Classically Inclined

December 3, 2022

Social (media) shifts

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 10:42 am
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There are days when having decided to stick with a blog and writing it it feel quite retrospectively trendy. That certainly has been my (somewhat ironic) mood over the last few months as the purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk has begun to have impact on how the platform functions and who occupies it.

I have been on Twitter now since 2010. That’s a long time. It encompasses pretty much the entirety of my professional life, and has become entwined with that professional life in some interesting and (I hope) productive ways. I first joined Twitter as a graduate student finishing my PhD, preparing to return to the UK, but very aware that I didn’t know anyone in the UK Classics network as I’d done all my graduate work in the USA. I’ve always been on Twitter with a professional purpose, albeit not one which (contrary to some social media training) sucks all my personality out of whatever I share and turns me into some high-performing academic automaton. It’s not a space I want to give up.

However, since Musk’s purchase there have been major concerns about whether the platform is going to remain useable. The most fundamental worry is simply whether all the code will carry on working and if the relevant hardware will boot up in the morning. However, the firing of many content moderation teams and other staff with oversight of keeping Twitter safe has sent many looking for other social media platforms to join instead, and a plethora of new options have sprung up and been enthusiastically adopted.

I am, however, cautious about this exodus to greener pastures. Initially, that was because my memory went back to another exodus I experienced with another platform I had a long history of use on, and the devastating effect that had on my use of that platform and then its substitute. It never really recovered, and I never really got the same sort of thing out of it as I had done. I didn’t particularly feel like doing that again.

The other thing that I feel uncomfortable with is that people leaving Twitter because ‘it doesn’t feel safe now’ have missed that as a space, it hasn’t felt safe for many marginalised people even with a full content moderation team in action. Black & Global Majority people, women, trans people and those with disabilities have always had to build in their own protection mechanisms on this and other platforms (I am a great fan of the report and block options when this sort of thing manifests). Claiming a golden age of ‘safety’ is only possible if you ignore those other experiences.

What I hadn’t realised is that this phenomenon has been given a name, “digital white flight” – and that, too, I learned from Twitter, which (if you want to use it like this) is a great place to hear voices from underrepresented and marginalised groups you might not get to hear otherwise. The heart of the idea is that as a digital space is felt to be ‘unsafe’, privileged groups abandon it, and leave marginalised groups to face the consequences. But, do you know, I’m not going to do that. I want to carry on sharing space with the people who I’m sharing that space with – and if some other people are only just becoming aware of what the experience has been like for so many others for years, then they’ve a bit of catching up to do. So, while I have set up my insurance policy in case Twitter just doesn’t load one morning, I’m staying put.

Greek and Latin literature has a good run in Golden Age and Fall narratives; I’m particularly thinking of Ovid’s take in the Metamorphoses, where things go downhill in direct proportion to technological advancement. It’s a narrative pattern that it’s tempting to follow and impose – Twitter in the ‘Musk Age’ must be worse than Twitter in the ‘Pre-Musk Age’, so abandoning it for another space, to chase another Beta (Golden) Age, must be preferable. People telling themselves that story were announcing their intentions to leave Twitter as soon as the sale was finalised, before anything had actually happened, giving that story further power. That story, though, requires us not only to ignore the abuse faced by marginalised groups, but also the fact that pretty much any major corporation is at this point owned by people whose political and ideological positions probably don’t align with ours.

So rather than enacting a decline and fall narrative, I wonder what other stories might be available to tell about this change in the Twittersphere – not in terms of the owner, but in terms of the community. I wonder.

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November 2, 2022

Walking supervisions: first thoughts

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 3:31 pm
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One of the teaching goals I set for myself this year was to try group walking supervisions. That came from a desire to bring together my dissertation students (who I have in a bumper crop this year), to get up from behind my desk, and to give  walking pedagogy a go. I said in my original plans that I would try to do at least one a term; at this point, I’m thinking I’ll go for one each half-term, not least as students might be unable to attend one for life!reasons and it’s better to have more opportunities than fewer. I ran my first one last week, so this seemed like a good opportunity to share some thoughts.

