Weekend Reading: A Website Anniversary

This week – drum roll please – I’m celebrating the second anniversary of Classical Studies Support; and it’s precisely a year since I started writing these Weekend Reading posts. It has also, coincidentally, been the week in which the site topped 20,000 views – so another reason to celebrate.

 

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Was there cake? I hear you ask.

Of course there was cake. Would I miss an opportunity for cake?

 

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This anniversary comes at a time when a lot of Classics bloggers are reflecting on the purpose and relevance of blogs, and testing out new ways of reaching audiences. Neville Morley from the Sphinx blog is moving into podcasting, the Rogue Classicist is testing out daily roundups of online classical stuff, and Classical Fix is having a website rethink. So perhaps it’s time I put some thought into the purpose and relevance of Classical Studies Support.

The first six months of CSS, back in 2017, were a blur of technical and practical details. I didn’t know the first thing about setting up a website, so I was learning as I went, constantly perplexed by the quirks of the system and daunted by my own mistakes. I had no support, no training and no money, and no real idea of what the website ought to look like or how it should function. It took quite some time to find my feet – and to get over my self-consciousness about actually communicating with people in my own voice, as opposed to the much more formal and distant voice I use when I’m writing for academia. I chose the name ‘Classical Studies Support’ because it had an air of boring respectability which I hoped would fool people into thinking that I wasn’t just making stuff up as I went along.

I made the decision to set up a website for three main reasons.

The first was purely practical: I wanted somewhere to put my teaching resources so that they would be easily accessible, whether I was teaching online or in a face-to-face venue with an eccentric IT set-up.

The second reason was connection. I wanted a way to stay connected to the 100 or so students who were leaving my modules every year, and who didn’t have the time or the resources to pursue further study in Classics – but who still had a passionate interest in the subject. I was looking for a way to keep them connected to the world of Classics, a way that would be free, friendly and easily accessible.

The third reason was a pedagogical one. I enjoy working as a teacher, and I’m comfortable with it these days: I can walk into a room and talk to an audience for two hours about almost anything Classics-related without hesitation, repetition or deviation. But being an online teacher is different: and as my work seems to be moving increasingly online these days, I’ve been feeling the need to be more present, and more visible, to the people I’m teaching. The literature on online teaching calls this ‘Social Presence’, although the precise definition of the term is difficult to pin down. It’s not easy to be socially present when you’re not physically present, and it’s an area which I think needs to be considered a lot more in discussions of how adult distance learners are taught.

 

social presence
The internet is awash with snazzy ‘social presence’ graphics. None of them seem to say very much.

 

For the most part, CSS has worked as I intended. I use it as a place to stash slideshows and worksheets to use in tutorials; I hear often from former students who’ve stumbled across the website; and it’s opened up a lot of new possibilities in working with distance learners. Luckily I never expected to make money out of it: I can’t bring myself to host adverts, and while in theory I do make a small profit from Amazon when someone clicks on a book link and buys a book, in two years I haven’t made enough to get even close to their £25 minimum payout! But my readership is growing steadily, with more views and followers every month, and increasingly people are using the ‘contact’ link to send me queries about studying Classics at the OU, which I’m always happy to answer.

However, the stats don’t tell me enough. I don’t know whether people like having weekly ramblings from me arriving in their inbox. I don’t know whether people are happy with written material, or whether they’d prefer audio recordings (I can do that, although I still haven’t mastered video!). I don’t know whether the site is easy for people to navigate, or whether they find themselves getting sucked into a loop of random pages with no hope of escape.

So if you use this site and have suggestions to make about content, format or accessibility, do drop me a line. You can contact me privately through the ‘Contact’ page, which simply sends me an email; or if you’re happy to make your comment public you can type it into the ‘Comments’ box underneath this post (although if you’re a new contributor the system holds your comment until I officially approve it, so it won’t appear immediately). I don’t receive a lot of feedback – perhaps because people assume that I know what I’m doing, or that I have some sort of Grand Plan – so I’m grateful for all comments from readers. If there’s something you’d like to see here, just ask!

