Roehampton) on fear of revenge in Euripidean tragedies. You can find a list of titles as well as more details on the Keynote Speech and other aspects of AMPAL on the official website, where a list of abstracts and a programme are available.

To register for this free, online event please click here.

Please contact us at lks19a@reading.ac.uk for any questions and/or special requirements.

Best wishes,

Dania Kamini

Follow AMPAL on Twitter and Facebook

Visit AMPAL website: https://ampal2020.wordpress.com/

WHAT’S IT LIKE? Episode 4: Prof. Barbara Goff – A Specialist in Ancient Greek Literature, Language, Tragedy and their Later Reception.

Interviewee: Prof. Barbara Goff. Interviewer: Bunny Waring.
Date: 21st May 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: Prof. Barbara Goff

A Specialist in Ancient Greek Literature, Language, Tragedy and their later reception.

 

[Portrait of Prf. Barbara Goff in colour]

Name: Prof. Barbara Goff.
Area of Specialism:
Classics, Literature & Reception Studies.
Topics of Interest: Euripides! How subsequent societies rework Greek tragedy, especially in postcolonial contexts.
Job Title: Co-Head of the Department of Classics and Departmental Director of Teaching and Learning.
Job Responsibilities: Right now I am joint Head of Department with Prof. Amy Smith with responsibility, in the final analysis, for everything that goes on in the Dept; but I mainly oversee the workings of teaching and other inward-facing activities, while Amy oversees research and outreach/publicity, the outward-facing activities. I’m also Departmental Director of Teaching and Learning, which currently means that I am planning what modules the Dept will offer next academic year.

Introduction

[Black and white photograph of an ancient marble sculpture of the ancient Greek playwright, Euripides, holding a mask used by actors in his left hand and a scroll in his right].

I went to a single-sex grammar school where Latin was compulsory if you were any good at French. This was, obviously, hundreds of years ago, when the state-sector still taught Latin, and even Ancient Greek. I was good at Latin but hated it, and wanted to revolutionise how it was taught. Therefore, I continued with Latin, and suddenly found myself doing Ancient Greek too. Needless to say, I fell in love with Greek, and that was that. Sadly, no revolutions at all took place.

What is your daily life really like?

[Ancient inscribed stone showing Latin (upper section) and Greek (lower section) epigraphy – CIL3.7539]

Currently, my daily life is a bit demoralising, like everyone else’s. People who teach and who like to learn, enjoy each other’s company, and often strike sparks from one another; this is harder to do at an online distance. This term I am teaching Ancient Drama, and Latin [Level] 1, and I enjoy them both, (especially the number of emojis that pop up in our chat boxes), but I would love to be back in the classroom. Other than teaching, I keep busy filling in the many forms that the University sends my way and trying to help keep both staff and students happy and productive.
At home I have a husband who is also a University lecturer, so we have the odd tussle over teaching space and whether I am making tea too loudly, and I have a teenage son who helps me out with musical choices, and with learning new names for mind-altering substances. I have another son at University in Swansea, allegedly doing Maths, but a lot of guitar too.

[Portrait in colour of Prof. Alexander Adum Kwapong in Ghanan Academic robes and hat]

When I get a moment I research and I am currently writing about Alexander Kwapong, a Ghanaian classicist who became the first African principal of the University of Ghana, in the 1960s. He later moved into University administration working in Japan and Canada. He seems to have been a charming person, and I am fascinated to read in his various writings how he saw Classics as important to the newly-independent states of post-colonial Africa. He remarks that if Classics does not have all the answers, it certainly poses the important questions; and he stresses the importance of all the humanities, from West, East, and everywhere else, in a world increasingly divided by inequalities of wealth and access to technology. I can get access to much of what he wrote via the internet, and when the British Library is open, I can read much else there.

I see my work as very much part of the decolonising movement in the humanities, both opening Classics up to demographics that might have been excluded, and revisiting Classics with tools that derive from previously excluded demographics.

What is the best part of your job?

The best parts of my job are twofold: the students and my colleagues. It is so encouraging to see new cohorts of young people who are fascinated by the ancient world, and who want to learn more about it, and even put their own stamp on it if they go on to teaching, museums, publishing or further study. My colleagues are an amazing bunch of hard-working and humorous people. It’s great to see them on the small screen (of my laptop) but I like them much better in the corridor of the Edith Morley building, carrying their coffee cups, sandwiches, bits of ancient pottery, or bits of Ancient Schoolroom, and complaining about the university administration.