Confession one: despite many Noble Intentions, I didn’t do any more reading than I had when I came up with this as a Good Idea, and there had been precious little of that. So I may be missing some of the important elements of how you should structure a walking supervision, what the logistics should be an so on. Instead, I picked a walk on campus and told students to meet in the foyer of the building where my office is, and decided to see how it worked.

In preparation, I did talk to all of my dissertation supervisees to see if they would find doing the walk physically inaccessible, but nobody flagged that as an issue. I’ll need to think what I do if somebody does, but that’s next year’s problem. I also hadn’t thought up a wet weather plan, but again, I got away with that one (just). Confession two: I did not walk the walk in advance. I assumed the map would be sufficient. Dear reader, it was not sufficient. We got lost and eventually worked out that we had been supposed to go up a raaaather steep hill which did not look particularly safe with the ground starting to get a bit more muddy. I’m not sure this really mattered – it added to the sense of shared adventure, at least – but ‘do try the route out first’ does sound like a useful tip to pass on.

Another handy tip is that I should have told the students to meet me at my office rather than the foyer – we went back to my office anyway for people to drop bags and things, so they could walk unencumbered and pick things up when we finished the circuit. As usual, the actual doing of a Pedagogical Thing points out the screamingly obvious in a way that just… thinking about it probably doesn’t. I had about half of my group show up, and the others had all let me know they weren’t available, which I think is a pretty decent hit rate.

I am obviously not going to share much of the detail of what my students discussed, since that would be not terribly ethical, but some themes and topics emerged quite naturally from the discussion. I started by asking them each to share what their dissertation was on (since they might not have talked to others about it), and then used that as a springboard for how their project had changed already and general conversation about the experience. What I hadn’t expected was that we’d spend so long talking about the nuts and bolts of writing – about strategy, planning, organising material, getting over blocks, accepting that perfectly polished prose doesn’t leap from your pen at the first go, all that kind of basic ‘so, writing, then’ stuff that sometimes gets separated out or lost in the way that we manage assessments. The best bit, for me, was the fact the students were able to swap tips with each other rather than just having me go ‘have you tried this way’ – writing is such an individual process that having lots of different suggestions is probably the most helpful thing. I also got the sense that having a chance to talk about it contextualised the experience; even if no-one had exactly the same relationship with their project, it still established that everyone was in a similar position, and that they weren’t alone in doing it.

Finally, do you know what? It was a nice sunny afternoon. Campus was beautiful. There was non-thesis-related chat about interesting things. I saw a deer, up the steeeep hill, although wasn’t quite quick enough to point it out to my students. It was good to get out into the fresh air. The leaves were turning into sharp colours. We saw one of the campus cats, and a sculpture I haven’t really looked at before. That all made it worth doing together as well. Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed that the next one isn’t rained off.

Photo of a tree trunk in a forest. A curved window is carved into the trunk. Two eagles are carved sitting on the sill.
A sculpture in the Royal Holloway woodland.

October 10, 2022

Discoveries: Detfri and Amica

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 2:55 pm

This post is the second in my short series about interesting things I learned when working on material for Dorling Kindersley. Today’s object isn’t much to look at, at least at first – it’s an ordinary terracotta roof tile, which went up on to a temple roof in modern Pietrabbondante during the first century BC. Then you spot that there’s some writing on it, and some footprints – not those of a cat or dog, as we come across much as we would see them in concrete laid to dry in a modern street, but marks of shoes. Nor are they the footprints of a child, who might have slipped out of their carer’s grasp and run over the new run of tiles to get somewhere more interesting on the other side. These are the footprints of adults – and we know whose footprints these are, because they signed their names on the tile as well.

Image from Imagines Italicae.

You can see one set of words at the top of the tile, then the footprints, and then another inscription at the bottom of the tile. This in and of itself is pretty extraordinary, but it gets better (if you like this sort of thing) in several ways:

  • The first inscription is in Oscan, an older Italian dialect, while the second inscription is in Latin.
  • We have the names of the people who wrote these inscriptions and made their footprints.
  • We can tell that they were enslaved because they both record the name of their owner.
  • Although we might have stereotypically have expected folks involved in building to be men, both the people named are in fact women – the Detfri and Amica of the blog post title.

