Classically Inclined

March 2, 2015

On disliking conclusions

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 12:07 pm
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As most of you know, I am currently wrestling with revising a book manuscript. This involves a good deal of looking at conclusions, and as such is making me remember just how much I dislike the blessed things.

There’s a lot to be said for the elegant conclusion – it distils the wisdom of a chapter or article into one or two crystal clear sentences that provide the icing, as it were, on the argumentative cake. But the bad conclusion is far easier to write – one which just recaps what has been said throughout the piece without really taking it through that rhetorical transmutation that creates a satisfying conclusion. The irony, of course, is that while I may chastise students in my marking feedback for offering conclusions which rehash the points they have already made, my first (and second and third and fourth) drafts of scholarly work often contain conclusions which do exactly the same – even when I think I’ve managed the requisite compositional alchemy.

This is something I’m particularly aware of at the moment because I’m trying to rewrite the conclusion to the whole book – not just offering a neat summary for a chapter, but a neat tie-up for over 100,000 words’ worth of point. Despite my best efforts, I’m still offering a rehash of previous points in quite a procedural manner (albeit less so than the original PhD conclusion, of which frankly the less said, the better). Finding the right words to be the last words of the book is also phenomenally difficult. My current strategy is to move into the personal voice, but I would be the first to admit that this is a strategy born out of desperation rather than of conviction. It’s also not quite coming out right just yet – there’s something too colloquial and apologetic about it, which is another risk of conclusions. While you think you have stated your case firmly and authoritatively, it often turns out that you’ve actually underplayed your own original contribution to a debate or the most significant consequence of your own argument.

I don’t think I have any tips for writing conclusions, other than being prepared to write, rewrite and rewrite again, and getting as many pairs of eyes on a conclusion as possible to tell you if you are doing yourself justice. But I am rather surprised at the difficulty of writing the conclusion for a book, if only because I had rather assumed it would be like writing a mini-chapter or article rather than concentrated last-blessed-paragraph syndrome. But maybe I’m unusual in finding conclusions such a particular bugbear. If anyone has any great ideas for avoiding the pitfalls and putting together that glittering wit and glitz that is the hallmark of a fine conclusion, I’m all ears.

January 26, 2015

The Family Archive Project: Advisory Board meeting

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 1:18 pm
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Last week was an exciting one for the Family Archive Project, as we had our first advisory board meeting. It’s the first time the project team have all been in the same physical space since the original AHRC sandpit, and for me it was the first time meeting our advisory board members, who are more senior academics with experience of doing This Sort Of Thing plus a representative from the National Archives, one of our project partners. The meeting served as an opportunity to update the advisory board on the progress that has been made so far, get some advice from them about things we felt could benefit from their input, and also ask them whether they had any thoughts or suggestions for how we should be approaching the project. It was really energising to be sitting in a room of people who were keen about the project – I’ve been getting more and more enthused since I spent a day in the British Library t’other week and realised that there’s something genuinely interesting here that doesn’t seem to have been picked up on (for perfectly good reasons) on the classical side, and the advisory board meeting reinforced that mood.

Two major things came out of it for me. The first was that the unique strength of this project is the chronological scope that the research team bring to the issue, and the possibilities that this opens up for interrogating contemporary practice and building new frameworks for understanding how people approach family archives, both consciously and unconsciously. I think we’d all appreciated that this was something special about the project as we put it together, but hearing other people articulate it certainly brought it home to me. The second was the potential that this work has for making a difference not only to other academics but to people in society more broadly, and how important it is to make sure that we’re keeping track of the needs of the communities and groups we’re working with. At the moment, we’re only operating on a comparatively small scale, but it’s something that simply hadn’t occurred to me before.

A side issue, but no less important, that we spent a bit of time discussing was how we are actually going to write the two articles we hope will come out of this work, beginning with one based on our historical case studies. We found working on the grant proposal through shared documents on Google Drive worked rather well, and I’d assumed we’d try that approach again; one thing the advisory board suggested was that one person took responsibility for calling time on the collaborative drafting process and then gave the article a coherent authorial voice before asking for feedback from everyone on the neatened result. Collaborative writing is not something that my field of the humanities tends to play with very often, although some people find it very productive; certainly it’s not something I’ve ever done. Given that there are four of us on the project team, I think we all appreciated some advice from people who have had more experience producing collaborative writing about what works and what doesn’t!

The next big milestone, other than getting a research assistant appointed for the project and setting up our focus groups, is getting together the meat of the case study article and working out what shape that would best take. Obviously because of oncoming maternity leave, I want to get on with that sooner rather than later – so I can see plenty more reading and note-taking ahead of me in the next few months. I’m looking forward to it.