 

Why do you think your specialism is important?

[The front cover of a book written by Prof. Goff, entitled Classics & Colonialism]

It delights me that our students can go forward into so many fields. It also delights me that so many of them want to teach – they clearly are not put off by their experiences at Reading, but encouraged by them! Many are keen on the heritage sector and they often develop experience in our very own on-site Ure Museum, but in no way do our students feel confined to the ancient world. Most recently we have an alumnus who is a digital marketer, and we have plenty of alumni in IT. Many continue to exercise their communication skills in publishing or other kinds of writing such as journalism or PR. One of my favourite alumni stories is of a student who wanted to get into advertising. When asked the inevitable ‘Why Classics?’, she was able to answer with such passion and enthusiasm that they could see she was the one for them. Others exercise their organisational skills in University administration, school administration, local government or, in one stand-out case, working for the Premier League in Football. Some continue their languages, in positions at the Foreign Office, for instance. Some of our alumni start their own businesses too – I can think of an events organiser and a scuba-diving school – and in so doing, are exercising the skills of the independence and initiative that University study fosters. Of course, some want to do their MA, then their PhD, and eventually become lecturers themselves. I shan’t discourage them…

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

[A bright orange and yellow sun sets over an ancient Greecian theatre which is filled with specatatores watching a modern performance]

If I had not become a professional Classicist at a university, I rather expect I would have become a teacher, or possibly a civil servant. However, my childhood dream was to be a marine biologist, in order to spend my days watching the corals. I also wondered at one point about being a long-distance lorry driver, but I think that was so that I could sit down a lot and eat fast food. Actually now I remember that when I was much littler, I wanted to be an actress (we said actress in those days) – but a lot of teaching is performance, so I think I am still getting some of that out of my system.

Did you always want to be what you are today?

I did not really have many hiccups along the way, except that as a graduate student I, (and all my fellow students), assumed that we would be unemployable. I spent some time thinking of back-up jobs (see above). The major hiccup I had, was that for many years I taught in the USA, at the University of Texas at Austin, and I assumed I would remain in the States. I had done much of my graduate work in California, so I was very used to the American system of higher education and I enjoyed being part of it. I loved that I had lived in the two most colourful states of all. Coming back to the UK, initially for personal reasons, was a big shock, and the UK university system took quite a lot of getting used to. I landed on my feet here at Reading.

Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?

My research life has changed a lot in the past couple of decades because I write much less on Greek tragedy and much more on classical reception topics. I am very interested in how subaltern populations use material from classical antiquity, so I have a long-term project about classics and the British Labour Party. I am also committed, currently, to the various debates about inclusive Classics.

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

  1. If you want to pursue a career that connects up to Classics, don’t be discouraged by people’s stereotypical notion of your discipline; take heart from the people in all walks of life who share your enthusiasm.
  2. At university, take all the opportunities that the Department offers, and throw yourself into your education, and your other activities.
  3. Think of yourself as a work in progress and make that work the best it can be. And remember to seek extra support when you need it, since there are plenty of people around who can help.

What to know more?

If you’re interested in Ancient Greece, or any of the topics above have a look at Prof. Goff’s publications here and here (bottom of the page).

New Events Coming Up! (May 6th-18th 2021)

Edit: Bunny Waring
Date: 5th May 2021.

Our Professors are always up to something interesting and here are some exciting events that you can all join in with!

Prof. Amy Smith (Co-Head of Department and Curator of the Ure Museum) will be speaking to The Art of Fragments Network about Museums and the Heritage Sector here:

What do you get if you cross cutting edge research in the ancient world with creative talent?

Join us for this online series of events to find out.

Free but booking essential

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-art-of-fragments-conversations-with-academics-and-artists-tickets-152516048607?ref=estw

 

The Art of Fragments network is pleased to host a series of panel discussions showcasing artistic projects inspired by academic ideas. For each session we’ll be beginning with a panel featuring artists and academics who have been involved in innovative projects inspired by fragmentation. This will be followed by a Q&A with a speaker with experience in the creative industry, who’ll be able to share their tips on how to make projects happen.

The projects featured are all inspired by fragments from the ancient world, and the form of fragmentation.

Session 1: Wednesday 12th May, 11am-1pm (UK time).

Museums and the heritage sector

Featuring poet Josephine Balmer, Dr Charlotte Parkyns (University of Notre Dame), Professor Amy Smith (University of Reading), Dr Sonya Nevin (Panoply Vase Animation Project)

Q&A with Sarah Golding (independent arts producer)

Session 2: Tuesday 18th May, 4pm-6pm (UK time).