Sadly this weekend I’m not at the big FIEC/CA conference in London: but I am following along on Twitter, and I hope everyone has a great time. Instead I’ll be using the weekend to catch up on non-work: writing book reviews that I’ve been neglecting and judging Stage 1 of the Global Undergraduate Awards. Oh, and possibly eating rather a lot of cake…

 

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This week’s classical links

News

The sad end of Nuntii Latini – The Guardian 

Vindolanda haul – BBC 

The smell of statues – The Daily Mail 

Roman architecture jewellery – Harper’s Bazaar Arabia 

Undisturbed ship near Cyprus – Smithsonian 

Last week’s Manuscript Scandal – Kiwi Hellenist 

 

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Comment and opinion

Reporting on the Reno Controversy – Sententiae Antiquae 

America and the Fall of Rome – Hyperallergic 

Murderous classicists – The Edithorial

Bogus Roman handshakes – Pinterest 

Horace and Lydia – A Don’s Life

Medusa and Miley Cyrus – Sententiae Antiquae 

Latin spells from TV shows – Latin Language Blog 

Greek epitaphs – The Paris Review 

The real reason for aqueducts – The Onion 

 

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Podcasts, video and other media

Phil Perkins on an Etruscan figure – Open Material Religion

Thucydides and Wonder Woman – Thucydiocy 

Ritual and gender – Open Material Religion 

 

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15 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: A Website Anniversary

      1. Oo – I could substitute cake for Saturday breakfast from now on to accompany post perusal! Now there’s a good idea… 🤔😁

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Dear Cora Beth,

    I suppose that I belong to the group of people who were accompanied and supported by you during one of the OU‘s courses in classical history and who don‘t „have the time or the resources to pursue further studies in Classics“ (yet – hope dies last) but who still have a „passionate interest“ in the subject.

    Since stumbling over your website a while ago I have enjoyed what you call your „weekly ramblings“ tremendously. They are always interesting, they are always entertaining, there is always food for thought, and there is always a healthy portion of humour. For me, this is an ideal mix, and I‘m benefiting from your posts a lot!

    So as far as I am concerned please, please, please keep this up! I confess that I am guilty of silently consuming your hard work, and of not providing proper feedback, and I can see that the lack thereof can make you feel unsure the whole endeavour. „My bad“, as it seems is the expression nowadays, and trusting that you will let me know if/when it becomes too much I intend to comment on your blogs more regularly.

    With regards to the format, I find your posts ideal for my purposes. I understand that podcasts, videos etc. are „the thing to do“ in our times, but having „just“ (although for me this is not a limitation at all!) something to read is perfect. I can enjoy your blogs without having to dig our my headphones or without disturbing the people around me, and – dare I say it? – I wish the noise pollution experienced in public spaces by people watching videos and listening to podcasts was less obtrusive. In addition, there is usually something to look at in your blogs (e.g., you often if not always include cartoons), so they have a „visual“ element already, anyway.

    Thank you very much for your weekly blogs, and please „keep dancing, ehm, blogging“!

    Wilhelm

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Wilhelm! It was great to get back in touch with you through this website.

      One of the things I miss these days is working with the OU’s wonderful European students; things have changed over the last few years, and the Continental Europe group doesn’t automatically come to me. It’s such a shame, because we used to have a lot of fun, despite the distances involved!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As one of Cora Beth’s former students I would like to congratulate her on this website and say how much I enjoy her weekly posts. I often think of posting a comment but usually never get round to it. I am now studying for an MA in Mediterranean Archaeology at UCL and really enjoying it; I am sure it is due to Cora Beth that I am there now as her teaching was always inspirational – she always went the extra mile, which not all tutors do, and really helped my confidence.

    Cora Beth – your posts are always interesting, thought-provoking and well worth reading. And usually funny which can’t be bad! I’ll try to be a bit more pro-active in future and contribute more (dissertation allowing!) so you don’t feel you’re all alone out there ….