Detfri, slave of Herennius Sattius, signed with a footprint.

Amica, slave of Herennius, signed when we were laying the tile.

Translation from John Bodel’s “The Semiotics of Signa and the Significance of Signs in Roman Stamps”, in The Hidden Language of Graphic Signs: Crytic Writing and Meaningful Marks, eds. John Bodel and Stephen Houston.

To find writing made by people at this level of society is already pretty darn exciting; to find multilingual writing from enslaved women is jolly extraordinary.

The most probable story behind this tile is that Detfri and Amica were enslaved women who had been assigned the task of making these roof tiles for the temple building works. On one tile, they decided to make their own mark – to literally step on top of this tile they were forming together and mark their ownership with their names and bodies. The tile went into the kiln for firing with the others, and was then put into the building, making the contribution of these women’s enslaved labour visible and tangible to us two millennia later.

That’s what makes this such an extraordinary thing to me, both because the words of enslaved women have survived, but also because it reminds us that enslaved labour permeates so many facets of the ancient world that we just don’t think about. It would be depressingly easy for me, someone who spends most of her time working on elite men writing about philosophy or history, to just… forget that this literary production depends entirely on the bodies of others in pretty much every respect. I do my best to remember, but given where my research has tended to focus thus far, it has to be a conscious effort. Working on the Dorling Kindersley is the first time I recall encountering this roof tile – I’m not a linguist so wouldn’t have met it in the context of the evidence it gives us for the Oscan dialect (which Katherine McDonald has written about in more detail), I’m not a historian of economic production or architecture, I’m not an epigrapher, and I still haven’t settled down properly with Amy Richlin’s Slave Theater in the Roman Republic, which is the only bit of scholarship I found that did overlap with my research interests and mentions the tile in its introduction.

So there is, here, a small microcosm of some of the problems when people say ‘we just don’t have the evidence for…’. We may very well have the evidence for, as in this case, literacy in enslaved women in first century BCE Italy. The problem is it can be very difficult to know about the evidence if you don’t happen to be working in the right corner of the discipline to know about it. Still, I am delighted to have found out more about these women, and I’m very pleased they’re going to feature in the DK book.

September 8, 2022

Update on the Summer Rest Project

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 9:35 am
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Back in June, I posted about the Summer Rest Project, my Cunning Plan to get enough rest over the summer to be actually ready to go for the autumn term (which, as you may recall, is A Lot and indeed is already living up to expectations). So, how did it go?

Well, I think it’s fair to say that there were mixed results. First of all, a couple of things I didn’t account for:

  • The plan of ‘do this much a week’ didn’t really work when it encountered Proper Annual Leave, which I hadn’t anticipated. The list of things I’d set out to do worked alright for a regular working week during the summer, but not for being on holiday. I would end up with a grid that looked as if I’d had no rest of any kinds at all, but that didn’t capture all the other sorts of things I had done which definitely counted as ‘being on holiday and not at work’ (including reading. So much reading of trashy fiction).
  • Orange and red heat advisories really don’t go well with weekly exercise goals. Especially when, like me, you are a very much a novice runner trying to get the hang of it. I did one run in 25 degree heat. (nowhere near as hot as we did get) and that was a terrible idea which got abandoned early. I don’t feel bad about deciding not to do things that actively endanger my health, but equally, it did mean that the relevant bit on the tracker looked a bit sad.
  • The usual problem of early enthusiasm, long-term drop-off – exacerbated by both of the above. That is, when things already seemed to be getting off the rails, it wasn’t as easy as I would have liked to have paid attention to the other parts of rest – which were the ones that could have done with the attention!

That said, some things did work well. I think I managed half an hour of lunch break over the full period (to the end of August), which is pretty amazing given how difficult that time feels to find even now, at the beginning of the September. I also enjoyed getting outside for lunch (weather permitting) which meant using our patio properly – it sounds a small thing, but it’s not a thing I’ve always been as good at as I should have been. Even though playing the piano and centering prayer were the ones that fell off the radar, I did actually do some of them for the first few weeks, and that’s surely a win.

