Developments in Ancient Language Pedagogy

The following blog has been written by Jackie Baines, who organised a workshop on ‘Developments in Ancient Language Pedagogy’ held in the Department on Friday 19th May 2023. We would like to thank Jackie and all those involved for running such a successful event!

Steven Hunt – Edward Ross – Maiken Mosleth King – James Robson – Jackie Baines

On the 19th May I ran an international blended workshop on the topic of advances in ancient language pedagogy. The workshop came about as part of my research leave which, as a teaching intensive lecturer, has given me the opportunity to look at ways in which I might refresh my pedagogical ideas and practices. I am indebted to Edward Ross who assisted me with many aspects of the organisation of this event. The rationale for the workshop and the choice of talks and speakers came about as a result of experiences and observations over a number of years teaching Latin here at the University of Reading, which include the following:

Choice of Textbooks

For many years we used Jones and Sidwell Reading Latin as the main textbook with all its quirks and difficulties for complete beginners.  After looking at the suitability of many possible alternatives we subsequently moved to using Taylor’s Latin to GCSE which is very much more approachable in its presentation of grammar and its layout for 21st century students but has many drawbacks for moving on with speed and full understanding, to higher levels of Latin. 

Teaching Spoken Latin

This academic year (2022 – 2023) I am grateful to my colleague Professor Eleanor Dickey who organised weekly sessions of spoken Latin for colleagues, run by teachers from Oxford Latinitas. It was a revelation in a number of ways, principally, that there are definite advantages to learning to use a language, now considered ‘dead’ by many, as languages are normally used – that is to speak.  Latin was indeed taught orally until relatively recently, so why aren’t we doing more of it?  A subsidiary lesson for me was being returned to the position of student, at times most alarming and stressful when using a language I know well, but in a totally unfamiliar way.  I have set up a student focus group using Ørberg’s Lingua Latina per se Illustrata. I am impressed by the speed of vocabulary acquisition and grammatical understanding gained by reading and speaking using only (mostly!) Latin.

Online learning in the post-pandemic world

The pandemic has made us realise the possibilities of online tools for additional learning support.  The rise of AI, in particular Chat GPT is opening up a myriad of opportunities and unnerving problems, both for teachers and for the students themselves who need to have enough understanding to use such tools appropriately. Edward A.S. Ross has recently published an article discussing this further here. Edward and I are delighted to be able to announce that since the workshop we have been awarded Teaching and Learning Enhancement Projects funding by the University of Reading to investigate and trial ChatGPT as a conversational language study tool by codifying and standardising methods for using conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI) models in ancient language classes.

Workshop talks

In the workshop we were treated to six stimulating and thought-provoking talks, listed below with abstracts available here. Speakers reflected on past practices and perceptions of ancient languages and how they have been taught along with learning how the emergence of new technologies and their use can be used to enhance our teaching. Thanks to all speakers for their contributions.

Emergent pedagogies in classical languages teaching in UK schools: Steven Hunt (University of Cambridge)

Capturing the Classroom: A Snapshot of Approaches to Latin Teaching in UK Universities: Mair E. Lloyd (Open University and University of Cambridge); James Robson (Open University)

Using Simple Grammar Videos to Flip the Classroom: Antonia Ruppel (Institute of Indology and Tibetology, LMU Munich)

Digital software as a pedagogical aid in teaching ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs: Maiken Mosleth King (University of Bristol)

A New Frontier: AI and Ancient Language Pedagogy: Edward A. S. Ross (University of Reading)

Living Latin in the Classroom: benefits and challenges of communicative approaches: Mair E. Lloyd (Open University and University of Cambridge)

 

Written by Jackie Baines

Connecting Classics to its Wider Context

Figure 1: Huijiao (Photo taken from https://baike.baidu.com/pic/%E6%85%A7%E7%9A%8E/2626692).

