WHAT’s IT LIKE? Episode 5: Prof. Amy Smith –- A Specialist in Art History, Ancient Greek Ceramics & Classical Antiquities.

Interviewee: Prof. Amy Smith. Interviewer: Bunny Waring.
Date: 18th June 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. Amy Smith

A Specialist in Art History, Ancient Greek Ceramics & Classical Antiquities.

 

 

Name: Prof. Amy Smith.
Area of Specialism: I am a classical archaeologist, with a particular interest in: ancient Greek ceramics; ancient iconography; digital classics; ancient religion & politics; museology; reception of Classical antiquities.
Topics of Interest: All of the above, plus female goddesses (esp. Athena, Aphrodite), heroes (esp. Herakles); red-figure painters (esp. the Pan Painter); sensory archaeology (esp. music); materiality.
Job Title: Professor of Classical Archaeology; Joint Head of the Department of Classics; Curator of the Ure Museum.
Job Responsibilities:

Professor of Classical Archaeology: Teach and research Classical archaeology & related subjects (e.g. ancient Greek language, Greek history); encourage, recruit (i.e. find funding for) & supervise postdocs (currently Signe Barfoed, on a Norwegian Research Council Grant) & PhD students. I get a two new PhD students next year, namely Summer Courts, working on ‘The Archaeology of Hidden Identity’ & Caitlin Laurence, working on ‘Statistical and Digital analysis of 6th-4th c. BC Attic pottery found in Anatolia’; engage with the worldwide community of scholars incl. external examining undergrads (currently at KCL) & postgrads (currently external examiner to Leeds PhD); serving on advisory boards & committees (e.g. editorial board for New Classicists & Claros); outreach to schools & other national audiences); & much else!

Joint Head of Department: I share this job with Barbara Goff (which is a godsend) because both of us have other big administrative jobs that we can’t really get rid of—she’s Departmental Director of Teaching & Learning; I’m Curator of the Ure; we divided it along lines that fit with those roles. So while she does the student-facing things I do the outreach & research, incl. postgraduates for the most part. That entails amongst other things organising and hosting our department’s online research seminars, which we’re now (with the speakers’ permission) beginning to share on our Department’s YouTube account. This term I’ve been working with marketing partners on devising a new department website: fun finding pictures & stories but challenging like so many such projects that come from ‘above’ because fitting into the dreaded ‘template’ stifles our creativity.

Curator of the Ure Museum: Of all of my jobs this is the one that is most variable from day to day, week to week, year to year. I’ve been doing it for nearly 21 years now, during which time we’ve had major analogue and digital projects, like redesigning the Ure’s learning environment (i.e. restyling the place) in 2004-5, creating our own bespoke database (https://uremuseum.org/cgi-bin/ure/uredb.cgi), redesigning (twice) & maintaining our museum website, temporary exhibitions, e.g. our upcoming Spotlight Loan from the British Museum: ‘Troy: Beauty and Heroism’ (21 September-12 December 2021; already twice postponed!). Normal day-to-day stuff includes answering scholarly requests about visiting, studying & using our artefacts & archives for research; representing the Ure Museum at network meetings, conferences, etc.; supervising & supporting but not line-managing two part-time members of staff—Jayne Holly (Assistant Curator) & Claudina Romero Mayorga (Education Officer)—and with them recruiting & supervising (& seeking funding for) interns, volunteers, & other helpers; chivvying members of the department staff to help us out from time to time; seeking small and large pots of money to do pretty much everything; and running our own research activities including seminars etc. We have no internal funding, except for staff, & no external funding unless we go out & find it, so everything is on a shoestring, which means we’re very good at putting interns & volunteers to good use (e.g. on our Museum in a box projects & a forthcoming lesson in a box on democracy with Study Higher).

Introduction

I was born in Libya & my dad took credit for my becoming an archaeologist because he took my mum to Leptis Magna when she was pregnant. I think it more likely that my childhood in London inspired me: museums were free, we lived near them, & I ducked into them when it was raining! My English teacher in preparatory school loved the painter J.M.W. Turner so she developed my art historical interests, while my history teacher in secondary school told us all about Minoan civilisations! Shortly after that, I visited Corfu, which I still remember as my favourite childhood holiday (I was already a Gerald Durrell fan). Archaeology finally won out in university when I was lucky enough to be taught Greek mythology by a bronze age archaeologist (Jerry Rutter at Dartmouth). Before I pursued postgraduate studies at Yale, I took a detour into publishing & after a few years as Assistant Editor of the American Journal of Archaeology (a brilliant opportunity, and fun to live in Boston) I realised that I enjoyed the content of the articles slightly more than fiddling with the layout, proofreading etc. At Yale I got to work with Curator Susan Matheson at the Yale Art Gallery & was torn whether to pursue a university or museum career. So when Reading interviewed me in the Ure Museum I jumped at the chance to combine both.