So, a couple of take-aways. I want to try this again next summer, but without the exercise element (which I’m going to be working on throughout the year anyway, as everyone who follows me on Twitter and has read me grumbling about the Couch to 5K plan will know). The things I seem to have trouble making time for are the bits that, for want of a better word, feel really self-indulgent – that is, that need me to take some time to sit down and do something on my own that isn’t easily interrupted and requires me to claim some space (unlike reading, which can be broken off if needed and doesn’t really affect anyone else in the immediate vicinity. Unless it’s a really funny bit). Those are the bits that really need the deliberate attention next time around.

Finally – do I feel more rested? Well, this isn’t a great week to ask me that question because there is a lot going on, and last week’s bank holiday has meant that I’ve had a fortnight of zero to 60mph learning curve combined with all the back to school chaos, and I’d quite like a lie-down now. That said, September has been marked in my diary as Crunch Month for some time, so it’s not actually a surprise, and it will calm down. Underneath all of the surface ‘ALL THE THINGS’, I do feel like I took things easier over the summer, slowed it down, and had a change of pace; that’s one of the reasons why re-entry is feeling quite so much like jumping into a lake of cold water. So I’ll take some comfort in that as a sign that I must have got some rest somewhere.

August 10, 2022

Teaching goals for 2022-23

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 11:06 am
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I was thinking the other day that I hadn’t really sat down and thought about what I was doing with my pedagogy… and then remembered that, what with the rapid shift to teaching completely on-line in 2020-21 and then moving back towards more on-site but also on-line elements in 2021-22, I haven’t really done anything but think about pedagogy. It just that the changes haven’t been ones I would have wanted to make; rather they have been necessary responses to the extraordinary circumstances in which we have found ourselves with the COVID-19 pandemic. The one really good thing that has come out of this whole thing is that my Moodle pages are now much, much better and actually work as a support for learning rather than just an infodump – I really doubt I’d have got around to the necessary training and work to make those changes without the last couple of years.

Obviously, next year is not a great year for me to make lots and lots of changes to my teaching, because I’m going to be starting theological college and I don’t want to overpromise what I’m going to have capacity to do. However, I do have things I can do, so here are some goals for the coming teaching year for review in due course.

Ally: we have just introduced the Ally plug-in to Moodle. The idea is that it helps us spot where we’re using documents that might not, for instance, be accessible to students using screen readers or other kinds of accessibility aids. It also does lots of other clever things as detailed on the link. The messaging is very much that this is a guide to help us when we’re creating new content rather than an ‘everything must be retrospectively compliant right this second’, and of course there will always be things (like scanned PDFs where we can’t get to the original file) that we can’t retrofit to be accessible. That said, one of my goals this year is to get more of my files to a ‘good’ Ally rating, and to get into the habit of creating resources with the kinds of simple things that make a file register as ‘good’. In many cases, these really are tiny, like labelling a header as a header to help our a screen reader, but it’s not intuitive right now.

Dissertations: I’m going to have a lot of dissertation students this year, so I want to try something very new – walk and talk group supervisions, at least one a term and ideally one in both halves of the semester. This idea came from both a desire to give walking pedagogy a go, and new maps of walks on campus that have been released. Obviously, I’m going to need to talk to my dissertation students and make sure this plan doesn’t exclude anyone (which I can do as part of our start of term one to one chats, along with asking about any neurodivergent or pastoral stuff I should know about as dissertation supervisor). It’s a relatively low-stakes exercise that might serve to build some group cohesion and community among our third years (who have had a really rough time over the last two years), so if I can get them all on-board, then there should be a lot of benefits to doing this.

