Reading Classics at Rome: A review of the first post-covid study trip

Our undergraduate student, Kieran Evans, shares their experience from the first departmental study trip to Rome after the pandemic—in April 2022—along with a series of exciting and wonderful pictures of Rome! Thank you to everyone who participated to this trip, and particularly to Profs Amy Smith and Matthew Nicholls who organised it and led the tour!   

It started with a 2:15am meetup at the Sports Park building on campus to catch a coach for Heathrow. We left extra early just to make sure we had enough time for any delays or queues caused by COVID-19 restrictions at the airport. Despite being early hours of the morning, everyone was raring to go to Rome, bags packed, and the anticipation of getting to the airport was at a high. We just had to get through security then a rather long wait for the flight at 7am.  

The arrival into Rome, after the flight and coach journey, was only the start of the day in the ‘Eternal city’. We checked into our hotel in the afternoon, to get set for the first trek of the trip. Matthew Nicholls, our tour lead who came over from Oxford University, but in his role as Visiting Professor at University of Reading, walked us through some parts of the southern part of the city, checking out Roman building remains, seeing what remained of the concrete. One major theme of the trip was the material left behind in buildings, mostly the concrete that the marble would have covered up. From the first tour we saw how the massive structures, like the Porticus Aemilia, a long series of arched warehouses for food storage, or acting as a naval dockyard. They were impressive to look at, considering the size and how long they’ve been around, but like many Roman buildings the concrete lost the marble exterior, looted for other construction, or turned into lime. That same afternoon we came across one of the best views of the trip. From the top of the Aventine Hill, you could see across the city with St. Peter’s Basilica to the north peeking above the buildings before it. It became somewhat a preview of what to expect for the coming days, just spectacular. 

On day Two we visited monuments fitting the theme ‘Landscape of Victory’. Amy and Matthew had organised entering the Mausoleum of Augustus, very recently opened to the public. Such a grand monument which held the first imperial dynasty, was left in a state of ruin for years and recently restored for visitors to re-enter. Walking through the crypt we saw how the material again was laid bare, and how the diamond patterns bricks were organised into in the concrete. Some marble—the only marble left—greeted us at the entrance telling of how this place held the ashes of Augustus and his family. The building was remarkable to walk through. Like at all sites on the trip, Matthew and Amy told us everything there was to know, the way it looked when constructed, a wedding cake style of tiers of earth and trees planted on top and the history following. Somewhat surprising to hear was that, when the top tier collapsed, it filled the interior to create a new ground level above the original entrance and a space for a bull fighting arena. 16th-century entertainment turned it into a stage for the sport, then a theatre in the 20th century. It’s restored and the grand entrance is the only way in now, not the archway some 30 feet above it. 

My personal highlight of the trip was later in the day on visiting another monument, the Pantheon. Despite looking majestic from the front with the granite columns and inscription to Agrippa, it took a second to realise what I was looking at when we approached it from the south, only seeing the circular, brick building. Of course, when I finally recognised it, I got a little giddy. About an hour and a half before entering we had a lunch break and some of us found a restaurant on the piazza of the Pantheon. It was somewhat surreal sitting there eating proper Italian pizza and looking at the entrance of this building less than a hundred metres to my left.  

 

The group that went on the trip were great, insofar as everyone got on so well with each other, making meals out easier and so much more fun. Especially the final evening we all had in Rome, dining at Il Matto and drinking plenty of red wine with the excellent food. Amy and Matthew organised an amazing series of tours across the 6 days we were there. I cannot think of how that trip could have been better… maybe if we had another day there?

European Festival of Latin and Greek Returns in Reading Classics

The European Festival of Latin and Greek returns in Reading Classics after two years of pandemic, and we gathered the most exciting info about it in a Q&A covering all you need to know!  Enthusiasts of Classical Literature are more than welcome to participate! Find out below what the European Festival of Latin and Greek is and how you can sign up! 

What is it?

An international (not just European!) event when people celebrate the ancient world by getting together in a public place to read aloud a text from Ancient Greece or Rome.

Are they mad?                 

No, they are just really enthusiastic!

How does the Department come into this?          

The Department is going to participate in the Festival again, as we did pre-Covid; we are going to meet in the Edith Morley Quad, at 1pm on Wednesday March 23rd , to read Sophocles Oedipus the King!

Oedipus the King? That’s the one about mums and dads, yes?    

And about human striving and its limits – about our understanding of our own identity – about plague and recovery, blindness and insight, life and death!  People have been fascinated by this play for centuries, and always find something important in it.

Have you done this before?         

Yes, the Department participated in the 2019 Festival in 2019 when colleagues gathered in Edith Morley Quad to read book 6 of the Iliad in various languages. You can have a taste at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=na3odYx9CXU! In the pictures, you can see us reading Homer Iliad 6 in 2019, along with the Chinese translation that one of us used.

OK, I’m convinced.  But do I have to speak Greek?            

No, the whole point is that people can read in whatever language they like.  Across the world, the Festival is celebrated in Ancient Greek, Modern Greek, Mandarin, Afrikaans, English, French – you get the picture.  And, we don’t have to read the whole thing, just the juicy bits. 

Where do I sign?             

Try https://forms.office.com/r/Bq84DfPb3z to sign up: https://festival-latingrec.eu/english-2/ for more information.  And feel free to email Barbara Goff at hod-classics@reading.ac.uk to tell her how keen you are.  

Reading Classics Autumn Term Research Seminars 2021

We are pleased to announce the launch of our regular Reading Classics Seminar Series for Autumn Term 2021, which will boost our Wednesday afternoons with constructive and stimulating lectures and discussions on various aspects of Classics research!