Literature

Featuring novelist Yann Martel and poet Lesley Saunders

Q&A with Tom Chivers (Director of publisher and production company Penned in the Margins)

More details on the speakers and their projects can be found on the Eventbrite page. There will be opportunities for small-group informal discussion and networking between and after the sessions.

A third session is planned for the final week of May: details to follow (and will be published on the Eventbrite page).

The organisers would like to thank the British Academy for their kind support

Prof. Tim Duff (Greek History and Literature) will be speaking at the Academy of Athens about [Self-]Praise & [Self]-Blame in Ancient Literature here:

 

The Research Centre for Greek and Latin Literature of the Academy of Athens is delighted to invite you to the 6th online lecture of its 2020-2021 Seminar ([Self-]Praise & [Self]-Blame in Ancient Literature).

Timothy Duff (Professor of Greek, University of Reading), Praise and Blame in Plutarch’s Lives
Thursday, May 6, 5-7pm (EEST, Athens)

Plutarch’s Lives are famously moralistic. We might expect therefore that explicit narratorial praise and blame of the subjects would be common, and that readers would be left in no doubt as to the kind of lessons they should learn. In fact, things are a good deal more complicated. In this paper I will construct a typology of praise and blame in the Lives and explore the ways in which the text does or does not guide the audience’s response to the subjects of the Lives. I will argue that Plutarch constructs his readers not as passive recipients expecting instruction but as actively and critically engaged.

To receive the link to the Zoom meeting, please fill out the form here: https://bit.ly/2QUd2U2

For any questions please contact the organiser (epapadodima@academyofathens.gr).

What Can a Dog Called Margarita Teach us About Ancient Rome? – Education in the Making.

Interviewees: Prof. Peter Kruschwitz, Dr. María Limón & Prof Xavier Espluga. Interviewer: Bunny Waring

Date: 30th April 2021.

Today the Classics Department of Reading is delighted to announce the release of a special video called What Can a Dog Called Margarita Teach us About Ancient Rome? In this video Prof. Peter Kruschwitz (University of Vienna), Prof. Xavier Espluga (University of Barcelona) and Dr. María Limón (University of Seville) discuss the lettered world of ancient Rome and how ancient peoples interacted with the world around them. The video was filmed, directed and edited by James Rattee (https://vimeo.com/jamesrattee/videos) and includes digital footage from Prof. Matthew Nicholls’ Virtual Rome model.

Today we invited Peter, María and Xavier to discuss with us the motivations and methods of making this video and what is next for this interesting project on ancient inscriptions.

INTERVIEW

Bunny Waring (BW): Good Morning All. Thank you for joining us this morning to talk about your collaborative piece What Can a Dog Called Margarita Teach us About Ancient Rome? The Classics Department are very excited to share this work and we wondered if you could explain a little bit about your motivations for this project?

Thank you so much for this – it’s great for us to be back for a little while, albeit virtually. All three of us share the same passion: our enthusiasm for Roman inscriptions, especially inscriptions composed in verse. To us, those inscriptions are not just stones or pieces of metal that happen to have some poetry inscribed on them. They are carriers of art. They are visible, tangible manifestations of a universal artistic practice of Roman times, spanning the empire across time and space, with thousands of examples surviving to the present day.

This art was produced by individuals from all runs of life, and it was produced in the city of Rome just as much as it can be found at Hadrian’s Wall, the shores of the Black Sea, or in the Roman settlement of North Africa. We can relate to these individuals very easily because they’re not just some remote elite: they are people with everyday occupations, everyday hopes and worries, everyday problems. Like (most of) us – the other 99%, so to speak, far away from the palaces and lives of the elite. What is more, these individuals inhabited the very spaces, geographically and socially, that we still inhabit today, along with all their challenges.

It’s neighbourhood poetry, it’s communal art. And it gives us the most direct, emotionally moving, and instructive access to the world(s) of ancient Rome.

Of course, we know how we ourselves, especially in an academic context, interact and engage with Roman inscribed material remains. But how did they do it? We were curious to find out! And then we got very lucky: the British Academy gave María the opportunity to get our joint research going, first through its visiting fellowship scheme, then through additional funding for this video. We are so grateful for their support, and we hope that this video will both repay them for their trust in our research and appeal and communicate to wide audiences just what incredible, valuable material we study in our desire better to understand the Roman world and its diverse cultures.