Contemporary Approaches: I’m introducing revised content in the final quarter of this course, thinking about classical reception and novels (and, can I say, I am super excited by it), so that’s going to be one new element. However, I also want to do some work on how I’m handling the reflective journals which form 10% of the student assessment. At the moment, they’re really Marmite – some students love them, others really hate them. I want to try doing more feedforward and support with these assessments, starting really in the first week of teaching (made easier by having had Week Zero courses for our rising third years in the summer term, actually). Simple things I could do are talking explicitly about the assessment; reviewing the marking rubric close to the first deadline; and offering an exemplar and evaluating it (either from me as a video or an in-class peer activity). Peer marking will not work here, because the reflective journals are meant to be quite personal. So that’s an identified issue with a clear target.

Roman Drama: this is an entirely new advanced language course, at both BA and MA level, so there’s a lot of work already going on here! Again, I think I want to offer more feedforward and support with the student-led seminars, which is a really important element of our advanced Latin provision, again through discussing them earlier in the course and making more space for students to talk to me and each other about their expectations. The other major thing I really want to address is how to bundle the BA and MA courses together; last year the MA version of my Latin Epic course didn’t run so I couldn’t have another go at what didn’t work perfectly in the 2020-21 session and Latin Letters, so hopefully this year I can give it another tweak and make the integration work better. Should enough students register, of course! Last year I started running a session for students to talk about their essay topics and get some peer feedback, so I’ll keep those as they seemed helpful.

Thinking Myth: this is another entirely new course; I’m teaching four classes on classical reception in the summer (and again, they are going to be really cool). The whole thing is a really exciting new team-taught experiment, so honestly I think I just want us to get through it all in one piece with all the students having an awesome time, and then we can collectively think about what worked and what needs improving.

Given how much new content I’ve got to handle this year, I think that being realistic about updating my materials and producing new course content is probably the right way to go. One other thing I do want to note (as much for myself as anything else) is that producing video guides to both assessments and marking rubrics is not just adding fluffy content, it’s actually making written content more accessible, so it’s worth doing (and ideally doing in such a way that it can be reused!).

Let’s see how this all goes.

July 24, 2022

Discoveries: The Great Cameo of France

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 3:37 pm
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As I mentioned at the start of the summer, one project I’m currently working on is the Dorling Kindersley illustrated history of Rome. One of the reasons this has been great fun is that it’s given me an opportunity to brush up on areas of Roman history that I don’t usually play around with, and that means I’m getting to encounter some fantastic things, particularly in terms of material culture, that are either completely new to me or, let’s be honest, may have gone across my desk when I was an undergraduate and I didn’t appreciate at the time. I’m planning to do a couple of posts over the summer about these discoveries, simply because they are rather good fun and I though they were worth sharing.

My first example is the Great Cameo of France, a whopping huge gemstone currently held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, carved during the reign of Tiberius. This gem had quite an afterlife, moving from the imperial Roman treasury to the Byzantines, then somehow going to France, where it stayed with the royal family (bar a brief period of being used as insurance on a loan made by the Pope), and eventually went into the Cabinet des médailles, a museum in Paris, during the French Revolution to protect it.

A cameo gem, with three tiers of action described in the blog post. The figures are white, with details like hair and clothes shown in brown. There is also fine engraving to add extra detail, like folds on a dress.
The Great Cameo of France, Janmad on basis of the picture by Jastrow.

While I’ve been around enough to recognise the basic building blocks of Julio-Claudian imperial iconography, the Great Cameo was completely new to me, and what an extravagance it is.

In the top tier we have members of the family who have died or become gods, including Augustus, who is reclining and holding a staff, and Aeneas, identified by his Phyrgian cap, who gets to be there by virtue of being the mythical founding ancestor of the dynasty from whom Augustus claimed descent. The bottom tier contains captured and enslaved people from Germany and Parthia – you can tell the Germans by their shaggy hair, and the Parthians by their distinctive headgear and shields. I’m not sure which nation the woman cradling an infant at the front is meant to represent, but she’s very much in the general spirit of representing conquered nations through captive women and their children, which the Romans do on their coins a lot.