January 15, 2015

New publication: review of The Oxford Anthology of Roman Literature

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:31 am
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In the general spirit of ‘every little helps’, I’m delighted to share that my notice/short review of The Oxford Anthology of Roman Literature has appeared in the latest edition of The Classical Review. This was quite a fun one to write, mainly because of trying to get as much information as humanly possible into five hundred words and still provide a fair and accurate impression of what the book was about!

The bonus of the piece being quite that short is that it fits on one page of the journal and thus the preview page is essentially the whole thing! If you’re interested, you can read it here.

January 9, 2015

Research: The Family Archive Project

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 3:22 pm
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I mentioned back in June that I was working on some grant applications coming out of an AHRC Early Career sandpit event around Easter, and then in my round-up post of 2014 I promised to blog about the project which was successful in that funding bid. So here is that post!

The project in question is formally titled “The Family Archive Project: Exploring Family Identities, Memories and Stories Through Curated Personal Possessions.” It came together after one of the round table discussions at the AHRC sandpit, where four of us discovered we all worked with ideas of family and memory in our research, and all shared some broadly similar research interests that might intersect in interesting ways in an interdisciplinary project. Some shared questions that came up during that very early phase of brainstorming were about how one defines a family archive; who gets to be in charge of a family archive; and how family archives cope with traumatic or difficult events. For instance, we all know stories of families who write a disreputable aunt or uncle out of the history, and novelists make plenty of hay out of the habit at the start of the twentieth centuries of babies being bought up thinking their grandmother was their mother and their mother was their sister. Roman families have different problems to cope with (like ordering your son or daughter killed, for instance), but there are still traumatic events that need to be handled and processed.

The project now has several goals for the next year. It wants to think about what a family archive looks like and how it changes over time – what an Edwardian would have made of the idea would have been very different to what we make of it, particularly in the age of digital photography and practically endless storage, not to mention the move away from paper documents. It wants to think about the function of these archives, and how families engage or disengage with their contents. That question of who owns the archive and curates it is still important, and we also want to explore how ownership is passed down the generations; does an archive have to stay together, or can it be spread across family members, or even embodied in oral repetition at family gatherings? We also want to think about how family archives balance the very personal stories they have to tell with the public events going on at the same time; for instance, an individual family archive (in whatever form) and official government archives will tell two very different stories about the First World War.

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December 30, 2014

Reflections and plans at the end of 2014

We’re half-way through the academic year, and coming to the close of 2014, so for a variety of reasons it seemed a good moment to pause and reflect on how things are going so far.

Teaching: as I mentioned in my most recent syllabi-wrangling post, my two biggest obligations were putting together a new half-unit on Virgil and a new Advanced Latin course (in two half units) for intercollegiate MA provision. I also decided to gamify intermediate Latin. I think gamification deserves its own post again, but I will say that I’ve been enjoying the process of incorporating game theory into my language teaching at this level, and it’s certainly appealing to some of the students. Some of the pitfalls I’m coming across are similar to those I’ve encountered with other techniques that have worked in US classrooms but seem to falter a bit in UK ones, but as I say, I’ll hold those thoughts over for another post.

The Advanced Latin course has been quietly rewarding in its own right, partly because of teaching Suetonius’ Life of Vespasian for the first time (which has turned out to be surprisingly good fun), and partly because of the student response to the independent project element. I set this up using the second year undergraduate projects we set students at Royal Holloway as an initial model, so while I knew that the format would work in principle, I had no idea whether the students in the course would bite. Well, it turns out that giving MA students an opportunity to work on texts that they actually like and want to work into their research means they have fun with the assessment you set. I’ve had some fascinating conversations with students about their individual research and where they see it fitting into their broader profile as researchers, and the students have shown me directions these projects can go in that I hadn’t envisaged when putting the syllabus together. For some reason, our impression when setting these courses up had been that they would be of interest mainly to those working on history and literature – my brain had completely left out the possibility that students with a primary research interest in classical reception might want to polish up their Latin too! The projects aren’t due in until the new year, but I’m really excited to see how they’ll turn out. And I think the students’ Latin has improved too.

