On 30th November we had the good fortune to attend the opening conference of the project Classics in Communities. Corpus Christi college at Oxford played host to around 100 delegates from our fair isles and beyond, all happily sharing our enthusiasm for Classics and experience spreading the subject.
The conference was opened by Mai Musié, the Classics Outreach Officer for University of Oxford and one of the founders of the Classics in Communities project. Jane Masseglia then gave us a newsflash: a new Roman project has been launched at the Ashmolean Museum and new teaching resources will be made available online for teachers from Key Stage 2 to Sixth Form. Masseglia encourage anyone whose school might be interested in participate in a pilot study to contact her.
Classics in Communities
The project was then presented to the delegates by Evelien Bracke, another of the co-founders to the Classics in Communities project and the Employability and Schools Liaison Officer at Swansea University. Bracke recalled the April meeting between her, Musié and Dr Lorna Robinson (of The Iris Project and East Oxford Community Classics Centre) that sparked off the project. Bracke told the conference that while the situation of Classics is not as bad as Belgium, where it is ousted from the secondary curriculum, nonetheless the subject suffers from a privileged perception, lack of resource and lack of teachers. Bracke commented that many a project with a Classical interest is borne of individual efforts and this conference hope to gather “like-minded, inspired Classicists”; she quipped that the conference should plan for “world domination” which I thought was quite a good idea!
Bracke went on to detail the activities Classics in Communities is carrying out and will carry out, including projects aiming to make as many as possible aware of the many possibilities of teaching a Latin and Greek, even without a specialist. Ultimately the project aims to raise awareness with an aim to facilitating funding, resources, training and support, to research impact of Greek and Latin learning on cognitive behaviour and to advance resource development.
The next speaker to address the conference as a whole was Prof Edith Hall, ably supported by Dr Henry Stead. The spoke about how Classics was never only the preserve of the privileged and proceed to show some of the work they have done on their Classics & Class project. Hall also spoke of her own background and exhorted the delegates to disseminate Classics. I will not detail her presentation on Classics & Class here but I do recommend a good look at their site. The site contains the information on the people and places Hall mentioned in her talk and is a very interesting site.
I imagine not many speakers begin their presentation by playing the piano, but Steve Hunt certainly did. Hunt, the co-ordinator of the University of Cambridge PGCE course, proceeded to speak about the project aiming to bring Latin to school clusters in North Norfolk. Beginning with the North Walsham cluster, the project has now spread to two other clusters. It saw Latin begin to be offered, in North Walsham’s case, at the secondary school there, with its feeder schools persuaded to offer beginner level Classics through Minimus.
Hunt mentions that there was early cynicism towards the project, but by keeping everyone involved and communicated, including parents, by reassuring non-Latin specialists that the are able to provide it, and by ensuring that a group of schools are doing it thereby allowing sharing of practices, the project became successful. A recent presentation by Barbara Bell on Minimus filled a whole hall, which is a fine thing to see.
Across the pond
Prof Peter Howard then spoke to us about the work that the American Classical League does in the US. Howard praised the British contribution to Classics textbook before focusing the minds of the delegates on the dire situation the world of Classics was once in. Howard believes that it is important for students to be introduced to Latin when they are young.
Of all the talks it is Bob Lister’s and Liz Lloyd’s which affected me most. Bob Lister, of the University of Cambridge, initiated the Iliad project – a project that aims to bring Classics through storytelling into primary schools. It was great to see and hear Liz Lloyd describing the experience of her introducing the “War at Troy” stories at William Ford Junior School: from a school initially sceptical and wary of a project that would take up more of the lesson and preparation time, to students improving as a result and everyone in the school participating. Some students even got the Classics bug out of it!
Lister shared his experience of introducing the project into schools: the lack of best-practice sharing at the local authority level, the time involved and the teachers’ perceived lack of knowledge on the subjects were issues Lister encountered. Through raising awareness of its viability, having great content, monitoring and supporting, engaging parents and getting to a critical mass of people in a school participating, the school will embrace the project. As a result, the school will feel it has achieved something special and the word will get out, leading to other schools being interested in participating.
The project has been relaunched online, away from a previous CD based system. It now has three sets of story: “War with Troy”, “Return from Troy” and “Tales of Change”. Lister will now devote his energy in getting the stories used in Key Stage 3 English lessons.
The delegates then packed into the dining hall for lunch before breaking out into two rooms for the parallel sessions. We has another round of tea and coffee before returning to the main hall for the last plenary speaker.
Media and Impact
Dr Michael Scott, who was introduced as a TV personality, was the final plenary speaker. Scott spoke in detail about the process of creating a TV documentary and spoke about the benefits and pitfalls of doing outreach and media work. Scott highlights that TV work is not an exact manifestation of what the presenter wants, yet viewers do value having an academic presenting programmes. It is time consuming for the academic and hectic, but can be reward and a useful tool for spreading Classics.
The conference closed with a discussion in which delegates and speakers were keen to share ideas and practises on spreading Classics. This led neatly into informal discussions over a class of wine or other drinks.
The day was very useful in bringing the thoughts, ideas and practices of so many people so keen on such a great subject across. I am sure that, for many delegates, there are ideas and practices that we will be keen to try out when we get back. A delegate posed a question at the end of the conference that implies the importance of being able to share efforts, energy and experience in one forum, be it a physical one or a cyber one. This forum Classics in Communities has provided at Corpus Christi, and it may just be a good thing if the site can be fully developed into one where not only can visitors click on links to various projects, but participants can swap notes too: truly a Classics community for Classics in Communities.
I have not been to so many Classics conference where the theme of discussion is not a topic in Classics and its reception, but on the delivering and promotion of Classics. This conference, then, is not only a breath of fresh air, but also very necessary. If we are optimistic about the future of Classics, then we should see events such as this as a cause for optimism; by extension, we should see a lack of events such as this as a cause for concern. The organisation of such a project and such a conference is necessarily full of labour, yet if anything, I am already raring for the next meeting!
Revised 08Dec at 13:37.