The middle tier contains the living members of the imperial family. There’s some uncertainty about precisely which moment is being commemorated here – it could be the moment when Germanicus was about to set off to the east, or it could be a commemoration of Caligula’s formal adoption as Tiberius’ heir. However you read the scene, Tiberius and his mother Livia dominate it, occupying the centre of the tier and the gem itself on their thrones; a young armoured man stands before them, whoever he is, seeking their favour before doing whatever it is he’s off to do. The couple behind the thrones are thought to be Tiberius’ first wife Vipsania and their son, while the other figures with the young man in armour are variously identified depending on which moment you think is being commemorated here.

The amount of work that went into this cameo is breathtaking. In order to be able to say something sensible about it, I ended up learning far more about cameo technique than I ever thought I’d need to know, which was revealing. This cameo is in five layers. Most of the cameos that survive from the empire are only in two. The carver has managed to use the multiple layers of the gem (which is sardonyx) to create the dark background to the picture overall, pick out the figures in white, and use the dark colour to add clothes, hair and other details. What’s more, they’ve then gone over the figures to add more detail with engraving, never breaking through the white layer to let more of the dark colour through. The mind boggles at how long this took.

So that’s what so remarkable about this object. I’m less wowed, I think, by the iconography and its message of imperial continuity – that’s a staple of statues and other art in this period, and it is (to some extent) what you’d expect. What bowled me over is the sheer statement of wealth and excess that this makes, given just what an accomplished and difficult piece of art it is. I’m very glad to have learned so much about cameos and how they are made, because it’s given me a new appreciation of the technical difficulty involved in this kind of piece, and the talent that lies behind it.

June 28, 2022

The Summer Rest Project

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 9:27 pm
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Over May and June, I’ve been reading two books – Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski, and Radical Rest: Get More Done By Doing Less by Richard Lister. I wanted to read these books after just feeling – well, drained after the last two years of All The Things. I had a lovely long weekend break at the start of May, and the benefits disappeared within 24 hours of returning to work, which was Not Ideal. Plus, while I’ve been doing some recovery work around the complete pit of survival mode in which I spent large portions of 2020 and 2021 (as many people parenting small children whilst working full-time jobs will appreciate), I wanted something a bit more deliberate.

Now, both books were written to appeal to certain audiences. Burnout very definitely has the goal of reaching women who find it hard to make space for themselves within a patriarchal framework that sees women as what the Nagoskis call Human Giver Syndrome (or all the social norms which say it’s women’s job to pour themselves out selflessly to enable others to Do Their Thing). There’s a certain US self-help book tone to the writing which I can cope with but others might find a bit off-putting. Radical Rest, written by a practicing UK nurse, might give a bit more houseroom to alternative therapies than some people are comfortable with. But the overlaps and emphases on the science of rest and stress release mean that combined, they offer a range of solutions and options for resting properly and giving you and your body a chance just to – catch up with itself. Which, under the circumstances, sounds like a jolly fine idea.

So, to practicalities. One option particularly for Radical Rest would be to try each technique described in each (short) chapter for a week and see how they fit in with your own preferences and needs. I would like to try that at some point, but what I really wanted to put together was a practical ‘this is what I’m going to try to do every week over the summer’ with measurable outcomes to say that this resting thing was actually happening. Because, yes, otherwise it actually won’t.

It was an inevitable outcome that there would be a spreadsheet. So there is a spreadsheet.

Screenshot of a spreadsheet heading ‘Liz’s Rest Tracker’, with rows listing activities and columns marking days of the week.

The activities in the spreadsheet have all been chosen because they match on to the science in Burnout and Radical Rest as things that help close off stress cycles and give – well, rest. So, they are:

