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
Comment and opinion
Emily Wilson recommends books on the Odyssey – Five 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”
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!
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!
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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!
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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!
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…!
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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!
Yes- from my point of view that’s pretty frustrating. I’d be much more likely to sign up if they’d let me wallop somebody with a fake sword…!
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!
Lovely to see somebody spreading the word!