We were excited to hear that the Centre of Buddhist Studies at the University of Hong Kong has just published an English translation of Shi Huijiao’s The Biographies of Eminent Monks, edited by our PhD student, Edward A S Ross. Tianshu Yang (Jiechuang Institute of Buddhist Studies) was the translator. We asked Edward to share details of this exciting project with us. He reports as follows:

The Biographies of Eminent Monks is a compilation of the lives of over 500 Buddhist figures from 67 CE to 519 CE. This 14-chapter volume became the widely accepted basis for Chinese Buddhist, historical biography literature from the 6thcentury onwards. Extending from China’s first interactions with Buddhism to the Liang Dynasty (502-557 CE), the text of the Biographies of Eminent Monks discusses Buddhist figures well known during the time of Shi Huijiao (慧皎) (497-554 CE), the compiler and author (Figure 1).

Since it does not discuss the Mediterranean world, the relevance of this text to Classics might seem slight, yet there are interesting connections to the west buried in the life stories of these monastics. Since Edward studies ancient Central Asia, he was particularly interested in the monastic figures who came from and visited the so-called “Western Regions.” 47 of the 532 figures mentioned in the text hold ethnic or geographical origins to the west of East Asia, be that Central or South Asia (Figure 2).

 

Figure 2: Estimated places of origin for all 306 biographies with given locations. Points with white borders represent those with connections to the Western Regions (Image created by Edward A S Ross using mapping data from Google Maps (2020))

Shi Huijiao. The Biographies of Eminent Monks. Tianshu Yang, translator. Edward A. S. Ross, editor. Hong Kong: Centre of Buddhist Studies, University of Hong Kong, 2022.

Some come from as far west as Parthia, a region in Central Asia well known in the Mediterranean world. This reminds us how deeply connected different parts of the ancient world were to their wider global context. Whether through trade, war, or religious pilgrimage, people from the Mediterranean and Asian worlds did indeed interact. This is why it is important for those studying ancient history to broaden their source bases to garner a deeper understanding of the nuances of cultural interactions in the ancient world.

From the outset, the goal for this translation project has been to produce an open-access volume of Shi Huijiao’s The Biographies of Eminent Monks, so that these poignant stories and crucial aspects of Chinese Buddhist history are widely available to the English-speaking public, practitioners, and academics. The full ebook is available at https://www.academia.edu/90233933/Shi_HuiJiao_The_Biographies_of_Eminent_Monks_%E9%AB%98%E5%83%A7%E5%82%B3.

 

New exhibition: Black African Authors in the Roman Empire

In celebration of Black History Month we are delighted to announce the launch of a physical exhibition in the Classics Department hallway (pictured below). Reading University’s Classics Department is committed to decolonising the curriculum and challenging our preconceptions of the non-white world. Our students Chloe Gardner (BA Hons. 2021) and Edward Gregory (current 3rd-year undergraduate) created an online exhibit about Black African Authors in the Roman Empire in the wake of the University’s launch of its Race Equality Review on 24 May 2021. COVID-19 restrictions did not permit a physical exhibit at that time so we have re-animated this project here.

BHThe three authors featured here are ancient African writers: Tertullian, a Berber; Terence, a Libyan; and Apuleius, a Numidian. These authors wrote broadly and across different genres, but each touched on the experiences of their people, even if in a satirical manner.

TertullianThroughout history, black and African voices have been silenced systematically to forge a narrative of white supremacy. By casting Western-minority groups as savage or uneducated natives, collective memory now recalls groups of people subdued and modernized by the West. Traditional practices regarding research and interpretation in the Classics discipline tend to reaffirm and strengthen the misconceptions associated with this flawed and dangerous narrative. The field of Classics has been dominated by white, male voices. Through telling stories relatable to them they created an echo chamber of information on the classical world. Perpetuating the idea of a white-washed ancient past is harmful, however, to all. In ignoring data and evidence for a society that was far more influenced by the East and South than was sometimes thought, Westerners have lost or hidden a wealth of knowledge, understanding and answers.

To read more about each of these north African authors and a suggested bibliography see our online exhibition at research.reading.ac.uk/curiosi/black-history.