  • A 30 minute lunch break away from my desk, ideally eaten outside if the weather’s good enough.
  • A Big Hug – this is about positive physical affection and reinforcing a sense of being safe and cared for enough to slip out of fight or flight mode and into rest or digest. The Nagoskis say a hug of at least 20 seconds where each hugger is balancing their own weight does the job (see? Science!).
  • Playing the piano – I really want to do creative fun things! And I’ve been wanting to do more piano for years (quite literally). Taking time to do creative stuff tells your brain you’re not being chased by a saber toothed tiger. Win-win.
  • Running and yoga – different kinds of physical exercise that both simulate the physical bit of fight-or-flight responses we miss when we, for instance, get a really stressful e-mail in our inbox and thus gives our nervous systems a chance to shut that cycle off; also are activities where you’re not thinking about anything except the exercise, and thus enter an kind of mental rest even though your body’s being very active. (I still hate running with the burning passion of a thousand suns but the science has spoken.)
  • Centering prayer – I used to have a really strong centering prayer practice when I was a graduate student and an ECR but, unsurprisingly, parenthood sent that down the drain. This is about calming active or deliberate meditation (any kind of tradition would do, this just happens to be mine) – if I can manage a short slot three times a week, that’ll be doing alright.

Some of this I should be doing anyway. Lunch breaks outside are about discipline and getting away from the screen. The exercise stuff is again where I want to be – I twisted my ankle just before Easter and have just been cleared to run again, so this is the right moment to be setting these goals (and I’ve been really antsy about not being able to do things). But the piano, and the yoga, and the deliberate hug, are about trying to create that bit of extra space and – well, let’s see what happens.

I’ll try to have a bit of accountability/update on how things go over on Twitter, and I want to come back to this at the end of the summer and see what I think. (And yes, if we get back into a run of 30 degree days, I shan’t be worrying too much about getting the running in!) It’s all a bit of an experiment, but we’ll see how it goes – after all, I have a spreadsheet.

With thanks to Jo VanEvery for tipping me off about Burnout.

June 10, 2022

Resetting

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 6:44 pm
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*tap tap* Is this thing on?

Well, yes, obviously it’s on, and hello to you kind people who have presumed that I would eventually resume writing here. It has, I think it is safe to say, been All A Bit Much.

As Neville Morley often remarks, blogging seems to be a medium which has fallen out of favour for reasons which aren’t entirely clear – it allows long-form thought in an informal style, which is often just what you need when you want to play with an argument, share good teaching practice (or ask for ideas about solving a teaching problem), or talk about wider professional issues. It’s also free, which makes it excellent for sharing research with the broader public (as my posts about Seneca do for those working on the Classical Civilization A-level Love & Relationships topic). But (and of course there’s a but) they take time, and over the last couple of pandemic-inflected years, time was what we did not have. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that, after the initial burst of upskilling my on-line teaching skills after my sabbatical ended in spring 2020, the energy to make time and space for blog writing was subsumed into survival mode by spring 2021 and then the slow attempt to recover and get back on top of things in the 2021-22 academic year. I will say that I felt as if I taught the most exhausted and drained students I’ve ever taught in the second half of the spring term this year, regardless of which year they were in, and I knew exactly how they felt.

That said, I do miss blogging and I want to come back to it, not least as a way to think through Stuff, particularly around teaching – I’ve noticed that I’ve been a bit less intentional about improving and tweaking my teaching praxis over the last few years, which obviously, hello, pandemic, but at the same time, writing and reflecting in this space has been an important part of creating the space to do that continuing work. So, here we go, attempting to do another round.

I thought I’d start with Research Things that have happened since I last wrote properly about my research, which (now I look back) was in 2019 when I talked about the publication of Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture. There has been quite a lot of water under that particular bridge in the intervening, um, three years, so here are some potted updates.

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October 18, 2021

Five unmissable novels about ancient Greece and Rome

Filed under: Out and about — lizgloyn @ 5:24 pm
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It’s been a busy few months… but I’m popping back to mention that I have put together a book list for Shepherd.com! It’s a list of five unmissable novels set in ancient Greece and Rome, featuring some of my favourite authors and favourite reads.

I really enjoyed putting this list together – it gave me a chance to showcase some fantastic women writers, and share some more of the wonderful reimaginings of the ancient world that show just what can be done when you use scholarship to build up things we’ll never know about antiquity. The wonderful thing about fiction is that there are no limits to what you can do in rebuilding the past, and these books showcase that beautifully.

