What caught my eye this week
This week I’ve been reading Forward with Classics: Classical Languages in Schools and Communities, a new volume on the current state of Classics teaching which – through no fault of its own – has generated quite a bit of online debate over the last few days.
The argument was initiated by Peter Jones’ review of Forward with Classics, published this week on the Classics for All website. By referring to current British politics in his review, Peter Jones (who is mentioned several times in the book) has provoked a backlash from some contributors and readers. The recent Boris Johnson controversy, and the awkward position of Classics for All in relation to it, has exacerbated the issue, stirring up a sense of anxiety about the future of British Classics which shows no signs of dying down any time soon.
To return to the book itself: Forward with Classics is an eclectic collection of articles. It combines contributions from leading figures in classical outreach, like Mary Beard, Edith Hall and Barbara Bell, with studies conducted by school teachers and community practitioners from around the world, and its focus is firmly on the practicalities of teaching Classics in all sorts of different contexts. The case studies highlight things that have worked and – to my mind even more important – things that haven’t quite worked, like the library workshops in Spennymoor to which nobody came, or the objections to the interactive map in the OU module A340 (a familiar problem!). As such, the volume is impressively free of grandiose claims, and takes a cautious approach towards setting out examples of innovative practice.
If there’s one thing that bothers me slightly about this book, it’s the attitude towards working-class communities – and particularly towards adults. At times there’s a sense of detached astonishment that working folk actually seem to have an interest in (or even, believe it or not, some knowledge of) the ancient world. There are anecdotes of colourful characters, past and present, who have taught themselves outside of formal education, and these adult learners are held up as quirky marvels. Despite the stated view of many of the authors that Classics belongs to everybody, the tone of the volume sometimes suggests an underlying assumption that Classics is a gift to be bestowed upon a grateful populace by kindly academics.
Perhaps, then, I have my reservations about how some of the authors have approached and presented their initiatives. However, there are tales of extraordinary achievements here, from the modern language teacher who set up a whole Classics department from scratch, to the centre which brought real elephants onto a South African campus to teach about Hannibal. This book is full of enthusiasm, creativity and a commendable passion for breaking down barriers. It’s a book I’ll be returning to for inspiration and practical ideas (perhaps not the elephant bit, though!) and recommending to other teachers – and that says a lot about its value.
Click the image below for a link to the book on Amazon. If you buy it on Amazon through clicking the link, Amazon will give me a few pennies which go towards paying for this website. In fairness, though, I have to point out that you may be able to buy it cheaper elsewhere!
This week’s links from around the web
From Classical Studies Support
Spreading the word about the new doctoral loans – Classical Studies Support
A Roman temple near Norwich – Norwich Evening News
Headless statue found in Bulgaria – Novinite
Discovering rickets in Romans – The Guardian
New artefact from Waldgirmes on display – National Geographic
Roman villa putting Banbury on the map – Banbury Guardian
Uncovering a chamber tomb – Keep Talking Greece
Laying low the head of Augustus – The Guardian
The Elgin Marbles issue makes the news again – The Independent
Announcing Mary Beard’s new programme – BBC Two
Ancient Egyptian cheese – New York Times
…and ancient cheese holds ‘a deadly disease’ – ABC News
New US series Epic Warrior Women – TBO
Comment and opinion
The importance of Troilus – Ancient World Magazine
Mission: Impossible and the Odyssey – Pop Classics
Reconstructing Pompeian faces – Laughing Squid
Finding Pisa’s lost harbour – Cosmos
The Shadow CV and the Iceberg of Success – History from Below
Tiberius: unlucky in love? – The History Girls
Considering mysterious whetstones – Cosmos
Decolonizing the classical curriculum – Everyday Orientalism
On writing a professional email – Inside Higher Ed
Planning an underwater museum – Daily Sabah
Talking about Catullus 64 – Los Angeles Review of Books
The dangers of taking Juvenal seriously – Pharos
Reception: Ajax in Iraq – Newcastle Herald
Teaching Latin literature – Classically Inclined
On Classics and Twitter – Classical Fix
Reviewing the London Mithraeum – Country Life
Important debate: how to say ‘Sharknado’ in Ancient Greek – Sententiae Antiquae
Changing perceptions of the Mediterranean – JSTOR Daily
Caepio the Corrupt – Classical Wisdom Weekly
On being a female translator – Words Without Borders
What can be learned from ‘Ancient Roman Poop’ – Forbes
Reflecting on death and texts – Sententiae Antiquae
Controversy within Greek warfare studies – Ancient World Magazine
Advice to new Classics students – Twitter
Podcasts, videos and other media
Baking weird Roman bread – Total War Bake Off
Violence and street politics in Rome – The Partial Historians
On the Library of Alexandria – TED-Ed
Don’t we all love an interactive map? – Heritage Daily
Housing in Pompeii – When in Rome
New episode in the History of Carthage – History Teller
The Will of Caesar – Emperors of Rome
Visiting ancient sites – That’s Ancient History
The Siege of Rhodes – Battles of the Ancients/ Kings & Generals
Arranging ancient songs – Stef Conner
Aristophanes and comedy – TED-Ed
Fancy listening to a Latin chat? – Quomodo Dicitur?
Ancient health course, signing up now for January – FutureLearn
Natalie Haynes on Livy – BBC Radio 4
Take the Classics quiz – BBC Radio 4 [I’m relieved to report that I did get them all right!]
Marking the anniversary of Vesuvius’ eruption [from 2016] – Forbes
…and an interesting discussion of whether today really was ‘Volcano Day’ – Kiwi Hellenist
10 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: One Step Forward…?”
I had considered buying this book earlier this week, but thought I’d wait to see if someone reviewed it first. I think I will get it now, but I don’t like the sound of the parts you mention relating to adult learners etc. But I’ll read it before passing judgment!
It’s not at all offensive – there’s just a slight feeling that educated classicists are on a different plane to Joe Public! I would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in classical outreach – it gives a useful picture of the current state of play, not just here but also elsewhere in the world. And it has some interesting ideas!
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Reblogged this on Classical Fix.
I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve re-blogged this via classical fix! It’s a really interesting article.
Feel free – I appreciate the endorsement!
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“At times there’s a sense of detached astonishment that working folk actually seem to have an interest in the ancient world.”
Far from it, one of the few things I can chat to my dad about these days is Romans. Saves me from trying to follow him on cricket at least! It hasn’t escaped my notice how hopelessly out of touch I am with all things British, (classics included).
I’ll hold off commenting on the book since my copy has yet to arrive…🤞
My copy’s on its way to me. Let’s just say I might soon be sharpening my pen!! 😉
I’ll be interested to hear what you think of the book, Steve, since quite a few articles are in your area of expertise. Might give you some ideas for the next step…!
I quite agree, Leigh; Classics always gave me something to talk to my late uncle about. He loved to travel, and he talked to everybody wherever he went – and he never forgot a good story! I suspect he probably knew more about history than many academics I’ve met, without ever setting foot in a university.
Thinking back it was probably reading my grandad’s homemade texts on the Battle of Hastings (lovingly rendered in his cursive penmanship) that instilled in me a curiosity about the past. Like your uncle he didn’t have the chance to go to uni, but was always full of intellectual surprises!
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