Classically Inclined

April 12, 2014

Top ten blog posts – year three

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 12:29 pm
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Well, I did it for the first two anniversaries, so I think that means it’s a tradition… yes, this is the blog’s third birthday! I know that the last year has been a little bit less active because of the new job and a lot of general upheaval, but thank you for those who are still here and still reading; I hope that as things settle down over the coming year, I’ll be able to post a bit more frequently and include a few more thoughts about my research. So here are the top ten posts for the past year – enjoy!

  1. How to write a thesis introduction - an ever popular post still here at the top; overall, this one post counts for about half of the blog’s annual traffic. All I can say is that I hope that it helps a good number of the people who find it.
  2. How to write a conference abstract - this one has started to get institutionalised and various official conferences point people to it, so it’s no surprise that it’s still getting a good number of hits.
  3. The Shield of Achilles - classical reception thoughts on W.H. Auden’s poem that seems to get a lot of interest – I have no idea whether English teachers are setting it as an assignment, but at least it’s proving popular.
  4. Freud, the uncanny and monsters - my thoughts on Freud, the uncanny and where classical monsters which aren’t Medusa fit into a psychoanalytic model. Written after reading his essay on the unheimlich.
  5. Tips For Conferences, or “Don’t Wear Pearls  – my tips on going to conferences, or what happens after you’ve had your abstract accepted.
  6. Film Review: Quo Vadis (1951) – classical reception observations on one of the influential films in the field.
  7. Film Review: The 300 Spartans (1962) – more of the same, thinking about the film in a classical reception framework.
  8. Book review: Becoming a critically reflective teacher – Stephen D. Brookfield - when I wrote this review, I had no idea how influential Brookfield would become in my general model for generating student feedback. I hope other people find themselves drawn to the book by my review.
  9. Classicist Women on Twitter - very pleased that this has made it into the top ten! My post paralleling the Twitter list that curates a list of women doing classics on Twitter. Always open for nominations.
  10. The classical pedagogy of trigger warnings - thoughts on how to flag up sensitive material (in this case poems dealing with abusive relationships and sexual assault) in a class syllabus without removing students’ agency or failing in my duty of care towards vulnerable students.

April 4, 2014

Teaching at Royal Holloway – a reflection

Term finished at Royal Holloway at the end of March; I’ve now had enough time to catch my breath and finish off all the odds and ends from my teaching, so I can look back over how the year’s teaching has gone. Of course, I’ve still got the marking of exam season to come – precisely when will depend on whether the marking boycott called by UCU as part of the current pay dispute goes ahead. That issue sadly highlights a problem in teaching – there’s more to the process than just the mark that you get in the exam at the end, and when that becomes fetishized as the only valuable outcome of the university experience, we’re doing something wrong. Plashing Vole has written about these issues far more intelligently than I can, so I suggest you read him on them while I think a bit about my first year of teaching in a new institution.

It’s been a heavy teaching load this year, with three and a half units (which is effectively the same as teaching four units in the second term). The first term was manageable, as the three language courses were mainly intensive in the hour of teaching scheduled rather than in the preparation – after all, once you’ve selected an unseen passage and put together the handout, there’s not really much more you can do until you’re in the classroom. However, the second term added a new lecture course to the mix, and that meant I had to prepare two hours of fresh lecture each week on top of nine hours of language teaching. That took a lot of effort, and left me with little time for anything else. On the plus side, I’ll be reusing my prep for Intermediate Latin and the lecture course next year, so it’s work well invested. A few thoughts come to mind about each course.

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March 13, 2014

Cloelia and Feminist Language Pedagogy – A Survey

As some of you will have picked up on Twitter, I am acting as the guest editor for the forthcoming edition of Cloelia, the magazine of the Women’s Classical Caucus. Even though I’m not based in the US any more, I still have extremely warm feelings for the WCC as a place where intellectually like-minded scholars can come together and discuss both research and professional issues experienced by women in the academy. In fact, I’m starting to think that a project to start in the next couple of the years is setting up a UK equivalent of the WCC, not least because it would be great to have a UK equivalent of Feminism & Classics as a semi-regular feature in the conference schedule. That, however, is another story and quite a long way down the road, but expect me to keep on making murmurings about it until I have time to apply for the grant.

As I was saying, I’m acting as the guest editor for Cloelia, and the theme of this year’s magazine is pedagogy. Specifically, I’ve suggested that we focus on ancient language pedagogy – one of those areas that I’ve discovered from my teaching experience this year is perhaps rather less well covered than it might be. I thought Cloelia would be a great venue to pull together best practice, find out what’s going on in a range of departments, and hopefully get a sense of the ways in which the WCC and its members might support each other in this valuable enterprise.