This series of lectures, starting on 29th September, run alongside the Ure Museum seminars ‘Troy in 21st Century’ in alternate weeks. In this accessible and inclusive environment—with some talks online and others in person—we welcome a diverse group of speakers from both the UK and abroad in our Departmental seminars, which will explore a variety of topics and periods of Classical studies.  

For our first Reading Classics Seminar, we are delighted to welcome Professor Sheila Murnaghan from University of Pennsylvania, who will speak on ‘Her own troubles: women writers and the Iliad’. Tune in on Wednesday 29th 2021 at 4pm. The lecture will be delivered online in MS Teams. To register your interest in attending please email Professor Amy C Smith, at HoD-Classics@reading.ac.uk.

You can find a full list of titles below.  

29 September

Sheila Murnaghan (University of Pennsylvania) Her own troubles: Women writers and the Iliad 

13 October (in person)

Emma Aston (University of Reading) The Aggressive Thessaly Reconsidered 

17 November

Judith Mossman (Coventry University) Tragedy in Plutarch 

1 December

Çigdem Maner (Koç University) Adaptation, subsistence, and political geography in South-Easter Konya from 3rd to 1st millennium BC

We look forward to welcoming you at Reading Classics Research Seminars once again! 

 

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

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

Date: September2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inclusive Classics

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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.

Beyond LGBT+ History Month: Broken Futures Project

Author: Amy Hitchings and George Stokes. Edits & Introduction: Bunny Waring.
Date: 9th April 2021.

Introduction: As LGBT+ History Month comes to an end it is important to continue the educational progress made, during this focused push for better dialogues across communities. The Classics Department at Reading has long advocated and implemented important conversations about gender and sexual identity, through a variety of research projects, educational events and student-led initiatives (see here and here). Read on to hear what the team at Broken Futures has been developing recently and how Classics at Reading are working collaboratively with other institutions and organisations towards a brighter tomorrow.

The Broken Futures Project (2021)

LGBT+ History Month is a time to look back through history and to highlight queer identities. This often brings with it a sense of belonging that many queer people believe is not only desirable but essential for their own sense of identity and place within society. But what if the lives of people who defied heteronormative society have been hidden, either by those people themselves or by a state that didn’t record their existence?

Volunteer researchers at the Broken Futures project have been working to reconstruct the lives of men who encountered the local criminal justice system as a result of their sex with other men. This is no easy task; state archives were not designed to be used in this way and are not organised in neat categories for present-day researchers. So-called ‘homosexual’ offences are lumped together with sex with animals, as well as with women. It can be difficult to work out exactly what happened in any given instance from the court records alone, so Broken Futures volunteers have been scouring newspaper archives (over 163 hours over the past year) for any snippet of information that can give us a clue.

We’ve also been working to humanise the individuals recorded in our sources, and volunteers have trawled census, military, and education records to get some understanding of the individuals behind the offence. We’ve found heart-wrenching tales of same-sex desire, family unity, and stories of people trying to simply live an ordinary life in the face of huge societal condemnation.

We’ve found evidence of sex between men throughout the county of Berkshire, from the poorest agricultural labourer to the landed gentry, but what does this really mean for the LGBT+ community today? The next stage of our project will be to grapple with the issue of whether we can view these men as homosexual or as a precursor to our modern notion of homosexual identity at a time before these concepts became mainstream. We also want to confront the issue of whether it is appropriate to claim these men as part of our community, given that they would probably never have publicly admitted to engaging in this behaviour in their own time and may have even been horrified at the idea.

The project will conclude with a podcast seminar series throughout April with community volunteers, the Berkshire County Archivist, and a number of Reading academics including: Amy Austin (History), Dr Oliver Baldwin (Classics), and Prof. Katherine Harloe and Aleardo Zanghellini (Classics and Law respectively). From 19 April, there will also be a virtual display at the Museum of English Rural Life and an online exhibition on the Broken Futures project page, as well as an updated version of Support U’s existing queer history tour around Reading. We also have a toolkit that will be available, should you be interested in reading more about the research process, the sources used to recover these stories, or how to go about finding lives in archives around the country.

This is all just the start of uncovering Berkshire’s queer history, as the criminal sources utilised only record instances of sex between men. Also, criminal documents did not directly discuss ethnicity and, of course, individuals whose same-sex sex went undetected were not prosecuted and cannot be found in criminal archives. More work needs to be done to uncover the lives of unrepresented communities in Berkshire, and this is something that Support U is endeavouring to work towards in the near future.

The Broken Futures Project was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2019 and seeks to explore the history of ordinary men in Berkshire who were charged with buggery/indecent assault/gross indecency between 1861 to 1967 by training community volunteers in archival and genealogical research. The project is managed and delivered by Support U, the LGBT+ support and wellbeing charity in the Thames Valley. Find out more by visiting www.brokenfutures.co.uk.

The Pilot project for this work was funded by the University of Reading’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme in 2018, supervised by Professor Katherine Harloe, University of Reading and Mark Stevens, the Berkshire County Archivist with student researchers Amy Hitchings and George Stokes.

George and Amy now make up the Broken Futures team. The Broken Futures project team has some fantastic project partners, to whom we are so grateful for support and guidance since the project’s conception: The University of Reading; The Museum of English Rural Life; Reading Museum; and the vital resources, archival access and training spaces provided by the Berkshire Record Office. This work will also feature in the Queer Rural Connections, a theatrical project led by Timothy Allsop and Dr Kira Allmann of the University of Oxford, exploring queer rural lives.

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.