Mastering the Masters: Congratulations to Curtis Hill

Author: Bunny Waring
Date: 16th March 2021.

Congratulations are due to the Classic Department’s current Masters student Curtis Hill whose recent book review assignment was of such a high standard, that the international academic journal Sehepunkte approached them for permission to publish their review in this month’s journal.

Both Curtis and supervisor Prof. Eleanor Dickey were delighted for Hill’s first publication – no mean feat during a Masters Degree – and you can read the review of Machado, C. 2019. Urban Space and Aristocratic Power in Late Antique Rome: AD 270-535, Oxford University Press here.

Sehepunkte is an interdisciplinary journal and ranges freely across historical eras. Emerging in 2001 from a co-operation funded by the German Research Foundation between the Historical Seminar of the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and the Bavarian State Library, the journal is self-described as not only an ever-changing repertoire of reviews but also discussions of both monographs and edited collections in fields such as the history of medicine, law and art. 

Well done Curtis Hill! May it be the first of many successes!

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.

 

 

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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Classics Summer Schools

By Rachael Hopley, Finalist, BA Classics

Being a classics student you are really spoilt for choice when it comes to summer schools. There are opportunities to brush up on your ancient language skills through the various JACT summer schools (Bryanston, Durham and Wells) or others such as at University of Swansea, Kings College London, University College Cork, or if you just fancy a bit of Homer, the Homer summer school at University College London. If you would like to immerse yourself in the classical world, JACT offers a Classical Civilisation and Ancient History summer school at Repton or you could apply to attend the undergraduate summer schools at the British School at either Athens or Rome, spending 2-3 weeks abroad in the hands of experts. I had the privilege of attending the JACT Greek summer school at Bryanston and, thanks to the Department’s Wardman bursary, the British School at Rome undergraduate summer school in the summer of 2015.

Bryanston, as the Greek summer school has become known, is an intense course. There were three hours of lessons a day (and as much work in between!), an afternoon seminar, evening lecture and opportunities to participate in plays and music as well as excursions on days off. It may not seem like a jolly way to spend the holidays but the small class sizes and frequent grammar tests worked wonders for my ancient Greek. Also, I was able to appreciate far more elements of the language, with some of my favourite seminars and lectures being David Raeburn’s readings (in translation and then in Greek) and Philomen Probert’s lecture on the debate of Greek pronunciation. Every year they also put on a production of a comedy (in translation) and tragedy (in Greek). A little shy, I was able to take a non-speaking role in the tragedy, which was a roaring success. As it was in Greek, you got a feel for how musical the performance of ancient plays would have been, with the chorus chanting to the beat of a drum. Bryanston’s comedies are always experimental and you can see how someone can play with ancient productions to pitch them to a modern audience (and see a few cameos played by renowned lecturers, which is always fun).

The British School at Rome undergraduate summer school was an immeasurably enjoyable and rewarding experience. Every day we explored a new theme (leisure and entertainment, death and burial, etc) through the sites and museums of Rome. We had the incredible guides of Robert Coates-Stephens, the Cary fellow at the school, and Ed Bispham, lecturer in Ancient History at Brasenose College, Oxford. In addition, the British School was able to obtain privileged access into sites normally not accessible to the general public. Highlights for me include going inside the Mausoleum of Augustus and into the substructure and top floors of the Colosseum. Having been focused strongly on just literature during my degree, I was able to better understand the use of archaeology in the study of ancient history while still using texts to bring sites to life.

These experiences were invaluable and I am extremely grateful to the Classics Department for the generous Wardman bursary which allowed me to go to the British School at Rome.

Meet our Ure Museum Erasmus Intern

317207_10151143606689807_1753912674_nMy name is Mariana Gomes Beirão, I’m Portuguese, 21, and I am currently doing a 3 month Erasmus internship in the Ure Museum as part of my MA in Ancient History, which I will defend next year.  I have a degree in Languages, literatures and cultures with a major in English and minor in Italian. While doing my degree I discovered my fascination for classics mainly due to one of my Professors’ passion for his job. Rodrigo Furtado greatly influenced and impressed me to the point of, inadvertedly, entirely changing my course of studies. I began taking optional lectures and saw that they interested me more than my mandatory ones. I knew then I had to alter my path.

Moreover, before starting university I applied for an integrated masters’ in the Portuguese Army and was accepted. In my first year I sustained and injury to my knee and was forced to abandon my military career. At first I was devastated yet now it seems clear that the Moirae did their thing and everything fell into place. I find interest in learning about people long dead instead of being the one doing the killing.

Furthermore, my former summer jobs include working as a security guard in a golf resort, as a client liaison for a holiday rental company and for the past 3 years I’ve been teaching Portuguese as a foreign language to British ex-pats living in Portugal (to get a bit extra for the tuition). Finally, the least interesting aspects (not that any of the previous ones were particularly fascinating):

Firstly, I am a very active person, proof of that is that my fiancée owns the gym I go to (which is where we met). I enjoy running, doing gymnastics and kickboxing. Secondly, I love animals, especially horses, once again the fates had it all sorted as my soon to be husband has a few specimen of my favourite animal. Thirdly, I possess a PS3 and I proudly call myself a gamer. Lastly, I have failed to become a vegetarian due to the fact that Portugal isn’t very keen on rabbit food as almost everything has at least a pig’s internal organ in it.

Three UROP Placements Available For 2013

Once again the Department of Classics has been very successful indeed in securing UROP placements for our undergraduate studentship.

The UROP (= Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme) scheme is (almost) unique to Reading, and it gives those of our undergraduate students who are about to move into their final year the opportunity to undertake six weeks of work in collaboration with, and under the supervision of, a member of academic staff, typically resulting in some type of research output that acknowledges student collaboration. This alone is an excellent opportunity (and an asset to any CV), but it gets better – you also get paid, namely £1,200, tax free!

This year’s projects include

For more information please follow the links and visit the UROP webpage: http://www.reading.ac.uk/urop.

Still not sure whether you should apply? Listen to Dr Matthew Nicholls and Philip Smither and find out just how amazing this opportunity can be for our students:

Fees-Only PhD Studentship in Classics at Reading

Reading’s Department of Classics is delighted to advertise a fees-only PhD studentship for a project ‘Painters of Boeotian red-figure vases from the 4th century BC’, based on the collection of the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology. For further information, please follow this link:

http://www.reading.ac.uk/gs-phd-collections.aspx