BW: How exciting to work on such an interesting topic! So I’m eager to know: why did you choose this particular inscription?

We wanted to make a number of strong, important points. About the way in which we perceive, in which we encounter the Roman world. About the way the ancient world is presented to us in museums, archives, exhibitions, and books. And we want to do so while racing a wide audience because what we have to say and offer is relevant to so many different audiences.

 

We want to enthuse new generations with our passion for Roman history, for poetry, for epigraphy. We want to give teachers the opportunity to expand the canon of teaching through the inclusion of poetry that students can easily relate to. We want to invite museums, collections, and policymakers to rethink their approach to the way in which these incredibly exciting, talking objects from the ancient world are displayed. What better way to achieve this than to choose a text that expresses, in such beautiful words, the grief of pet owners – whose faithful companion had died. We feel we all can relate to that, and we feel that this text alone opens up so many new ways of thinking about the Roman world and the people who “were” the Romans, than the ever-same repertoire of classical authors.

BW: There must be a lot of interesting stories out there?

There are several thousand inscribed poems surviving from across the Roman world. You find anything, from obscene graffiti on the walls of Pompeii, to epitaphs on funerary monuments, 110-lines long and erected in the desert of Roman North Africa. You find beautiful, outrageous, hilarious, thought-provoking pieces, but, of course, also the banal and uninspired. How else could it be: writing short(ish) poems was a shared pastime across the ancient world, and the pieces are just as varied as their authors – men, women, children. If you would like to see further examples, you may explore them in an easily accessible format here and here. The material truly is a hidden treasure waiting for its discovery.

BW: What was it like recording this piece? Would you recommend the process to others?

Haha, oh dear! Well… none of us are natural-born entertainers. We all were terrified and at first, we hated to see our faces and hear our recorded voices. But James Rattee, the producer and creative mind behind our video, did an incredible job to make us feel at ease, to make us look smart (within the limitations that we were painfully aware of), and make the video appealing to such a wide range of audiences. We hope that putting this video out there will make it available for generations to come – for pupils, teachers, academics, cultural managers, policy makers: it should entertain and be useful at the same time! It’s genuinely a piece of art.

 

BW: Well we all certainly agree with that, here in Classics at Reading University! Excellent work! Finally then, what is in store next for your project?

We want to do more. We want to reach out to schools, to those who design curricula, design teaching in schools and at university, to show them the potential and possibilities. And we want to transform the way in which inscriptions are presented and utilised in museums – there is so much potential wasted.

We are making first steps. But there’s much more work to be done. So, if you are interested, please do get in touch with us, and we will explore the potential for collaboration with you! And as we are still thinking about reaching larger audiences and improving educational materials we would be deeply grateful if viewers, students and teachers, from all over the world would send us their feedback, even in an informal way. And by all means do feel free to send us any kind of questions regarding how Roman communicate their feelings, emotions, fears, and concerns through their inscriptions.

 

Summer Seminar Series 2021

Author: Amy Smith & Bunny Waring. Edits: Bunny Waring.
Date: 26th April 2021.

Come one, come all! After a short break, the Classics Department is ready to entertain and educate you all with a new series of free, online seminars.
Join us weekly on Wednesdays at 4pm for our Summer Seminar Series which focuses on the theme ‘Making Classics Better’. In this accessible and inclusive online environment, we welcome a stellar group of speakers from as close as Roehampton and as far as Melbourne to address issues that hamper inclusivity in Classics and/or explore means of promoting diversity in the study of antiquity more broadly.

This theme relates to the work of many of our colleagues and follows on from a successful series of workshops on Inclusive Classics co-organised by our Joint-Head of Department, Prof. Barbara Goff (see out 2020 blog post: http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/classics-at-reading/page/3/.

Below is the full programme and you can join us—for free—by clicking on our events page: https://www.facebook.com/UoRClassics/events/

28 April: What makes classical myth an ideal topic for autistic children? – Susan Deacy (Roehampton)

5 May: Covid+Collapse – Louise Hitchcock (Melbourne)

12 May: Collaboration in UK Classics Education: Reflecting on Ambitions and Realities – Arlene Holmes-Henderson (KCL)

19 May: Disability Studies and the Classical Body: The Forgotten Other – Ellen Adams (KCL)

26 May: Subverting the Classics? White Feminism and Reception Studies – Holly Ranger (SAS)

2 June: TBA – Patrice Rankine (Richmond)

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.