I am very lucky to have a job doing lots of things I love: teaching, helping younger people develop skills, both in the classroom & in the museum, research & much else. Being an archaeologist I am genuinely interdisciplinary: (1) I like how a combination of sources—material culture, ancient texts, scientific analysis, etc.—help us piece it all together; (2) I don’t have to restrict myself to one time period, culture group, or place, because of course cultures have always bumped shoulders with each other and (3) the more I study antiquity the more I realise the importance of intellectual history, that is, understanding how and why our society has inherited perspectives gained from other cultures & societies that have responded to the ‘Classics’ since antiquity

What is your daily life really like?

Working from home during lockdown gives me more of a pattern than I used to have, but either way, I tend to wake up early, take a swim or a run or both, eat a big breakfast (I keep chickens!) and then settle down to my laptop, reading, answering and/or deleting the tonnes of emails I receive. This is all interspersed with meetings & classes in term time, checking my schedule for upcoming deadlines for grant applications, presentations or papers I’ve promised to give, references I need to write, teaching sessions to prepare and the associated marking. Summer term, which is never-ending in times of COVID19, is dominated by marking. If the sun is shining, I might try to take a midday break in the garden or take a walk/cycle ride to an errand, just to get me out of the house. For research, (that I prefer to do in a library), I try to block off time either a whole day or at least a whole afternoon to let me get in the right mindset, but there’s never enough time for research, especially during term time. If I’m doing research or writing at home sometimes a quiet evening might give me the chance to focus without noticing the time passing. I’m a big multitasker so I might cook at the same time (I’m a firm believer in slow cooking, including sourdough bread). Now that we’re allowed into the Oxford libraries again I’m booking as much time as I can—including weekends—to research there.

The Museum work is interspersed throughout my Professor work and often indistinguishable from it, visavis research. A lot of people both within & beyond the University treat me like I’m either Curator or Professor or Head of Department or even web editor, i.e. like I’ve only got one job! Since the first lockdown, I’ve had had weekly meetings with my Ure colleagues so that we can touch base with each other on our many initiatives & what the various interns/volunteers are doing with/for us. In many ways, my curatorial work is my most important ‘teaching’. I’m very proud of the huge number of assistant curators, interns & volunteers we’ve had in the Ure over the years: some have gone on to get their MAs or PhDs & become successful curators or other museum professionals, teachers, lecturers, researchers, editors, filmmakers. I’m just as proud of the others who have developed skills from time spent in museums & academia, such as event planning and marketing.

What is the best part of your job?

The best thing about my job is that no two days or weeks or years are the same: I have worked in lots of different & very wonderful places, with amazing & interesting people.  I have flexibility with my schedule, although—especially nowadays—our work is never done (and this is the worst part). Like most academics, I do maybe an average of 1.5 x more hours than my employers think.

Why do you think your specialism is important?

My work is important for 3 big reasons.
(1) Teaching, (i.e. helping young people learn about their world & how they might contribute to it), is an essential thing & a great privilege.
(2) We need to learn from the past! Archaeology helps us fill in the gaps provided by the biased texts, giving us perhaps a more honest glimpse at real people. To be fair, as an art historical archaeologist I tend to look at the stuff that richer people used, yet it still helps everyone to understand how it has been used, seen & understood by humble people too.
(3) Helping audiences young and old, academic & general to engage with museum content is a brilliant way to bring together teaching, learning about the past, & developing peoples’ interpretative confidence. Anyone can have a good and inspiring interpretation of an artefact that contributes to our understanding of (pre)history. In these three ways, I think I can, and do, make a difference.

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

If you’ve read this far you’ll know that I’ve dabbled in editorial & museum work; I was taught my proofreading skills when I worked as a paralegal intern! So I’m sure I could apply myself to all of those tasks, ‘tho my best friend in high school & I dreamed of opening a bakery, & I sometimes think that I might enjoy running a pub or café on the river.

Did you always want to be what you are today?

No, only since I watched Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark). Actually, that film gave me the excuse to study ‘Classical Archaeology’ as an undergraduate, but throughout that degree, my MA, MPhil & PhD, I just thought I’d push it as far as I could (& as long as I could get funding for my studies—see below). Imagine my surprise when I actually got a job (at Tufts University) & started to think I might actually become a Classical Archaeologist!

Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?

I hope to be a Professor, still at Reading (perfectly situated between London & Oxford, with excellent access to airports), but perhaps not Joint Head of Department anymore. I hope that I’d have had the chance to visit China (I was scheduled to go there in March 2020!) & to take up my Visiting Professorship at University of Queensland (postponed since Autumn 2020) & much more in terms of travel to collections, conferences, etc. If universities go belly up then I’d like to be sailing around the world.

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

Don’t pursue academia unless you’re doing it for the knowledge & fun; that is, don’t just do it for the career/job because that might not ever happen. So keep your eyes opened for other opportunities & don’t be afraid to jump out of your comfort zone. The best advice (which I’d like to pass on) was from a friend of a friend in the finance office at Boston University. She said ‘don’t bother with a PhD unless you get a fellowship’. The logic, that if you don’t rise to the top of the pile (of students) at that stage then it will be hard for you to rise to the top later in your career, is unfortunately true. That said, whatever you choose to do, put your all into it, make it work, and have fun: your own enjoyment will enthuse others & make everyone (including yourself) enjoy it that much more.

What to know more?

Head over to the Ure Museum for our new exhibition on Troy or read about the fascinating foot vase at the top of this article here.

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

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).

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)

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

 

[Lyre players Eturia, 560-550 BCE_Lewandowski2021]

Interviewee: Dr. James Lloyd-Jones, Interviewer: Bunny Waring.
Date: 5th March 2021

Welcome to the Classic Department’s series What’s it Like? During these episodes staff, volunteers and students who specialise in all fields of Classics, Archaeology and Museums, will share with you the realities of their jobs. What to be a Linguist? Museum Curator? Archaeologist? Lecturer? Well Travelled Researcher? A Barrier-Breaker? Have No Idea? Then read on!

This week: Dr James Lloyd-Jones

A Specialist in Ancient Music and Song. 

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

Introduction

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

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

 

What is your daily life really like?

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

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

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

 

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

What is the best part of your job?

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

Why do you think your specialism is important?

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

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

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

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

Did you always want to be what you are today?

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

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

Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?

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

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

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

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

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

What to know more?

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

 

WHAT’S IT LIKE? Episode 1: Professor Eleanor Dickey – A Specialist in Ancient Languages and Education.

Interviewee: Prof. Eleanor Dickey, Interviewer: Bunny Waring.
Date: 19th February 2021

Welcome to the Classic Department’s series What’s it Like? During these episodes staff, volunteers and students who specialise in all fields of Classics, Archaeology and Museums, will share with you the realities of their jobs. What to be a Linguist? Museum Curator? Archaeologist? Lecturer? Well Travelled Researcher? A Barrier-Breaker? Have No Idea? Then read on!

This week: Professor Eleanor Dickey

A Specialist in Ancient Languages and Education. 

Name: Professor Eleanor Dickey, FBA
Area of Specialism: Classics
Topics of Interest: Education in antiquity; language teaching; linguistics; papyrology; ancient languages
Job Title: Professor of Classics
Job Responsibilities: Teaching (all levels from first-year undergraduates to PhD supervision), research, research impact (Reading Ancient Schoolroom), Study Abroad coordinator, academic tutor, a union rep for Classics and a union caseworker.

Introduction

I’ve wanted to be a scholar since I was a little girl; it seemed like it must be so much fun to discover new things about the past. And you know what? It is so much fun! It is also hard work, but I love being a Classicist, and that’s why I do it. Of course, I also want to transform my students’ abilities by brilliant teaching, to bring the ancient world to life for people who might never have understood it, to make discoveries that advance scholarship, and to write books that people will want to read and use long after I’m gone. Little things like that. And I work very hard at these goals — but the heart of it all is simply a love of the ancient world.

A favourite papyri

What is your daily life really like?

You’re sure you want to know? Absolutely sure? You wouldn’t rather keep your illusions about the luxurious life of the full professor? Okay, so here goes…

I work pretty much all the time, from long before dawn until late at night. I’m married to another Classical linguist (Philomen Probert of Wolfson College Oxford), whom I’ve known since we were students together; we live in a little house crammed full of books, with a cat inherited from another Classical linguist. Both our lives are completely focussed on Classics — it’s a passion that we share. And that’s good because life with Philomen can be demanding. For example, lately, she’s been teaching Hieroglyphic Luwian in Swiss German over Zoom from our dining room table before dawn, every single day, even on Christmas.