This post is basically a rather long-winded invitation for those of you who are teaching the ancient languages in your day job, either at the university or the secondary level, to fill out the 2014 Cloelia survey on pedagogy. I’ve put it together with the permanent editor, Alison Jeppesen-Wigelsworth, as a way to collect information and experiences from those of us at the linguistic coalface; the results will be published in the 2014 edition of Cloelia, which will also be freely available on the web. We’ve already had some really interesting responses, but we’d like more! So if you are an ancient language teacher or you know ancient language teachers, please take a minute to fill in the survey or ask them to do so. We’d really appreciate your input, and it will help us get a better sense of what we as a profession are actually doing when it comes to this area of our teaching.

March 4, 2014

Book review: Shadow of the Minotaur – Alan Gibbons

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 8:17 am
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During my big trawl for books that were retelling the Minotaur myth in the context of London, I was pointed towards Shadow of the Minotaur. I didn’t get my hands on it in time for the deadlines I was working towards, which actually is just as well – it’s located not in London, but Brownleigh, somewhere whose main characteristic is very pointedly not being London. However, it’s an interesting addition to my thoughts about how myth and place and space interact, particularly as the Minotaur seems to be a myth which offers a lot of scope for that kind of interpretative engagement.

Shadow is the first in The Legendeer trilogy, and while I haven’t read the second and third books, I think I can see where we’re going. From a literary point of view, I have to say that Shadow isn’t particularly thrilling – it’s fairly standard Young Adult ‘young man coming to terms with his identity and this whole growing up thing and how he feels about his parents and adolescence and not fitting in and STUFF’, which is all good standard material and themes, but I don’t think the writing is strong enough to make it have an appeal beyond its target audience. However, from the classical reception point of view, Gibbons does a very interesting thing. He makes the entry-point into the world of myth a computer game, which turns out to not actually be a game, but a world existing in parallel to our own which has come under the control of the Gamesmaster.

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February 21, 2014

The Problematic Ovid lecture

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 11:57 am
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I wrote recently about my thought process behind putting a content warning on my Literature of the Roman Empire syllabus for a particular lecture on Ovid. This post seems to have struck a nerve, and I’ve had a number of people asking how the lecture went. I’ve now delivered the lecture, so I thought I’d let you know my thoughts on it, both as a reflective exercise for me and as a way to share good practice.

A couple of contextual observations. Firstly, this isn’t the first time I’ve taught difficult texts, particularly those which deal with sexual violence. I’ve thought about them as part of a conversation that started in the Women’s Classical Caucus and has been slowly moving outwards – I recently published an article on a test-case lesson that formed part of a gender and sexuality course I ran in the US aimed at a diverse range of students, and you can download a post-print of that article here if you don’t have access to Classical World, where it first appeared. This lesson was an opportunity to try out some of the strategies I developed in that context with UK students specialising in the subject, and also to see how they worked with a different group of texts – that class focused on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, this lecture looked at selections of the Amores and the Ars Amatoria.

Second, this lecture formed part of a Literature of the Roman Empire course where, frankly, my goal is to make my first year students realise that there is more to the world of the Romans than A-levels let on. Some of them have looked at Ovid as part of a Latin AS level, but the selection of the Amores chosen is the most insipid and uninteresting four poems in the whole corpus (at least to my mind) – it’s doing Ovid without doing Ovid, which is profoundly cross-making. Mind you, here is one of the reasons I teach at university level, to be able to teach the sorts of texts you can’t teach to the under-eighteens without getting angry letters in the press. However, for a lot of students this will be their first exposure to Ovid in a systematic way, let alone to the world of Roman literature as a whole, so I’m really laying the foundations for how they think about and approach texts, as well as widening their horizons. In that sense, a lecture saying ‘so, this is difficult, what do we do with that?’ is a necessary question to ask at this stage of their undergraduate careers, because this sort of stuff happens all over classical texts. As one colleague said to me, “at least you’re not trying to teach comedy”.

