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).

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)

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.

Fully Funded PhD studentship – The Archaeology of Hidden Identity: The Case of a Female Burial from Lowbury Hill. 

We would like to bring to your attention a fully-funded PhD studentship:

The Archaeology of Hidden Identity: The Case of a Female Burial from Lowbury Hill 

Application deadline: Monday 25th January 2021 

 

 

This multidisciplinary project seeks to re-interpret the remains of a woman discovered in the wall of the Romano-British temple found at Lowbury Hill in 1913-14. The original interpretation of her role as a ‘foundation’ deposit, then as a body inserted in a ‘robber’ trench, has been brought into question by a 1990s radio-carbon analysis that contextualised her within the early medieval period (c 550-650 CE). The nearly complete female skeleton was displayed by the early 1920s at University College Reading’s Museum of Archaeology and History, alongside the male Anglo-Saxon warrior found in the adjacent barrow. We seek an understanding of her deposition and relation to both the Romano-British temple and Anglo-Saxon barrow at Lowbury Hill. Her case is important not only for History and Archaeology but also in Gender Studies, regarding both her role in the Roman and/or Anglo-Saxon periods and her later history as a ‘forgotten women’ overlooked in favour of her more ‘decorated’ male ‘neighbour’. 

This studentship is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council through the South, West & Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (SWW DTP). It is co-supervised by Prof. Amy C. Smith, University of Reading and Dr Sophie Beckett, Cranfield University in partnership with Angie Bolton, Oxfordshire Museums Service. 

For details on this fully funded Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) please visit:https://www.sww-ahdtp.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/CDA-7-Lowbury-Hill.Further-Details.pdf 

Find out more about the application and the studentship here: https://www.sww-ahdtp.ac.uk/prospective-students/apply/collaborative-doctoral-award-projects-2021/ 

Start your application here: https://www.sww-ahdtp.ac.uk/prospective-students/apply/ 

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