On teaching days I normally spend about 12 hours on campus and eat all meals in my office. I have a lot of teaching hours (up to 6 per day), but I prefer it that way because it means that my classes are all small and interactive, rather than big, passive groups. I enjoy the kind of teaching where you find out what the students are thinking because that allows you to help them learn effectively; I’ve never been convinced that lectures do much of anything towards learning. My own student days were mostly wonderful, exciting periods of challenge, stretching, and constant discovery; although the discoveries about the subject matter were good, the best were the discoveries about the extent to which one can develop new abilities. University transformed me from someone hampered by endless limitations into someone who could do pretty much whatever she set her mind to — and now that I’m a teacher I want to give my students something similar. They don’t all want that, of course (many are just as attached to their limitations as I once was to mine, because limitations are an important part of one’s identity), but some do.

On days in between teaching days I spend most of my time reading student work; of course, that’s entirely my own fault for assigning so much of it, which I do because I’m convinced that that’s the best way to give students the experience I’m aiming for. I enjoy reading the work when it goes well, and tear my hair when it goes badly.

Out of term, and in terms when I’m not teaching (such as this one), I concentrate on research. I’m currently finishing a book on Latin loanwords in ancient Greek; I’ve been working on it for over a decade, and the book is enormous, so I’m very keen to send it to the publisher soon. But I don’t want to ruin my reputation as a scholar by making mistakes, so I have to double-check it very carefully, which is taking forever. My main workspace is the bed; I sit on it with the cat and the laptop sharing my lap and books and papers all around. It would be a bit easier if the cat wanted to sleep somewhere else, but then I’d miss her.

One reason this book has taken so long to finish is that I’ve also been working on other research projects. One of those is editing 35 papyri (scraps of ancient paper dug up by archaeologists) as part of a project at the University of Naples (https://platinum-erc.it/) that is producing a re-edition of all known Latin papyri (there are thousands). I really enjoy editing ancient texts, because you’ve got a good chance to discover something completely new. For example, I recently discovered that one of my papyri was a copy of a text that is supposed to have been composed in the sixth century AD, except that this papyrus had been written at least 300 years before then. So suddenly our whole understanding of that text has to change (Read more). The other reason I enjoy editing texts is that it’s a great excuse to travel: you need to inspect the original papyri or manuscripts, and those inspections result in delightful visits to libraries, museums, and even beautiful monasteries where women aren’t allowed in at all, unless they need to see a manuscript.

Most years I also run an event called the Reading Ancient Schoolroom (www.readingancientschoolroom.com), in which we re-create a Roman school for a few days and invite local children to come to experience it. This is a research-impact project based on my work on ancient education , so we focus particularly on what children actually did in ancient schools, from interrupting the teacher and saying hello as they came into reciting poetry from memory. But in order to make it feel authentic, we also have Roman costumes, wax tablets, reed pens, papyrus rolls, etc. We also have a slave, because slavery was an important aspect of ancient life that can’t be ignored, but as the director of the event, I feel uncomfortable about asking anyone else to play a slave. So I always take that role myself.

Prof. Dickey ready to teach at the ancient schoolroom.

What is the best part of your job?

1) The subject matter: Classics is endlessly fun.

2) I get to do a lot of travel and practice foreign languages because I’m frequently invited to give lectures in interesting places (although sometimes I bite off more than I can chew and end up wishing I hadn’t accepted quite so many invitations). I also travel to look at manuscripts and papyri when editing texts, sometimes for weeks at a time.

3) The job is highly varied, so you don’t get sick of doing any one thing (except perhaps e-mail).

4) You’re always learning and overcoming new challenges, so you continue to grow and improve.

5) Academia is a very tolerant place, which is great if you have characteristics that some people don’t like. I’m an immigrant, married to another woman, with prosopagnosia (face blindness: I can’t normally identify people by looking at them). In some settings, I might have a very difficult time, but universities are very tolerant in these respects.

Why do you think your specialism is important?

Understanding other societies and cultures is important because it helps us understand our own world better and appreciate something of the range of cultural possibilities within which our own ways of doing things fall. In order to decide whether you want to continue doing things as usual or try something different, you need to know what other options exist. Of course, you can get those benefits from studying any other cultures, but understanding ones from the past is particularly useful, because that allows you to know what happened on previous occasions when various other options were tested out.