    Stella.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for commenting, Stella – and I’m glad the MA is going so well! If you ever feel like writing a guest post on archaeology, just give me a shout: my own limitations mean that this site has so far been sadly lacking in the archaeology department!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Cora, I always enjoy reading your posts which I receive by email. since that probably doesn’t get included in your site stats your true view count should be higher than you think! I’ll try to click on the link from now on, that way you’ll know for sure somebody is out there.
    As for the whole podcast debate, why not do it both ways? It wouldn’t take much time to record yourself reading your post out loud and I’m sure your humour and passion for the subject would come over even better. The advantage of podcasting is that a lot of us already have a ton of reading, so it’s something we can do when not otherwise able to read (like Pliny out for a walk or having a lonely lunch!). I don’t see it as an either or situation, though the only issue would be platforms. With itunes’ imminent demise, the way we interact with audio content may change altogether…

    Happy 2nd anniversary!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Cora Beth – Congratulations on this marvellous milestone, and thanks for the time and skill that you put into these weekly updates. Like many others I too was one of your students and although I now have an MA in Classical Language and Literature from another institution, I find that I gravitate back towards the OU and look back very fondly on my time when you were my tutor. Your support and encouragement were vital to me and greatly appreciated. I find that a weekly update is perfect, as it gives me time to read properly and follow links without the relentless pressure to keep up (which is a feature of some other classics blogs with daily posts). In fact I’m so enthusiastic about your website that I found myself recommending it to someone I met on holiday earlier this year! This sounds a bit random, but actually the lady concerned was very interested in classics and just starting out on the OU journey.
    Please keep up the good work, and enjoy that cake!
    Pam

    Liked by 2 people

    1. „I find that I … look back very fondly on my time when you were my tutor. Your support and encouragement were vital to me and greatly appreciated.“

      Hear, hear! Couldn‘t agree more!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Pam, your comment made me laugh because I was actually eating cake when I read it. The resulting crumbs are your fault…!

      Thanks for spreading the word! I’ve been getting lots of enquiries lately, through the website, from people just starting, or thinking about starting, at the OU; I think perhaps it feels less formal than contacting the department directly.

      I was so glad you managed to pursue Classics elsewhere. You and Stella both make my list of ‘People Who Managed To Do Brilliantly In Impossible Situations’…!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Cora Beth,

    Another former student here adding to the congratulations! Your blog is just brilliant, and I look forward to it immensely – how you pack in so much is beyond me! Like Pam (hi Pam!), I also recommend it to others, and it is a mine of useful, insightful and hilarious information – thank you. Being able to read through the different articles either immediately or at a later date is great, and I echo Wilhelm (hi Wilhelm) in saying that I find it preferable to audio recordings – but am sure there is an audience for them also! It is easy to navigate and I recently bought ‘The Anatomy of Myth’ (which was very helpful) as a result of seeing it featured here.

    Your support as a tutor and in the time since has been incredible, and I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say has afforded me opportunities that I could only have dreamed of, and has helped me secure a place to study an MA in Material Culture later this year.

    And the lovely chats about cake – well.

    Thank you again, and please keep up the excellent work!

    Frances

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Frances! You must be so excited about the MA!

      Well, when it comes to cake I bow to your superior expertise (for those who don’t know Frances, she creates the most amazing things out of cake)…!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Congratulations Cora Beth (sorry this comment is so late).

    I think you deserve high praise for putting in all this work. I do appreciate it and please don’t stop..

    I don’t actually go to your website very often, but this is only because I am a huge fan of your weekly emailed newsletter and always look at your links through the email. So I suppose (odd this), that it is being a subscriber to your newsletter which actually prevents me from browsing your actual website!

    However, I always enjoy ready your pithy articles (and so does my other half) and browsing your carefully selected links to keep up with the latest news. The lack of audio/video from you doesn’t bother me at all – like Wilhelm I am all in favour of a peaceful read.

    Sandy Buckel

    Like

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