The Virgil half-unit has basically been a new build, and I’ve found myself being more comfortable with a note-and-text based lecture style than I have been previously. I’ve also rather liked the seminar-lecture two hour format, although I think that in the future I’d like to experiment with the active learning/lecture format that I used during my Roman Life Course unit at Birmingham – leaving students to their own devices for more or less the first hour and then lecturing at them for the second hour isn’t a format that I think works for me particularly well, although I’m very glad I’ve tried it and seen how it plays out in practice. In the end, because of the number of students, I ended up not assigning in-class presentations on secondary literature, but I think there are other ways to work that skill-set in. However, the most rewarding part of the whole course has been re-reading the Aeneid with fresh eyes and trying to get some more enthusiasm into the students about the text. I think my decision to keep Virgil out of the first year Roman literature survey is definitely the right one, as it gives students a year off and the ability to come at the poem fresh. All in all, I’m quite pleased with the experiment.

Research: a year-long view here. As far as the book is concerned, I’ve revised two chapters, finished off writing a new one, and have done a complete text/translation review of the manuscript as well as respond to a set of readers’ reports. I need to redraft the conclusion (sometime before term? Who knows?), but there’s been slow and steady progress towards getting the manuscript together. However, I will admit to being quite frustrated that another year has passed and I still don’t have a contract in hand. Still, none of the work I’m doing is wasted, and let’s hope 2015 is The Year Of The Book.

I’ve also written a chapter on women classicists at Newnham, been awarded an AHRC grant for work on the Family Archive Project (about which I will blog on here before too long, I hope!), got some thoughts together about women, space and the stage in Plautus, had the Ad Polybium article published at long last, given several other conference papers, almost got a pedagogy article finished about preparing a text commentary for the Companion To The Worlds of Roman Women, and have some positive developments on the Monster Project front (of which also more before too long, hopefully). I have to be honest that while I feel like I’ve stalled a bit on the book front, other research has been bubbling alongside it. I think the trick is going to be making sure that these opportunities generate tangible results rather than Interesting Thoughts – I’m sure they will, but the trick is going to be in the planning. So the book stays at the top of the research to-do list, but I’d also like to spend next year working on the AHRC project and preparing an article on Seneca’s use of imagery in his political philosophy that’s come out of writing the new book chapter.

Personal life: as some of you may have seen me announce on Twitter recently, my husband and I are expecting our first child in April. We are both excited and petrified in equal measures, which I gather is the sensible position to be in at this stage. Because infans has had the grace to time themselves conveniently, I’m planning to complete my spring 2015 teaching before going on maternity leave at the start of April; I hope to be back in September or October at the start of the 2015-16 academic year, all being well. It goes without saying that this is going to be a massive life-changing event for us, and we have no sense of the impact that it is going to have on our quotidian existence, let alone something as rarefied and intellectual as research. We’re looking forward to finding out – for the foreseeable future, this little project is going to be taking top priority.

October 20, 2014

New edition of Cloelia out now!

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 2:08 pm
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You may remember that I have been acting as co-editor for the 2014 edition of Cloelia, the annual newsletter of the Women’s Classical Caucus. I’m delighted to announce that the 2014 edition is now out – click here for the official blog post and to download a PDF of the final product!

I have to say that I’m absolutely delighted with how the edition has turned out. There’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes work to get the volume into shape, and a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of documents between me and Alison, Cloelia‘s fearless editor, over the last few weeks to get it into this format, and it’s good to see the hard work pay off. More generally, I’m very proud of the collection of articles that the issue pulls together on a variety of topics concerning feminist pedagogy, particularly language pedagogy. There’s some great stuff in there, as well as some interesting insights from the survey we ran earlier in the year, and I hope that other teachers find the articles interesting and inspirational as well. It’s been great fun to pull together, and with any luck it will be of use and interest to many of its readers.

October 13, 2014

New publication: Show Me the Way to Go Home: A Reconsideration of Seneca’s De Consolatione ad Polybium

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 9:02 am
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Those long-time readers of this blog will be very familiar with the Ad Polybium article, which started out life as the Stoic exile article and went through various changes of shape in its journey towards completion. (If you’re interested in catching up, have a look at some of the stuff on the ad Polybium tag.) After many incarnations, starting as a carbuncle on the side of chapter two of the dissertation, I’m delighted to announce that “Show Me the Way to Go Home: A Reconsideration of Seneca’s De Consolatione ad Polybium” has appeared in the latest issue of The American Journal of Philology.

This is the classic example of what can happen when you have good research ideas that don’t fit into an argument you are trying to make yet still deserve airtime. Exactly the same thing happened when I wrote the new chapter four for the book manuscript – I now have the seed kernel of an article on Seneca’s use of paternal imagery in his political philosophy which will be interesting but isn’t in and of itself particularly helpful for the argument I’m making in the book. In “Show me the way” I’m entering a pretty well-worn debate about whether the ad Polybium is a text we can take seriously or not; I argue that it is, and that we do not need to tie ourselves in knots with questions of sincerity and intention to get there. I also argue that what has been read as some of the most outrageous flattery has a parallel function in the text if we start thinking about it from a Stoic perspective rather than getting caught up in those issues of flattery and sincerity which get prioritised when dealing with this text.