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February 13, 2014

CRSN workshop: Impact and social media, London, 17 July 2014

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 1:32 pm
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Exciting stuff for Classically Inclined – I’ve been asked to take part in a Classical Reception Studies Network workshop on impact and social media! The details are as follows:

CRSN workshop: Impact and social media, 17 July 2014,

Location: The Open University London Regional Centre, 1-11 Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London NW1 8NP Venue directions and map
Time: 2-5 pm

Classical receptions would seem ideally placed to engage with the current ‘impact agenda’ in UK research funding. Grant application forms include questions about ‘pathways to impact’ and applicants often include some form of social media in their responses. We invite doctoral students and early career researchers to come and share their experiences of using blogging, Facebook and twitter to disseminate their research, create networks and promote their work. Whether you already use social media or are simply wondering if there is any point, this workshop is for you. While we’ll have some experienced users with us (including Emma Bridges, founder of the Facebook page Classics International, and Liz Gloyn, who blogs as ‘Classically Inclined’), the main focus will be on sharing our enthusiasms, our suggestions and our reservations. Spaces are limited; please reply to helen.king@open.ac.uk.

Obviously I’m delighted to be asked to participate in the workshop, not least as I think things like blogging and Twitter are valuable ways for classicists to get outside their departments and share some of the awesome stuff we do with other people. It should be an interesting afternoon. Of course, I should probably make sure I mention that the frequency of my blogging is not entirely unrelated to how much teaching prep  I have on at any given week – speaking of which, back to the grindstone…

 

January 30, 2014

“By A Wall That Faced The South”: Crossing The Border in Classically-Influenced Fantasy

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 5:44 pm
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The title of this post may seem familiar if you were reading around the time that I was was preparing my paper for Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space: The Fantastika and the Classical World - you can read my write-up of the conference and the abstract of the paper I gave, if you’re interested.

However, I’m delighted to share that the written up article version of the paper has appeared in this week’s edition of Strange Horizons! I’m particularly pleased by this for two reasons. Firstly, this is ground-establishing work for my broader interest in monsters, borders and space; without this, I doubt that the material in the conference paper would have seen the light of published day, at least not in its present form. Secondly, Strange Horizons is a publication that is not targeted at classicists – its readership is made up of people who are interested in science fiction. It’s a way of getting my work out to a wider audience who come at the texts from a different angle, and that kind of outreach can only be a good thing.

If you’d like to read the article, you can find it here.

January 21, 2014

The classical pedagogy of trigger warnings

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 8:03 am
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So, I was putting together my syllabus for Roman Literature of the Empire recently, which is the half-unit course I’m currently teaching to the first year students. It is going to be awesome - we have Livy, Ovid, Lucan, Petronius and Seneca, so I get to spend some time with my favourite boys talking about my favourite things. However. I had decided that for Ovid, if I was going to get the students to read some of his love poetry, I needed to have a lecture titled Why Ovid Is Problematic.

Why? Because it’s not pedagogically responsible to set students loose on the Amores and the Ars Amatoria without explicitly talking about sexual violence and rape. There is a darker side to our witty, playful poet that does need to be talked about, and students need to be given the tools for thinking about these difficult issues. This is, in part, what my article handling teaching the Metamorphoses in the classroom addresses. I had to think quite carefully about how I structured that lecture and what I do with it – I want to talk about the romanticisation of rape in terms of the Sabine women, the abuse of power as it appears in the two Cypassis poems, the violence against the female body as it appears in the two poems about Corinna’s abortion, and the problems of consent and its absence that some of the Amores pose, which feels like a well-structured progression through the issues posed by this sort of writing with some concrete examples.

I have, of course, yet to face the issues involved in actually preparing the lecture. My problem when I was constructing the syllabus was how to make it clear that the content of this session could be disturbing for survivors of rape. What is the pedagogy of the trigger warning on the syllabus?

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December 30, 2013

Book review: The Song of Achilles

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 7:56 am

Following my success with Lavinia, I decided to finally bite the bullet and read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Although I followed the buzz around the novel when it was published and then won the Orange Prize, I had been putting it off for some frankly not very good reasons. As I’ve said before, I have an ambivalent relationship with novels that rewrite myth, but I think both Lavinia and The Song of Achilles have helped me work out what my issue is. It is not novels that rewrite myth (she types, remembering that her childhood favourites The King Must Die and The Bull From The Sea should have demonstrated this straight away). It is novels that try to be too faithful to myth – that at their worst end up feeling like bad translations of Homer or Virgil. Lavinia had the occasional patch of this. The Song of Achilles had none that registered on my radar.

