Weekend Reading: Making Preparations

(Before I start this post, I would just like to mention that my website controls have been altered by WordPress to the New Editor which they have been threatening me with for months, and which is supposed to Make Things Easier. This means that I don’t know where anything is, or what any of the new buttons do. And since I’m a creature of habit with very little technical knowledge, there is considerable potential for disaster – or at least embarrassment – here. So if everything falls apart when I click ‘Publish’, that’s why!)

This week, as it happens, I’ve been thinking a lot about accessibility and the mechanics of communication. I’ve been commissioned to write transcripts for some of the mini-lectures I recorded a year ago, in preparation for the new term, and that’s been … interesting. I’m actually a big fan of transcripts, and I often use them myself instead of listening to audio recordings. I don’t think there’s any particular accessibility reason behind that, in my case; I’m just happier with the written word, because it gives me more flexibility to skim things and to think in more depth about other things. I like my own pace, so for me, audio is often more of a constraint than a help. Perhaps I’m in the minority there; I know that a lot of people have become habitual listeners to podcasts, audiobooks and other audio resources. But for me it still isn’t an entirely natural way of learning or understanding things, and I value a written accompaniment.

Obviously for other people a transcript is an absolute necessity rather than a matter of preference, and that in itself makes the work worth doing.

But… you know that thing when you listen to your own recorded voice and it sounds wrong and makes you cringe? Or that other thing when you say stuff on the spur of the moment that really doesn’t sound too smart when you think back on it? Well, imagine having to revisit old recordings (which you produced unscripted to a tight deadline) – and then having to listen to yourself over and over again, and type out every single badly-chosen word of your random witterings.

It’s not been fun.

There’s very little difficulty attached to making a transcript, of course; you simply listen and type. It takes a while, but it’s straightforward work. (Yes, you can get programmes to do it for you, but they work so badly for me that I find it easier to transcribe manually.) Much more tricky is the process of writing figure descriptions for the benefit of people who may not be able to see images. I did this several years ago, for the Classical Studies MA materials, and it really changed my approach to pictures. When you set yourself the task of describing in minute detail a vase painting or a sculpture, without making any evaluative or interpretative judgements (which, let’s face it, is not at all what we usually do as classicists), you start to see things in a much more precise way, and you begin to separate what you see from what you think or assume, and from the knowledge that you bring. It’s a strange experience. So quite apart from the fact that figure descriptions (often found in a separate document: if you’re studying an OU course you can usually find this under the Resources tab) have an important accessibility function, I also think that the process of writing them offers a valuable way of developing our skills of ‘reading’ images. You should try it sometime. Just take a picture of any object, painting or sculpture from the ancient world and try describing it for someone who can’t see it, in a way that gives the same sort of information that your eyes do, without extending that into interpretation. It’s tough.

(A further complication was that, when I was doing the figure descriptions for the MA, a lot of the images were illustrations for material on the body and sexuality, mostly from Greek vase painting. I now have a much wider and rather specialised vocabulary which I try not to think about.)

On the plus side, I am now organised for the first Myth tutorial of the new term…

It’s good to have the important things sorted.

Oh, by the way… there are a couple of exciting things coming up. One is a big celebration, across social media, of the OU graduates of 2020 (there may be a particularly entertaining video…!), so keep an eye out for that.

Another is a fabulous online auction, to raise money for Classics students affected by the pandemic. It’s open for donations till Saturday, if you have something brilliant to contribute: then the auction opens for bids next week. There are some things I have my eye on (Mary Beard is donating a signed book AND matching the winning bid!), so I hope you don’t get in my way… but it’s all for a great cause, and you could buy yourself something unique! Do take a look. Also there’s a raffle: I’m notoriously unlucky in raffles (never won a thing in my life) but I REALLY want to win the maps!

This week from around the Classics Internet


Vindolanda Christian graffiti – The Guardian

Fire at Mycenae – Ekathimerini

Bronze Age keepsakes made from dead relatives – The Guardian

Fundraising appeal – Classics For All

Submissions for online Thermopylae conference – Archaeology Wiki

Comfort Classics this week

Comfort Classics: Jennifer Gane

Comfort Classics: Joshua Kinlaw

Comment and opinion

Lucian and Revelation – Kiwi Hellenist

On finally coming to a conclusion – Classics at the Intersections

The Battle of Salamis never ended – The Wall Street Journal

Tivoli: myth, history and prophecy – Time Travel: Rome

Ranking screen Cleopatras – Grunge

Caesar’s Latin oddities – What would Cicero do?

Lucan – The Historian’s Hut

The Delphic Maxims – Eagles and Dragons

Outreach during a pandemic – Society for Classical Studies

Ancient Greece and contemporary gardens – Literary Hub

Podcasts, video and other media

Burning the books – BBC Radio 4

The ancient restaurant – Dan Snow’s History Hit

Medea in the 21st century – APGRD

Killing for the Roman Republic – The Ancients

8 thoughts on “Weekend Reading: Making Preparations

  1. A Short Scene In The Athenian Agora.

    SOCRATES: The unexamined life is no life for man..
    CORA BETH: Just wait till I write that down!
    (Socrates shakes his head; Plato nods in approval).


  2. I much prefer reading to listening, or watching. I’m signed up for a couple of courses at the moment and am making no progress because I can’t bring myself to watch the videos!! Podcasts are ok since I can listen while walking or driving, but you can’t beat the written word.


    1. I’m exactly the same – and it’s really frustrating! If it doesn’t exist in written form, I just don’t absorb it. Whereas my son gets all of his learning (mostly about the subtleties of Super Mario!) from YouTube…!


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