Weekend Reading: Secret Identities



This week I was reading (through a haze of illness!) the fascinating essay by Sententiae Antiquae on Classics, class and identity, and thinking about its particular relevance to Open University students and their attitudes to social identity.

I’ve worked with a lot of part-time distance-learning students over the years: well over a thousand, at a rough guess. Some of them have been card-carrying, branded-hoodie-wearing members of the Open University community, who happily claim ‘Open University Student’ as part of their identity. Others are much more guarded in their claims: they tell me that they don’t talk about their studies much in ‘real life’, or that they’re planning on keeping their studies from their employer until they graduate. In more extreme cases, it’s not uncommon for students to ask me not to contact them by phone, because they don’t want their partners to find out they’re studying for a degree.

That’s quite a spectrum, and those at either end are the people who, I think, see ‘student’ as a core element of their identity, whether that’s a public identity to be celebrated or a secret identity to be kept hidden.

I realised recently that I too have a secret identity. I was talking to a neighbour in the street, whom I’ve known for many years. She advised me kindly that I should ‘pick up a few hours’, now that my son is at school. I smiled and nodded: and it wasn’t until I got home that I realised that she evidently didn’t know I’d had a job for all these years! True, I work from home much of the time, so my work habits aren’t particularly visible: but until that conversation I hadn’t realised how little I talk to non-OU folk about my work and my studies. Perhaps my reticence is down to Explanation Fatigue: it’s difficult enough explaining Classics to people, but when you combine that with the need to explain distance learning (and a second doctorate!), I’ve found that it becomes a conversational black hole.

As secret identities go, though, it’s something of a disappointment. There should be a cape…

How about you? Do you tell people, when they ask you what you do, that you’re a student – as well as all the other things which make up your social identity, like your job or your family commitments? Or do you keep your studentness under your hat?




This week’s links from around the Classics internet



Crimea Greek settlement – Archaeology News Network 

Unearthing Tenea – Reuters, and numerous other outlets, including the BBC 

Obituary: Alistair Elliot – The Guardian 

History with knobs on – The Guardian 

Interview with Donna Zuckerberg – The Guardian 

World’s oldest computer? – The Daily Beast

Staging The Suppliant Women – Vancouver Sun 

Proposing a Journal of Controversial Ideas – BBC

Finding cat mummies – The Guardian 


From the Guardian


Comment and opinion

Emily Wilson recommends books on the OdysseyFive Books 

An inscription and an eccentric collector – LA Review of Books 

Subversive women’s crafts – Literary Hub

Self-funding your PhD – The Guardian 

… and on not having a PhD – Perspectives on History 

The Statue of Zeus – Classical Wisdom Weekly 

Viewing ancient musical instruments – Neos Kosmos 

Testing ancient cures for asthma – The Recipes Project 

NASA Classics – Eidolon 

Greek opulence – Smithsonian 

Negotiating class anxiety in Classics – Sententiae Antiquae

Becoming a public scholar – Inside Higher Ed 

On women teaching Classics – Eidolon 

Hypatia’s birthday – Cosmos 

The legacy of Black Athena – Eidolon 

Why 536 was a bad year – The Daily Mail 

An Ovid Anniversary – In Media Res 

On rhapsodes – Kosmos Society 

A man-eating mosaic fish – National Geographic

Digital Cicero – Society for Classical Studies

Aliens and racism – Hyperallergic 

Commenting on the New Sappho – Sententiae Antiquae

Phryne the model – Greek Reporter 

Remembering Empire – The Sphinx 

‘Oriental’ embarrassment – Nature 

Diocletian the gardener – Ancient Origins 


Podcasts, videos and other media

Roman poisonings – Ancient History Fangirl 

Eleatics and atomists – The History of Ancient Greece 

The dangers of visiting a Roman toilet – BBC Sounds 

Talking about the Odyssey – PBS

Reconstructing Vindolanda – Stori3d Past 

Ovid’s early works – Literature and History 



9 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: Secret Identities

  1. I like this post a lot! It always amuses me when people are shocked that I’m a student given that I work full time in an industry far removed from Classics. I’m also really shocked that when they ask what are you studying? I reply..Classical Studies and lots of people ask…What’s that then? I don’t know if it’s just an ambiguous name, or perhaps it’s indicative of the area that I live in that places a premium on higher education and therefore explains why they’ve never heard of Classical Studies. Perhaps it goes back to older opinions that saw Classics as an elite subject? I don’t know, but I often have to explain it. To be honest I’m not backwards about coming forwards about being a student. It sounds a little self serving but I often emphasise my OU journey along side by full time job to show just how hard I go work! Everyone is different, but when I finish work, it’s straight to the books. I’m proud to have got where I am now so I shout it from the roof tops!


    1. Good for you, Tony – it’s that sort of attitude that inspires other people!
      I have much the same problem: most people I talk to have only the vaguest notion of what ‘Classics’ is. I’ve defaulted to telling people that I teach ‘Roman stuff’ – that’s much more successful!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In a similar way to you I normally just say it’s about ancient Greeks & Romans. That normally answers the question, although it falls way short in reality!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Funny, never thought of it this way, but you may be onto something! My family have a vague notion that I’m ‘doing some course’ or other, but to them that just means ‘reading stuff’ on the internet. To them there are only two languages, English and Foreignish, so Livy is probably just some crazy Spaniard anyway! At work it’s the opposite. I vaguely badge my studies as ‘philology’ as I’m surrounded by linguistics people, but this course is very different to (and more interesting than) the Classical philology course I nearly took instead of signing up with the OU.

    Would’ve thought it’d be easier for you as your area is full of Roman stuff. Your job is a vital part of the local community!


    1. English and Foreignish – that sounds familiar!

      Yes, the problem with working in an area like this is that when I mention Roman stuff, people give me a certain look. And I know what they’re thinking. They’re picturing the re-enactors who stomp around the Fort – and they’re wondering whether I really wear full armour on a Saturday…!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. There’s a Roman recreation group (Barcino Oriens) who do that sort of thing here too. I considered signing up, but I’m not really into the fancy dress part! They do run the odd conference which has a nice mix of academics and amateur enthusiasts, but mostly it’s the old “girls are hairdressers, boys are soldiers” stereotyping!


  4. Everyone I know is aware by now that I study with the Open University. Brilliant excuse for not getting roped into all sorts of things 🙂 The ones who need no explanation usually say: “Oh, wonderful” when I say it’s Classical Sudies, and start a conversation about archaeology or Latin. Some of the others start talking about their son’s knowledge of Latin and Greek, or they admit they cannot ‘do’ languages.
    But some are really interested and ask more details about the study and what the Open University is like. I am hoping to enthuse some into taking this step themselves!


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