Miller has managed to do something rather wonderful in taking such a well-known story and finding something new in it. To do so, she picks up on one of the great controversies of the Iliad – are we meant to read Achilles and Patroclus as lovers, or as just good friends? I won’t go into the arguments about that here, because Miller takes the starting point of their romantic relationship and uses it as the fresh canvas on which to create her story. I think this is what prevents the book from wandering into that danger-zone of ‘too close to the original for comfort’ – the ancient texts don’t talk about how Achilles and Patroclus got to know each other or their lives. We get, of course, the moment of Patroclus donning Achilles’ armour and the tragic results, but there’s a whole lot there still to tell. The focus on the interpersonal relationship means both that Miller has a unique hook, a story that has not yet been told, and that there’s a strong direction through the plot that doesn’t feel forced or contrived. Patroclus, the novel’s narrator, acts because of his own motivations and his feelings for Achilles, giving events a narratively satisfying flow.

A side note: it is interesting that both The Song of Achilles and Lavinia give voices to those who have previously remained voiceless, and in ways which illustrate their authors are aware of this. Lavinia introduced Virgil as a character, lamenting that he hadn’t made more of the Latin princess. The Song of Achilles takes this approach in two directions. First, it lets ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ speak – Patroclus may have had a voice in the Iliad, but it wasn’t a voice that expressed the emotional complexity of his relationships with Achilles. Second, it tells the story of a different Achilles; its muse does not only sing the wrath of Achilles, but attempts to give a view of his broader personality, his gentler side, his compassion for the underdog, his emotional warmth towards Patroclus, and in some cases his simple confusion at being a young man-god in a culture that is going to eat him alive. Homer’s Achilles always had more to him than wrath, as his encounter with Priam in book 24 demonstrates. Miller uncovers more of him.

I was particularly impressed with how Miller decided to deal with the gods, always a tricky one, not least because of the prominence of Thetis as a character within the story of Achilles. I’m delighted to say that she goes for it – gods exist, gods despise humans for their mortality, Thetis comes over as ice-hard and ambitious, wanting immortal fame for Achilles and hating his relationship with Patroclus as somehow demeaning of him. If we were to get meta about this, I might suggest reading the text with Thetis as a metaphor for the Iliad‘s portrayal of Achilles, what that poem wants him to be, but that’s an idea off the top of my head. I particularly liked that Thetis as a character was also fleshed out; her relationship with Peleus, one forced on her by the other gods against her will, came over as particularly creepy and problematic, but it was a convincing way to shape her character. After all, it is fair to ask what on earth the gods see in mortals; the answer appears to be ‘not much’. However, while Miller may decide to keep the gods in play, they remain mysterious and confusing. Achilles, who frequently slips off to see his mother in the early mornings, appears to have a better grip on what they are like, but Patroclus is as much in the dark about their motives and aims as the rest of us. It’s an approach that works rather well, not least because it gives the book’s readers credit for creative suspension of the imagination – a thing which Wolfgang Petersen explicitly thought that film audiences could not cope with in Troy.

Overall, The Song of Achilles offers a parallel text to the Iliad, not an alternative. It weaves itself into the spaces of that narrative rather than trying to tell the story afresh. It is also very well written, and happy to stretch stylistic conventions – I am thinking particularly of the last section, where Patroclus’ unburied shade becomes the narrating figure. If you harbour doubts about historical fiction, you can safely put them to one side to pick up this book.

December 10, 2013

Getting student feedback: the ‘Dear Liz’ letter

I mentioned on Twitter that I had decided, after some reflection, to return to asking my students to write me ‘dear Liz’ letters. 140 characters isn’t really enough to explain what they are, so here’s a blog post to do the job.

I picked up ‘dear Liz’ letters in the US, as a strategy that complemented the one minute papers I’ve written about before. When I came to Birmingham, however, I had a rude awakening – students in my ancient religion course responded pretty well to one minute papers, but absolutely hated the ‘dear Liz’ letter, and were happy to tell me so! So I dropped them, and moved on. Fast forward to this year, when I’m teaching far more language than I usually do. I wrote in that post that I wanted to use one minute papers to get a clear grasp of grammar that was causing problems. However, despite good intentions and introducing them at the start of the year, I haven’t actually used one minute papers. At all. They don’t seem helpful – my classes are such small groups that I’m engaging with each student heavily in each class session, and it’s easy to flag up areas of confusion through obvious problems of translation and comprehension. I don’t need one minute papers to tell me what I already know. Equally, the Euripides course doesn’t encourage me to use one minute papers either – my students are in single numbers, meaning that debate and questions flow comfortably. If anything the CIQ would have been a better fit here. However, while I feel I have quite a good handle on how individual classes are going, I don’t have any way to take the temperature of the course more broadly. As I’ve got to know the students quite well, I now think they’ll respond well to this reflective assignment.

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