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.
Was there cake? I hear you ask.
Of course there was cake. Would I miss an opportunity for cake?
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.
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…
This week’s classical links
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
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
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