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.

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.

 

 

 

Ure researchers show Cyprus in 3D

Through the “Cyprus: 3D” project Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology researchers are highlighting the Ure’s Cypriot holdings and investigation their research and pedagogical value. From among its 100+ artefacts from this Mediterranean island, 19 terracotta figurines of the Kamelarga style from Kition have been chosen for this project. The figurines, which date from the Cypro-Archaic period (750-480 BC), represent worshipers holding food, animals, shields and musical instruments. Such figurines have been interpretedTraditionally as ex-votos, but the loss of their archaeological context leaves many questions yet to be answered.

We captured these figurines through photogrammetry to get virtual 3D models, which we later edited and 3D printed. We printed them in different textures, sizes and colours, as some of the original terracottas were found fragmented, with and without traces of paint, etc. Our goal was to encourage the handling of these replicas and to analyse our audience’s reactions. Cyprus: 3D was the common thread throughout our calendar of educational activities for 2018-2019: we have incorporated our figurines in many events to promote the collection as part of our outreach programme and audience development, in which older teenagers and families had the chance to play with our prints as a way to have a better understanding of Cypriot ancient culture. We encouraged responses from the participants with questions about what the figures looked like, who they might represent, what genders they might reflect, what each figure was carrying, with follow-on questions such as why they might be carrying these attributes.

Claudina Romero Mayorga

Learners from different backgrounds, ages and learning abilities engaged with our resources in similar ways: they overlooked the printing quality in some of the replicas and embraced the opportunity to touch and “play” with copies of fragile artefacts that are usually safeguarded inside our cases. The sense of touch provide us with a “tactile reality”, sensations capable of generating mental images that are important for communication, aesthetics and concept formation. Audience interpretations of the artefacts —in terms of gender, status, attributes, etc.—largely matching the theories of the excavators and scholars that have been studying Cypriot material for decades. Learners “played” with the replicas, allowing us to create different slow-motion animations that tried to evoke ancient rituals and behavioural patterns from a civilisation now long gone. With these animations #TheVotives, our team of Cypriote musicians, has developed quite a following on twitter.

 

[i] Calendar of activities in a slide