My hope is that this will move some of the conversation about this really quite fascinating wee text forward from where it’s got a bit stuck; whatever happens, it’s good to have this particular idea out there, and hopefully getting some people thinking about the consolation in a new way.

August 6, 2014

New publication: My family tree goes back to the Romans

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 2:57 pm
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As those of you who follow me on Twitter will know, at the minute I am elbow-deep in assessing the revisions needed for chapter six of the book manuscript. I have just realised that I haven’t officially announced that a version of that chapter is already out in publication, as of a few months ago!

“My family tree goes back to the Romans: Seneca’s approach to the family in the Epistulae Morales” appears in Seneca Philosophus, a volume that came out of a conference in Paris about Seneca as a philosopher which I was unable to attend because – cheerful irony of ironies – it took place on the weekend of PhD graduation, so I kind of needed to be on another continent. However, I wrote to the conference organiser because I wanted sight of the paper she’d given, explaining what my interest was – and, lo and behold, she asked whether my book would be finished in time for consultation for the conference volume. As that was totally out of the range of possibility, I said so and sent her my Epistulae Morales chapter in PDF form instead. She then invited me to contribute it to the conference volume as it would make a good addition to the range of pieces talking about the letter collection.

Given that I had no idea how long it would take me to get the PhD into a book manuscript shape, I jumped at the chance to get some of my research out, and in a volume that contains some of the most significant scholars currently writing on Seneca, no less. So it’s out there, and in a book! Which is very exciting.

Of course, this now leaves me in a slightly perplexing place with what is now chapter six of the book manuscript. There are several discussions that didn’t make it into the Family Tree chapter, not least because of reasons of length, and because the argument that chapter makes had to stand alone rather than finish off the dissertation as a whole. I got some very good feedback on the Family Tree chapter as a stand-alone piece that I’m incorporating into the revised chapter six, but I’m also realising just how much I need to do in order to make sure that it does what I need it to do in terms of the overall book’s direction. It says a lot about the progress I’ve made over the last few years that I’m seeing so many different things I want to change and improve compared to the first time that I revised it – the only downside is that I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. Never mind – the chapter is out there, if anyone wants to read it and get a head-start on the book!

July 24, 2014

On the road – upcoming schedule

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 4:40 pm
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I have spent most of the last few months running around conferences like billy-o – and it’s not over yet! I’m around for some things in August and September, and if you’re interested, you may want to come along…

15th August 2014: ‘A common thread: Representations of the Minotaur in London’, Diversity in Speculative Fiction, LonCon3 Academic Track, London.

19th August 2014: ‘Fathers, be good to your daughters: Seneca, Augustus and familial ethics’, Commemorating Augustus: A Bimillennial Re-evaluation, Leeds.

16th September 2014: ‘Avoiding the master’s house: Representing women’s space on the Roman comic stage’, Is Gender Still Relevant? Examining The State of Play in the Historical Disciplines, Bradford.

These are all papers that have seen the light of day in one form or another, but I’m looking forward to getting the ideas out to some new audiences and to getting some new feedback. Hope to see some of you there!

July 21, 2014

The vexed question of the departmental photocopier, circa 1903

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 2:45 pm
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One of the things I discovered when I was traipsing through the Newnham College archives, more specifically through the minutes of the Education Committee, was a set of exchanges that demonstrated how very little changes in academia. These days, it’s quite common for departments to debate what to do about the departmental photocopier – can we afford a new one? If we can, are we going to get one of those whizzy ones that can scan, and if so, how whizzy do we want to go? Most importantly, who is going to understand how to work the blessed thing once we’ve got it?

The women on the staff of Newnham College in 1903 did not need to worry about creating PDFs and having paperless offices, but they did have produce printed material for various teaching purposes – the classicists, for instance, needed stocks of passages for translation from English into Latin and Greek, as well as ‘fair copies’ of what the passage could look like for students to consult after they had made their own attempts. Given the problems we moderns encounter in setting Greek font, I can only imagine the trouble that my foremothers had. It’s quite telling that in one of Winnie Seebohm’s letters home in October 1885, she mentions that Edith Sharpley was “teaching a printer-boy Greek, so that he can set up Greek types and so gain a higher salary” – I suspect that Edith’s motives may have been driven by a touch of self-interest so she had somebody she could rely on to produce the materials she needed.

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