July 22, 2021

Some suggestions for an office mental health first aid kit

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 5:21 pm
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A few days ago on Twitter, I asked what people would want to have in their offices as a mental health first aid kit – or, to put it another way, what people would have wanted their lecturers to have available in their offices if things got just that bit too much. There were so many great suggestions that I thought it would be a good idea to collate them all in one place so other people can get some inspiration!

What I’m envisaging here is some kind of box or basket, within easy reach of people who come into the office; I found myself thinking that you would probably want to split it into sections marked ‘please take’ and ‘please use’, as you would probably not want some of these things to go walkabout, but others would be there precisely for people to use.

Two quick caveats. First, this is in no way meant to substitute for properly funded and resourced mental health care services at universities, or to put pressure on academic staff to provide sole care for these issues. That said, we are often the first point of contact, either as lecturers or personal tutors, and being prepared for making that first encounter as supportive and positive as possible can’t hurt. Second, this is a comprehensive list of all the suggestions made in response to my thread, and does not imply that any member of staff should feel obliged to provide every single one of these items. This goes double for precarious colleagues, particularly given the financial costs associated with making sure you are prepared in this way. You know your own students best; the point of this post is to provide some ideas that might resonate with you, and for people to pick and choose what works best for their individual context.

With that out of the way, here we go…

Practical things

  • Tampons and pads
  • Blister plasters
  • Extra face masks
  • Hand sanitizer or wipes
  • Lavender or other soothing things to smell
  • Essential oil roll-ons for wrists
  • Rescue remedy
  • Tissues, both in a box and in take-away packs
  • A mirror, for tidying up after tears
  • Sunglasses
  • Ear plugs

Several people mentioned painkillers; I’ve not included these as I know that there is some complicated legal stuff around supplying painkillers to students or colleagues, and so I am erring on the side of caution by not recommending that these items are formally included in a kit.

Food and drink

  • Granola or cereal bars
  • Rice crisps
  • Chocolate
  • Trail mix
  • Lollipops
  • Long-lasting fruit like apples
  • Mini-packs of dried fruit
  • Vegan lollies or biscuits
  • Fruit chews
  • Nice biscuits
  • Glucose tablets
  • Calming herbal tea bags
  • Hot chocolate
  • Coffee
  • A kettle and spare mugs
  • Water and spare glasses
  • Mini water bottles

Comfort items

  • Blanket
  • Pillow or cushion
  • Comfy chair
  • A hot water bottle
  • Fidget toys
  • A teddy or cuddly toy
  • A bubble pop toy
  • A squeezy stress toy or stress ball
  • Adult colouring book and felt tip pens
  • Happy/cheerful stickers
  • Affirmation cards
  • Mindfulness cards
  • Gratitude cards
  • Postcards
  • Mini-pots of bubble bath
  • Sample or mini size lip balm and moisturiser
  • A sleep mask and a sign saying “I need a bit of quiet” if you have an appropriate space for students to get some peace

Resources

Other helpful things

People made various suggestions about other useful but intangible things people might offer as support, which I am listing here.

  • Offer to write a referral to the student to Counselling directly, copying them in
  • Offer useful reminders that studying is hard, but they have got this far, and have achieved huge amounts
  • Reminders that rest is essential
  • A supportive, non-judgemental ear
  • Cultivate relationships with the support staff who know people, to make accessing support easier

Thank you!

With thanks for suggestions to Sara Barker, Stephanie Lawton, Emma Sheppard, Wheeled Classicist, Kate Ferry-Swainson, Sarah Martin, Ellie Mackin Roberts, Ruth Cruickshank, Helen Lovatt, Sarah Porter, Alice Rae, Kelli Conley, Gabe Moshenska, Cora Beth Knowles, Isabella Streffen, Aven McMaster, Sophie Agrell, Elspeth, Penny Goodman, Clare Clarke, Stephe Harrop, Jane Draycott, Alexandra, Joy Evans, Heather Self, A, Magdalena Öhrman, Alice Little, Miriam. Marchella Ward and the Royal Holloway Library! Apologies to anyone I’ve missed – it was a busy thread. I gloss over the fact that the vast majority of people who joined in with this discussion are women or non-binary, and what that might say about the dynamics of care in academia.

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