More specifically, take my research specialism of education in antiquity. Ancient education was fundamentally different from its modern equivalent, because instead of grouping children by age and expecting them all to master particular skills at particular points in their lives, it was highly individualised with each child learning at his or her own pace. That has some obvious advantages over our own system in terms of reduced stress, anxiety and boredom for students whose brains work faster or slower than average, but also obvious disadvantages in terms of efficiency: the modern system allows more students to share one teacher. Are there elements of the ancient education system that we could adopt into our own without losing too much efficiency? In fact, if you look, you see that there are. For example, does everyone always have to have the same deadlines? Inspired by the ancients, for several years now I have been letting my first-year students choose their own essay deadlines, and that is a classic win-win solution: not only do they each get the deadline that suits them best, but I get my marking spread out over a month, which makes the essays much easier to hand back quickly.

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

With some reorientation I could do pretty much all ‘graduate jobs’ that don’t require degrees in specific fields: charity work, financial services, consulting, advertising, publishing, etc. Most such jobs require skills that any good Classicist has: how to think analytically, write well, argue persuasively, work hard, learn fast, take responsibility, be creative, not let your colleagues down, etc. By this time I’m also very good at studying, so if I wanted to do something that requires further study, like being a lawyer or engineer, the retraining wouldn’t be too difficult. I could even branch out into careers that require non-academic learning, such as farming or plumbing: once you really understand how to learn fast and efficiently, you can apply those learning skills in different ways.

Did you always want to be what you are today?

Not really. I had a tough childhood and wasn’t very ambitious about what I could achieve. I wanted to be a scholar, but without fully understanding what a scholar is; it wasn’t until I got to university that I started to realise what my options really could be. If someone had said to me when I was young that eventually I would be a professor of Classics, publish ten books, travel all over giving lectures and workshops in different languages, and live in a house Oxford with a wife and a cat, I’d have been thrilled (especially about the cat), but I probably wouldn’t have entirely believed it.

Where do you hope to be in 5 years time?

I hope my current book will be finished and published, and that I’ll be in the middle of another project that’s just as good. Apart from that I’d like to be just where I am now, because this is a lovely department.

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

Work really, really hard: that’s the only way to get here.

Never give up on a goal just because you haven’t got the right abilities: most abilities can be acquired if one is determined enough.

Pay close attention to reality and see things as they really are: self-deception, even if temporarily soothing, is limiting in the long run.

What to know more? Click the book for more details or visit the ancient school room website here.

 

 

Seminar Series Programme -Autumn 2020

The Department of Classics’ Autumn 2020 seminar series will take place on Wednesdays at 4pm, via MS TEAMS. To request a link to attend one or all of the following sessions, please email a.c.smith@reading.ac.uk

7 October: Prof. Thorsten Fögen (Durham), Rival or ally? Competition, controversy and polemics in ancient technical discourse

14 October: Dr Maria Pretzler (Swansea), The Beginning of the Peloponnesian League – not quite as Herodotus tells it?

21 October: Dr Chris Stray (Swansea), Uncovering Kenneth Dover: A scandalous eminence.

28 October: Dr Jennifer Cromwell (Manchester Metropolitan), The use of indigenous languages in conquest societies: the case of Coptic in early Islamic Egypt

11 November: Prof. Fiona Macintosh (University of Oxford), Archiving and Interpreting Performance

18 November: Dr Jack Hanson (Reading), Cities, temples, and scale: A comparative approach

25 November: Dr Julia Hamilton (Leiden), Secondary epigraphy in Old Kingdom Saqqara

Reading Ancient Schoolroom 2017

Photo: Alex Wickenden

This year’s edition of the Reading Ancient Schoolroom ran for two weeks and welcomed several hundred schoolchildren to campus. Led by a team of specially-trained volunteers, some of them Reading students and others coming from as far away as Edinburgh to participate, the children experienced first hand what life was like in a Roman school. This year there was a focus on Roman mathematics (pictured above: maths teacher Dom O’Reilly with children from Dolphin School), but children also practiced reading from papyri, writing on ostraca and tablets, using quill pens, memorizing poetry, and studying Latin and Greek the way ancient children would have studied them. They also had the opportunity to sample Roman food made by our magnificent Roman cook, Reading undergraduate Charlotte Edwards, and special object handling sessions in the Ure Museum. For more information (and lots more pictures) see https://readingancientschoolroom.com/2017-schoolroom/. Schoolroom director Professor Eleanor Dickey was interviewed about the event on UKEd chat; you can listen to the interview at https://ukedchat.com/2017/07/17/ukedpodcast-episode-12/.